Author Archives: Jaffre Aether

Group 5 Reflection

The aim of our project is to situate the themes of our novel in a physical and historical context. By way of this, our thematic map allows for a visualization of the physical spaces that influenced the writers and their work. The abstract nature of the ideas presented are also made more clear with a link to the real world, with that, our map aims to imbue a readable symbolism in each place we made connections with. There is also the necessity to pay attention to the environment of the author, for there is no doubt that Emily Bronte was influenced by the North York Moors and Dickens was influenced by the grand chaos of London. 

The map is able to effectively demonstrate the connections by linking sections of the text to the physical spaces they mention. In turn, the accompanying blog posts elucidate the text and author’s connection to the space, allowing for a nuanced treatment of how the text’s setting and the author’s environment holds a significant influence over the way we mine for meaning. There is also the added fact that bringing these locations to the forefront allows for an aspect of the text that is frequently relegated to the background. The map, and its charted line, allows for a sense of the immensity of connections made by the authors we have read in class, for to see the route that each of these authors track through and discuss, reminds us that these texts had a global impact. 

The most effective way to use the project is to follow the route outlined on the blog, so as to best understand the immensity of these texts. If you want to find some accompanying pictures, just click on the pin that is present in the embedded map at the top of the post. You can also zoom out from the map at the top of the blog post to better situate where you are in the United Kingdom and the world! From there, you can get the full scope of how the setting and the environment influenced the text and the author. As a final activity, you can check out some of the tourist spots that serve as further entertainment to the modern traveler. 

For example, if you want to learn more about Oscar Wilde and his artistic process, then follow these steps! Firstly, open the map (located at the bottom of this post), and either search Oscar Wilde’s name or go to the side bar and scroll down to the locations related to Oscar Wilde. Specifically, we will be using the location of Reading Gaol. Such as that, click on the pin, browse through the pictures at your leisure, and then click on the link to the author’s blog post. This is an eminently important location to reflect on because it is not only where Oscar wrote De Profundis (and was inspired to write The Ballad of Reading Gaol) , but because he continually references the jail and its effect on Oscar Wilde. Moreover, De Profundis marks a cynical turn in Wilde’s philosophy, and it is crucial to reflect on the dehumanizing and demoralizing elements of prison. Each of these considerations adds to our understanding of Oscar Wilde and the Victorian prison system. 

The challenges in regard to the map were largely technical. The first major one was deciding whether to use StoryMap JS or Google Maps. We eventually chose Google Maps, even though it meant using a less aesthetically beautiful software. Of that, we had to learn the system of Google Maps, and learn how to search for images that were free to reuse. On a larger level, we had to think deeply on the locations we chose, and interrogate ourselves on why or if they are actually important. As for that, some of the locations we initially thought we would choose ended up falling to the wayside, simply because we did not feel they added to our understanding of the text and its author. There was also the task of writing our blog posts, and to most effectively communicate what we thought was most important about the locale. Of that, we decided to focus more on the textual connections to the location, while sometimes using the history of the location as a way to add more to our understanding of the text. But these challenges felt small due to the great cohesiveness of our group! Everyone was always able to work together, and no one felt alienated or isolated from the process. Indeed, this group reflection was typed in real-time with contributions from everyone.

You can access the blog with this link

And you can access the map with this link

Victorian Literature and Emotion

I suppose the most interesting thing I learned about Victorian Literature this semester was just how emotional it can be. I had already read Middlemarch prior, and was touched at the emotion and sentiment risen in that book, but had not assumed it to be typical of Victorian literature. But it turned out to be quite typical. Naturally, my favorite book was Wuthering Heights as it bartered most strongly in this emotion. Emily Bronte was able to write deep and meaningful characters that both spoke to a greater emotional depth, one that retains a certain primitive nature, and to the facade each of us wears to mask or convert our emotions into socially normative behaviors. Charles Dickens too worked in this emotional sphere. Great Expectations fundamentally revolved around the affective power of hope, and he noted both the power of fulfillment and disillusionment in terms of achieving goals (this referring strictly to material goals). I find all this interesting as well, that the Victorian writers played so heavily within emotional works, especially since their age was one of nascent mechanical growth. The streets of London were awash with the poor and the needy, and the air was black with the smog of factories. Yet all of this isn’t to say that the authors we read ignored this, rather they knew the importance of emotional effect in dealing with these issues. Their return to the natural and easily accessible offered the best way to begin to form frameworks for how to understand the change that was sure to come. So then, the most interesting thing I learned about Victorian literature was the power of its powerful emotion and its touchingly refined sentimentality.

