In thinking about this class as a whole, and what I would write for this blog post, I spent some time thinking about the name of the course, Victorian Connections, and what exactly that meant. I tried to think of some connecting force, a single thread, that tied everything we read this semester together. what I came to was this: in almost everything we read this semester, every writer seemed to be driven to their pen by a deeply ingrained sense of purpose. Writing was a tool for them. In the case of writer’s like Carlyle, Shelley, Blake, Mead, and (arguably) Dickens, it was being used to persuade, a way of pouring their convictions out on paper in an attempt to get the world to agree. For others, like Tennyson and Bronte, it was used to explore abstract and difficult concepts like love, grief, and connection, in what I believe was their attempt to come a little closer to finding the answers to the big questions that abstract concepts like these always tend to raise. This drive to use writing as an instrument towards a higher goal is something I haven’t spent much time thinking about before, but I truly believe it’s a concept that the writers we read this semester were almost all familiar with, and I find that deeply fascinating.
One connection I found particularly interesting this week is between Wilde’s thoughts on sorrow and Tennyson’s thoughts on grief. Wilde’s thoughts on sorrow as “one very long moment” in which “we can only record its moods” sounds strikingly similar to what Tennyson seems to do in “In Memoriam”. Recording his own moods in sorrow. I find this quite interesting, and wonder what prompted Wilde to write his thoughts on Sorrow.
I have seen many people comparing Heathcliff and Pip in their connection posts for this week, particularly their shared experience of pining over a woman who doesn’t love them back. I’d like to point out a few differences between how the two react in these circumstances, however. When Heathcliff is faced with the loss of Catherine, in this case to death, he becomes an even more miserable man than he was before, his first words on the matter of her death are essentially the Victorian equivalent of “good riddance”, and later, when faced with the prospect of his own death, he requests to be buried next to her, knowing full well that she would likely object, were she not dead. In Pip’s case, when faced with the loss of Estella, not to death, but to another man, his reaction, while not entirely healthy, is in my opinion at least, entirely preferable to Heathcliff’s. He has one last argument with Estella about the man she’s marrying, goes on a bit of a rant about how she is a part of his identity (another all too obvious parallel to Withering Heights), and then leaves, telling her that he will remember her fondly, even after this, only associating her with the good. In the time after this, he seems to take every precaution to avoid hearing of her but doesn’t speak ill of her in any way. In addition, he forgives Miss Havisham for the part she played in driving Estella away from him, and even attempts to comfort her. Then only minutes later, ends up saving her life, and calling for medical attention when she catches fire. With these massive distinctions in Pip and Heathcliff’s reaction to finding the one they loved suddenly beyond their reach, I think it”s unfair to compare Heathcliff and Pip as if their actions are one in the same, as Pip clearly has the moral high ground here, not just between him and Heathcliff, but just in general
Much like Pip, Charles Dickens led a life that closely resembled the narrative of ‘rags to riches.’ However, unlike Pip, Dickens was raised by his two birth parents, and led a life of relative gentility. This gentility was sporadic though because Dickens’ father led a life far beyond the means of the family and was thrown into debtor’s jail. Dickens’ witnessing his father being jailed marked a major turn in his life as he was taken out of school and thrust into a London comprised of long and laborious days in the factory, with his free time spent wandering the streets. Regarding Dickens’ rise as a social critic, this is of great importance, but it also figures heavily in the charity work that Dickens would take up once he gained eminence as an author. Herein comes Arlene Bowers Andrews article, “Charles Dickens, Social Worker in His Time,” which notes that Dickens devoted ten years of his time to help create and operate a transition home for impoverished and abused women. This is all to add depth to Dickens as not just an author who wrote on the social issues of the time, but as an activist and practitioner against the ills he saw apparent in Victorian society. He was supported over 43 different charity organizations, among which were the Poor Man’s Guardian Society, and the Metropolitan Sanitary Organization. Dickens sympathized so greatly with the lower class that his book Oliver Twist was actually written as a response to a particularly nasty piece of legislation known as the New Poor Law, which was an attempt by the Parliament to reduce the cost of looking after the poor and take beggars off the streets by commissioning workhouses where poor men, women, and children would work under harsh conditions for many hours a day in order to receive the benefits and help offered by the poor law, like housing, schooling, and food. No able-bodied person who did not work in a workhouse could receive any of the aforementioned benefits. Dickens was so disgusted by this, that he wrote Oliver Twist to show the plight of an innocent child raised in the conditions of the workhouse, where no fault could be attributed to Oliver in any way to justify the neglect, mistreatment, and starvation that he and some of the other boys in the book endure.
