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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Function of Dreams in the Fictional Works of Catherine Crowe Part 1

One supernatural element that features prominently in the fictional works of Catherine Crowe is the dream.  In The Night Side of Nature Crowe describes dreams as "prophetic," having divine origins and capable of relaying important information to the dreamer.  The indwelling spirit, according to Crowe, acts as a messenger in retrieving information from God and presenting it to the recipient in the form of a dream.  Therefore, the dream and the knowledge it bestows represent divine truth.  In her fictional works, Crowe's juxtaposition of realism and supernatural elements aids in her depiction of dreams as truth.  In the two novels I will look at, Linny Lockwood (1854) and Susan Hopley (1841), dreams function as agents of divine warning and retribution.

Linny Lockwood features the title heroine, whose husband Vaughan forsakes her for Lady Glenyon.  The latter, who left her own husband out of love of Vaughan, recognizes that Vaughan's motive is not love but greed and deserts him as well, taking up the name Mrs. Hargrave.   Linny becomes a maid to Lady Glenyon, both unaware of the connection between the two women.  Lady Glenyon slowly realizes that Linny is Vaughan's wife but cannot bring herself to reveal her past wrongs.  The toll of this undisclosed knowledge proves fatal to Lady Glenyon, also known as Kate.

Before this realization, Kate has a dream in which her parents reveal to her a book that contains the dates of their deaths as well as that of Kate's own death.  To Kate, the dream "seemed so real" that she calls it "more than a dream."  The death of Kate's mother preceded the dream and Kate's father dies the day following the dream.  Though Kate is unaware of the latter occurrence, she is convinced of the accuracy of the dream.  Kate anchors her conviction in her knowledge of her guilt regarding her husband and Linny.  Though not particularly religious, she forsees her impending doom as the judgment of Fate:

In the marriage she had ventured on so rashly, destiny had still spared her, and given her another chance for happiness.  The fates had not exacted their penalty till the last; but now it must be paid (356).

Kate has been spared for previous mistakes but her infidelity is the deed for which she must be punished.  The dream not only confirms her fate but also shows the judgment she must face for her sins.  As a spiritualist, Crowe believed in a divinely ordered universe in which God plays an active role.  Spiritualism itself Crowe viewed as a conferring of divine knowledge which mankind has need of.  Therefore, spiritualism is form of communication between God and man.  In the same way, Crowe viewed dreams as a form of divine communication.  In Linny Lockwod the communication is a forewarning of Kate's death.

Yet, this forewarning can also be viewed as an act of mercy.  By knowing the date of her death, Kate has time to expiate her sins.  In a divinely ordered universe sins must be judged, but Kate uses the dream to gauge the time frame in which she can, to a point, right her wrongs.  She uses this time to arrange for the maintenance of the child she bore to Vaughan and to settle half her property on Linny, leaving the rest to Vaughan.  Linny is given the responsibility of raising the child, a responsibility which she gladly accepts when she learns Kate's true identity.  Therefore, the dream serves as not only a judgment on Kate but also justice for Linny.  The wronged wife is given custody of the child she was never able to produce with her husband as well as a financial settlement that allows her to be independent.  This act of mercy given to Kate is not given to Vaughan, whose death ends the novel.  This distinction has gender implications, as Kate's sin is one of love while Vaughan's is one greed.  The sin of the heart is shown more mercy than greed, though both face the same fate. 


Friday, September 20, 2013

Catherine Crowe

I have spent the past year studying for a Masters in English Literature in London, England.  Though the program in which I was enrolled did not focus specifically on Victorian literature, I studied numerous Victorian works, including Villette, one of my personal favorites.  Among the topics I wrote about during my studies were the male gaze in Villette and homosocial desire in the works of Henry James.  My dissertation topic, however, revolved around truth in the works of Catherine Crowe (1790-1872), a Victorian novelist and short story writer popular in her time, though mostly forgotten today.  Her work The Night Side of Nature remains a important work for those with an interest in the supernatural.

