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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.

Reshaping my understanding of Victorian lit

Prior to this class, I tended to avoid Victorian Literature like the plague. I’m not totally sure why; maybe I always associated it with intolerable run-on sentences, or maybe it was PTSD from high school English classes? Either way, I never gave Victorian lit a fair shot- something I now regret. Victorian literature is not the dull, frivolous, one-note thing I once thought it was. It is history, it can be exciting, and none of it is quite the same. I read both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in high school. And I hated both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations in high school. But rereading them, despite my initial dread, I found them infinitely more interesting. I think something that was key to this, particularly to Great Expectations, was understanding how the story fit into the context of the era. I had never thought to consider things like Darwin and evolution, or prison reform, or anything like that when reading these stories. I think perhaps Victorian literature is misunderstood. It is not isolated narratives of the wealthy aristocrats in fancy clothes, it is much more socially conscious and relevant than you would initially think. That is what I found the most interesting about Victorian literature.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about Victorian literature this semester?

When I started out, I knew next-to-nothing about Victorian Literature. Sure, I had read Great Expectations back in high school, but you can’t depend on one novel to represent an entire genre. I think I anticipated Victorian literature to be a lot more fluttery and romance-based than it turned out to be. Wuthering Heights definitely had darker and spookier moments than I expected to read, but I liked it. I guess I didn’t expect to enjoy what I was reading as much as I did. I suppose the characterization of women in Victorian times was what I found to be the most interesting, or rather what I kept going back to. Specifically, the Catherines, Isabella, and Estella in particular, the characteristics you would assume for them to possess on a surface level versus what you found when you took a deeper look made them all quite fascinating. Isabella Linton’s entire character arc from the naïve girl to a woman who escapes from abuse was one of the more underrated and complex parts of Wuthering Heights. As for Estella, how she was manipulated by Miss Havisham to execute her revenge while balancing her own autonomy or lack thereof, while it wasn’t discusses much in our class, I can remember back to my high school debates on how much agency she had over herself or whether she was fully under Miss Havisham’s direct or indirect control. Overall, how characters are composed and interact with each other usually interests me, but specifically the female characters in these two novels read this semester, intrigued me.

What is the most interesting thing you learned?

All throughout the semester we have been reading many different texts from Victorian Literature. In the beginning, for me personally at least, I was not anticipating that there would really be any obvious connections between the texts we were reading. When we first started with the readings I was thinking to myself, how could there possibly be a connection amongst all of these texts, every time. When I looked through the syllabus and saw that we were going to be connecting texts once a week I got nervous. I was not hopeful that this would be a task that would come easy. Although trying to write out your connection and make it make sense to other readers was a challenge, I was surprised to learn that finding a connection between all of these texts was coming very natural. Each time I was reading a text after we had done it a few times, my brain began to make the connections on its own. I think that this meant that I was actually learning many things in regards to these texts as the connections were becoming more than obvious. Aside from learning so much about the time period in which all of this literature was written, (ie: society, woman, children, labor, relationship, social class) what made all of this so interesting to learn was that they were consistent themes across all of the texts we were reading. I think that learning that texts can be placed in a literary category and on the surface seem like they are nothing alike, but when you dive deeper the connections are inevitable. Taking this course and learning about this time period and just how many connections there were has made me more interested in other time periods and literary texts and if they have created a similar sort of cluster of connections. I enjoyed to think about as well as research about why these connections were so prominent and if society at the time held any weight in this explanation. All in all, this course was one that I was not to sure on if I wanted to take or not, I wanted to broaden my repertoire and take a course where I would be reading things I had not read before. This course allowed me to do just that and learn many different skills that will come in handy throughout the remainder of my college career. r

The Significance of Religion.