One similarity I noticed when reading through Great Expectations is that the way Mrs Joe Christmas is described is very indicative of the overall attitude towards both women and the lower class in Victorian England that we’ve talked about in the past. One of the first paragraphs of the chapter is a slight joke about her social status and situation, stating that her position as a blacksmith’s wife is the same thing as “a slave with her apron never off”. This heavily reminds me of the way Carlyle spoke of the ‘lowly black woman’ in the passage of his we discussed far earlier in the semester. One interesting difference I see however, is that while Carlyle seems to look on in pity and admiration at the lower class woman he discusses, Dickens, or more accurately Pip, seems to do no such thing, playing her misfortune off for laughs.
One connection that stood out to me when reading this weekends assigned works was the familiar application of reason and scientific process to religion, seen earlier with Carlyle and again with Huxley. The difference is that Huxley uses these devices to come to the conclusion that the teachings of Christianity are in no way an irrefutable certainty, where as Carlyle uses these devices to work in tandem with the teachings of Christianity in order to come up with his own worldview.
One connection from the prior chapters of Wuthering heights we read preciously to the end of Wuthering Heights, which we read this week, is the consistent connection the women of the novel make between loving someone, and wanting to be like them. Early on in the novel, in Chapter 9, Catherine states she loves Edgar because, in her word, “he’s more myself than I am”. Later, towards the end of the novel, when the other Cathy finally confronts Heathcliff, she says, quite deliberately “I wouldn’t be you!” This sentence seems a direct reference to the previously mentioned line in chapter 9, as despite the fact that Cathy is not talking about personally loving Heathcliff, (like Catherine had been talking about Edgar), her comment is directly tied to the concept of love, as her comment is preceded by her statement that Heathcliff is loved by no one. This way Bronte continuously equates wanting to be someone (or wanting to be like someone), and loving that someone is rather disturbing, but also intriguing. It leaves me wondering, did Bronte simply see this as a healthy form of love, or is she trying to further integrate the idea that all of the romantic relationships in the novel are broken in some way ?
One character in “Wuthering Heights” I find particularly interesting is Mrs Heathcliff, the widow. Her introduction in chapter 2 makes her out to be particularly cold and rude. But what I find fascinating about her, and what I believe connects her to the texts of Martineau that we read last week, is her refusal to acquiesce in the face of domineering males. Mrs Heathcliff is a widow, and a young one at that, and yet, rather than spend her days feeling sorry for herself or attempting to remarry, she instead lives in the home of her father-in-law. When our narrator, Lockwood, attempts to help her with the slightest of house chores, she turns upon him viciously, scolding him, and asserting her independence. Indeed, it appears as if her desire not to be dominated by her male peers goes so far that she is willing to come across as rude and inhospitable if it means asserting her independence.
As we discussed today in class, Martineau’s position on the “acquiescence” of women in Victorian society was that this acquiescence only observed because women of her time are essentially brainwashed into accepting their supposed inferiority at a young age. One thing I wanted to try to connect this to is Carlyle’s take on the “poor Black Woman”. Carlyle takes great pains to emphasize the generosity of this woman, who, out of the kindness of her heart, fed and sang to a sick white man. I can’t help but wonder if Martineau would find these acts of kindness and generosity to also be a sort of acquiescence. Would she say that the instinct to pity and help this white man was borne out of the same brainwashing and ignorance to oppression that she believes the women of her social class to have adopted? If not, what makes this situation so different?