Category Archives: ENGL 367 F19 Research

Polyptoton in Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”

According to Erik Gray in his essay, “Polyptoton in In Memoriam: Evolution, Speculation, Elegy” Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “In Memoriam,” utilizes an interesting and particular scheme of repetition that is known as “polyptoton.” Gray defines polyptoton as the opposite of rhyme. Rather than featuring word endings that are alike to antecedent word endings within a stanza, polyptoton changes the word ending but leaves the beginning of the word intact. An example of polyptoton would be a couplet wherein one line ends with the word “silent” and the preceding line ends with the word “silence.” Gray claims that more than half of In Memoriam contains polyptoton and concludes that Tennyson’s continual use of polyptoton indicates its necessity to In Memoriam, insofar as that the poem would not be able to produce the same effect in readers without the presence of polyptoton. Moreover, Gray argues that the trope of polyptoton plays multiple roles in Tennyson’s elegy, particularly, it presents and supports the poem’s central philosophical claims and brings the elegy’s consolatory strategies to light. In particular, Gray argues Tennyson’s use of polyptoton serves two primary functions in In Memoriam: the first is to symbolically reflect evolution and the second is to give a new insight into the role of elegies.

 In order to support his claims, Gray first provides background on the trope of polyptoton in the literary canon. Gray argues that it is Virgil’s fifth eclogue that primarily influenced Tennyson’s In Memoriam, as it too depends upon the fundamental belief that death is not an end but merely a change. Gray supposes that this focus on death is echoed by the fact that the words Tennyson typically uses in his polyptotons are “life” and “death.” This focus also serves to bring about Gray’s first proposed role of polyptoton which is to bring about the motif of evolution. Polyptoton, by definition, means a change. Therefore, it can be said that Tennyson’s extensive use of polyptoton causes his work to mirror evolution itself. Gray further argues that In Memoriam presents many images that demonstrate both decline and gradual improvement and that it lends more focus to the latter, as is exemplified by Tennyson’s persistent polyptotons that transform “high” to “higher,” which at first serves to represent decline, then later represents gradual improvement and the celebration of such improvement. In the sections that feature both positive and negative forms of evolution, Gray states that polyptoton is used to demonstrate the transformations occurring within the elegy. 

Additionally, Gray postulates that polyptoton serves a second purpose: speculation. When using the term “speculation,” Gray means to say that Tennyson uses  polyptoton to show “varying ideas about a single theme.” Gray cites poems 30, 78, and 105 in explaining this; he notes that, although all three begin with the identical theme of Christmas, each poem progresses differently because the speaker’s outlook on Christmas changes within each poem. Gray then brings in Peter M. Sack’s theory that “one of the fundamental conventions of elegy is to divide the lament among multiple speakers, fragmenting and multiplying the mourner’s voice.” From this, he concludes that the repetition of Christmas serves as a sort of polyptoton that allows Tennyson to reimagine grief and transfigure it by dispersing it among many speculations of grief that are each supposed in separate reiterations of successive Christmasses. Thus, Gray’s argument overall serves to demonstrate Tennyson’s use of polyptoton towards the end of creating a successful elegy that aims to alleviate the effects of grief by exemplifying a gradual and positive evolution out of grief, as well as a speculative endeavor to fragment grief and thereby reimagine it such that the burden of loss can be leavened. 

The Life and Ideologies of Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus was an influential English economist who began his career as a demographer, studying the ebbs and flows of the English population. Eventually, Malthus entered the field of economics in opposition to Adam Smith, another economist who developed the idea of the “invisible hand” and hugely supported the free market system. Smith is commonly considered the “Father of Capitalism”, and his views were incredibly popular, most likely due to their portrayal of economics in a predominantly optimistic light. The reactionary ideas of Malthus and other more pessimistic economists were not nearly as well received by the Victorian public. Indeed, Malthus’ views on economics and the world’s population, as expressed in “The Principles of Population,” were extremely dismal. Malthus claimed that population growth was not an “unmitigated blessing” that would lead to further prosperity for all, as many utopian utilitarians believed. Instead, he argued that the population was growing too rapidly, at a geometric rate that far exceeded the arithmetic production rate of the food supply. In order to counteract the issue of overpopulation and lack of food supply, Malthus posited two ways to “check” populations: “primary checks”, which decreased birth rates, and “positive checks”, which increased death rates. Examples of primary checks include moral restraint, late marriages, birth control, and population caps. Positive checks include certain forces, such as famine, war, and disease, and would be encouraged when primary checks proved ineffective. 