When reading Oscar Wilde’s letter there was an aspect that stood out as something that was quite consistent throughout the piece as well as other pieces of literature that we have read. I found it interesting the different ways in which Wilde turned to religion or referred to religion in his writing. There are several examples but this caused me to reflect back on the poetry that we read towards the beginning of the semester. In poems like “The Cry of the Children” we see a negative connotation when it comes to religion. The children use religion to serve as the representation of the disconnect between their parents and them. In this case we see religion in a form of symbolism. Wilde uses phrases like “oh lord”, this may push the reader to believe that he is religious and looking for guidance from a religious point of view. The reason that this is important in my opinion is because during this time, religion was an important factor during this time, even though it may have served as something different in every case. There are many questions that arise when we are reading different literature that encompasses aspects of religion. When we read something like “The Cry of the Children” we understand that there is not a good connection between the characters and their religious views. We can see Wilde has a different kind of connection when it comes to religion. He explains how the “gods” have given him everything. This shows that he is grateful for everything he has despite his unfortunate situation, he still owes everything to his religious views. He then talks about how “sorrow remarries us to God”. I wondered why here he refers to one God and prior he refers to many gods. I think that this is an interesting connection to make since in sorrow he chose to connect himself to God, where in “The Cry of the Children” there was a disconnect between the children and religion. This is an important connection to make across all texts, as understanding the connection between their relationship with religion and the text can lead you to understand other aspects of the texts further.

Pip and Magwitch’s False Sense of Class Mobility

Charles Dicken’s Great Expectation is well-known for its commentary on class differences. This novel focuses on socioeconomic injustices in Victorian England that still remain relevant to this day. It may appear that the experiences of lower-income people as completely remote from modern society. However, Pip’s attempt to raise himself out of his social position into a “gentleman” is simply a game in which he is the pawn. This becomes evident to the reader by the unclear status that Pip has in society.

By this point in the novel, Pip could be considered a gentleman based on how his character aligns with Victorian ideals. Pip’s attitude toward Magwitch showcases a superiority complex towards people who don’t live up to the Victorian standards of proper behavior. Magwitch’s manners during eating are quite disagreeable to Pip:

He ate in a ravenous way that was very disagreeable, and all his actions were uncouth, noisy, and greedy. Some of his teeth had failed him since I saw him eat on the marshes, and as he turned his food in his mouth, and turned his head sideways to bring his strongest fangs to bear upon it, he looked terribly like a hungry old dog. If I had begun with any appetite, he would have taken it away, and I should have sat much as I did,—repelled from him by an insurmountable aversion, and gloomily looking at the cloth. (Ch 40, Paragraph 46)

Pip’s comparison of Magwitch to a dog is dehumanizing, but that is exactly what marks a classist society. He has assumed the attitudes of a “gentleman,” which inspires the labeling of people as inferior.  These attitudes take a complete turn around when Pip realizes that Magwitch was, in fact, the benefactor this entire time. Pip’s identity as a “gentleman” is put into question by Magwitch’s story that so closely parallels to Pip’s own story.

When Magwitch was a young man, he grew up a poor orphan and was constantly in trouble. Upon meeting Compeyson, Magwitch recalls how they became business partners in swindling. Compeyson is characterized by Magwitch as, “He’d no more heart than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil afore mentioned.” (Ch 42, Paragraph 17) This is similar to the sentiment expressed by Pip earlier when he assumes Magwitch as an “other.” Pip and Magwitch have gone through similar experiences of blindly following others in hopes of gaining social status. 

The partnership between Magwitch and Compeyson took a turn for the worst when both were accused of a felony by using stolen banknotes into circulation. Magwitch recalls how his treatment in the legal system was unfair compared to Compeyson, simply due to the “gentleman” status that Compeyson appeared to hold. Magwitch notes how Compeyson receives less prosecution due to his education, speech and “good character.” Compeyson is able to represent himself in the light of a Victorian gentleman, whereas Magwitch depends on his false sense of security. 

Magwitch had a perceived view of his own class that was greatly influenced by Victorian society assuring its lower-class members that social mobility is entirely possible. In the case of Magwitch, and now Pip, Dickens proves otherwise. Pip’s changing attitude throughout the novel corresponds to a transforming identity. It should not, however, be assumed that upward mobility will continue indefinitely for him. The idealized “gentleman” that Pip aspires to be is simply a construct by Victorian society. 

