Summative Entry

The human and artistic concerns of both the Romantic and Victorian Ages are similar to our own concerns; the response to those concerns – given by poets, novelists, dramatists and artists – can help us live fuller, more meaningful and creative lives in our own times.

This was the focus of this semester’s work in 19th Century Literature and my work and understanding of this unit has led me to believe that our modern 21st century lives parallel the lives of those who lived in the Romantic and Victorian 19th century and that they have something to teach us about living, even though a whole century has passed since their time. Beginning with the Romantics like William Wordsworth, Mary Wollstonecraft and Samuel Taylor Coleridge then ending on dynamic writers like Leo Tolstoy and Oscar Wilde, who defiantly challenged the uptight Victorian society, this semester has definitely been eye-opening and many lessons can be taken away from these writers to live fuller and richer lives.

The works of Wordsworth, Coleridge and other Romantics addressed the importance of nature, how vital the natural world is to our lives and how important it is that we respect it, admire it and care for it as it does for us. Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned, both poems by Wordsworth, inspire us to think of how stimulating nature can be if we just simply take the time to appreciate it and take note of how it can inspire creativity as long as you let it, and not just dismiss it as a passing idle thought. The Romantics also teach us that not all knowledge can be found in books and classrooms; some things cannot be taught by other human beings and you must go out into the world and explore it on your own and make up your own ideas and learn from what nature can teach you.

Jane Austen is an author who usually writes with a didactic purpose and certainly teaches her readers a thing or two about how we should really live our lives and conduct ourselves. Through the character of Emma Woodhouse in Emma, she shows her readers that kindness, humility and consideration are the real desirable qualities in people and these qualities should be the way we govern our lives; beauty and money is not everything. In Hard Times, Charles Dickens shows us, through the character of Mr Gradgrind, that even though society has established rules and that decorum must be maintained at all times, it can also be taken too far and that is the way to isolate yourself and to lose meaning in your life.

The artworks at the Art Gallery of NSW also showed parallels between our time and times of the past. Ford Madox Brown’s “Chaucer at the Court of Edward III” (1847) showed us how people interact with each other and how interested they all seem to be in each others’ lives, albeit a bit distracted. Today in 2017, we are all still interested in what’s happening in the world and we like to be kept informed of the latest gossip and yet, we lead such busy lives that we will always be just that little bit distracted.

Later works of the 19th century, including those of George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, Leo Tolstoy and Oscar Wilde, still continue to show similar concerns to ours today. In George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Marner loses his gold and believes the world has come to an end – money is still a vital part of our livelihood today and we hold it in such high esteem that if we lost our money, we’d be panicking too, and so we can relate to Marner. In Matthew Arnold’s poem, “The Scholar Gypsy”, the character of the scholar gypsy runs away from his comfortable life in the city and flees to return to simpler times, when his world was not so filled with distractions and responsibilities that he knew would eventually overwhelm him. We all feel like that, more often than not, and we wonder what it would be like if we could just pack it all in and run away, leaving work, school, university all to someone else to take care of for us. Again, we relate to the scholar gypsy.

Tolstoy writes about how people can change and evolve – that is exactly what happens to Vasily Andreevich in Master and Man: dire circumstances force him to realise his humanity and kindness so he can save both himself and Nikita from dying of hypothermia. Andreevich, formerly a cold, unfeeling and materialistic man, goes through a character development that inspires Tolstoy’s readers to believe that people are indeed capable of changing from monsters into kind and caring human beings. Oscar Wilde makes fun of and criticises late Victorian society in his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, mainly through the character of Lady Bracknell. By placing so much emphasis on Lady Bracknell’s materialism, Wilde is also drawing our attention to how wrong and foolish it is of humans to make connections, especially such meaningful ones like friendship and marriage, on such superficial things like money and position. He inspires us to make connections with people based on things that really matter, like personality and character and thus, showing us how we should really live our lives and leave materialism behind.

The human and artistic concerns of the Romantic and Victorian ages are similar to our own concerns; concerns like responsibility, money, security, character building. This can be seen in the works of Romantic poets like Wordsworth, writers like Jane Austen, Dickens, Eliot and Arnold and artists like Ford Madox Brown. They write and paint the plights of olden times that we still experience today and seeing these beacons of creativity and inspiration provides us, a 21st century audience, with some comfort that everything we feel and suffer is all part of the human condition and that even two centuries ago, people were dealing with the problems we are dealing with today. The response to these concerns, given by poets, novelists, dramatists and artists, can help us live fuller, more meaningful and creative lives in our own times. Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy and Wilde all provide us with characters that we should look to in order to inspire us to change and see how we can really get the best out of life and live it to the absolute fullest.

