Author Archives: Jaffre Aether

The impact of setting in William Blake’s “London” and Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”

One area of connection (through disconnection) that interests me is the setting in William Blake’s “London” and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Insomuch as how these two interact, I find it necessary to note a major difference between the London citizenry and the rural genteel. As it goes then, the London citizenry (of the distinctly lower classes) were unable to own land nor were they able to access natural relief, while the rural English genteel were afforded large swaths of land (of which they derived much of their income). In the face of this then, the way each piece of literature explores poverty become distinctly different. With Blake, his exploration concerns the unnamed mass of desperation, and in generalizing the sufferings of starvation and suffering, it loses its emotional weight. In contrast, Bronte is able to distill the observations of Blake into Heathcliff; however, Heathcliff gains an element not achieved by Blake in that he is often described in terms offensive to Romani people. Thus, and to me, the settings definitively impact the way in which poverty is illustrated by both authors, with Blake’s claustrophobic depiction of London rendering the impoverished to be a mass (which is distinctly hard to empathize with), and Bronte’s expanse of land (but sparsely populated land) allowing for a more personal description of the impoverished child. Moreover, the house servant, Nelly, is given the role of narration in Wuthering Heights, which allows for more perspective into the minds of working class people during Victorian England, and more specifically, how they themselves view the landed gentry. As a conclusion, the role of setting, with special attention to how setting influences depiction of character and archetype, appears an interesting angle to take when trying to understand why Blake and Bronte take such different approaches to characterizing the lower classes.

Carlyle’s “Captains of Industry” in conjunction with George Eliot’s “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft”

One intersection of Carlyle and Eliot’s text I find particularly interesting is their discussion of virtue. Yet, their discussions of virtue are not linked in agreement, but rather disagreement, with Eliot’s text allowing for an expansion of how to read Carlyle’s virtue. To wit, Carlyle’s conceptualization of virtue should be read as ‘virtue to exist’ while Eliot’s conceptualization is that of ‘virtue to subsist.’ In characterizing Carlyle’s ‘virtue to exist,’ this quote from paragraph 10 serves nicely as he notes, “All human interests, combined human endeavours [sic], and social growths in this world, have…required organising: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it.” This quote is in direct reference to what Carlyle’s virtuous men must do, and that is to aspire and achieve. In contrast, Eliot’s conceptualization is colored by female disenfranchisement as she notes in paragraph 16 that the prescribed virtue to women (from the overarching masculine structure of Victorian England) is one of idleness. In other terms, the masculine conceptualization of virtue for women is pure subsistence, and only off of the most dominant male figure in their lives. This dichotomy of virtue in both the male and female conceptualization is important as the masculine reading (from the Victorian elite) of virtue lends men as aspiring to be leaders, whereas the female reading of virtue designates women as followers. Indeed, this unpacking of gendered virtues shows how patriarchal Victorian England subsists as women are either complacent within the system and retaining their virtue, or cast out and placed firmly as an enemy of structural normalcy.

What I want to learn about Victorian Literature

The two themes of Victorian literature I would like to explore is how the burgeoning Industrial Revolution was represented by the authors of their time, and in addendum, if these authors addressed the rise of Marxism and decline of working conditions throughout Europe. Moreover, I would be interested to see if Victorian authors focus more on the issue of alienation, and how it manifests in family dynamics, caused by labor commodification or the large scale interpellation of the proletariat into complacency. Finally, and even if there are no overt allusions to Marxist thought in the text, I would like to use these works as a way to practice application of Marxist theory.

Secondly, I am curious to see how Emily Brönte addresses mental health issues in her prose and poetry. And in saying so, her poetry clearly indicates a deep unhappiness. To wit, most mental illness in the era of Queen Victoria was either unclassified or poorly understood, and I would like to know if her oeuvre brought greater attention to an issue that impacted people even if it wasn’t talked about. I also believe Emily Brönte’s works to be a good vehicle for learning about affect theory and how emotion and feeling influence our interpretation of literature. In summary, I would like to use Victorian literature as a vehicle to learn more about Marxist theory in context of the Industrial Revolution and learn how to apply the tool of affect theory in connection to the works of Emily Brönte.