Heathcliff and Pip: Brothers From Another Mother

I feel as though it is unquestionable that there are stark similarities between Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights and Pip in Great Expectations, and these similarities only become more pronounced in this set of chapters. Heathcliff and Pip have extremely similar upbringings and thusly, extremely similar character arcs. Raised as orphans, not destined for wealth or a gentlemanly lifestyle, they were most likely going to slip through the societal cracks until an inheritance of vast wealth. However, their transition to a different social class appears artificial, and that’s because it is. At its roots, Heathcliff and Pip are not naturally indoctrinated to live the lifestyles of gentlemen, and this issue is prominent when it comes to their desire for love. Heathcliff’s incessant longing for Catherine can’t be fulfilled, because in her eyes there would be a social stigma that still remains, and in order to keep her social perceptions intact, she would be better off with Edgar Linton. This is similar to Pip and his relationship with Estella, who goes on to marry Drummle. Situationally these relationships differ, as Healthcliff’s love seems requited more-so than Pip, but the point still stands that although wealth is garnered, these men have a difficulty escaping the predispositions that have been placed on them, and their self-awareness of such gives them great anguish.

Expectation vs. Reality in Great Expectations

The namesake of the novel Great Expectations as well as a crux of the story is the idea of having certain beliefs of how the future will unfold and being faced with a disappointing outcome. In the book, Pip and other characters are faced with the harsh realities that life is not always what we expect it to be. For example, throughout the story, Pip has fantasies about gaining power: through social mobility, the accumulation of wealth, and by marrying the woman he considers to be beautiful. This links back to an idea I addressed in a previous blog post about Pip’s desire for self-improvement from the outset of the story. As the story continues, Pip starts to seek advancement as a way to fulfill himself. He believes that if he gains these accolades (money, status, “love”), then he will be satisfied with his life and himself. By constructing this set of values, however, he becomes caught in an endless cycle of wanting more to be happy. His life as a gentleman of the time turns out to be no more fulfilling than his life as a blacksmith’s apprentice and he continues to long for what is beyond his reach. In my interpretation of the theme as its presented in the novel, the question of expectations versus reality is rooted not in a comparison of two polar ideas (what we expect to be vs. what is), rather what we intend to gain from our expectations of reality (what is vs. how we reconcile it).

Spooky Season

After reading the assigned chapters for this week, I thought it was very fitting for it being around Halloween. When I first started reading Chapter 40, it reminded me of Wuthering Heights. When Pip trips over the shadowy man crouching on the staircase it made me think of Lockwood being awoken by Catherine ghost. It seems to be a reoccurring theme in Victorian Literature that they believed in the afterlife and supernatural creatures. I’ve always been very interested in this subject and I find it even more interesting that this time period focused on ghost and scary stories. I’d be interested in learning more about this subject.

Getting Lit: Pip’s Characterization

In Chapter 49 of Great Expectations we see Miss Havisham have another tragedy befall her, a poetic consequence, getting heated for raising such a cold-hearted girl. What was curious was Pip’s reaction here: “I was astonished to see that both my hands were burnt; for, I had no knowledge of it through the sense of feeling.” (Dickens, Chapter 49). Pip was so mentally involved with trying to save Miss Havisham that he was completely oblivious to his own pain. An obvious connection to be made is that Pip, a previous blacksmithing apprentice, was merely used to the heat, but I think this connects more to Pip’s character over his previous occupations. Despite Miss Havisham manipulating Estella and marrying her off to Drummle, and manipulating and misguiding Pip, Pip doesn’t let her burn, he immediately goes to help her. This portrays a fundamental component to Pip’s personality, regardless of which Pip he is: Pip will help people. As Handel, he may become snobby and entitled, but he retains some of the characteristics that young Pip who snuck food and the file to the convict in the swamp. Moreover, Pip’s interference and actions have a more potent result on his own life than he realizes. When young Pip helped Magwitch, he was led to repay Pip and elevate him to a gentleman’s status. The consequences of Pip attempting to stop Miss Havisham –when he could have left her– are likely to impact both his and Estella’s lives.