Author Archives: Sandy Brahaspat

Themes Across Victorian Literature – Group 3

Group 3: Sandy Brahaspat, Mallory DelSignore, Domenica Piccoli, Jasmine Vrooman

In completing our group project, we decided to use the online software Kumu to map out prevalent connections between themes like conventional gender roles, appearance and character identity, class, marriage, revenge, and anguish in Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Society in America, In Memoriam, and Reuben Sachs. We began our project by assigning different texts to our group members to draw connections between our selected themes, however, we quickly realized that we worked better together than apart. We quickly learned that being able to bounce ideas off each other and draw connections from multiple texts ensured the depth of our content and we were able to gain a wider scope of Victorian literature by making these connecting our themes to our five texts. 

In operating Kumu, you must first add “element bubbles” which categorize a main idea or thought, or in our case, selected texts, characters, or themes. Each “element bubble” can be connected to other “element bubbles” by implementing connection lines. These connection lines operates as a pathway to view the connection visually because it holds the descriptive content that explicitly states the connection with text evidence. After doing this multiple times, our creation ended up looking like  “spider web” map. At first, Kumu was a little difficult to navigate as the organization can seem overwhelming when making various connections. However, after playing around with the outline and the accessibility of the program to move bubbles and lines around, we found a way that seemed less overwhelming. For example, we first created individual bubbles for our chosen texts, then with a connecting line from the corresponding texts we added the character bubbles, after that we created the element bubbles for our selected themes and then began drawing connections between characters from the novels to our themes. For example, in our text bubble for Wuthering Heights we made a connection between Heathcliff’s character and the theme of Gender Roles. After addressing this connection, we made the assertion that Heathcliff’s treatment towards Isabella is indicative of the toxic masculine gender roles that he exemplifies throughout the novel. 

Despite the power of Kumu, we wish there was a way to directly connect multiple texts to each other as well as the theme; this would make the project a bit more seamless and allow it to be seen from another perspective. In addition, we found it difficult to put the Kumu presentation together because it did not operate like google docs, where all contributors can work at the same time on the same project. In order to view updates or changes to our project, we had to constantly refresh the page which proved to be rather time consuming. Nonetheless, the mapped out project still conveys the connections between themes across our chosen texts very well. 

In order to help you effortlessly navigate our project, we have provided a detailed guide with instructions that should clarify any confusions or concerns you may have. 

To begin, visit our map at:

Once you have arrived at our page, follow the directions listed below.

Step 1: Click on the bubbles with the images of our selected authors for a brief introduction of their texts. From left to right, you will find Emily Brontë, Harriet Martineau, Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson, and Amy Levy.  For example, if you hover your cursor over the Charles Dickens bubble, you will find a brief introduction about Great Expectations and an illustration of the soft cover Penguin edition.

Step 2: Click on the bubbles with the character names for a brief introduction about their roles in their respective novels. For example, if you click on Miss Havisham’s character bubble, you will find a brief snapshot of her life and an image from the 2013 film adaption of Great Expectations

Step 3: The orangey-yellow bubbles below the character bubbles indicate the specific themes we narrowed our focus on. From left to right, you will find class, appearance and identity, gender roles, anguish, marriage, and revenge.

Step 4: To isolate a specific theme, hover your cursor over a theme bubble. 

Step 5: The lines that connect the characters or texts to specific themes contain our analysis of the connections. Click a line to learn more about how and why we made our connection. 

Step 6: Repeat and Enjoy!

Resilient Heroines of Victorian Literature

As I reflect on all of the texts that we explored this semester, it is safe to say that my initial admiration for Victorian literature stands strong as ever. Throughout the course of the semester, I was particularly drawn to the abundance of connections that existed between George Eliot’s essay on “Women in the Nineteenth Century,” Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens Great Expectations, and Amy Levy’s Reuben Sachs. While I was specifically interested in learning more about the various criticisms of gender roles that existed during the Victorian period, I think the weekly research assignments really enabled our class to unpack the various texts that we read and offered a multitude of perspectives that inevitably influenced and challenged my overall reading experience. It was in these research assignments that I learned more about Emily Bronte’s religious upbringing, Victorian conventions for women in the domestic sphere, the bleak consequences of industrialisation, and anti-semitic values that were present in Britian in the nineteenth century.

