Category Archives: ENGL 367 F19 Connections

Social Class and Self Improvement in Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights

As I read the first ten chapters of Great Expectations, one of the prominent themes that I noted was social class. Pip is an uneducated, rough looking, working class boy who is sent to the wealthy Miss Havisham’s home to “play.” The emergence of this drastic class difference between the two in the novel sheds light on this theme. Being that this is a common theme in Victorian Era literature, it makes sense that social class is also a prominent theme in Wuthering Heights. Already, Pip’s relationship with Estella reminds me of Hareton and Cathy’s relationship in Wuthering Heights. Firstly, similarly to Hareton, Pip was raised harshly and violently and without much love. Both Pip and Hareton share a coarse appearance; Pip’s appearance from living in a working class family and Hareton’s from his neglect throughout his childhood. Both are also uneducated as a result of their upbringings. When Pip meets Estella at Miss Havisham’s, she treats him very rudely. She makes it clear that she is disgusted by Pip because of his working class characteristics like his, “thick boots” and “rough hands.” We see a similar dynamic between Cathy and Hareton for a large portion of the novel. Cathy is cruel to Hareton; she makes fun of him for being uneducated, rough and foolish. Both Pip and Hareton are deeply affected and offended by Estella and Cathy’s treatment. As a result, they both decide to improve themselves. At the end of these first ten chapters, Pip, who was brought to tears by Estella’s hurtful words and actions, decides that he will change himself for the better; he wishes to not be “common” anymore. Thus, we see the emergence of the theme of self-improvement in the novel. Pip talks to Joe about his wish to be “uncommon” and asks Biddy to teach him what she knows from school. Similarly, in Wuthering Heights, after Cathy embarrasses and insults Hareton, he also sets out on a mission to improve himself. For example, Hareton reads books and acts kindly towards Cathy. Evidently, self-improvement is also a theme in Wuthering Heights. When it comes to Hareton’s pursuit of self-improvement in the novel, he ends up successfully educating himself with books and the help of Cathy and he seemingly becomes a happier and gentler person. By the end of the novel he even ends up happily together with Cathy. Based on these observations from Wuthering Heights, I am curious to see where Pip’s self-improvement efforts will take him. Will Pip and Estella will form a similar relationship as that of Hareton and Cathy? Or perhaps their rivalry will continue to grow. It will be interesting to see what message emerges about social class through Pip’s self-improvement and his relationship with Estella and Miss Havisham.

Working Children

In Great Expectations, Pip is too young to be an apprentice to his sister’s husband, the blacksmith, so he completes random jobs to make money, none of which he ever sees. This money is assumed to be used to help contribute the household. When Pip is told he is expected to go to Miss Havisham’s house to play with her daughter Estella, Pip’s sister sends the boy with hopes that the rich matronly lady will pay Pip for his service, thus extending his fortune for the household. Pip is too young to be an apprentice, yet is expected to work odd jobs to help with the family’s income. This reminded me of the poem The Chimney Sweeper by William Blake where the child is sooty and broken spirited from laboring at such a young age. These young children shouldn’t be forced to work under such circumstances, and although Pip is only expected to play with Miss Havisham’s daughter, he undergoes beratement and humiliation, all for his sister’s hope that he will be paid.

Relationships Between Social Classes

Evidently, the situation of a lower class orphan boy having feelings for an upper class female occurs in both Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Notably, Heathcliff and Catherine develop a certain connection over the course of the novel that was only able to really be possible when they were younger; at a young age, they were unaware of their different social standing and were able to play around together. However, after Catherine comes back from Thrushcross Grange, she becomes aware of their difference, and the possibility of her and Heathcliff ever getting together diminishes greatly. Importantly, she admits this fact when she tells Nelly that she would consider marrying Heathcliff, if Hindley didn’t cast him to be so low. Hence, because of their initial difference in class, they could never make it work. Comparatively, Pip in Great Expectations shows signs of having interest in Estella, with him calling her pretty and saying that even though she was rude to him, he could still see himself wanting to see her again at some point in the future. Heathcliff and Catherine were able to play around together because they were young, innocent, and unaware of their difference in standing. In contrast, Pip and Estella can’t get through a game of cards without Estella’s judgement and insults towards Pip. Specifically she mentions, “He calls the Knaves Jacks, this boy!… and what course hands he has! And what thick boots!” Thus, social class gets in the way of Catherine and Heathcliff’s development of a relationship, and Pip and Estella’s development of even a friendship, as well.

Orphans in Victorian Literature

While reading the first several chapters of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, I noticed a handful of connections to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, but the one I’m most interested in so far is between the characters Pip of Great Expectations and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

The two of them seem similar so far as they were both orphans, although Pip gets to live with his sister and Heathcliff was taken in by Mr. Earnshaw who as far as we are aware, is unrelated to him. We also see how they are both pressed by social class. Heathcliff was constantly ridiculed because of his skin color, hair color and treated as a member of the lower class while Pip and his family are also members of the lower class.

