When first entering this course, I had no clue what Victorian Literature was nor the history behind the Victorian era and its common theme romance. Little to my knowledge was I aware that I had read a couple of works of victorian literature before this course which I enjoyed reading on my free time. I have learned a lot from the research that my and other groups have done based on the context of the different texts read this semester. The most interesting one was about Oscar Wilde which gave us context about the poems he had written about his lover. As I have stated previously in one of my blog posts, I thought that the poems were metaphorically representing depression and its consequences and/or symptoms. However, after listening to one group explain their research on Wilde’s life, it was apparent that the speaker was himself, dealing with the consequence of loving another man who he denied having relations. The most interesting part of that information is that he took the accuser into court knowing this was true accusations and evidence may be apparent against him. This just leaves me to think, why did he do it?
Throughout this semester, I learned a lot of interesting things about Victorian literature. One thing that I found to be the most compelling is the way female authors wrote about women and women’s issues at the time. I really enjoyed reading how women would bring attention to the way they were being treated, as well as, the different approach these female authors would take in their works about how they were treated. Some were more up front with advocating for women’s rights, and others wrote of the idea more subtly in their works. Additionally, I liked learning how some women would go against what was normal in society and bring attention to the way society treats and perceives them; I liked learning about this and connecting it to today’s time, as well.
To begin, in Martineau’s Society in America, she calls into question the government and how they don’t have the consent of women to make unfair laws that they are forced to abide by. After reading what she had to say, I really admire her bravery for speaking her mind during a time where women didn’t have as many rights. Furthermore, I also find it interesting that what she is saying is still applicable today. Now, women have more rights, but there are still issues when it comes to abortion and the government deciding how much of a right women have to deciding what happens to their bodies.
Another female author we looked at this semester is Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the name George Eliot. I found it really interesting after I read her review essay in The Leader that she was a woman and not a man. I thought it was disheartening that she felt she had to change her name in what she wrote to be a male name, so that she would not get judged for her beliefs and be taken more seriously. Looking back at this now in today’s time, I can’t imagine what it must be like living in a society that forces a woman to do this. It is also really strange she had to change her name because either way her ideas are exactly the same. Additionally, I find her differing approach from Martineau to be interesting because she isn’t as obvious of an advocate for women’s rights; her ideas are more subtle in that she wants change to occur in a more incremental way than Martineau, who was calling for change in a more urgent way.
The last female author I’ll discuss is Amy Levy. Some may see her as an author who is reinforcing stereotypes about women. For instance, there is a lot of reference to Judith’s beauty in Reuben Sachs, as well as, numerous descriptions of the lavish clothing women wear. Thus, some may see it as Levy reinforcing the idea of the importance of a woman’s looks. Although, when looking more closely at the text, she may be making more of a commentary on how women are portrayed in society, instead. For instance, she writes “But the life, the position, the atmosphere, though she knew it not, were repressive ones. This woman, 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” (35). Hence, marriage isn’t written in the most positive light, but instead is “repressive.” As a result, she is subtly making a commentary on how damaging society’s place for women is to them. She also isn’t writing her ideas in an essay format, but through a cohesive story. So, we get her ideas about women through interpreting the characters and we can make our own claims about what we think she was trying to say and advocate for.
All in all, I enjoyed this class and learned a lot about the Victorian Era through the literature we read and discussed. I liked learning about the female authors we looked at and what they had to say about women’s place in society. The differing approaches from the authors was also interesting to learn, as well.
In my first blog post titled “What I Hope to Learn About Victorian Literature”, I discussed how I was interested in learning about how Victorian writers connected their lives and world around them to their writing.