Notably, Malthus had a lack of faith that primary checks could work on the impoverished population of Victorian England as they were morally inept and therefore impenetrable to the idea of moral restraints. Here, Malthus’ views begin to align with those of Herbert Spencer’s idea of “survival of the fittest”. Malthus believed that withholding resources like medicine, food, and education from the poor would eliminate them, thereby solving the resources crises. Malthus held that to redistribute money from the cultural elite to the poor, i.e. the socio-economic group that Malthus viewed as “less fit”, would thereby deprive the world of culture. Malthus believed that this would be best for all members of society, even the poor themselves, as he believed that their existence under the poverty line caused both themselves and the members of the upper-class misery. Additionally, many writers have commented upon the manner in which Malthus’ ideas impacted those of Charles Darwin. The author of “Henry George on Thomas Robert Malthus: Abundance vs. Scarcity,” Jim Horner, claims that Darwin “applied the Malthusian struggle between population and subsistence to the entire plant and animal kingdom.” (600)

Malthus did not hesitate to apply his own theories to events that occurred in England during his lifetime. For example, Malthus engaged in an intense debate with another British economist, David Ricardo, over the Corn Laws that increased the grain tariff in England. Malthus, in his Observations on the Corn Laws, considered the pros and cons of the tariff and ultimately decided that they protected the health of England’s agriculture. However, these Corn Laws produced a great deal of unrest in England for many working-class individuals since the Corn Laws primarily supported the landed gentry of England and effectively increased their otherwise dwindling political powers.

Malthus’ own life and bias should be addressed in order to fully understand his ideology. Malthus was born into the landed aristocracy of England, though, it is interesting to note that he was the second son in his family, therefore making him unable to inherit his father’s land. Indeed, some scholars argue that this facet of Malthus’ life spawned his attitude towards the poor and that many of Malthus’ theories were designed to preserve the power of the landed gentry that was itself gained from the socio-economic inequalities of the time. 

Thomas Huxley and the Issue of Social Darwinism

In Michael S. Helfand’s article, “T.H.Huxley’s ‘Evolution and Ethics’:The Politics of Evolution and the Evolution of Politics”, Helfand refutes what he considers a common misconception about T.H. Huxley’s views on science and policy. He begins by arguing against a position taken by a majority of scholars, that Huxley withheld from involving Darwinism in social or political policy. Helfand argues against this by claiming that Huxley delivered a speech 1893 in which he uses the theory of natural selection to justify a liberal imperialist political policy. Helfand also acknowledges that Huxley had many critics after making this speech, such as Alfred Russel Wallace. A major point that Helfand notes is Huxley’s opposition to the views of Herbert Spencer. Huxley went from accepting Spencerian theory of evolution to later resenting it, criticizing him of his scientific accuracy. Helfand does a great job of expressing his own views on Huxley while also including counter arguments against Huxley, such as mentioning that even though Huxley began to resent Spencer, they both started out as middle-class citizens that believed in labor and hard work. He includes that Huxley’s defenses for supporting Darwinism were based in Thomas Malthus’s theory of natural selection and the idea that class status and rankings are inevitable and part of the “natural selection” process. Helfand claims that Huxley believed the Malthusian theory of natural selection and overpopulation applied to humans and that he used Darwinism to justify this. This, he explains, is in direct contrast to the common belief that Huxley refrained from allowing science to influence social and political policy. Helfand highlights that Huxley’s comments seem to indicate that he believes that competition is relevant and necessary to most social and economic issues. If competitive social policy was to be eliminated, it would only worsen overpopulation. Ultimately, the position that Helfand takes is that Huxley, though perhaps implicitly, uses the authority of science to justify Malthusian theory and social, political, and economic Darwinism.

