I initially came into this semester having no knowledge of Victorian literature- what novels were considered Victorian, defining features, or major authors. I even didn’t know much about the historical context and influences going on during this time. I had read Wuthering Heights in AP Lit senior year of high school, but I hadn’t even been aware of its Victorian roots and classification. So since this scope of literature was so new to me, I found many facets interesting. Particularly, I was especially intrigued by the evolving relationship between class and gender during this time, and how it was presented in literature. In both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations this relationship was presented in such a way that puts class above gender. I found this interesting because I had always assumed that the relationship, especially during this era, was the other way around. In a society so male-dominated, having characters where women have the upper hand due to their status was enjoyable to read, and see a realistic scope into the past. Along with this, the presentation of emotion in genders was also an intriguing part to read about.
In terms of my favorite part of the semester, I really liked reading Great Expectations! I also enjoyed the structure of the course, and how we split into groups and each had different parts to conquer because we got a very full view on the Victorian era, not just the literature. By having historical context to each piece we were reading, and comments to focus our discussions, I felt I got so much more out of this class than if it was just a lecture with all of us completing the same homework every class. Overall, this class was fun and informative to be apart of!
In The Ballad of Reading Gaol, the lines “Some love too little, some too long, /Some sell, and others buy; / Some do the deed with many tears, / And some without a sigh: / For each man kills the thing he loves, / Yet each man does not die.” Reminds me quite a bit of Wuthering Heights. I feel as though it connects to how Cathy dies first, and Heathcliff and Edgar outlive her for some time. Meanwhile having a child, ultimately an act of love between Cathy and Edgar killed her. On the other hand, it also connects a bit more metaphorically in the sense that her relationship with Heathcliff livened, but also killed her spirit, in the grand scheme of things. Overall, I thought these two connected in the expression of the man metaphorically killing his loved one.
In his article, “Handling the Perceptual Politics of Identity in Great Expectations,” Peter J Capuano takes notice of all the numerous hand-related references throughout Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations. For example, Capuano points out that there are over 450 references to hands, both literally and figuratively, throughout the novel, and that these references create distinctions between characters and their relationship with identity politics. Capuano even goes as far to suggest that Dickens’ manipulates anatomy throughout the use of discourse to convey the pivotal development of Pip, Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, Joe, and Estella. One of the first claims Capuano makes about Dickens’ manipulation of anatomy is seen when Herbert calls Pip “Handel,” in his attempt to further elevate Pip’s reputation in bourgeois society. In addition, Capuano asserts that the hands of the aforementioned characters are indicative of their social class and position in society. For example, Capuano takes notice of the depiction of the female gesture at Satis House and the ways in which it works simultaneously as a combination of verbal and manual direction. We see this in Pip’s first interaction with Miss Havisham when he takes notice of the bright jewels displayed on her hands that display rich attributes and her bourgeois appearance. This shows Miss Havisham’s social class being portrayed by Dickens gestural use of hands. Furthermore, Dickens discusses the impatient movement of Miss Havisham’s fingers on her right hand when she commands Pip to play. This is indicative of the manual direction and her identity within aristocratic position in society that Capuano describes in his article. Capuano then brings up the idea of a Darwinian model of character development through Pip’s character while simultaneously adding to his notion of the portrayal of hands signifying his social, economical and even emotional values. In his transition from lower to upper class, we see Pip’s identity described through the use of his hands as “course” in Joe’s forge to “bejeweled” in London, which further represents his development as a bildungsroman character. Ultimately, Capuano establishes the interconnected ways Dickens use of hand imagery depicts societal and moral identities within the novel.
Chapter 26:¶ 19 (talk of Molly’s wrist)
Chapter 8: ¶ 32, ¶ 50 (Miss Havisham)
Chapter 39: ¶ 70 – (Pips recoiled hands)
It’s extremely hard not to see such a direct connection between Chapter 8 of Great Expectations and Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship at one point in Wuthering Heights.