While I will admit that I enjoyed reading Wuthering Heights the most, I was surprised and oftentimes intrigued by the parallels between Bronte’s Catherine Earnshaw and Dickens’ Estella. I quickly realised that reading these novels side by side, further developed my understanding of the limited space and agency women were afforded in patriarchal societies.  At certain points in our discussions on the domestic spheres, I even found myself thinking of Jane Austen and her social criticisms in the eighteenth century, which was evidently relevant in the texts that we looked at in class. Overall, I suppose it’s safe to say that the most interesting thing I learned this semester was that the women in Victorian fiction, in my opinion, continue to be among the most resilient and calculating heroines I have encountered in literature thus far. While this may be due to their sheer defiance of Victorian conventions and passionate dispositions, I thoroughly and wholeheartedly enjoyed reading and learning about the experiences of women in the nineteenth century. 

Amy Levy: A “Jewish Jane Austen”

When I was studying abroad in London this past Spring, I frequently visited the small bookstore Persephone Books, an independent bookseller known for reprinting texts written by neglected women writers of the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. On one of my escapades, I stumbled across Amy Levy’s Reuben Sachs, and remember reading an inscription next to the text that Amy Levy could be best be described as a “Jewish Jane Austen,” (which was among one of the many factors which prompted me to purchase the novel). In my attempt to re-read Levy’s novel in an academic setting, I am again astounded by the way in which she describes the positions of women in Victorian society, and her social commentary on women’s status compares quite nicely to Dickens’ in his development of the women present in his novel. While Dickens is critical of the ways in which the upper and lower classes interact with one another, Levy (so far) seems to be critical of the ways in which women are limited by their circumstances, and I find this most prevalent in her description of Israel Leuniger’s sister: 

“She was disappointed in her life, but she made the best of it; loving her husband, though unable to sympathize with him; planning, working unremittingly for her six children; extracting the utmost benefit from the narrowest of means; a capable person who did her duty according to her own lights” (Levy 74). 

This description, among many others of Levy’s exposes the rudimentary experiences that many women of this period endure: lacklustre marriages and burdensome children. Funnily enough, when I first read this description, I immediately thought of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Ramsay, but now as I think about Levy in comparison to Dickens, I’m almost willing to consider that this may have been the shortcomings of Mrs. Joe. While she loved her husband, Mrs. Joe was most certainly not sympathetic of his position as a blacksmith and is evidently resentful of the maternal chore that she is tasked with when raising Pip as one of her own, or as Dickens might call it, raising Pip by hand. 

Group 3 Research: Oscar Wilde’s Infamous Trials

In his article, “Re-Presenting Oscar Wilde: Wilde’s Trials, ‘Gross Indecency,’ and Documentary Spectacle,” S. I. Salamensky offers insight on Oscar Wilde’s three infamous trials that criminalised his sexual identity and, interestingly enough, was instigated by Wilde himself. According to Salamensky, Oscar Wilde was well-acquainted with fellow poet, Lord Afred Douglas. Lord Alfred’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, grew suspicious of the relationship between his son and Wilde, and at various points threatened to disown Lord Alfred and publicly humiliate Wilde. According to an online biography titled, Famous Trials, posted by Professor Douglas O. Linder, Wilde’s 1895 trial highlighted the public dissent surrounding same-sex relationships, that at this time were seen as a criminal offence. This is due to the enactment of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1895 which states: “it is a crime for any person to commit an act of “gross indecency.” The Act had been interpreted to criminalize any form of sexual activity between members of the same sex. In his article, Salamensky notes that the Marquess kept his word, and sent multiple letters to Oscar Wilde that accused him of posing as a “sodomite” and accused him of having sexual relations with men. Instead of dealing with the Marquess in private, Oscar Wilde chose to launch a libel suit against Queensbury. Wilde’s decision to bring legal attention to these accusations against himself arguably brought about his eventual demise. The online biography offers more depth about the specific evidence brought forth during Wilde’s trials like: letters between Wilde and Douglas that suggested a romantic relationship between the two, gifts given to Wilde’s young male companions, male witnesses testifying their role in helping Wilde act out his “sexual fantasies,” people testifying they saw Wilde engage in predominantly male parties at hotels, and the presence of provocative themes used in Wilde’s literature that inevitably incriminated Wilde for having sexual relations with numerous men. In addition to the evidence brought forth against him, Salamensky claims that Wilde also made a habit of lying during the trial about his age, which legitimised suspicions against him and brought about the demise of his public image. In addition to increasing suspicions against him, Wilde’s lawyer ended up withdrawing the lawsuit which led many to believe his “indecency” were true, further implying his guilt on these accusations. Nonetheless, during his trial for “indecency” Wilde pleaded not guilty on 25 counts as well as conspiracy to commit gross indecency. However, by the end of the trials, Wilde was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty on majority of those charges, then not long after his release, he lived in poverty in France. In his biography of Oscar Wilde, Richard Ellmann describes the events of Wilde’s death as being painfully tumultuous and describes Wilde foaming and bleeding from his mouth, unable to speak, and consumed by pain. While the cause of Wilde’s death is largely contested due to lack of evidence, it has been assumed that Wilde may have died from an ear infection contracted while in prison, or as Ellmann believed, from an ongoing battle with syphilis.