In both novels, the reader sees how aware these characters are of their standing and how they make an effort to change this. In Wuthering Heights after Heathcliff overhears Catherine say that it would degrade her if she married him, he runs away and is gone for three years. During this time he underwent change and returns almost as a different person as Nelly doesn’t even recognize him when he returns. It is never explained where Heathcliff was, what he was doing, how he made money, etc. However with Great Expectations, so far we are seeing the beginning of what seems to be Pip’s efforts toward rising in his social standing. In the later chapters of today’s assigned reading we see Pip’s awareness to his social class after his meeting with Miss Havisham and Estella. When he returns from his time there, he confesses to Joe that he wished he was not common. He also lists things he wished he did not have to face such as “I wish you hadn’t taught me to call Knaves at cards, Jacks; and I wish my boots weren’t thick nor my hands so coarse”. In Chapter 10 we then see Pip begin his efforts toward becoming uncommon by seeking the help of Biddy to teach him things.

I’m interested in seeing how Pip and Heathcliff compare as we continue reading Great Expectations.

Also, I’m beginning to wonder about the usage of orphans in Victorian literature. In high school I remember reading Silas Marner and A Tale of Two Cities and there were orphans in those novels. Although I haven’t read them yet, I believe Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist are also both about orphans? I wonder why this was such a popular thing to write about at the time and what this says about Victorian England historically.

Wuthering Heights and the Endurance of Trait

As I was reading the excerpts from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and considering what I already knew about Darwin, my mind kept going back to the second generation featured in Wuthering Heights. Something that initially struck me about young Cathy and Hareton was that they both exemplified the qualities of their parents and/or, in the case of Hareton, those who raised them. However, they were undeniably improved versions of their predecessors. Cathy had the strong will and determination of her mother, but was complemented with the gentleness and refinement of her father. She was not hot-headed and impulsive like Catherine, nor was she weak of will as Edgar sometimes was. This was similarly true for Hareton. Though Heathcliff was not his dad, he was in many ways more of a father to him than Hindley. Hareton exemplified Heathcliff’s strength, and a sort of stoicism that could also sometimes be found in his mentor. And yet, there was also a gentleness to Hareton that could not be found in Heathcliff. Perhaps it came from his mother, or more likely from Nelly, who cared for him while he was still a boy. Both Cathy and Hareton inherited the most favorable traits, and were the best versions of their parents and caregivers. As such, the two succeeded where their forebearers could not. The opposite of Cathy and Hareton, however, would be Linton. Unlike the others, Linton displayed all of the worst qualities of both of his parents. He inherited the unfavorable traits, and therefore, it fits that he was unsuccessful. This does reflect the idea that Darwin discusses: what Herbert Spencer coined “survival of the fittest.” In many ways, Cathy and Hareton were the “fit,” and therefore survived while Linton, on the other hand, was far too weak, and was naturally, to put it harshly, eliminated.

Response to Wuthering Heights in Wake of Scientific Discoveries

Edmunde Gosse’s Father and Son shows readers how intellectuals, scientists and the general public felt about these new scientific discoveries in the Victorian Era. This passage reveals the extreme faith and dependency on traditional religion that people experienced were before these revolutionary scientific discoveries. Readers get a strong sense of two very defined and unmoving perspectives developed as a result of these discoveries: one being the secular theory of evolution vs. religious belief in Genesis.

Based on what we’ve learned about Brontë’s life, it is clear that Brontë is writing from a perspective that is not based in the same kind of religious faith that so many Victorian people had. One could argue that Emily Bronte’s experience growing up with no real connection to religion is expressed in her writing through the Earnshaw family; the Earnshaw’s represent Bronte’s rejection of traditional religious practices. One reading of Wuthering Heights could be that the Lintons represent traditional religious practices while the Earnshaws represent passion, connection to nature, and an alternative approach to faith/spirituality. Additionally, Brontë often portrays the Lintons as weak, vain, and sickly.Thus, the novel can be interpreted as a claim by Bronte that the proper way to live is to reject religion and the traditional. 

As you see in Father and Son, people felt very strongly about their religious views. This is why I find it intriguing that Wuthering Heights was accepted by many during the time. Based on people’s extreme reactions to scientific discoveries as shown in Father and Son, I would expect the religious majority of Victorian England to disprove of the sacreligious elements of Wuthering Heights. One possible explanation for the novel’s popularity/acceptance is that people might have accepted the book because while the Earnshaws/Bronte represents a different type of life–a more elemental life. Iit’s tolerable because it is ‘other.’ Bronte and her writing are ‘safe’ because it comes from this ‘other’ place up north

The Jingoism of Ideology

Something I noticed when reading Darwin’s and particularly Gosse’s piece is just how violently they frame the ideological “war” of the Victorian period. Gosse claims that in the academic landscape of the era, “It was becoming necessary to stand emphatically in one *army* or the other,” ( ¶ 2). He labels Lyell as a “great mover of men” and searching for a “bodyguard of sound and experienced naturalists”, and the reactionaries are described almost as rivals searching for an ideological bullet to fire back ( ¶ 3¶ 4 ). Could this just be creatively constructed language used to make the debate between ideologies sound more dynamic? Perhaps, but it reminds me greatly of what Carlyle’s clothes arguments in Sartor Resartus warned about. To Carlyle, ideology is like a suit; it must repeatedly be changed in order for the society to remain clean and orderly. People cannot just patch up old suits because that would lead to a stagnant society, nor can they forgo suits altogether, as that would lead to the destruction of social order. Informed by the French Revolution, I do not doubt that Carlyle was very afraid that the same type of bloody ideological warfare that broke out in France was capable of repeating itself in Britain. I wonder then how he would react to the type of of scientific debates that Gosse describes. Would he have seen the lively debate as the process of merely replacing the suit, or would he have seen it as possible evidence of the same type of anarchy he worried so strongly about?