Health in Victorian England

As requested in class on Tuesday, we looked at a couple of articles focusing on health in Victorian England. As we know after reading Wuthering Heights, many people were dying off during this time period. In fact, almost all of the characters die within a short time period and at young ages: Mrs. Earnshaw, Mr. Earnshaw, Frances(18), Mr. and Mrs. Linton, Catherine(18), Hindley(27), Isabella(31), Edgar(39), Linton(17), and Heathcliff(37). Along with the rest of the class, we were wondering what caused all of these individuals to die so early in life. In an article we found called “Health and Hygiene in the Nineteenth Century” containing passages from Bruce Haley’s book called The Healthy Body and Victorian Culture, we found that there were three waves of contagious diseases circulating during the Victorian Era. The first epidemic was from 1831-1833 and was initiated by Cholera, a disease caused by eating food or water contaminated with bacteria which can lead to dehydration and death. It was referred to as “monstrous” because it was very frightening and affected so many people. Actually, it mainly affected the poorer neighborhoods because they were less likely to have sanitary food and water and they had drainage problems that flooded towns and lead to mold and fungi growth. As seen in “Grounding Miasma, or Anticipating the Germ Theory of Disease in Victorian Cholera Satire” by Wietske Smeele, people were skeptical of where the illness derived from. People believed in the miasma theory which is that illness is caused by foul air. A physician by the name of John Snow would be a pioneer in tracing the cause of cholera to contaminated water. The second epidemic from 1836-1842 was known as Typhus which was spread by lice, ticks, mites, and fleas during wars and famines. It had a high mortality rate and was just as rampant as smallpox. Finally, the last wave of epidemic was from 1842-1846. During this time frame, the railroads were starting to expand because of increased wage levels and better standard living. As a result, workers were moving into the cities and diseases often came along with them. The most common was Typhoid, which is basically Salmonella. As a result of this massive wave of illness, there was a myth that spread saying that one disease brought on another. As Jan Marsh states in “Health and Medicine in the 19th Century”, treatments for diseases in the early Victorian era often relied on coastal air, bleeding, leaching, laxatives and prayer. The popular belief was that in order to rid the body of a disease, the body had to be purified, and these were means of doing so. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that doctors and scientists began recognizing the legitimate public health issues that factored into these diseases, and learned how to begin to treat them effectively. This was a turning point, and Europe began to see new scientific research and medical technological developments and the medical industry began growing faster than ever before. However, according to The Registrar General, life expectancy during the Victorian Era ranged from 15-45. This can be compared to the ages of the characters from Wuthering Heights and we can infer that the deaths of these individuals were most likely caused by one of the three aforementioned epidemics.

“Infanticism and Sadism in ‘Wuthering Heights'”

The article “Infanticide and Sadism in ‘Wuthering Heights'”, by Wade Thompson, claims that the love that Catherine feels for Heathcliff is not the normal storybook romance. She loved him as a child, but it does not equate to the love she may feel as an adult. The main argument in the article states that, due to Catherine’s childlike nature and possible blood relation to Heathcliff, her love for him breaks norms; Catherine can love both Heathcliff and Linton at the same time since it is two different kinds of love. She considers Heathcliff as her “childhood lover” and Linton as her “adult lover”, and because of this, the reader understands that the story is not a typical romance. Thompson goes as far as to claim that there is a sense of incest between Catherine and Heathcliff because he may be her half brother and they laid in bed together as children. Even though she is married, the article highlights that the nature of her marriage is an escape from a healthy relationship, stating, “Marriage to Linton, a weak, respectable, undemanding person, is essentially an escape from the demands of adult sexuality, and she sees no betrayal of Heathcliff in the escape.” (72). The argument here shows that in all aspects of her life, Catherine has avoided a true romance in a modern sense in favor of a childlike fantasy with Heathcliff, and this is why the novel cannot be considered a romance.

Emily Bronte’s Challenge to Gender Norms and Hierarchically Constructed Power in Withering Heights

We looked at two articles discussing the topic of how Emily Bronte challenges gender norms/hierarchically constructed power of the Victorian Era in her writing. These articles include “Fighting Back Against the Encroachment of Patriarchal Power on Female Domains in Wuthering Heights,” by Banu Akcesme, and “Nineteenth Century Women Writers and the Challenge of Gender Roles,” by Tinna Sif Sindradóttir. It is bold of Emily Bronte to touch on gender issues in her writing. Most of the 19th century female writers preferred to ignore these issues out of fear of the reactions of male critics in a male-dominated literary world.

Akcesme asserts that in Wuthering Heights, Bronte poses a critique of the misogyny prevalent in the 19th Century through her depiction of Edgar and Heathcliff as having “murderous competition” for profit, wealth and progress. According to Akcesme, the obsession with ownership that we see in male characters in the novel is an objectification of nature, land and the female body. Females were seen as another form of property that males had control over. The male characters’ attempt to dominate Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights with force. Because the home is seen as the women’s sphere, this male domination/infiltration can be seen as a metaphor for rape. This attempt to usurp the home and nature displaces female characters and leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. For example, we see Catherine victimized by the rivalry between Hindley and Heathcliff. Then we see her take sides with Heathcliff because of her brother’s attempt to assert his power. In addition, this article asserts that Emily Bronte challenges hierarchically constructed power through her female characters’ rejection of traditionally assigned roles like motherhood, wifehood, and sisterhood which leads to their development of a new model for femininity, breaking free from the bourgeois mindset that women are meant to be kept in the house and raise children.When Heathcliff refers to Catherine as his life and soul after her death it can be seen how dependent he was on her, and how desperately lost men would be without women, which again breaks the norms. Akcesme explains that in Wuthering Heights, women do not depend on men for fullness and completion instead there’s domestic disorder, this is seen in the relationship that Cathy and Hareton have in how it challenges the male-dominated family structure. This mayhem is a result of the blurred boundaries between genders; the household is no longer a place for women to be secure and content. We see Catherine reject her strict patriarchal and religious upbringing by destroying the religious texts she is forced to read and by spending Sundays on the moors rather than in the church. Also, we see that Cathy lacks feminine domesticity when she deliberately refuses to show any signs of hospitality when she meets Lockwood which Lockwood finds “exceedingly..disagreeable.” Cathy’s free spirit and refusal to be a “tamed” woman contradicts the stigma of women during the Victorian Era and breaks away from the male-domination concept.

