As I read Wuthering Heights, the treatment of women at the time becomes very apparent. Mr. Heathcliff treats his daughter-in-law rudely and demands her to make tea for Mr. Lockwood, and she’s just expected to follow his commands. The narrator even observes that he said it in “bad nature.” Additionally, Mr. Lockwood walks in on Mr. Heathcliff yelling at her to do something instead of reading and insults her. As a result, she claims that she’ll put her trash away like he demanded because he can make her if she refuses, but she retorts back with her own comment; this exemplifies her defiance and willingness to stand up for herself. He put his hand up as if we was planning to hit her, but didn’t end up doing it. The way he treats her is totally unacceptable, but also not surprising given the time period.
The frustration within Catherine can be compared to Martineau in Society in America. Martineau writes of the mistreatment of women and how unfair a lot of the laws were at the time. For instance, in some states a woman had to yield all of her property to her husband. Martineau writes of how ridiculous it is that the government makes laws like these; women have never given their consent to these laws even though it is required, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Both Martineau and Catherine demonstrate frustration to their place in society and defy who is trying to “put them in their place” in their own ways. Martineau writes to the public about it and advocates for change, while Catherine stands up for and defends herself against others.
George Eliot’s essay, “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft,” provides an interesting account on how we define the word “nature.” She uses this term in a descriptive sense. For instance, she depicts how Fuller’s appeal for the removal of unjust laws forced upon women makes it so that “her nature may have room for full development.” In this regard, nature is referring to her state of being. By removing these unjust laws, she can begin to reform who she is and gain a stronger will. Additionally, she praises both authors for their “strong and truthful nature.” Thus, she is commending their strength as people for writing their ideas on womanhood and how they are being treated unequally in society, even though many people may criticize them for it. She also admires Fuller’s redefining of “woman’s nature.” Again, this use of the term is attributing to what makes up a woman and her sense of self. Overall, Eliot’s use of nature is a term for illustrating the character of the individual and who he or she is as a person.
In contrast, Thomas Carlyle uses the term “nature” in a different sense within Past and Present. He has a more abstract definition when mentioning the term. For example, when describing Willelmus Conquestor he recounts that he was “provided by nature” and that he “by no means felt himself doing nature’s work.” Noticeably, the term isn’t referencing the nature of who someone is or describing their character, which is how Eliot writes of nature. Carlyle presents the term as more of an abstract idea that allows nature to stand more on its own and doesn’t pertain to a particular person. Along with this, one interpretation of his use of nature is that Carlyle is suggesting that nature is almost like a higher power; when comparing people and nature, people are more like pawns who work to perfect society by the orders of nature. Notably, he also specifies that it is necessary for nature to bring in her people of a higher social standing to lead the rest of society. Again, he is indicating that nature is a being itself when referring to it as “her.”
Therefore, these authors have a contrasting view on what nature is and how to use the term. Eliot uses it to pertain to the character of a person, while Carlyle portrays it to be separate from the person and makes it its own being. As a result, this provides an enlightening discussion on the various interpretations of the word.
Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. However, I don’t usually find myself picking up a book within the Victorian literature genre; this isn’t because I don’t think they’d be good reads, but because I currently have limited knowledge of the time period. As a result, I would like to be able to educate myself more on the Victorian era and on the background of the authors of these works. Along with that, I hope that after this class I’ll be more inclined to challenge myself and read works within a genre that I normally wouldn’t pick out for myself, as well. Overall, I’d love to learn more about what ties all these pieces of literature together. For example, what stylistic choices were made by the authors of the time? Are there recurring themes presented between the different authors? What examples of literary devices were used the most during this period? I find these questions to be really interesting to analyze because they can reveal a lot about what was occurring at the time.