“I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.” Pip’s inner dialogue here compares and contrasts to much of Heathcliff’s attitude throughout Wuthering Heights. Although we never got Heathcliff’s point of view, the way we get Pip’s, there is still apparent connections in their reactions. For example. when Catherine came back to Thrushcross Grange, she also had the same snobby demeanor that Estella has here. Likewise, when Catherine confronts Heathcliff, he remains dirty and uncaring. Pip states that he just feels rather indifferent, yet lets Estella’s energy feed him. Whenever Catherine gave Heathcliff any sort of attention, he also had this infectious reaction. Later on in the passage, Pip describes how Estella makes him feel hurt, angry, offended, sorry, and humiliated. On the same note, Heathcliff experienced all the same emotions in relation to Catherine. This hierarchy of the woman in the story having this sense of emotional control over the men they come in contact with seems to translate across both novels here.
In the poem, “The Steam King” one passage in particular reminds me of Heathcliff’s decline and eventual death. “Those hells upon earth, since the Steam Kings birth / have scatter’d around despair; / For the human mind for heaven design’d, / With the body, is murdered there.” For Heathcliff, he has considered the moors hell on earth, ever since Catherine passed away. From the beginning, with their tumultuous relationship continually causing his high emotions, that regularly ended in despair. Also, at the end, he starts to refuse food, and spend his last days alone. Presumably, he was in a state of despair, but also like the third line his mind was designed for Heaven, which he considers to be Catherine. Although more indirectly, he does murder himself in a way. As he assures that Nelly knows his burial wishes, stops eating, and stays to himself, he lets himself die. Heathcliff’s happiness revolves solely around Catherine, and ever since her passing, he has lived in a deep sadness that spiraled continually. The last line of that stanza also specifies that the body has died, which is interesting because Catherine’s ghost is always looming, and after Heathcliff’s death, his is also spotted among the moors.
I think one of the most underrated characters in Wuthering Heights is Isabella. In these chapters, we see her leave Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights with her child on her own. Although we never really know what happens in her time away, since she took the initiative to move off and be independent, she broke such strict gender roles. Likewise, Harriet Martineau wrote and advocated for women and their freedom. Specifically, this quote stood out to me in relation to Wuthering Heights: “That woman has power to represent her own interests, no one can deny till she has been tried. The modes need not be discussed here: they must vary with circumstances.” I feel this relates to Isabella and her specific situation, because in this instant, she really took her own interests as her priority. She did not embrace the traditional housewife role, she was brought up to be. Rather, she put herself and her child first, and took a leap of faith that nobody could deny her of.
Overall, Isabella embraces the roles Harriet Martineau writes about. Even though we may never get the full scope of how Isabella’s life went on after she left, the readers do understand that she must have made a way for herself and child. She took herself out of the toxic situation, and put her own interests first.
An overarching theme that our class has been discussing is gender ideologies and attributes depicted within Victorian literature. In response to this interest, Group 3 found Steven Vine’s article, “The Wuther of the Other in Wuthering Heights” which focuses on the relationship of the Other as it pertains to Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff and the influence it has on their social mobility throughout the novel. The article establishes a parallel between the term “wuthering” and the description of the Heights by Lockwood in the first chapter. Vine argues that the term wuthering can also represent a metaphor for stability and instability throughout the novel. Vine’s analysis of the wuthering of the other also applies both marxist and feminist theories to the novel and argues that Wuthering Heights replaces a masculine ideology of romanticism with a feminine one. This inherits Wuthering Heights to be “feminized Romanticism” reshaping the masculine Romantic narcissism. The article also expresses ways where a construed aspect of social and sexual identity are dramatized. Heathcliff is the main example in this article in relation to his introduction to the family and argues that this experience represents Heathcliff’s unstable position in the family structure. Vine argues that “Heathcliff’s entire history in the novel is framed in terms of “taking the place of others” whether it relates to his assumption of the name Heathcliff or his succession as master of Wuthering Heights. Vine also argues Catherine and Heathcliffs relationship is the core representation of this theory. As for social mobility, Heathcliff’s arrivals at the Heights has quite an influence over Catherine because his perceived objective is to separate her from her father’s governance. Vine argues that Catherine portrays disempowerment in communicating with her father as well as indicating that a power battle arises between them over Heathcliff. This disempowerment also causes a lack of identity within Catherine, as she is restrained by traditionally feminine roles in which she is expected to marry Edgar Linton and conform to societal pressures and expectations. Vine argues that if Wuthering Heights reveals gendered identity as a division, then what forms of this division are taken within this narrative? Whether historical or self revealing, this narrative presents the division in more than just an allegorical form. Overall, Vine conveys the instabilities present throughout the novel.
