Category Archives: ENGL 367 F19 Research

Group 6: The Necessity for Autonomy in the Jewish Community

Upon its publication in the late 19th century, Reuben Sachs was denounced by the Jewish community and the mainstream press for its seemingly anti-Semitic themes. This is a criticism that Richa Dwor contends with in her essay “The Racial Romance of Amy Levy’s Reuben Sachs.” Dwor acknowledges the rather harsh way in which Levy frames her own community, which for many, paints her as a “self-hating Jew.” However, Dwor rejects the idea that Reuben Sachs is a self-loathing or even malicious story. Rather, it is a critique of the culture and religion; a call for change that Levy deems necessary in order to preserve the future of Judaism. In this, Levy does not reject the religion, she embraces it with an optimism and desire for “the continuity of Jewish life.” Dwor points to Levy’s heavy criticism of the repression that the Jewish community imposes on its own people. Levy illustrates this critique largely through the image she presents of marriage and opinions of women. Dwor claims that it is through this, particularly the depiction of marriage, that Levy makes the argument that the Jewish community will destroy itself if it continues in its competitive and controlling path.
Reuben Sachs is Levy’s attempt to encourage self-awareness in her community in order to correct its self-destructive behavior. Dwor believes that Reuben Sachs makes the argument that allowing greater agency within the religion and community will, in turn, secure its longevity. This is where the articles ultimate idea of “racial romance” comes in. Levy’s criticism of traditional Jewish marriage exemplifies the way in which greater independence, individualism, and open-mindedness can help a group on the brink of collapse. Dwor states that Levy, throughout Reuben Sachs, expresses an anger in Judith’s marriage that Judith herself cannot express because of the strictness of the culture’s inflexibility. It is in this that Levy makes that call for change; greater agency would allow for the reemergence of the racial romance Dwor focuses on. As a result, it will help to strengthen the community and protect its future.

Group 2 Research: Representation of the Jewish Population in England

Anti-Semitism had been seen as a disease passed down from generation to generation through the medium of printed word. Some common misconceptions of Jews over the years are that they’re greedy, communists, dirty and poor, and unable to be trusted. The English imagination seemed unable to free itself of Shakespeare’s text ridiculing Jews.  In fact, Charles Dickens portrayed his character Fagin in Oliver Twist as “devilish” and referred to him as “the Jew” 257 times, while other character’s ethnicity was rarely mentioned. It was hard to find a piece of literature that positively represented the Jewish population. Luckily, Dickens was criticized for this portrayal of Jews and halted the printing of Oliver Twist to make more edits. He changed a part of the book and after chapter 38, there were no longer references to “the Jew”. Dickens later published the novel Our Mutual Friend in 1864 that appeared as he was trying to repair his past mistake by portraying the Jewish character Riah as the pinnacle of virtue, despite him still being a stereotypical Jewish moneylender. According to Linda Hunt in “Amy Levy and the “Jewish Novel”: Representing Jewish Life in the Victorian Period”, in her 1886 article “The Jew in Fiction”, Amy Levy was critical of the novelists portrayal of Jewish characters such as Dickens’ Fagin or LL. Clifford’s Mrs. Keith’s Crime where they are “offensive” and “condescending” depicting them as minor characters only used for comic relief. Levy also criticizes George Eliot’s “Jewish novel”, Daniel Deonda. Eliot’s book was at the time viewed as a model of how to treat Jewish people in fiction. Reuben Sachs then satirizes the idealized depiction of Jews in Eliot’s book. Indeed, the Victorian Era didn’t make Jews the protagonists in literature, but it did help advance their status and representation in literature.

