Limitations in Victorian Society

As I was reading Reuben Sachs, one passage about Judith really stood out to me. The narrator describes that Judith’s outlook on life “was of the narrowest; of the world, of London, of society beyond her own set” (Levy 38). The narrator informs here that Judith had no optimistic outlook on her future and perhaps ties this back to what was said about Judith earlier: “[Judith] with her beauty, her intelligence, her power of feeling, saw herself merely as one of a vast crowd of girls awaiting their promotion by marriage” (Levy 35). As indicated here, Judith, despite her many good qualities (beauty, intelligence, empathy), views herself as an individual that could only rise in society through means of marriage. Judith is very likely limited economically by the fact that she’s a woman, for she specifies that she considers herself one of “a vast crowd of girls.” We see something similar in Wuthering Heights with Catherine I. When justifying her decision to marry Linton to Nelly, Catherine asks: “Did it never strike you that if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars? whereas, if I marry Linton I can aid Heathcliff to rise, and place him out of my brother’s power” (Bronte chapter 9 paragraph 87). Much like Judith, Catherine views marriage as the only way she and Heathcliff could economically and socially rise out of Hindley’s influence. We see two similar, connected themes here. The first is marriage being used as a tool for social mobility; the second is the economic limitation of women. As shown by the description of Judith and Catherine’s words, women typically had to result to climbing the social ladder through the institution of marriage because there were very few (if any) alternate, plausible options.

Thoughts on the Descriptions of London in Reuben Sachs

After reading the first half of Reuben Sachs, I was drawn to the descriptions of London as it brought me back to the discussion we had in class a few weeks ago while reading Great Expectations and Pip’s view on London as a human space.

In Reuben Sachs, the novel opens with Reuben’s sense of exhilaration to be back in London. The narrator says, “He was back again; back to the old, full, strenuous life which was so dear to him; to the din and rush and struggle of the London which he loved with a passion that had something of poetry in it” (Levy 10). Here we see that Reuben loves London.

This can be contrasted with his cousin Leo’s view on London. His view is described with, “Leo hated London almost as vehemently as his cousin loved it. It was the place, he said, which had succeeded better than any other in reducing life to a huge competitive examination. Its busy, characteristic streets, which Reuben regarded with an interest both passionate and affectionate, filled him with a dreary sensation of disgust and depression” (Levy 136).

I think that Pip’s view of London can most closely be aligned with Leo’s. Prior to arriving to London, Pip had great expectations for London in that he would become an affluent gentleman, but when he arrived he saw how dirty and crowded it was causing him to become disappointed. In addition, Leo’s view is also related to Pip in that Pip’s life was based on comparing himself to others which caused him to be disgusted in himself and his surroundings. 

Further, London was also described by the narrator in relation to the family with, “Born and bred in the very heart of nineteenth century London, belonging to an age of a city which has seen the throwing down of so many barriers, the leveling of so many distinctions of class, of caste, of race, of opinion, they had managed to retain the tribal characteristics, to live within the tribal pale to an extent which spoke worlds for the national conservatism” (Levy 102). They then describe how they went to Jewish schools, ate Jewish food and were raised with Jewish traditions and prejudice, only making friends within their race as having friends outside of their “tribal barrier” was discouraged by authorities in their community. It seems as though the Jewish community has isolated themself from the rest of London, only associating with one another.

Is Leo’s hatred for London attributed to this and his rejection of Jewish traditions that he seems to be demonstrating thus far in the novel?

Similar Situations

The situation of Judith Quixano from Reuben Sachs being raised in a wealthier family is similar to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. As her family gets larger, they grow poorer, so they send their eldest daughter to her rich side of the family to the Leuniger household. Similarly, Heathcliff was taken in by Mr. Earnshaw’s rich family as an orphan. Hence, both of these characters are almost outsiders in their respective families because they have different parents and are poorer than their the children in the house they grow up in. Although, there is a lot more conflict in Heathcliff’s household with feelings of jealousy and hatred becoming apparent. For instance, Hindley shows an obvious disliking to him and tries to make his life miserable. On the other hand, Judith is close with her cousin Rose who she grows up with and there is no evident conflict between them. Evidently, it is important to keep in mind that Heathcliff was brought into a family he didn’t know, but Judith is cousins with Rose. Thus, it was probably easier to have friendlier relations with the people in the Leuniger house because they were family, and when the Earnshaw’s first met Heathcliff he was a stranger to them. Additionally, both Heathcliff and Judith have feelings for someone who they grew up with and it would be scandalous if something romantic actually happened between them. Notably, Judith’s mother was one of the first people, “whom the gossip about Reuben and her daughter had reached.” Hence, the word “gossip” implies that it is talked about by the family and it could be scandalous if something does happen between them. Therefore, Heathcliff’s and Judith’s situations are broadly similar, but the details of the situations vary.

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.