I first came across Crowe's name while reading through the book Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign.  In the work, Crowe is praised for her progressive views on women, being ahead of her time in believing that women should be educated in the same subjects as men.  Crowe's fictional writings are domestic works that portray female protagonists that overcome the obstacles of the patriarchal Victorian society and are vindicated through their actions.  Her first novel Susan Hopley (1841) deals with the title heroine's struggle to solve the mysterious disappearance of her brother and murder of her guardian.  Though the truth of what has happened is revealed early on to Susan through a dream, the whole of the novel is spent trying to produce evidence that validates the dream.  Men and Women (1844) also deals with an unsolved murder and a female protagonist is instrumental in seeing her fiance cleared of the crime.  Linny Lockwood (1854) details the forlorn marriage of the titular character and her restoration to dignity through honesty and selflessness. 

Additionally, Crowe wrote numerous short stories dealing with the supernatural.  As a firm believer in spiritualism, Crowe included numerous supernatural elements in her fictional works.  Despite her inclusion of these elements, Crowe continued to write in a realistic vein, illustrating her belief that the supernatural was not incompatible with realism as a genre.  Eventually, Crowe believed, spiritualism would be proven as a manifestation of a hitherto unknown law of nature.  Nevertheless, Crowe's fiction differs from the Gothic fiction of the early 19th century which also used supernatural elements in that Crowe infused her supernatural elements in realistic settings.  In upcoming blogs, I will look at Crowe's works and show how her use of the supernatural differs from that of Gothic fiction.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Murdering the Innocents in Hard Times

The opening scene in Gradgrind's school demonstrates his education philosophy, teaching only facts and projecting a detached worldview.  According to David Craig's introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of the novel, the scene is eerily similar to an actual classroom scene in a Victorian school in which a student describes a ruminating animal.  The catechism approach encourages memorization of facts without acquiring true knowledge.  For this reason, Bitzer can provide a factually accurate definition of the physical attributes of a horse but cannot recognize that a horse has an emotional side.  Sissy Jupe, who has grown up around horses, is unable to define a horse because the basis of her definition would be personal experience, and in Gradgrind's system, personal experience is of no value.  Bitzer's formulaic response ("Quadruped. Graminivorus. Forty teeth...") shows the detached perspective that Gradgrind values.

Through descriptions of the characters, Dickens illustrates facets of their personality.  Mr. M'Choakumchild, whose name defines his metaphorical role in the novel, has a "wall of a forehead" and "two dark caves" for eyes.  The description portrays him as an unemotional, soulless man whose job as an educator is to "choke" the life out of children through education.  He tells Sissy Jupe, "You mustn't fancy," discouraging the imagination and essentially killing any creativity that does not reflect reality.  The prohibition of unrealistic scenes on wallpaper or carpets shows his intolerance of an idealistic vision that sees beyond human capability.  His proclamation of "Fact, fact, fact!" constricts the tendency in youths to envision the impossible.

Gradgrind shares M'Choakumchild's philosophical antipathy to the imagination.  Dickens introduces him in this way:

THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir - peremptorily Thomas - Thomas Gradgrind.

The description itself is matter of fact:  he is what he is and don't expect him to change.  His stolid disposition is personified in his abode Stone Lodge, which he himself built.  Everything about the house is symmetrical and planned, leaving no room for spontaneity or creativity.  He refuses to use the name "Sissy," preferring to call her by her birth name of Cecilia.  He objects to all terms of endearment that would expose an emotional side, at one point calling her "Girl number twenty," an almost robotic (excuse the ananchronism) address that implies the lack of individuality that he wished his students to display.  When Gradgrind happens upon his two children, the metallurgical Louisa and the mathematical Thomas, peeking at a nearby circus exhibition, he rebukes them for their inquisitive desires to view such a cavalcade of whimsy.

Bitzer is one of Gradgrind's model students who wholly embraces the acquisition of facts as knowledge.  Dickens points out his "cold eyes" to give the reader a sense of his frigid callousness.  His light eyes, hair, and complexion Dickens credits to his lack of exposure to the sun, thereby illustrating an absence of true enlightenment.

"The boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white."