LINKS TO MY BLOGS:

Creative Blogs: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/19th-century-literature/creative-blogs/

Best Creative Blog: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/19th-century-literature/best-creative-blog-19th-century-literature/

Critical Blogs: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/19th-century-literature/critical-blogs/

Best Critical Blog: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/19th-century-literature/best-critical-blog-19th-century-literature/

Peer Reviews: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/19th-century-literature/peer-reviews-19th-century-literature/

Summative Entry: https://felicitymcmanus.wordpress.com/category/19th-century-literature/summative-entry-19th-century-literature/

 

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Eighth Peer Review

Joshua Jenkins – https://joshuajenkins1.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/to-agree-or-not-agree/comment-page-1/#comment-55

“Hi Joshua,
I definitely agree with your blog and your sentiments that Wilde is certainly using the play to make fun of the upper class, their materialism and shallowness. I also think that you make a good point regarding that maybe Wilde is also trying to guide his readers away from the consumerism that concerns people of both the 19th and 21st centuries. You write very clearly with intent and state your views outright, it makes your blogs very easy to read 🙂 Well done!”

Ninth Blog

“This play, while mocking deeply at the tribal customs of the late Victorians, has, at its heart, a wish to point the human race in the right direction: away from fraud, hypocrisy and such indecent preoccupation with material realities.”

TASK: Write whether you agree or disagree with the last paragraph in this blog.

I agree with the last paragraph of the blog, saying that Oscar Wilde was, indeed, renowned for his ridiculing of late Victorian society in The Importance of Being Earnest. However, I also like to think that Wilde had a didactic purpose to his writing and that he was maybe trying to teach society a thing or two about how they should really live, as well as satirizing society.

He mainly satirizes society through the characters of Lady Bracknell and her daughter, Gwendolen, and focuses on the shallowness of people. He does this through Gwendolen’s ridiculous, over-the-top obsession with the name “Ernest”, implying that someone’s name is all that matters in this society and not who the person really is.

This superficiality is further shown through Lady Bracknell and how she approaches Jack/Ernest’s marriage proposal to Gwendolen. She immediately produces a checklist and all the questions she asks him are about his finances and his housing situation. She asks very materialistic questions that show what the nobility of the late 19th century really cared about and that marriage was viewed as a business proposal, instead of a declaration of love. When she learns that he has a house on the “unfashionable” side of Belgrave Square, she replies that it can easily be altered but it’s ambiguous as to whether she really means. This only goes to further prove that image and reputation is all that really mattered in late Victorian society, and not personality or feelings.

Neither does Lady Bracknell approve of the lower classes being educated, or modern education in general, calling it “radically unsound” and that “it tampers with natural ignorance”. She believes that education is a “serious danger to the upper classes” and would lead to violence or riots in the middle of the fashionable area of London, as was the case in France with the French Revolution about a century prior to Wilde’s time. This also implies that Lady Bracknell likes control and she can control uneducated people – it’s much harder to manipulate people with an education.

Through Gwendolen’s and Lady Bracknell’s absurdities, Wilde highlights the hypocrisy and shallowness of the nobility in late Victorian society, while also writing with a didactic purpose. The didactic purpose being that, in order to to avoid the superficiality shown by Wilde, people should be the exact opposite of characters like Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell and learn from their follies.

 

Seventh Peer Review

Victoria Zullo – https://vzengl200.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/week-10-blog-post-critical/comment-page-1/#comment-29

“Hi Victoria,
I had a really good time reading your blog, I did the same question this week for my blog, except I took on a more historical point of view. I found your blog very interesting and a different take on the question compared to my response. I love how you bring up the fact that, in The Death of Ivan Ilych, we see the life that wealthy people lead and how it isn’t all it’s chalked up to be: it can be quite shallow and can lead you into trouble, and yet it’s just the opposite when it comes to the working class. I think it’s great how you continued on this point with Master and Man, with Nikita, from the working class, being of a more humble and kind nature, as opposed to Vasily Andreevich from the upper class and it takes a near-death situation for Andreevich to show some humanity and compassion. What a great blog, very well done!! 😊 Just a couple of small things: I picked up a few lowercase “i’s” when they should be uppercase, as they’re at the start of a sentence and it’s spelled “Andreevich”, not “Andreevichov”. 🙂

Eighth Blog

TASK: What can you find out about Tolstoy’s belief in the value of the working class?