Although prejudice still ran rampant, the Victorian Era saw a lot of legal strides made for Jewish people, specifically men. In fact, the Jewish population grew by 165,000 people over the course of the 19th century which shows how the Victorian Era aided in changing the environment. Right at the beginning of the Victorian Era in 1935, Jews received the right to vote. Moses Haim Montefiore was a British banker, philanthropist, and activist. He became the second Jewish Sheriff of London and was then knighted by Queen Victoria herself in 1837. He was born to an Itlaian-Jewish family and promoted the advancement of Jews in England through charity work. In addition, Sir David Salomons and Lionel Nathan de Rothschild represented the Jewish population in England during the Victorian Era. Sir David Salomons was the first Jewish Mayor of London, elected in 1855. He supported the cause of Jewish emancipation in England and was the first Jewish Sheriff of London. On the other hand, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild was the first practicing Jewish member to sit in Parliament, which is a big deal. Although this was such a be progression, Prime Minister Gladstone requested from Queen Victoria that he be made a peer and she refused saying that giving a title to a Jew would raise antagonism. The Victorian Era certainly did not solve antisemitism, but it increased the amount of representation, both in literature and in government, for the Jewish population and made England a slightly better place for them to live.

Judaism During the Victorian Era

While reading Reuben Sachs, a passage about religion stood out to me. On page 24, it states that Lee-Harrison “joined a set of mystics, and lived for three months on a mountain, somewhere in Asia Minor. Now he has come round to thinking Judaism the one religion, and has been regularly received into the synagogue.” While living in the mountains, he realized that Judaism was the religion that he was always meant to be a part of.

As soon as I read that passage in Reuben Sachs, it reminded me of a passage in Agnosticism and Christianity by T.H. Huxley. The author brings up the point that Jesus “said, “Preach the Gospel to every creature.” These words need have only meant “Bring all men to Christianity through Judaism.” Make them Jews, that they may enjoy Christ’s privileges, which are lodged in Judaism.” (paragraph 54) The passages in both of these readings basically say that Judaism is the true religion that will help people to live a fulfilling life. Although many Victorian Era pieces seemed to bring up Christianity, many of them did not mention Judaism. These two readings prove that Judaism was a large part of many people’s lives during the Victorian Era.

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).

Beauty and the Beast and Great Expectations

In Jessica A. Cambell’s “‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Great Expectations,” she compares Dickens’ Great Expectations to the 1740 version of La Belle et la Bête by Mme de Vileneuve. Cambell introduces this connection by explaining that Dickens’ writing frequently includes fairy tale motifs and allusions in his writing. She goes on to specifically explain that there are similarities in Beauty and the Beast due to the story’s “doubles, confused identities, intricate and surprising family relationships, and dream visions, in addition to the overall theme of the transformative properties of love and generosity.” Essentially, both stories share the moral: learn to see beyond appearances, because things and people are often quite different from what they seem. She addresses that there is a similar theme between both of the stories that things often do not turn out as expected. For instance, Pip learns about love through him slowly getting to know more about Magwitch, not through Estella. Additionally, she compares Magwitch to be the “beast” of the story, who Pip was initially afraid of, yet he ended up being his benefactor. She compares Pip to be the “beauty” and in this case it is the beauty, Pip, who is under a spell that he needs to be released from in order to transform into his true self. In both “Beauty and the Beast” and Great Expectations, characters frequently turn out to be something other than what they seem. One important lesson is that the change is not the person’s actual identity, but rather the perception people have of them. Much like the peoples perception of the Beast changes, so do Pip’s views on people. A symbol of change is the Beast’s castle, and Satis house. When Beauty enters the castle, it is supposed to alter her, but instead all inside are altered. While attempting to teach Miss Havisham sympathy, Pip alters the Satis house, and although he does not win over Estella, he has Miss. Havisham begging for forgiveness which is as dramatic as the physical transformation of the Beast. Unfortunately, it takes Pip most of the novel to learn that experiences shape a person, and even when people seem to be on different ends of the spectrum they are still connected, much like different classes living together in the same society. Learning to see more clearly does not simply mean replacing the old way of seeing with a new one; it means learning the lesson that your views are always subject to change. Seeing beyond appearances is key, because people and things are often not what they seem. Unlike Beauty and the Beast, this realization comes too late for the characters in Great Expectations. Miss Havisham learns sympathy too late to correct the pain she has inflicted on her children, and Pip sees the beauty in his Beast too late to save his life. The moral of both stories is that not all that exists is easily seen, and things are never as they seem.