The description above paints Bitzer as lacking basic human qualities, which have been choked out through the educational system in which he has been placed.  Additionally, he grasps facts easily but shows no compassion throughout the novel.

Bitzer's antithesis is Sissy Jupe, whose dark features portray an inborn liveliness that has not yet been extinguished.  Throughout the novel, Sissy inspires Louisa with her sympathetic nature and human compassion.  Her unyielding devotion to her father, despite his abandoning her, shows the strength of human attachment in the midst of a system that promotes pathetic estrangement.

Dickens' naming of the second chapter "Murdering the Innocents" limns children as victims of the system put in place by Gradgrind and others.  The system has no tolerance of fantastical imaginings or representations, turning children into machines, like those used in the factory that appears later in the novel.  Individuality has been sacrificed for a collective indoctrination that inhibits human progress.  The irony of the situation is that without imagination, those machines in the factories could never have been invented.  Nevertheless, Dickens gives the reader hope that while the imagination can be stunted, it can never been completely extinguished:

When from thy boiling store, thou shalt fill each jar brim full by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within - or sometimes only maim him and distort him!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Background on Hard Times

Hard Times was written against a backdrop of a changing economic environment in England.  Gone was the cottage industry of Georgian England in which families labored together in the home.  In its place were the factories of the Industrial Revolution in which men (and women and children) were forced to work long hours in unhealthy conditions.  The land bore marks of the Revolution with deforestation combined with significant shifts of population into the cities.  Overcrowdedness produced dust heaps everywhere, creating unsanitary living condition and, unfortunately, contaminating water sources.  Those at the helms of the large factories amass huge amounts of wealth while factory "hands" worked harder for minimal wages.  Is the sacrifice of the many for the few worth the price of Progress?  This is the question Dickens forces us to answer during the reading of the novel.

At the time of the novel's writing, Dickens had not planned to produce another work for at least a year, but circumstances with his magazine Household Words forced him to act earlier.  Readership had dropped significantly and editors believed that having Dickens produce a serial novel for the first time for the magazine would help increase profits.  The editors proved right, though Dickens felt constrained by the limitation of the magazine's publication standards, and the result was his shortest novel.  Nevertheless, Hard Times was highly popular during its serialization.

Dickens prepared for the novel by visiting the municipality of Preston in January of 1854 to gain a perspective of the strike being launched there by cotton mill workers.  Mill owners reacted to the strike with a "lockout," closing down the mills and preventing factory hands from returning to work.  When Dickens arrives, the face off is entering its twenty-third week, though as Dickens remarks, there are no boisterous demonstrations happening, only a pervading "quietness and order," despite its affecting twenty to thirty thousand people.  Dickens supported the ability of the workers to "combine" and called the lockout "a grave error."  Nevertheless, Dickens placed the responsibility on both sides to find a workable solution.  Dickens' visit to Preston provided him with the knowledge he needed to write the scenes of Slackbridge's speeches.

Sources:  Charles Dickens:  His Tragedy and Triumph by Edgar Johnson
"On Strike" in Household Words, 11 February 1954, Vol 8, No 203

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Old Wives Tale and Wesleyan Methodism

In The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett portrays the divergent yet parallel lives of two English sisters.  One sister Constance remains in a provincial English town her entire life while Sophia elopes to Paris with the feckless though dashing Gerald Scales.  A pessimistic interpretation of the novel would be to say we live, grow old, and die.  And while there is quite a bit of pessimism in the book, a wider perspective would state that the aim of the novel is to show the influence of one's upbringing and surroundings on a person's path in life.  The two heroines are raised in a small provincial town in 19th century England, the progeny of parents of strict adherence to the principles of Wesleyan Methodism.  Bennett, himself raised according to these same principles, uses a sardonic tone to describe the Baines family in church:

In the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Duck Bank there was a full and influential congregation. For in those days influential people were not merely content to live in the town where their fathers had lived, without dreaming of country residences and smokeless air—they were content also to believe what their fathers had believed about the beginning and the end of all. There was no such thing as the unknowable in those days. The eternal mysteries were as simple as an addition sum; a child could tell you with absolute certainty where you would be and what you would be doing a million years hence, and exactly what God thought of you. Accordingly, every one being of the same mind, every one met on certain occasions in certain places in order to express the universal mind. And in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, for example, instead of a sparse handful of persons disturbingly conscious of being in a minority, as now, a magnificent and proud majority had collected, deeply aware of its rightness and its correctness.