After reading the wide range of works that Dr. Schacht had presented us with in the course, I feel as though that goal was fulfilled and I learned a lot of interesting things about the people and world of Victorian England through the literature.Continue reading
The class status of Reuben and his family is quite similar to that of Catherine Earnshaw in “Wuthering Heights”. Both families come from upper classes, the females especially in both families are obsessed with presenting the image of being wealthy to others. For example, Adelaide Sachs and her mother. I think this novel is a good representation of class in the Victorian Era in general and how class really meant everything. Females, in order to be taken seriously, had to use their appearance to present themselves, and men had to use education and their job to define their class. The difference in this story is that the family is Jewish, which is not like any other Victorian novel we have read so far. There are differences between this family and that of the Catholic families we’ve read about, most notably that they are a minority.
While reading Reuben Sachs, I was impressed by the way that the text was easy to read yet said a lot. This simple, straight-forward way of writing can also be seen in Dickens’ text. Although Dickens’ texts often implemented anti-semitic language and concepts, and Amy Levy’s text is a progressive and representative text that portrays Jews as everyday people and not the cartoonish stereotypes commonly seen in Victorian literature, I did notice that there was a general similarity between the diction of both of their works. For example, when describing Reuben’s arrival, Levy writes, “”Lionel! Sydney!” protested their mother faintly after the boys seemed to take all sorts of liberties with the new arrivals.” By being straightforward and direct with what is going on in the text, Levy is able to make it more dramatic because her implications are not ambiguous. It is obvious that Mrs. Leuineger is angry from her descriptions. In a similar way, Great Expectations benefited from Dickens’ directness, specifically in chapter 6, when Pip thinks, “In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.” Dickens does not implement any fancy words when describing Pip’s fear of losing Joe’s confidence. He writes the emotions that Pip is feeling confidently and precisely.
In Reuban Sachs, one of the elements of the plot I immediately noticed was the prevalence of romance and courtship. Much of the plot surrounds Reuben and Judith, and their relationship within both the conservative and insular Jewish community, and the wider London Victorian society. The use of courtship is something reoccurring in Victorian texts. In Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff and Catherine, and Great Expectations with Pip and Estella. Romance and love seem to be natural tools used to explore the limits of Victorian society, both in a general sense and more specifically within the texts (the Jewish community in Reuban Sachs, or class/money in Great Expectations).
What is specifically included in each of these texts is the concept of true love against societal expectations. When Reuban and Judith see each other again in Chapter 3, they immediately feel drawn to each other, “he heard and saw nothing but the sound of Leo’s violin, and the face of Judith Quixano” (pg 31). This is immediately followed in Chapter 4 by descriptions of societal expectations, how insular and difficult marriage was within the Jewish community and the talk of the pragmatic and financial portion of marriage and courtship.
Pip’s desire to improve his social standing to court Estella, and Heathcliff’s status at Wuthering Heights all force Victorian societal boundaries in relationships. Why use romantic relationships specifically to tackle these themes? Maybe they are areas specifically targeted towards younger members of Victorian society, and romance is one of the few driving things that could be influential enough to shake up these social rules for characters. I am curious to see how the rest of Reuban Sachs plays out and to see if the relationships within this novel play out the same way as Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations.
The discrimination and marginalization of Jews in Victorian London described in this section is not surprising being that this was a time in which society worked to actively suppress groups based on criteria like social class and religion. As argued by Reuben, the Jewish people’s ability to prevail/succeed in English society despite discrimination and stereotypes shows the industry, power of endurance, self respect, etc. of the Jewish people. Leo disagrees with Reuben and insults the Jewish community calling them greedy, vain and power-hungry and points out the likelihood that the Jews will get absorbed by the English people. He doesn’t feel the same deeper connection that Reuben feels towards Judaism, instead he criticizes their materialism and vanity. I think that this discrepancy in opinion was interesting considering the Jew’s history of discrimination. I would assume that it would be rare to find a Jew in this society who would so outwardly speak against his own community. I think that Leo’s argument is reflective of the influence of Victorian Era society because of the secular nature of his argument and the concern with Western materialism. I feel that Leo’s view of Jews can be compared to Heathcliff’s character in Wuthering Heights because while he was oppressed because of his humble beginnings, he ended up becoming a vain, power hungry man. Wuthering Heights seems to criticize this type of materialistic behavior, given Heathcliff’s abusive and destructive nature. Throughout this section of Reuben Sachs, the Jewish community is often talked about as a tribe. It seems like many of these Jews in London, like Reuben, find meaning through their connection with their community. Reuben talks about their journey to freedom in society and the novel explains that this community almost exclusively spent time together. This reminds me of Pip’s relationship with Magwitch in Great Expectations because when they were both oppressed, they had each other to rely on and work together to get out of their situation. In this way, both texts shine a light on the importance of connections with other people when moving through an oppressive society.