Capital Punishment in the Victorian Era and Dickens’ View on Public Executions and Solitary Confinement

According to “Common Misperceptions: The Press and Victorian Views of Crime” by Christopher Casey, Britain’s criminal law had been the subject of intense criticism for its inequities. It underwent a reform throughout the 1820s and 1830s that was meant to make punishment less harsh and more certain, therefore more equitable. These reforms started with the establishment of London’s Metropolitan Police in 1929 followed by similar police forces, then the repeal the death penalty for crimes that did not seem to warrant it. The police forces were supposed to raise the expectation that criminals would be caught, and that reasonable punishments would increase conviction rates, thus the justice system would be more efficient. According to every measure of the time, much of it being published the press, crime was on the decline in Britain after 1850— and even possibly before 1830. Nonetheless, the entire population, even those people who were supposed to know better, believed that crime was on the rise. This was the result of the media manipulating public perception causing a Victorian preoccupation with crime. The nineteenth-century media created a culture more well-informed about violent crime than any society of the previous century. People read about crime and violence and heard about it from family and friends almost every day. In January 1863, The Times noted, “The dangerous classes seem to be getting the better of society. . . .Under the influence of philanthropic sentiments and a hopeful policy, we have deprived the law of its terrors and justice of its arms.” According to media scholars, crime news has always been known to increase the fear of crime because newspapers inevitably present a skewed version of reality even under the best of circumstances. Therefore, despite governmental reforms that actually decreased the threat of violent crime at the time, the sensationalism of this journalism fostered terror in Victorian England.

Dickens believed that public executions were inhumane and an outrage. In many of his works Dicken’s discusses the vileness of public executions. He was most appalled by the reactions of the crowd, or lack thereof. He believed that by watching an execution people were failing to recognize the humanity of the person being executed, and therefore denying their own humanity. In the 1840’s, Dickens witnessed several executions by which he was disturbed and distressed. In his writing, he uses public execution to attempt to move people, and he uses his own repulsion for public punishment into some of his most iconic works, including Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist. He writes “I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun.” Dickens’s views on capital punishment are first seen in a series of letters to the Daily News in 1846, and in letters to the Times in 1849. In the beginning, he argued to completely get rid of public executions, but later voiced his desire that any executions deemed necessary be carried out privately in front of only a few legally appointed witnesses. He argues too, that the threat of capital punishment questions the law by glamorizing the criminal, and creating sympathy for them, rather than the victim. His question was, which was the greater wrong of society, the spectators or the criminal?

Isolation became a very popular method many prisons constructed after the Auburn Prison in New York and the Cherry Hill Prison in Philadelphia. Several hundred European jails followed the model of solitary confinement and hundreds of thousands of inmates were forced to be inflicted with isolation. Charles Dickens visited Cherry Hill Prison, which was reported to have high numbers of cases with people with mental illnesses. Moreover, prisoners were strictly enforced to be isolated and spend all their time in their cells where they did their work. It was believed that by being isolated, the prisoners could spend their time turning their thoughts to God to atone for their crimes; many thought this would be beneficial because when they came back to society, people thought they would return as a “cleaned Christian citizen.” People who defended the prison argued that their mental illnesses was not because of their solitary confinement. It was widely believed at the time that this was caused by the belief that many people had that masturbation caused insanity. A physician of Cherry Hill noted, “the cases of mental disorder occurring in this Penitentiary are, with a few exceptions, caused by masturbation, and are mostly among the colored prisoners.” Thus, defenders of the prison didn’t believe isolation could be the cause of their mental illnesses and this demonstrates the racism that was prevalent too. Furthermore, death rates were reported to be high here and a high number of cases with insanity occurred as a result. Dickens was disturbed by this, as well. He recalls, “I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment… inflicts upon the sufferers… I hold this slow and daily tampering… to be worse than any torture of the body.” Hence, Dickens condemned the practice of this isolation and thought it to be inhumane.