Spaces in Victorian England: Wuthering Heights and Reuben Sachs

I’ve touched on the concept of space in Victorian England before, but the fact that it keeps coming up is quite interesting. In this case, Wuthering Heights and Reuben Sachs are both books that are emblematic of fairly different spaces in Victorian England, especially in contrast to the era’s focus on the urban center of London. In saying the usual focus is on London, I mean that the focus is on a certain strand of London, which is a London read through pure class delineation. Wuthering Heights is not in London, but it is a book that goes further than the pure class analysis that seemed so popular in Victorian England. Where Wuthering Heights separates itself is in the racial ambiguity of Heathcliff, which is not a minor factor, but a visual note that consistently pops up within the characters. I won’t go so far as to say the book takes an intersectional lens on Victorian class structures, but it does make the reader aware that class is experienced or viewed differently when race and ethnicity are brought into the mix. Likewise, Reuben Sachs is a book that talks about the Jewish population in London at the time. I think the book does deal with class as a question, but it is clear that the book is also asking what it means to be Jewish in Victorian England, and more than that, what it means to be separate from the gentile hierarchy in Victorian England. Yet the analysis the book is undertaking is far more complex, for while all the characters are Jewish, all of the characters are distinct. This is better read to in light of the fact that Amy Levy is writing against George Eliot’s depiction of Jewish people in Daniel Deronda. In contextualizing with that, Levy is clearly writing a book that is attempting to create a Jewish literary space that is accurate, reflective, and not created from an outside perspective. All in all then, each of these two books attempts to creating a sort of space for their characters to operate earnestly and accurately.

Death in Love: Wuthering Heights and The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Between these two texts, there is the notion that to love something is to necessitate a killing of that something. And in both cases, I cannot help but wonder if the love causing death is because the love is always unattainable. Heathcliff is not the direct cause of his love’s death, but he does take part in it, and in especial attention to his lament whence he finds her dead, it seems his love originates, and the death of his love, allows him to turn Catherine into his ideal. He can now say (since she is dead and voiceless) that she was his cure, and he will never be adequately contradicted on this notion. Likewise, the subject of Wilde’s poem kills his wife, whom Wilde repeatedly stated he loved, in what to me seems the interest of preservation. Love is a labor, and Wilde notes this, and it is far easier to kill a love, to keep it safe and idealized, than to recognize that whole and wholly yielding love is but a fantasy. This interpretation for Wilde’s poem is reaffirmed by the continual reference to Christian imagery, and with that reference, Wilde is juxtaposing human love (which is weak and flawed) with God’s love or the love of God (which is full and perfect). However, I do not read this as Wilde supporting Christianity, but rather using that Christian conceptualization of love as a cultural touchpoint for the grander message he is attempting to convey.

Class and Culture: Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations

As I had discussed in my comment for Tuesday’s reading, the ontology of gentility is a major topic within Great Expectations, and I think beyond Great Expectations, it is a major topic in Wuthering Heights as well. Naturally, the two characters that receive focus through this lens will be Pip and Heathcliff, and this is due not only because of their meteoric rise in class status, but in how they represent an aberrance in Victorian culture. To wit, Pip is born an orphan, and is accordingly perceived to be emblematic of a baser culture than those of a higher economic status. Pip’s upbringing is not dissimilar to Heathcliff’s, as Heathcliff is an orphan who is rescued and brought up into a higher class status (although he falls from this as well, but he still rises once more). However, the way these two intersect is not in the fact of their shared rise, but how the two rose. In this rise, an element of criminality is unmistakably mixed, and in each, the mix is different. As towards Pip, his benefactor is a criminal. But for Heathcliff, his criminality is of an altogether different sort, and is never explicitly stated. Such as that, the reader, through Nelly’s view, can read Heathcliff as having been a soldier, and since this is Victorian England, there is no mistake that his soldiering was of the colonial type. This is a different kind of criminality, one that is legally validated, but morally questionable. Again, these are not illegal practices, but they are distinctly separate from what the old money gentry would deem acceptable (even if they themselves had a hand in this honeypot). Such as that, both Pip and Heathcliff feel a certain isolation from the prominent figures of old school gentility in their respective spheres. Pip feels himself in isolation from Estalla, and Heathcliff feels himself in isolation from Edgar Linton, with both feeling less than and unworthy in comparison (although, their manifestations of these feelings are distinctly different). Of course, these are false constructions, as most money is unethical in its origin, but the culture that these two are surrounded by deems the old money acquirement of wealth far more moral than both Pip and Heathcliff’s, even if there is little actual difference. Thus, the intersection of class and culture in both of these books demonstrates how culture is used to create class distinctions between people who have the same materiality. I believe further that both of these books is noting the absurdity of this mask, as well as noting the moral hypocrisy that the culturally adept have in their own economic pursuits.