The article summarizes that resistance is displayed all throughout Wuthering Heights, and Bronte’s goal was to fight gentrification and encourage women to stand up for themselves and understand their worth. Due to the restrictions on women during this time period, in order to accept her writing, readers often picked out the unfeminine qualities and chose to view those, some even going as far as to say it must be a man that has written this. Bronte was a strong outspoken female writer who was not afraid to discuss the topics that many women feared to talk about in the male-dominated society. The images of womanhood Bronte gives shed a new light on the objectivity of women and their misrepresentation. Regardless if it was a woman, inheritance, rights, or property made little difference to men, they believed they had full control over everything and everybody. Wuthering Heights was Bonte’s defiance, and voice for females. 

In her essay, Sindradottir acknowledges Bronte’s use of strong willed female characters. Notably, they possess characteristics that oppose how Victorian women were supposed to act. Similarly, just like the characters she writes of, Bronte opposed gender norms through her writing style as a whole. For instance, Bronte portrays Catherine as having both feminine and masculine traits; she displays feelings of love for certain characters and anger at others. Thus, the juxtaposition of these characteristics reflects how Bronte writes in a darker way that women were not ever known for writing in, leading to harsh criticism. Furthermore, women were not supposed to use coarse language, so critics reading Wuthering Heights at the time were shocked by Bronte’s word choices. At the time, women were supposed to conceal their feelings and keep to themselves; Bronte’s defiance of this is significant because it allows other women to see what she’s doing and be inspired to do the same. 

Sindradóttir speaks in various ways to how Bronte challenged Victorian views on societal expectations of gender. Bronte’s critique of formerly one-dimensional portrayals of women is paired with Victorian concepts of marriage and the role of women. By expanding upon the depth of her characters and creating a human perspective, Sindradóttir describes how Bronte is able to highlight societal issues such as the lack of legal rights within institutions such as marriage. Many men believed that they had the right to abuse their wives at the time, but Isabella disagreed with the concept and took matters into her own hands when Heathcliff began abusing her. She bravely took her sons and went into hiding to avoid the way he treated her. Bronte showed women that they were allowed to prioritize their well-being. This hushed concept likely inspired many Victorian women to walk away from abusive relationships to protect themselves and their children. Bronte’s characters symbolically struggle against patriarchal institutions, complex issues that were often ignored during her time.

The Wuther of the Other

An overarching theme that our class has been discussing is gender ideologies and attributes depicted within Victorian literature. In response to this interest, Group 3 found Steven Vine’s article, “The Wuther of the Other in Wuthering Heights” which focuses on the relationship of the Other as it pertains to Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff and the influence it has on their social mobility throughout the novel. The article establishes a parallel between the term “wuthering” and the description of the Heights by Lockwood in the first chapter. Vine argues that the term wuthering can also represent a metaphor for stability and instability throughout the novel. Vine’s analysis of the wuthering of the other also applies both marxist and feminist theories to the novel and argues that Wuthering Heights replaces a masculine ideology of romanticism with a feminine one. This inherits Wuthering Heights to be “feminized Romanticism” reshaping the masculine Romantic narcissism. The article also expresses ways where a construed aspect of social and sexual identity are dramatized. Heathcliff is the main example in this article in relation to his  introduction to the family and argues that this experience represents Heathcliff’s unstable position in the family structure. Vine argues that “Heathcliff’s entire history in the novel is framed in terms of “taking the place of others” whether it relates to his assumption of the name Heathcliff or his succession as master of Wuthering Heights. Vine also argues Catherine and Heathcliffs relationship is the core representation of this theory.  As for social mobility, Heathcliff’s arrivals at the Heights has quite an influence over Catherine because his perceived objective is to separate her from her father’s governance. Vine argues that Catherine portrays disempowerment in communicating with her father as well as indicating that a power battle arises between them over Heathcliff. This disempowerment also causes a lack of identity within Catherine, as she is restrained by traditionally feminine roles in which she is expected to marry Edgar Linton and conform to societal pressures and expectations. Vine argues that if Wuthering Heights reveals gendered identity as a division, then what forms of this division are taken within this narrative? Whether historical or self revealing, this narrative presents the division in more than just an allegorical form. Overall, Vine conveys the instabilities present throughout the novel.