The Hands of Great Expectations

In his article, “Handling the Perceptual Politics of Identity in Great Expectations,” Peter J Capuano takes notice of all the numerous hand-related references throughout Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations. For example, Capuano points out that there are over 450 references to hands, both literally and figuratively, throughout the novel, and that these references create distinctions between characters and their relationship with identity politics. Capuano even goes as far to suggest that Dickens’ manipulates anatomy throughout the use of discourse to convey the pivotal development of Pip, Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, Joe, and Estella. One of the first claims Capuano makes about Dickens’ manipulation of anatomy is seen when Herbert calls Pip “Handel,” in his attempt to further elevate Pip’s reputation in bourgeois society. In addition, Capuano asserts that the hands of the aforementioned characters are indicative of their social class and position in society. For example, Capuano takes notice of the depiction of the female gesture at Satis House and the ways in which it works simultaneously as a combination of verbal and manual direction. We see this in Pip’s first interaction with Miss Havisham when he takes notice of the bright jewels displayed on her hands that display rich attributes and her bourgeois appearance. This shows Miss Havisham’s social class being portrayed by Dickens gestural use of hands. Furthermore, Dickens discusses the impatient movement of Miss Havisham’s fingers on her right hand when she commands Pip to play. This is indicative of the manual direction and her identity within aristocratic position in society that Capuano describes in his article. Capuano then brings up the idea of a Darwinian model of character development through Pip’s character while simultaneously adding to his notion of the portrayal of hands signifying his social, economical and even emotional values. In his transition from lower to upper class, we see Pip’s identity described through the use of his hands as “course” in Joe’s forge to “bejeweled” in London, which further represents his development as a bildungsroman character. Ultimately, Capuano establishes the interconnected ways Dickens use of hand imagery depicts societal and moral identities within the novel. 

Chapter 26:¶ 19  (talk of Molly’s wrist)

Chapter 8: ¶ 32, ¶ 50 (Miss Havisham)

Chapter 39: ¶ 70 – (Pips recoiled hands) 

Group 5 context: On Dickens

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.

“Mediating on the Low: A Darwinian Reading of Great Expectations” by Goldie Morgentaler

In “Mediating on the Low: A Darwinian Reading of Great Expectations”, Goldie Morgentaler suggests that while writing Great Expectations (1860-61), Charles Dickens was influenced by Charles Darwins’ The Origin of Species (1859). Morgentaler points out that this is the first novel in which Dickens does not use heredity as a determining factor in the formation of oneself. Pip’s formation of his identity is based more off of his environment than heredity which Morgentaler attributes to Darwin’s influence. For example, his experiences at Miss Havisham’s reflect a “survival” to fit-in a new environment that is very different from his own home. After fighting the “pale, young gentleman,” Pip is fearful that he will be punished by Miss Havisham. Instead, Pip continues to humor Miss Havisham in hopes of becoming a gentleman. Faced with Estella’s prejudice against him as a lower class individual, it is difficult for Pip to evolve because of the environment he belongs to. Morgentaler then further suggests that one can read Great Expectations through a Darwinian lens because it has three concepts with broad evolutionary implications. The first being the idea of the primitive or low and its’ relationship with “civilized society”. She says that the gentleman (Pip) and the convict (Magwitch) in the novel are both interdependent upon one another. The criminal represents the least developed aspects of human nature (the primitive) and civilized society evolves from them. Secondly, she then brings up the idea of adaptation. She says both Miss Havisham and Joe are examples of people not being able to adapt to their environment. One of the examples she gives for this is Joe being unable to cope with the rest of civilization and is only comfortable in his natural element at home which we see in his awkward conversation with Miss Havisham where he wouldn’t talk directly to her. Lastly, she refers to the conception of time as it is only moving toward the future. She says that Pip is never able to go back and correct his mistakes as time is always moving forward. For Pip to go back to where he came from and return to his relationship with Joe would be considered regressive. Pip represents the evolution of the human species away from its’ primitive origins. Although he expresses guilt for treating his family as inferior, he must accept his changing identity in society as part of survival.