Liminality in Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights

While everything about Ms. Havisham is greatly interesting, nothing could be more fascinating about her than the clocks that surround her. These clocks are not ticking, but rather, are stuck on a specific time (8:40), which would be precisely when she was left at the altar. The pause is literally representative that her wedding never happened, but even presently, Ms. Havisham’s wedding has never happened. She is quite literally stuck in the moment before her wedding, and she thus acts as both a bride and not a bride, and in that contradiction, she is neither. Simply put, the ritual that would have caused her title to change from Ms. to Mrs. never happened, and the aberrance of the ritual that would have kept her Ms. never happened either. She exists caught between those two facts. All of this is not unlike Heathcliff, who after Catherine’s death exists between both life and death. However, Heathcliff is more proactive than Ms. Havisham as he recognizes he is caught in a liminal space, and seeks to do everything he can to complete the ritual of his love, even going so far as to unearth Catherine’s body. But even further than that, Heathcliff effectively kills himself so that he may escape the torturous liminality he exists in, that of being unable to fulfill his love for Catherine and also being unable to dispel his love for Catherine. Liminality exists definitively within both of these books, and it will be interesting to see how Ms. Havisham deals with her own precarious standing in contrast to how Heathcliff dealt with his.

Social Networks in Great Expectations and London in 1819

One part of Great Expectations that I found interesting was Pip and his family’s experience with the convicts, and specifically, Pip feeding the convict. Of course, Pip feeding the convict was done out of fear, but when the convict is being led off and admits he stole the food, Pip’s father sympathetically notes that Pip does the right thing in feeding him. To me, this denotes a communal safety net in the less fortunate, a mutual network of sustenance that has to be maintained, no matter who desires it, because the government, or any other larger social entity, is not doing it for them. Herein comes England in 1819, and specifically, the lines “Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay/ Religion Christless, Godless– a book seal’d/A senate– Time’s worst statute unrepeal’d.” This seems the most apt analysis of England during the Victorian period, for it portrays England as a place that is left without a protector, and moreover, the poor are left without a protector. Because of this then, and since larger social entities have abdicated their responsibility to protect the marginalized or simply chosen not to, the lower classes (Pip and his family) have had to create a social network between other lower class families to create a support system. Interestingly, this social network is not limited, and spans to the class of felons. This is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that the social welfare network was not limited, and attempted not to marginalize itself (obviously, this is not true in whole), and second, it demonstrates a certain lack of faith in the legal system. Already, Shelley has underlined the fact that laws are for the most part classed against the poor and this distrust carries on in Pip and his family. As such, the connection here formed is that of the social network Pip and his family symbolize, while also receiving context of why this had to happen from London in 1819.

On Social Darwinism: Charles Darwin and E.P.’s “The Many and the Few”

First, it should be noted that Charles Darwin was not the eminent proponent of social Darwinism, and it did rise later on in the century, but the connection is too choice to not be made. With that said, there was a specific line that drew me to connect the two texts, and it reads from E.P.’s “The Many and the Few” as this, “Ye noble rulers of our land-oh! Where have ye had birth?/ For we must be, ye God-like men, of other, baser clay.” This poem was written before Darwin’s magnum opus, and before the advent of Social Darwinism, but it is a good avenue for exploring how birth relates, and will continue to relate to social and economic status. Indeed, the notion of ‘baser clay’ played a large role in Social Darwinism, as the theory posits that genetic makeup factors heavily into the class hierarchy, and that people poorer than the wealthy deserved their status. Indeed, the poem itself rejects this notion, and questions the proposition that one is marked from birth for a certain station. Additionally, the idea of Social Darwinism began gaining steam during the actual conceptualization of Darwin’s own theory. This can be reasonably said by Gosse’s credit to Agassiz for gathering data that helped to further ground the study of evolution. To wit, this is important because Agassiz was a notable practicer of phrenology, (which is the study of skulls) and it can thus be noted that some of the data that helped ground Darwinism may have grounded Social Darwinism as well (the data Agassiz collected on skulls was proven fraudulent). As for tying it back together, the notion of the few having right to rule over the many seemed to be under harsh fire in a lot of the literature we read, and it seems that there were many in the upper elite that used Darwin’s concept of evolution in a controlling fashion so as to mask their rule in a scientific validity (that of course was false).