Surprisingly, I found an intriguing connection between The Cry of the Children and Wuthering Heights. Since the infamous Catherine and Heathcliff love story in Wuthering Heights begins when they are children, I found a few comparisons between the two. Throughout the poem, there is a contrast between playful times on the countryside versus the sad, dark, industrial reality that children face. “They are binding up their hearts away from breaking, / With a cerement from the grave. / Go out children from the mime and from the city – / Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do – / Pluck you handfuls of the meadow-cowslips pretty . Laugh aloud, to feel your fingers let them through! / But they answer, “Are your cowslips of the meadows / Like our weeds anear the mine? / Leave us quiet in the dark of the coal shadows, / From your pleasures fair and fine!” Catherine and Heathcliff spend so much of their childhood playing out on the moors. Yet, when Catherine stays with the Lintons when she becomes a more mannerful young lady, in contrast to a reckless, wild girl. Heathcliff, on the other hand, remains the same as he continues to work and play while she was away. When Heathcliff confronts Catherine, the argument ends with Heathcliff telling Catherine he will be as dirty as he wants. Like the poem, he wanted to be left in his fithly and fun youth, away from the fair and fine pleasures of well-mannered adulthood. In a completely dfferent direction, the first line of the poem also connects to Wuthering Heights. In the heat of this argument between Catherine and Heathcliff, it is like they are arguing for the purpose of protecting their hearts and feelings. She wants to believe he is dull, as he tends to express his emotions through his angry outbursts. Overall, these two texts seem unrelated on the surface, but with a more depthful analysis, there is connections between them to be unearthed.
In Past and Present, Carlyle poses an interesting argument about the position of men in the middle of his anti lassiez-faire position. “Life was never a May-game for men: in all times the lot of the dumb millions born to toil was defaced with manifold sufferings, injustices, heavy burdens, avoidable and unavoidable; not play at all, but hard work that made the sinews sore, and the heart sore.” He says this essentially only about men. That men have never had it easy, face injustices, and it is hard work that not only molds them, but tires them. He completely leaves out women, which in a way I believe makes sense for this time period. The audience of this essay is clearly, well-educated high society men, so of course, he doesn’t include women in this narrative. But, In Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft, a different arugment is made.
On the flip side, Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft is about the condition of women during the 19th Century. At one point she states: “On one side we hear that woman’s position can never be improved until women themselves are better; and, on the other, that women can never become better until their position is improved – until the laws are made more just, and a wider field opened to feminine activity. But we constantly hear the same difficulty stated about the human race in general. There is a perpetual action and reaction between individuals and institutions; we must try and mend both by little and little — the only way in which human things can be mended.” She gives us the other side of the narrative during the 19th century, exposing the basic injustice against women during this time of inequality.
Where I see a connection is in the line, “But we constantly hear about the same difficulty stated about the human race in general.” Although these texts are on two very different sides, writing about two very different things, there is a commonground of the theme of difficulty presented. Eliot starts to pose it in a way of using “human” instead of gendering the struggle, to acknowledge that there is injustice within the system that can only be mended a small bit at a time.
Besides those times in AP Literature where I read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights senior year of high school, I have no knowledge of what encompasses Victorian literature. To start, I would of course like to acquire a basic understanding of which are the bounds of Victorian literature, and its deeper characteristics. I hope to also learn more about the features of the humanities of this time – the politics, history, philosophies, and religion, that inspired these works of literature. I’m interested to see the crossovers of themes between the novels and excerpts that we read, so I will be able to have a broader scope of this literature.
Last semester in our Lit & Lit in the Digital Age, we thoroughly talked about modern day connections. I am curious to compare and contrast what I learned about connections then, to Victorian connections, and really develop my knowledge of connections farther. Another aspect I am eager to learn about is the way gender played into this literature. Since some major authors during this time were women, I wonder in what ways their work differs from the male authors of this time. Especally since women weren’t equal or completely respected, I am interested to learn about their struggles of writing and publishing.
Overall, I am excited to take this course, and develop a new range of literature and knowledge about the Victorian Era. Besides exploring the connections and gender roles, I am just eager to start jumping into the literature, and discussing it in class!