Killing The Things We Love

Throughout the course of the semester, we have read numerous novels that depict love as something that is both fleeting and dangerous. We see this in Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Tennyson’s In Memoriam, and Dickens’ Great Expectations, and here I find myself stumbling across it again in Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Goal.” Primarily because of the stanzas:  “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! …. Some love too little, some love too long” (1.37-1.42, 1.49). 
After reading this stanza, I immediately thought of Catherine Earnshaw because at various points in the novel, Catherine seeks to murder the thing she loves most in the world, Heathcliff.  It’s also interesting to note that time after time, Heathcliff refers to Catherine as his murderer, and the idea of killing “with a kiss” is apparent in their reunion in Chapter 15. Specifically when Nelly contends that Catherine “had kissed him first, and I plainly saw that he could hardly bear, for downright agony, to look into her face!  The same conviction had stricken him as me, from the instant he beheld her, that there was no prospect of ultimate recovery there—she was fated, sure to die” (CHPXV). Catherine’s death inevitably leads to Heathcliff’s demise, to which he asks her: “‘Kiss me again; and don’t let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love my murderer—but yours!  How can I?’ (CHP XV). Heathcliff’s plea to be kissed and to hide from her gaze speaks to the lines in Wildes’ poem: “Some do it with a bitter look/ The coward does with a kiss.” 
I also found Wilde’s line: “Some love too little, some love too long” reminiscent of the romantic obsession between Heathcliff and Catherine, in which Catherine escapes the grasps of Heathcliff’s love through death, and Heathcliff is still left pining over his murderer 18 years after her death. 

Holding Their Oppressors Accountable: Pip and Catherine II

One of the connexions that I was particularly interested in was Pip’s condemnation of Miss Havisham’s duplicity and his hope that Estella will leave Drummle behind to Catherine II’s animosity and outrage concerning Heathcliff’s treatment of Hareton in Wuthering Heights. One of the things that I realised these two characters have in common is that they both have come to terms with the truth and want nothing more than to free their loved ones from the manipulation of their superiors. 

In chapter 44 of Great Expectations, Pip takes his newfound knowledge about his benefactor straight to Miss Havisham and condemns her for leading him on and coercing Estella into an unhappy marriage, for the sake of petty vengeance. This is precisely the same manner Catherine II forges her alliance with Hareton in Wuthering Heights. After having suffered directly from the hands of Heathcliff and has become accustomed to his cruel, tyrannical behavior, Catherine II implores Hareton to advance his station by informing him of the displacement that Heathcliff has caused him. Whether this is out of spite for Heathcliff, genuine love for Hareton, or perhaps a combination of both- Pip’s actions are directly informed by his infatuation with Estella. Interestingly enough, both Estella and Hareton react in the same manner- and while they acknowledge that they have been wronged, they do not hold their oppressors accountable. Estella claims that her marriage to Drummle is of her own will, her own doing and Hareton, on numerous occasions, chastises Catherine II when he believes her tone regarding Heathcliff borders disrespect or treachery. 

These parallels, among many others throughout Dickens’ novels, nonetheless makes me curious about the extent to which he was familiar with the tropes of Bronte’s novel, or whether or not these narrative techniques are normative for novels written during the Victorian era.