Chambers, Babbage, Lovelace, and the Importance of Models

While reading Robert Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, I was surprised to see the name of Charles Babbage embedded within the text and was even more surprised to see Chambers quote and employ Babbage’s work in order to support his own ideas of natural creation through transmutation. While grappling with exactly how and why one species developed from another, Chambers invites his readers to consider “an illustration of natural law… brought forward by [Babbage] in his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise” (7) that is exemplified through Babbage’s calculating machine. Babbage’s calculating machine, moved by a weight, displays a sequence of natural numbers “each of which exceeds its immediate antecedent by unity.” (Chambers, 7) Babbage, as reported by Chambers, asks his own readers whether or not they think that the sequence will continue in the same way and if they believe themselves to be acquainted with the law of Babbage’s machine. Babbage claims that many of his readers will respond in the affirmative to his two questions. However, at a certain point, the law of the machine will shift and the numbers will increase by greater unity and follow the series of triangular numbers, a pattern that will, in turn, be replaced by yet another series.

Furthermore, Chambers believed that Babbage’s calculating machine was an excellent model for his own thinking regarding the transmutation of species, as is shown through his concluding remarks. He states that “Mr. Babbage’s illustration powerfully suggests that this ordinary procedure (transmutation) may be subordinate to a higher law which only permits it for a time, and in proper season interrupts and changes it.” (Chambers 7) It is through such logic that Chambers not only models his own thinking regarding the creation of species through transmutation but also accounts for the lack of intuition and accessibility that surrounded the idea of evolution for many individuals at the time.

Additionally, Chambers’ mention of Babbage immediately made me think back to one of Babbage’s most esteemed contemporaries, Ada Lovelace. Much like Chambers, Lovelace also displayed a fondness for and dependency on models. Many letters exist between Lovelace and her tutors wherein Lovelace asks about the existence and availability of certain models through which she might come to better understand corresponding mathematical principles. While Lovelace was mocked in certain biographies for her need for models, her use of models allowed her to reach dazzling and beautiful conclusions regarding mathematical concepts. Perhaps it was Lovelace’s love of models that led her to not only develop the precursors to modern-day computer science but to write about math and science in a poetically spiritual, yet tangible manner, as well. Indeed, Lovelace, by transforming what some may refer to as “unfeeling” subjects into warm and ethereal poetic entities, was arguably able to better the understanding of math and science for many individuals who perhaps once found such topics inaccessible.

Finally, Chambers and Lovelace both demonstrate the importance of models when it comes to producing understanding. Just as Lovelace’s view of math and science was able to at once mystify, explain, and “soften” said subjects for others, Chambers’ use of Babbage’s model is arguably responsible for the popularity and praise that Chambers’ book received within Victorian England. For while his ideas were radical, his use of a model certainly provided readers with a solid base to which they could cling while being confronted with new ideas, thereby “softening” the idea of evolution for many.

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.

Catherine, Heathcliff, and Ensemble as Insects on the Bank of Their Own Cultivation

In Darwin’s, On the Origin of Species, I came across a very interesting passage about chance vs. cultivation. Darwin writes about how when looking at different plants and bushes on a bank, we are tempted to attribute their positions to chance. Darwin further claims that this view is false and that when we look at the bank we should rather think of the plant’s struggles and cultivation to get such diversity. He says, “What a struggle must have gone on during long centuries between the several kinds of trees, each annually scattering its seeds by the thousand; what war between insect and insect–between insects, snails, and other animals with birds and beasts of prey–all striving to increase, all feeding on each other…” (6). To say the diversity (and maybe even the beauty) of the plants was just mere chance would be taking away from how these plants cultivated their own destiny and end result. The was much time, a struggle, and effort involved in this process.

This got me to think of the struggles between many of the characters in Wuthering Heights and the question of why Nelly, the narrator, delved so deeply into the actions of the characters when she was telling Lockwood about Heathcliff. To any passerby witnessing the “success” of Heathcliff (i.e. obtaining both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange), it may look like mere chance. People passed away, maybe left Heathcliff the homesteads, yadda yadda. Maybe to Nelly, the story of Catherine and Heathcliff was carefully cultivated by the character’s actions. They were the insects at war in Darwin’s description. It wasn’t just chance that lead to the deaths of Catherine and Heathcliff, it was a struggle. Perhaps Nelly unfolds this narrative so that people (like Lockwood) don’t take a false view on the circumstances and events at Wuthering Heights.