Born in 1828 and dying in 1910, Tolstoy lived in a time when the Russian Empire was at its height and lived to see the start of its decline in the early 20th century. Tolstoy was born into an aristocratic family and so, had a front-row seat and a free pass to all the pleasures and luxuries life could offer the wealthy, without a thought as to what the poor or the working class (the proletariats) were being denied. As a young adult, he indulged in all these pleasures and luxuries, truly living the life of an aristocrat, but as he grew older and grew disenchanted with these frivolities, Tolstoy found more merit in the Russian working class than the aristocracy.

Tolstoy had a spiritual awakening – an epiphany – setting him on the right path, in his 30s and returned to Russia to open schools for the poorer classes and he sided with the serfs when they were liberated in 1861: something unprecedented for a wealthy landowner. In the 1880s, after he had published one of his most famous works, Anna Karenina, he was very much involved in public work and helping the poor and proletariats wherever and however he could, including distributing pamphlets and writing articles about religion, education and the redistribution of wealth.

While he may have started out as just another ridiculously wealthy, privileged aristocrat, regarding the proletariats as nothing more than the dirt beneath his shoes, he grew to become one of the proletariats’ greatest advocates and really believed in them, championing their cause wherever he could and with whatever means he could. He died in 1910 at the age of 82 but, had he lived just 7 more years, he would’ve seen the 1917 February Revolution – where the proletariats prevailed and overthrew the monarchy, hoping for a fairer world.

Sixth Peer Review

Tara Briggs – https://taramichellebriggs.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/blog-7-topic-1/comment-page-1/#comment-28

“Hi Tara,
I think this is a great post, it’s wonderful and thought-provoking 🙂 You’ve encapsulated some of my own thoughts on these authors too. I think you’re quite right when you say that Dickens makes mention of people in all levels of society, from the Gradgrinds to the Slearys in “Hard Times”, while Austen really only pays attention to the upper classes of society in her novels and Eliot is a combination of the two. Your brief analysis of the characters is thorough and I really like your summarising statement at the end that all three authors have intelligent ideas that are relevant even up to the 21st century. You don’t show a bias or preference for one particular author, which shows an objective and very well-written piece – fabulous work! 🙂 Just one small thing: in your paragraph about Dickens, “effected” should be “affected” with an a, not an e.”

Seventh Blog

TASK: Describe a moment in your life where, like Marner, you have been horrified, shocked by the loss of something that has been desperately dear to you. (In Marner’s case, it was his gold).

Only last year, I was walking home when I felt around my neck to ensure my necklace was still there. I felt the reassuring presence of the gold chain, but the feeling that was most prevalent was horror, as I felt the absence of the green malachite heart pendant. My heart skipped a few beats, my palms started to sweat, my mind started to kick into overdrive and my normal calm breathing started to become desperate gasps, as I looked around frantically for the heart pendant. This necklace has been in my family for generations – it belonged to my great-grandmother and her daughter, my grandmother, had entrusted its care to me only a few years prior to this. This necklace had seen my great-grandmother through all her life, my grandmother throughout most of hers and here I was, 18 years old, and I had lost this priceless heirloom. As I stopped walking to take off my jacket, to make sure the pendant hadn’t merely fallen off and gotten lost amongst my clothing, I began to wonder, wonder where in the world the pendant had gotten to, where it had fallen off and why I hadn’t noticed before.

It was nowhere to be seen. So, I immediately began retracing my steps back through the busy suburb, my eyes glued to the ground, desperately scouting for a glint of gold and green so that all would be right in my world again. But it was nowhere to be found. Nowhere at all. There was nothing else for it now, except to go home and tell my mother that I had lost a beautiful family trinket. The malachite in it was also rare too, but that wasn’t the point. As I walked the rest of the way home, the emotions swirled around inside me. Shock. Despair. Horror. Anger. Disappointment. Sadness. Shame. After what felt like an eternity and, simultaneously, not nearly long enough, I arrived home and informed my mum of what had happened and she assured me that neither she, nor my grandmother, would think badly of me for losing the pendant. She then proceeded to tell me of all the priceless things she’d lost throughout the years, including some things that were passed down from my great-grandmother to her.