Time Cannot Heal A Broken Heart: As Exemplified Through Heathcliff, Tennyson, and Miss Havisham

There’s a common saying that almost everyone hears at some point in their life and it goes like this: “Only time can heal a broken heart.” Based on the texts we have read so far, like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam or Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, this cliche is continuously proven wrong. Time cannot, in fact, heal a broken heart. Initially we see this with Heathcliff’s erratic behaviour and his obsession to be reunited with Catherine I. His pain is evident in his infamous plea when he learns of Catherine’s death: “Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!  Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life!  I cannot live without my soul!” (XVI). Heathcliff lives the remainder of his life in hopes of this reunion, because as Tennyson eloquently puts it: “More years had made me love thee more” (82.8).  I personally appreciated reading Wuthering Heights and then In Memoriam prior to Great Expectations because it enables me to empathise with Miss Havisham and her heartbreak. Like Heathcliff and Tennyson, Miss Havisham also ruminates in her grief as time passes by. While Heathcliff yearns for Catherine eighteen years after her death, and Tennyson, takes seventeen years to complete his tribute to Hallam, Miss Havisham exceeds almost twenty-five years of living in remorse. Her heartbreak and grief makes it seem as though the world around her has stopped moving, and all that she ever loved and cared for is placed out of her reach. Miss Havisham adopts the same coping mechanism as Heathcliff, and also resorts to revenge. While it may not seem directed on one particular person or family, she wants men to feel her to feel her pain, she wants their hearts to break, and uses Estella to carry out her revenge. In both Heathcliff and Miss Havisham’s grief, they become bitter and vengeful because they have spent all their time obsessing over their pain. Therefore it’s safe to assume that based on their circumstances, time does not heal the emotional wounds of Miss Havisham, Heathcliff, or Tennyson but rather, consumes their every thought and serves as an obsession to see who can hold onto their pain, and lost loved ones, the longest.

Thick Boots, Dirty Hands, and Mind-Forg’d Manacles

“Proud, pretty, and insulting,” these are the traits that Pip assigns to his tormentor, Estella. Upon this first interaction, Pip is astutely aware of her condescension and describes feeling: “humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry,—I cannot hit upon the right name for the smart—God knows what its name was,—that tears started to my eyes” (Chapter VIII), simply because she has pointed out the coarse texture of his hands and the thickness of his boots. Estella’s acknowledgment of the traits that make him “common” and beneath the rank of herself and Miss Havisham aloud makes Pip suddenly regards these qualities as “vulgar appendages.” As a result, he hosts a rage of animosity on this part, and cries himself into a fit of self-pity. This sudden awareness of class hierarchies and high brow mannerisms reminds me of William Blakes’s poem, “London,” particularly the lines: “Marks of weakness, marks of woe. /In every cry of every Man/The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.” Blakes’ observations seems a fitting description for Pips despair after being degraded by Estella. Like the men Blake observe, Pip is bound by the mind-forg’d manacles that distinguish him as a “commoner” and is ashamed of the coarse texture of his hands and thickness of his boots because it insinuates he does not indeed, spend his time playing cards by the fire but rather, engages in manual labour that makes him “ignorant and backward.” 

Interestingly enough, Pip’s  reaction to Estella’s remark by wishing to return home in an attempt to escape from her mean criticisms resembles Heathcliff’s reaction to Catherine when she returns to Wuthering Heights after her confinement in the Grange and proceeds to laugh at him about his appearance: “What are you sulky for?  It was only that you looked odd. If you wash your face and brush your hair, it will be all right: but you are so dirty!” (Chapter VII). Unlike Pip, who remains calm until out of sight of his bully, Heathcliff declares to Catherine: “‘You needn’t have touched me! I shall be as dirty as I please: and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty” and then rudely dashes out of the room to nurse his wounds. What I find interesting about Pip and Heathcliff’s shared circumstance is the methods in which Blakes’ “mind-forg’d manacles” begin to represent the shame both Pip and Heathcliff feel after being criticised by young girls of the upper class and the ways in which the shame that restricts them to the lower class guides their desire for self-improvement.  

Life After Death, as told by T.H Huxley and Emily Brontë

In his essay, “Agnosticism and Christianity,” T.H Huxley reiterates the distinction between the good spirits and bad spirits: “The chief of the good spirits, infinitely superior to all the others, and their creator, as well as the creator of the corporeal world and of the bad spirits, is God. His residence is heaven, where he is surrounded by the ordered hosts of good spirits; his angels, or messengers, and the executors of his will throughout the universe.” On the matter of the bad spirits and their chief, Satan, Huxley asserts that the devil “and his company of demons are free to roam through all parts of the universe, except the heaven” (Paragraph 18-19). Huxley’s distinction between the good spirits and bad spirits in this essay reminded me of the multiple incidents throughout Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights where both Catherine E. and Heathcliff fetishise an afterlife of careless wandering together and an omission of God altogether.

