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Connextions: Reflecting on this Semester

The biggest takeaway I have from this semester is the connexions that I’ve made within the texts we’ve read but also across timelines. Dissecting stories like Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in a way that was character and theme-centric allowed me to see the way that the human experience transcends the construction of eras, location, and society. Reflecting on the political/historical significance of Society in America and Darwin’s findings grounded me in the time period as well as the progression of thought that was happening at the time (with the industrial revolution and the beginning of a fight for women’s rights, for example). It also exposed me to some of “the classics” that I’ve heard so much about and can now discuss the intricacies of: my opinions on Heathcliff and Catherine’s clandestine affair, the translation of the overarching theme of great expectations from Great Expectations, the political significance of Harriet Martineau’s writings.

A “Wilde” Author

Oscar Wilde made many contributions to the Victorian literature movement. His sexuality was a double-edged sword in his success as a. We learned in class that his intimate relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas was detrimental to his reputation as an author. During the late 19th century in Britain, the Criminal Law Act (1885) stated that intimate relationships between same-sex couples were illegal. Thus, Wilde’s fiction was used as evidence by Douglas’s father to tarnish the reputation of Oscar Wilde. This was just the beginning of an effort to delegitimize Wilde’s value as an author and human being. In the following trials, he was found guilty of the original offenses and spent two years in prison. Shortly thereafter, he died from natural illnesses. His worth as an author was constantly undermined by a sexual identity he couldn’t change.

 Possibly the most disturbing effect of these trials was its effect on the greater society. It only grew fear of same-sex couples, a fear not necessarily focused on prior to these trials. I think what is most interesting about Wilde’s sexuality is that it seems to have transformed its meaning, as evidenced by a shift in the focus of his literature. For example, The Picture of  Dorian Gray appears to have celebrated homosexuality. There is a noticeable change in Wilde’s attitude when he wrote De Profundis during his prison sentence. While examining this article in class, it seemed to suggest that Wilde was discovered a newfound appreciation for Christianity. The life of Wilde is celebrated for his literary achievements, yet plagued by stigmas on sexuality that I’d say prevented his greatest potential. The life of Oscar Wilde changed my view on sexuality because I recognized the impact that a homophobic society can have on a single person’s ability to succeed.

What I’ve learned this semester

Last semester I took Digital Humanities with Dr. Schacht and learned so much that I decided to take another class with him this semester. He always chooses such enjoyable readings and formats the class so we all learn from each other. The weekly research he has different groups do really does a great job of giving some background information on the pieces we are reading. Overall, the most interesting thing I learned about Victorian literature this semester was the class structure in Wuthering Heights. It was so interesting I decided to write my research paper on this subject! It gave me a good sense of why the characters were acting in such a manner and the reason for their actions. The difference in class structure helped explain why the characters were so selfish and aided me in understanding the novel better.

The Victorian Connection

In thinking about this class as a whole, and what I would write for this blog post, I spent some time thinking about the name of the course, Victorian Connections, and what exactly that meant. I tried to think of some connecting force, a single thread, that tied everything we read this semester together. what I came to was this: in almost everything we read this semester, every writer seemed to be driven to their pen by a deeply ingrained sense of purpose. Writing was a tool for them. In the case of writer’s like Carlyle, Shelley, Blake, Mead, and (arguably) Dickens, it was being used to persuade, a way of pouring their convictions out on paper in an attempt to get the world to agree. For others, like Tennyson and Bronte, it was used to explore abstract and difficult concepts like love, grief, and connection, in what I believe was their attempt to come a little closer to finding the answers to the big questions that abstract concepts like these always tend to raise. This drive to use writing as an instrument towards a higher goal is something I haven’t spent much time thinking about before, but I truly believe it’s a concept that the writers we read this semester were almost all familiar with, and I find that deeply fascinating.

What I enjoyed and learned about Victorian Literature

Since I am fairly new to the English major, before taking this class I had only ever taken one other English class; New Zealand Literature. Initially I was a little nervous that I would feel out of place in a 300 level English class but as the semester went on I realized I belonged in this class and I made the right decision to become an English major. I have always been interested in Victorian literature, especially reading texts whose story lines take place during the Victorian era so I knew I would enjoy reading various texts written by Victorian authors. I think the best part of the semester for me was reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I had never read this novel before and once I started reading, I simply couldn’t put it down. I especially enjoyed our classroom discussions about the novel and dissecting the various relationships and themes. I also think having groups really helped facilitate classroom discussion and allowed for groups of people to think things through and question what we have read before sharing our findings with the rest of the class. Another think I really liked about this class was that it was mostly classroom driven. Coming to class, I knew that we (the students) would be able to lead the discussion and be able to ask questions about the given text and hear the thoughts and feedback from others. I prefer this type of classroom setting over that of a lecture hall. Overall I really enjoyed reading a variety of Victorian Literature written by many different authors. This class was a lot of fun to attend every week and the readings were always interesting!