The Interpellation of Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff into Capitalist Victorian England

One aspect of Wuthering Heights that is deeply interesting is the accruement of wealth and status, and the subsequent disillusionment with these material objects, by both Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff. To wit, the accruement of wealth and status by both Cathy and Heathcliff are cruel and passionless. While the rise of Cathy and Heathcliff’s rise to status is deeply different, they both fell into the praxis of Rural Victorian’s rubric of success (but more so Catherine than Heathcliff). Moreover then, Cathy’s debate with Nelly is the best representation of how the interpellated idea of capitalist success succeeds against primordial and passionate emotions. In that, Cathy’s choice of the safe route is exactly what the system had in mind for her, as the combination of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange is the best outcome of wealth generation. Indeed, this practice of marrying the people who border your land was a well-known tactic in Victorian England to maintain and extend the status quo. The focus then turns to Heathcliff. Indeed, Heathcliff takes the more atypical route to wealth in Victorian England, although, when you think about it his story of pulling himself up by the bootstraps and making something of himself is about as typical as you can get. Yet, his rise is not detailed, and without any evidence, that section of his life cannot be used to prove his interpellation into capitalist society. However, the preceding events (i.e. his overhearing of Catherine’s conversation indicating the success of interpellation) of his life can be. Indeed, once he hears that he must be wealthy to achieve what he wants, he springs fully into the maneuverings of gaining wealth in a capitalist society. Moreover, his subsequent actions show how indebted his into this gain, as he purposefully rends families apart from each other to gain more wealth. This is, of course, thematically done under the auspices of his passion for Cathy, but it can also be read as him learning that gaining wealth is alienating and detrimental when in conjunction and confronted with maintaining and supporting families. The sad part in all of this however is the ultimate failure of entering the capitalist society for both Cathy and Heathcliff as neither of them get their ultimate desire, and both are worse off for letting themselves be interpellated into capitalism (although, one usually does not have the choice to ‘let themselves’ be interpellated).

A Book Inside a Book: Wuthering Heights, Self-Referential Narratives, and Death

From the outset of Wuthering Heights, the most interesting event in the beginning chapters was Lockwood’s discovery of Catherine’s diary. However, the fascination lies not in the act, but rather, in how Catherine’s diary is presented. As it stands, the diary was not a typical diary, but a diary that constituted itself to be both a diary and an obscure book (the book’s title hardly matters). On surface level, Catherine’s diary can obviously be interpreted as a meta-reference to how Emily Brontë delivers the narrative of Wuthering Heights, which is that of the frame narrative. To wit, this object is self-referential towards the form of the novel, but it can also offer itself as a meta-object that deals with the content of the novel. To those ends then, the two content-rich narratives are separately that of the implicit and the explicit. The implicit narrative, and the framing narrative, is the socioeconomic system that prevents Catherine and Heathcliff from realizing their romantic ambitions together. This, of course, is not a traditional narrative, but a systemic narrative localized to Victorian England. Yet, the narrative of Catherine and Heathcliff’s romance is a literary narrative, yet, it also retains aspects of a dialectic (albeit a negative one). But why is this an important aspect of the novel to point out, and how does it flesh out the characters? For the first part, this aspect of the novel gains its importance in Catherine’s death, which is helplessly intertwined with her realization that the dual narratives she and Heathcliff operate within are sustained upon absence. That is to say, she has realized that not only will she never meet the societal expectation of the systemic narrative she takes part in, but she will also never fulfill her romantic expectation with Heathcliff. In this realization then, Catherine can be seen as someone who has had both of her guiding narratives fully deconstructed, and cannot stand the essential nothingness of each of the narratives she has been forced into. Thus, the meta-object of the novel opens up the necessary steps to understand this conclusion. To wit, the meta-object breaks down with Heathcliff, and in most senses, was never there for him. Thus, the breakdown of Catherine, and the unexpected stoppage of her writing their stories in the margins of the systemic narratives, leaves him in a lurch. This lurch comes because he has not yet fully died, in both the physical and philosophical sense. Of course, his narrative with Catherine is dead, but he is still left with the overarching systemic narrative that ripped him and Catherine apart. It follows then, that this narrative is the one he fully rebels against. His anger and diabolic machinations reaches to a fever peak in the following chapters of Catherine’s death. Now herein lies a new question, does Heathcliff rebel so earnestly against that systemic narrative because he hates what it perpetrated onto him and Catherine, or does he rebel because it creates an unbreakable bond of hatred (which could be seen as a good thing for the systemic narrative was deeply intertwined with him and Catherine’s personal narrative, and thus, retains a parcel of Catherine herself) between him and that system?