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.

 

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.

Fifth Blog

TASK: Write a short summary of your gallery visit today. Mention 2 or 3 of the paintings that most appealed to you and why.

My visit to the NSW Art Gallery this week was one of great interest and also reluctance. Reluctance because I was wondering why we were going to look at art, when we were literature students? While at the gallery, the answer hit me like a bolt of lightning. The answer was because, like languages, most aspects between subjects, like art and English, can be translated and recognised in each other. Once I had this realisation, I had an innate desire and curiosity to study these paintings further and see what I could find for myself. Two, in particular, struck me.

“Chaucer at the Court of Edward III” by Ford Madox Brown (1847) was one painting that struck me. I thought this was a lovely painting, not just because of the bright and vibrant colours, but because of the celebration of the English language. The painting depicts a variety of people at court, who are all engaged in conversation of some kind with each other. Everyone seems to have something to say and they seem to have an interest in what’s going on; they are all paying attention to each other and giving them their undivided attention – something rare nowadays, what with the various distractions technology provides.

chaucer at the court of edward iii

“Chaucer at the Court of Edward III” (1847). Image from: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/703/

The other that struck a chord with me was “A Young Lady Holding a Pug Dog” by Francis Boucher (c. 1740s). This is a painting from the Enlightenment period and it makes clear to me why people wanted a Revolution and wanted change in society. The girl in the painting is portrayed in an uptight, uncomfortable position with a rigid back and wearing extravagant, pretentious clothes. This makes the painting seem forced and a lot less natural, unlike paintings of the Romantic era, where people seemed to be captured in the moment, like “Chaucer at the Court of Edward III”. The pug the girl is holding has a ribbon around its neck – perhaps representing the oppression the lower classes were placed under by the upper class and how the upper class thought themselves so superior because of their refined and restrained manners. It represents the hold the aristocracy held on everyone, even animals like the dog. The rigidity and tyranny of the upper class, represented in this painting, makes it obvious to me why people were keen for a Revolution at the time and, while the methods and what happened during the Revolution is a sad thought, it makes me feel better about the 21st century world that we don’t have those kind of social barriers.

a young lady holding a pug dog

“A Young Lady Holding a Pug Dog” (1740s). Image from: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/118.1992/

 

Second Blog

TASK: It has been said about Jane Austen that she is basically trying to show her readers how they should live their lives. Do you agree with this statement?

To a certain extent, I think it could be said that Jane Austen is trying to show her readers how to live. I think it could be said that Austen tries to show her readers how to live mainly through her characters and how she humanises them. This is the particular case with Emma Woodhouse. Emma is known as “handsome, clever and rich” – everything you could ever want in a woman of the time, which makes her seemingly perfect at first glance. However, Emma amuses herself by playing matchmaker to the people of Highbury and her self-proclaimed “skill” in making successful matches has given her a sense of arrogance, which makes her think that she knows best in any given situation. This does not endear her to some people and they do everything they can to dissuade her from her matchmaking hobby (her father and Mr. Knightley are among those who try to stop Emma). This makes Emma an imperfect character, reminding the reader that she is human and is flawed, like everyone else in the world.

This, along with Emma’s declaration that she will never marry, is her tragic flaw – her blindness to her actions and the consequences it can lead to. While trying to make a match for her new protégée, Harriet, Emma fails to see that Harriet’s attentions lie elsewhere and she also fails to realise Mr. Knightley’s true feelings for her. The events of Box Hill rattle Emma, ground her and lead her to realise Newton’s third law of gravity: that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. By introducing Emma as an imperfect, flawed protagonist, Austen may have a didactic purpose in trying to show her readers how to live, by writing that you can be beautiful, smart and rich, like Emma, but that’s not all to life: selflessness and consideration for others is equally, if not more, important and that is what leads to true happiness.

Contrariwise, Austen could simply be writing a novel for simply enjoyable purposes and people have interpreted Emma, or any of Austen’s novels, in a way that leads them to believe that Austen has an ulterior motive: a didactic purpose in showing people how to live their lives!

 

First Blog

TASK: In your own words briefly say how the ideas in “Expostulation & Reply” & “The Tables Turned” have helped you to understand Romanticism.

The central idea in Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned is that there is more to life than books and that the natural world can teach us more than books ever could. In Expostulation and Reply, Wordsworth is bid by his friend Matthew to take up his books and begin reading again to improve his mind and Wordsworth replies that he shall not, because of all the wonder and awe his natural surroundings provide him. In The Tables Turned, Wordsworth continues to persuade Matthew to put his books away and join him in wonderment at the natural world.

The main theme of Romanticism is that nature and the environment can inspire creativity and individuality better than any book or teacher can (“Nor less I deem that there are Powers… that we can feed this mind of ours in a wise passiveness” – Expostulation and Reply). These two poems have definitely helped me understand Romanticism through the motif of nature, especially The Tables Turned. Wordsworth’s language in this poem paints the scene of a lush environment (“the sun… a freshening lustre yellow, through all the long green fields has spread…”) and it sounds so appealing that you can’t help but want to spend time outside to just simply be in nature, without any other worries. The lines of “Come forth into the light of things, let Nature be your teacher” and “Enough of Science and Art; Close up those barren leaves…” quite effectively encapsulate the Romantics’ feelings of the time – that of simply being in and appreciating nature and all the wisdom and knowledge it can offer us with its beauty, as opposed to the boring pages of a book that just offer printed words.