She did honestly make me feel better and, while I appreciated her trying to comfort me, I still felt all the things I did before. Most prevalent were the shock and horror over losing the malachite heart – it wasn’t supposed to happen, I wasn’t supposed to lose it in the streets, I was supposed to look after it, cherish it and maybe pass it along to my daughter one day. I knew that, in time, I’d get over it and move on, that these feelings inside me would pass but until that day came, I would still be shocked that I actually lost it, after promising and swearing I would look after it very carefully, and horrified that I allowed it to happen, that it fell through my grasp, like sand falling in between my fingers or sugar sifting through a sifter or like the thin gold chain the green malachite heart once used to rest on.

Fifth Peer Review

Jesse Owad – https://jesseshakespeare.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/sixth-19th-century-literature-blog-post-week-9-monday-1st-of-may/comment-page-1/#comment-22

“Hey Jesse,
I love this blog, I did the same topic this week, and I really like how you talk about the hypocrisy of education and how we always say how much we value it but don’t actually pay all that much attention to it. I also like how you say that the intellectual, bookish side of education isn’t all there is and that there is so much more to education, like life experiences and that they teach us so much, maybe even more than what books teach us. I think you’ve done a very good job at encapsulating the frustration we all feel as university students sometimes and how we all get really bored of just studying when all we want is to be out in the world, living life as we want to.

What a great job you’ve done! 😀 Just two things: “Oxford” should be spelt with a capital “O”, as it’s the name of a place, and “gypsy’s” should be “gypsies”.”

Sixth Blog

TASK: You are the scholar gypsy. Explain to your friends why you have decided to run away from conventional education.

My friends,

Forgive me for repeating such a cliché, but I have run away. Away from this life, away from its responsibilities and the calamity that is swiftly approaching. The calamity I refer to is mundaneness. Boredom. A sense of being overwhelmed, and not in a pleasant way. The world is changing, the world we once knew it as is quickly fading away into the distance and I do not intend on simply accepting that my world, and what I enjoy most in life, will soon be no more and that there is nothing I can do to preserve whatever I can of it. Thus, I’ve run away. This new world has too many tasks, too many distractions, too little humour and not nearly enough delight and fun.

Convention taught me how to behave, how to conduct myself and how to live my life in a way that only society, and people who don’t even know I exist, deem fit and appropriate. Well, to hell with convention. I have beliefs, wishes and dreams too and I am also a human being with feelings and emotions, just like anyone else and how can I say that I am living a full life, when in fact I am not? That I’m living the life I’ve always wanted, when I’m not? That I’m achieving all my dreams, hopes and happiness, when I know I’m not? I can’t do it any longer and I’ll not be denied my true happiness any longer; so I’ve run away, disappeared, to live my life the way I choose it, not how someone else chooses it. I’ve tried to fit in with convention and play the part of an ideal, proper working citizen who goes mad at the end of every day with the enormity of all they have to do and is so overwhelmed that they can’t focus on anything, just because there is so much to do! But I can’t do it any longer, and so I must bid you farewell.

I wish you all every happiness and good wish for the future. I also wish you all the courage and fortitude you can muster; I think you’re going to need it if you’re to survive in this new world! Unless, of course, you choose to follow my course of action and run away with me?

Fondest regards and warmest wishes, my friends,

Felicity

the scholar gypsy - matthew arnold

“The Scholar Gypsy” (1853), by Matthew Arnold. Image from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scholar-Gypsy-Phoenix-60p-paperbacks/dp/1857996542

Fourth Peer Review

Danielle Gatt – https://daniellegattlit.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/adventure-into-the-gallery/comment-page-1/#comment-11

“Hi Danielle,

I did this question for my blog this week too and I’m really intrigued by the paintings you chose. I love your interpretation of “Cymon and Iphigenia” – the idea that there could be two purposes to the painting is a really interesting concept and I love the notion of the sun in the background as a chance for redemption and second chances. I think your interpretation of “The Widower” is spot on and effectively explains the injustice the poor faced in the 19th century and how unfair life can be, even when you give it all you’ve got and get nothing in return. What a wonderful job you’ve done! 🙂