The most interesting thing that I’ve learned about Victorian Literature this semester is how stark the class differences were. When I first joined this class I thought the Victorian Era wasn’t as fiercely divided, Learning about the Chartist movement was one of the first classes that illuminated this divide for me. Another thing that contributed to this understanding for. Me was learning about the scientific and religious perspectives of this time and how the two were often intersectional. For example, upon reading Darwin’s Origin of Species and seeing how. The science behind his evolutionary theories was applied to gender and racial perspectives was very interesting because while it is a subject that was briefly taught in my high school education it wasn’t really delved into.
In Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” he writes from the perspective of a man in jail, witnessing another prisoner who’s being put to death for killing his love. He then takes this physical action of the man killing his love and turns it into an abstract idea that I believe suggests all men kill the things they love through toxic masculinity. Wilde writes, “Yet each man kills the thing he loves, By each let this be heard, Some do it with a bitter look, Some with a flattering word, The coward does it with a kiss, The brave man with a sword!”, and goes on to outline other which ways men can go about killing their loves. I believe this is similar to Heathcliff and Catherine in how the issues between Edgar and Heathcliff drove Cathy to breaking. Their hypermasculinity drove the two men to fight over Cathy in a reductionistic sense that negated her validity as a person with autonomy, consequently killing the thing they loved.
At the time of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and other scientific revelations, there was a general distrust of science, seeing as it refuted most things that religion taught. New ideas and theories were received poorly and often ridiculed. For going against normative and comfortable beliefs at the time. In Huxley’s “Agnosticism and Christianity” he wrote, “It has been insinuated that they have adopted a new name in order to escape the unpleasantness which attaches to their proper denomination.” This line illuminates the sentiment held by many people about people who were agnostic, in that it shows how negatively they were seen since it insinuates that Agnostics were merely “infidels” under a different name. This relates to the excerpt from Edmond Gusse’s Father and Son, in the way that Gusse wrote about the rejection and ridicule his father received for postulating new scientific theories. Huxley’s analysis of popular sentiment helps to give historical context to Gusse’s writings.
In Chapter 17 of Wuthering Heights, Isabella finally manages to flee from Heathcliff, but not before getting into a violent altercation with him where he flies into a “murderous rage”. After Isabella runs from Wuthering Heights to Thrushcross Grange, badly beaten and fatigued from the journey, she recounts the brawl to Ellie. The tyrannical relationship between Heathcliff and Isabella can be seen as a microcosm of Harriet Martineau’s argument concerning the lack of consent of the governed (women) by the government (men). Heathcliff, an embodiment of a patriarchal figure head, completely rules over Isabella’s life, her decisions and what she’s allowed to do. His malevolent nature emphasizes the power men had over women at the time and the perils that can accompany such toxic masculinity. Despite having no romantic inclination towards Isabella, he makes her remain at Wuthering Heights merely out of spite and a sense of entitlement in being her husband and seeing her as his property. While Isabella consented to the marriage all her attempts at learning were quickly put to an end and she had no autonomy whatsoever. Her escape from him is symbolic of her gaining her freedom not just from Heathcliff but her brother as well. Her decision to move away with her son is a powerful one that allows her to regain consent of the happenings of her life.
I find it really interesting how so far, across the Victorian literature we have read there’s a lot of thematic commonalities, particularly in regards to the treatment of the working class. This makes perfect sense considering the historical context, with the Industrial Revolution changing the makeup of the work force and the looming threat of revolution after both the American and French Revolution. In my blog post last week I touched on the racial aspects and comparisons used in the readings we had done. The poems from last week, however, instead of appealing to their audience through the degradation of the work class by comparing them to members of lower racial and socioeconomic. status, there was a greater call to religion and its corruption as a place of blame for the conditions the working class experienced. For example, in “The Chimney Sweeper”, the final couplet reads, “And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King/ Who make up a heaven of our misery.” These lines suggest that the elite are not only turn a blind eye to the misery of the working class but also that they revel in it and even prosper from it.
In reading Harriet Martineau’s Society in America, Vol. 1 and Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present I have noticed a thematic similarity in their call for a truer implementation of Democracy. Despite focusing on different aspects of democracy, Carlyle talking about better treatment of the working class and Martineau about women having no political power, both authors’ identify flawed aspects of democracy that fail to foster equality. I found it interesting, however, how Carlyle’s piece was more defensive and appeared to be a suggestion for preemptive changes to keep working class people from rebelling as they did in France. Martineau on the other hand, as a feminist advocating for women’s rights is more in tune with the community she is advocating for. These gender and class differences between the two attributes to the tone of both works. For example, Carlyle being a member of the socially elite, advocating for working class peoples out of fear of sociopolitical disruption, emphasizes his perceived superiority.
I also found it interesting how in both pieces, comparisons to black people were made to further their arguments. Carlyle used a kind act of an African woman to illuminate how truly horrid the “captains of industry” were by suggesting the lowest of the low, a black woman, was better than them. Martineau takes a different approach by likening the lack of women’s rights to slavery. She writes, “It inspires the same emotions of pity as the supplication of the freed slave who kneels to his master to restore him to slavery, that he may have his animal wants supplied, without being troubled with human rights and duties.” This line is used to exemplify the sentiments on why women shouldn’t have power from a patriarchal standpoint. I find it interesting that despite her constant repetition of how it is unjust to implement laws without the consent of the governed when that’s precisely what slavery is and there’s no demand for that to end. There is very little intersectionality of issues in both pieces.
What I have read of Victorian Literature is only two novels, Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. This being said, there’s a lot I’d like to learn about Victorian Literature, particularly how male and female authors of the time doffer in writing styles and/or subjects, if they do differ at all. Since we read both Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte in this course, I hopefully will begin to understand how gender roles and stereotypes potentially effected the writers of the Victorian period.
Since my knowledge of. Victorian literature is limited, it’s difficult to know what I want to learn specifically. However, I am always interested in how race is or isn’t included in a piece of literature. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is described as being “dark” and “black” and the negative diction surrounding descriptions of his skin may be indicative of a general sentiment of many Victorian people. So, I’m very excited to see if anything like this comes up.