Group 5 Research: A Background of the Aesthetic Movement and an Examination of the Roles Within It

The Aesthetic Movement began toward the end of the 19th century. It was made up of many different kinds of art, including fine art, poetry, literature, and music. The movement was defined by the notion that “beauty was the most important element in life” (Easby 2016).

Artists were creating pieces of work that embodied this ideal. This ideal was also codified in terms of pure viscerality and emotions. The emotive portion of aestheticism is by far the most important part of the movement, with Aesthetes forgoing stringent codes of morality in art so as to achieve freedom. And as the aesthetic movement forwent morality, its texts were largely devoid of prescriptive moral messages, rather giving the maxim to live life as art, which is to live life free. There is a lot of confusion around who the person was who began this movement; however, some research shows that aestheticism was coined by Oscar Wilde and Algernon Swinburne in literature specifically. This movement was known to be an important stepping stone to what is known as “modern art.” Poetry was a quintessential part of this movement, as a lot of the most influential works come from poets such as Morris, Swinburne, and Levy. Other influential writers such as Oscar Wilde were known to be “overly elaborate and ornate”, and utilized a more playful writing style.

  Morris, who was another very important writer during this time, instead “saw art as inseparable from political ideals” (Burdett 2014). In addition to this, Morris’ views can be interpreted as saying that separating art from politics carries a danger, for this monomaniac cult of Aestheticism will naturally reinforce bourgeois politics. The reinforcement comes via way of not using art as a political challenge and confronter, and the fact that artists of the Aesthetic movement were generally of the higher class (so, naturally they would see no issue with de-politicizing one of the most powerful tools for transformative change).These kinds of works and styles of writing were known as “creative as well as productive” (Burdett 2014). At the time, this style of writing and these writers were often seen as “alarming to the more conventional Victorians” (Burdett 2014). Aestheticism was often heavily criticized in the context of the time in which it was written in the form of satire in the news, especially when artists and writers would release these works.

Many aesthetic art pieces focused on beautiful women with long hair in stunning interiors decorated with peacock feathers and other luxuries. William Morris created stunning household textiles, wallpaper, and furniture. The most famous aesthetic artist, however, was acclaimed American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who is best known for his self portrait of his mother sitting in a chair in a gray interior with a stern look on her face. His simplistic representations were constantly looking for a story with which to connect his pieces, and Whistler himself asserted that “the vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story from which it may be supposed to tell” (Easby 2016).

Wilde and Bronte

After reading Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of the Reading Gaol” I couldn’t help but make connections between the narrator and to Cathy Linton. Both the narrator and Cathy are realists when it comes to love–the narrator saying that when you love something to let it go, and Cathy is also a realist when it comes to love, as she is with Hareton. There are many terms in this poem that remind me of “Wuthering Heights” just in general. For instance, there are several lines that talk about a wife in a coffin and this reminds me of Catherine Earnshaw. Yet, Wilde repeats the stanza, “I never saw a man who looked/With such a wistful eye/Upon that little tend of blue/Which prisoners call the sky,/“ and I think this stanza is referring to those such as Catherine and Heathcliff who do not ask any questions and simply believe what they are told.

Violent Themes in Victorian Literature

In both of Wilde’s works, there are many dark themes surrounding loved ones. In much of the literature we have read, there has been many examples of inflicting violence acts against family members or those close. The descriptions of cutting and killing with a knifeBallad of Reading Gaol” reminded me of the early imagery of Catherine’s ghost in Wuthering Heights from a visual point of view, but also the later examples of violence between many family members throughout the novel. For example, when Hareton and Linton come into conflict, and Linton ends up bleeding from the nose. Blood is often used to show that a character has been visually injured, and is reoccurring. Through most of the Victorian Literature we have read, there has been a level violence and physical conflict, and it is rarely ever directed at an outsider. Most of the violence occurs within preexisting relationships.

Oscar Wilde’s Suffering & Wuthering Heights

In reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, I noticed the highly emotive language that is used throughout to describe Wilde’s experiences. Words like “suffering”, “sorrow”, “grey”, and “forgotten” pop out to the reader within the first few paragraphs. This transparency of feeling is juxtaposed by the reluctance in Wuthering Heights. Many times, the reader is left to piece together the pain of many of the main characters–particularly Heathcliff and Catherine–as the characters themselves have a difficult time coming to terms with their suffering.

Wilde and Tennyson on Sorrow

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.

Killing the ones you love

In Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” he writes from the perspective of a man in jail, witnessing another prisoner who’s being put to death for killing his love. He then takes this physical action of the man killing his love and turns it into an abstract idea that I believe suggests all men kill the things they love through toxic masculinity. Wilde writes, “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!”, and goes on to outline other which ways men can go about killing their loves. I believe this is similar to Heathcliff and Catherine in how the issues between Edgar and Heathcliff drove Cathy to breaking. Their hypermasculinity drove the two men to fight over Cathy in a reductionistic sense that negated her validity as a person with autonomy, consequently killing the thing they loved.