powerful women

At the beginning of the year, I wondered about the roles women had women in Victorian literature, over the course I have learned a lot about this topic, and I think the most interesting thing I learned was how to view things through multiple perspectives and how to form unique connections. Throughout the material there have been many interesting pieces that introduced me to strong female writers and characters, many I could relate to. Pieces such as Reuben Sachs and Wuthering Heights defy the normal gender roles during the time period. Victorian literature connects the past with the future in the name of exposing the way in which all, even that which seemingly contrasts, is connected. What surprised me was how much women writers used their writing to speak out against the oppression they were facing and worked towards social change. I loved studying women’s stories and the way each writer found a way to insert a strong compelling female character into their work. I was surprised when I learned about the female authors and how they projected themselves. I learned a lot and was pleasantly surprised with the powerful female authors and characters in Victorian literature.

What I’ve Learned

The most interesting thing that I’ve learned about Victorian Literature this semester is how stark the class differences were. When I first joined this class I thought the Victorian Era wasn’t as fiercely divided, Learning about the Chartist movement was one of the first classes that illuminated this divide for me. Another thing that contributed to this understanding for. Me was learning about the scientific and religious perspectives of this time and how the two were often intersectional. For example, upon reading Darwin’s Origin of Species and seeing how. The science behind his evolutionary theories was applied to gender and racial perspectives was very interesting because while it is a subject that was briefly taught in my high school education it wasn’t really delved into.

Most important thing I learned this Semester

One of the most important things I learned this semester was that stories in the Victorian era had a significant amount of political commentary. It was interesting to see views that were very similar to views that we have today, ranging from Dickens’ commentary on poverty to the poems we read. I was also shocked by the similarities between Wuthering Heights, which I had bought a copy of but never got around to reading before this class, and one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre. I learned that all of the writers from this period influenced each other because they came from the same circle with similar world views. Oscar Wilde and Amy Levy, for example, both new each other. It is hard from a modern standpoint to see the way contemporary writers influence each other, but looking to the past, it becomes a lot more apparent. I look forward to reading more books on my own time, and maybe re reading some classics I have already read before, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to see if any of these themes that I learned in class are seen in his book as well, especially after reading Wuthering Heights and seeing the way Heathcliff was described as a vampire. I wonder how many similarities there are between Bronte and Stoker’s descriptions and the world that they set up.

The Importance of Humanity in Victorian Literature

Entering into this course, the only experience I had with Victorian Literature was in gothic horror novels such as Frankenstein. I had little knowledge of general Victorian literature. The stereotypical view of Victorian Literature is high-class rich families speaking in posh accents, contrasted against the chimney sweep Tiny Tim characters.

From our readings in Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Reuban Sachs, and the variety of poetry and shorter readings, I have noticed that they all have a similar feel to them. While thematically the three main readings we discussed had similar subjects about social status in Victorinal society, they are all held together by the human elements underneath. In some cases romance and courtship, in other family and friendship.

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Women Shaping Content

I find the most interesting and also my favorite thing I learned about Victorian literature was the way women writers used their work to shape the public look on the woman’s roll and the patriarchy. I was not expecting this theme to run through this course. From Elliot to Bronte to Levy strong voices speaking out against the oppression of women not only led to great art but opened the door for women to begin to take a stand and intact tangible social change. Even though Bronte and Levy did this in ways that can be seen as subtle, they still used literature to tell stories from a point of view that readers look back on and site as breaking the mold. I loved the work we read by Elliot that explained feminism in such a clear way and allowed for people to see the absurdity of the current system while also calling out people who want to put women on a pedestal and how harmful that is to our equality. I think this point is important and is one that I hadn’t really thought of, so it shaped my thinking as the semester progressed that part of equality is seeing flawed female characters. This was seen in the personality and actions of several keys characters in the works we read, for example, Catherine Ms .Havisham, and Judith. I enjoyed studying these women’s stories and the way each writer, even Dickens, found a way to insert a compelling female character into the work. My take away from this aspect of Victorian literature is that through the help of writers like Elliot women felt inspired to write realistic female characters which then made their art better and in turn the Victorian era special.