In Chapter 12, we see Catherine deliriously looking out her window at what she assumes is Wuthering Heights, and speaks as though she addresses Heathcliff: “We’ve braved its ghosts often together, and dared each other to stand among the graves and ask them to come. But, Heathcliff, if I dare you now, will you venture? If you do, I’ll keep you. I’ll not lie there by myself: they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over, but I won’t rest till you are with me. I never will!” (Paragraph 40). In another instance, directly after Catherine’s death in Chapter 16, Heathcliff cries, “May she wake in torment! . . .And I pray one prayer – I repeat it till my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!” (Paragraph 16). 

I am particularly drawn to Emily Brontë’s decision to have both Catherine and Heathcliff, on multiple occasions, talk of life after death as a means in which they will be reunited, and until then, their souls will languish and ache for the other’s company. And I find myself consistently struck by Brontë’s decision to include the little boy with the sheep who claims to see the spirits of Heathcliff and a woman (arguably Catherine), in the final chapter of her novel. This additional narrative adds depth to the novel not only because it offers the reader a glimpse of life after death, but because it is so controversial to Brontë’s own upbringing and religious community.

 In addition to this notion of bad spirits roaming the earth, I am fascinated by Brontë’s narrative ability to challenge the ideas surrounding Heaven. While Huxley is explicit in his understanding that bad souls are free to roam anywhere, except “Heaven”- Bronte challenges this rule because “Heaven” for Catherine E. and Heathcliff is not a reunion with God, but with each other. In Chapter 9, when Catherine confesses to Nelly that she would be miserable in heaven, she elaborates: “I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy.” There is so much to unpack after reading these two works in consecutive order, but it seems as though Emily Bronte and T.H Huxley had more in common than I anticipated. They both shared the same ability to stray from collective belief systems, challenged established systems that lacked evidence, and considered multiple interpretations concerning religion.

“The Dead Are Not Annihilated:” Poetry Masquerading as Prose

Every time I pick up Wuthering Heights, whether it be for a literature class or simply indulging myself with a bit of pleasure reading, I am constantly reminded why Emily Brontë is my favourite writer. This is my fifth time reading her novel and still I find myself engaging with different aspects of the text each time I discuss it because her usage of evocative language frames the novel as if it were an elaborate piece of poetry. Besides having my heartstrings consistently tugged throughout the course of the novel, I was curious about Heathcliff’s profound assertion that “the dead are not annihilated” but rather torment the living. In chapter 33, when Heathcliff reflects to Nelly about the sudden change that has taken over the Heights with the alliance between Catherine II and Hareton, he confesses that “The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!” In my recent analysis of the text, I have come to the possible conclusion that the “dreadful collection of memoranda” Heathcliff refers to is the kindling romance between Hareton and Catherine II. 

Heathcliff sees in Hareton a younger version of himself, and while according to Heathcliff, Catherine II has nothing of her mother besides her eyes, he is still haunted by the circumstances in which he fell in love with Catherine E. in the first place. Heathcliff even goes so far as to warn Catherine II, “Your love will make him an outcast and a beggar” (Chp 33).  I’m particularly interested in unpacking the specific language used in this declaration to insinuate that Catherine II has the means to make Hareton an “outcast and a beggar” because it is reminiscent of Heathcliff’s own status in relation to Catherine Earnshaw. There seems to be a direct connexion between Heathcliff’s warning in Chapter 33 to Catherine’s complaint in Chapter 9, “I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now.” It’s critical to remember that during this declaration, Heathcliff listens until he hears Catherine confess her reluctance to marry him on the basis of status. This particular piece of information is important when trying to understand Heathcliff’s warning to Catherine II because he is aware of the turmoil and heartbreak that class status can force lovers to endure. 

Every time I finish this novel, I always find my heart aching for Heathcliff. Not out of pity, but out of empathy because he constantly torments himself by trying to seek out the one thing he desires most in the world: a love annihilated placed out of his reach. It’s inevitable that he must be miserable, for how does one live without one’s life, one’s soul- without dreaming of the sweet release and reunion that death promises.