When I was reading Reuben Sachs, I noticed that when Amy Levy described the characters, she focused a lot on their physical appearances. She wrote about what they wore and gave descriptions of their faces with a certain emphasis on their eyes. The first description I noticed this in was that of Mrs. Sachs, Reuben’s mother. She is described as having “a wide, sallow, impassive face, lighted up by the occasional gleams of shrewdness from a pair of half-shut eyes” (4). One of the more jarring descriptions comes when Levy is describing Reuben’s aunt Ada. She says of her face, “and from its haggard gloom looked out two dark, restless, miserable eyes; the eyes of a creature in pain” (15). To me, these descriptions really give a deep sense of the character by revealing parts of them that may not be revealed through dialogue. Finally, Levy describes Judith by saying she possessed, “wonderful, lustrous, mournful eyes, entirely out of keeping with the accepted characteristics of their owner” (21). Eyes have the ability to show emotions and feelings, revealing parts of a character that are unknown to the reader.
All of this interesting descriptive language reminded me of the group who wrote about hands in Great Expectations. The article they chose stated that there were over 450 references to hands in the novel which served to create distinctions between the characters. The group talked about the difference between Pip’s course hands and Miss Havisham’s bejeweled hands. This apparently showcased the class difference between these two characters. I’m not really sure how much these connect with one another, other than a descriptive technique used by the authors, but I just found it interesting that in both works, the human anatomy reveals more about characters than first meets the eye.
There is a character in Reuben Sachs who I believe deserves more attention. From her introduction and unfavorable description, I became interested in Aunt Ada. At this point however, I really only know that she resembles a “creature in pain” and that she does not seem to care for herself very well. Though her personality appears to be very different, I was reminded of Miss Havisham in her perpetual wedding dress relative instability. Both women come from a life of wealth, and yet they are equally miserable. What’s more, they both are depicted as perhaps supernatural. Aunt Ada resembles a corse while Miss Havisham is ghostlike. This can thus further be connected to Catherine, who, after her mental breakdown, also turns into a phantom-type character. Then this seems to be something not uncommon of Victorian literature; a female character who’s mental state is weak or questionable taking on a more spectral role. Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre is a wonderful example of this. Now, the cause Miss Havisham’s, Catherine’s, and Bertha’s mental states are all attributed to the actions of the men in their lives. That makes me curious to see, if we learn more about Aunt Ada, if her story will follow a similar path.
While reading Reuben Sachs I came across one quote in particular that stuck out to me, “This woman, 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.” This quote is talking about Judith and though she has much to offer she, like most Victorian women, are simply waiting around to get married and fulfill their duties of becoming a housewife. This quote reminded me of Catherine in Wuthering Heights. In chapter 11 of Wuthering Heights, Catherine tells Nelly that Edgar has asked her to marry him and she has accepted. She goes on to explain that she cannot marry Heathcliff because in her eyes he is beneath her in some way. She goes so far as to say, “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff.” She knows that Edgar Linton is a proper gentleman and can offer her a life of a typical Victorian woman. Judith and Catherine are very similar in that they feel as though they don’t have complete control over their lives. During the Victorian Era, women were expected to be good wives and mothers so this is what was done. Even though these women might have had ideas of their own about how they might want their lives to end up, the traditions of domestic life were so engrained in the society already.