And the minister, backed by minor ministers, knelt and covered his face in the superb mahogany rostrum; and behind him, in what was then still called the 'orchestra' (though no musical instruments except the grand organ had sounded in it for decades), the choir knelt and covered their faces; and all around in the richly painted gallery and on the ground-floor, multitudinous rows of people, in easy circumstances of body and soul, knelt in high pews and covered their faces. And there floated before them, in the intense and prolonged silence, the clear vision of Jehovah on a throne, a God of sixty or so with a moustache and a beard, and a non-committal expression which declined to say whether or not he would require more bloodshed; and this God, destitute of pinions, was surrounded by white-winged creatures that wafted themselves to and fro while chanting; and afar off was an obscene monstrosity, with cloven hoofs and a tail very dangerous and rude and interfering, who could exist comfortably in the middle of a coal-fire, and who took a malignant and exhaustless pleasure in coaxing you by false pretences into the same fire; but of course you had too much sense to swallow his wicked absurdities. Once a year, for ten minutes by the clock, you knelt thus, in mass, and by meditation convinced yourself that you had too much sense to swallow his wicked absurdities. And the hour was very solemn, the most solemn of all the hours.

Strange that immortal souls should be found with the temerity to reflect upon mundane affairs in that hour! Yet there were undoubtedly such in the congregation; there were perhaps many to whom the vision, if clear, was spasmodic and fleeting. And among them the inhabitants of the Baines family pew! Who would have supposed that Mr. Povey, a recent convert from Primitive Methodism in King Street to Wesleyan Methodism on Duck Bank, was dwelling upon window-tickets and the injustice of women, instead of upon his relations with Jehovah and the tailed one? Who would have supposed that the gentle-eyed Constance, pattern of daughters, was risking her eternal welfare by smiling at the tailed one, who, concealing his tail, had assumed the image of Mr. Povey? Who would have supposed that Mrs. Baines, instead of resolving that Jehovah and not the tailed one should have ultimate rule over her, was resolving that she and not Mr. Povey should have ultimate rule over her house and shop? It was a pew-ful that belied its highly satisfactory appearance. (And possibly there were other pew-fuls equally deceptive).   (Book 1, Ch. 5)

Bennett gives a Thackerayan description of the "solemn" service, with the battle between God and his evil counterpart for the attention of the congregation.  Nevertheless, the scene provides background for the beliefs of the Baines family and their community, belonging to a rigid religious system convinced of "its rightness and correctness."  There is no room for discussion, what must be cannot be changed or debated.  It is in this spirit that Constance responds to the death of her sister Sophia:

Up to within a few days of her death people had been wont to remark that Mrs. Scales looked as young as ever, and that she was as bright and as energetic as ever. And truly, regarding Sophia from a little distance—that handsome oval, that erect carriage of a slim body, that challenging eye!—no one would have said that she was in her sixtieth year. But look at her now, with her twisted face, her sightless orbs, her worn skin—she did not seem sixty, but seventy! She was like something used, exhausted, and thrown aside! Yes, Constance's heart melted in an anguished pity for that stormy creature. And mingled with the pity was a stern recognition of the handiwork of divine justice. To Constance's lips came the same phrase as had come to the lips of Samuel Povey on a different occasion: God is not mocked! The ideas of her parents and her grandparents had survived intact in Constance. It is true that Constance's father would have shuddered in Heaven could he have seen Constance solitarily playing cards of a night. But in spite of cards, and of a son who never went to chapel, Constance, under the various influences of destiny, had remained essentially what her father had been. Not in her was the force of evolution manifest. There are thousands such (Book 4, Ch. 4).

What a harsh judgment from a sister!  Nevertheless, Constance has remained committed to the beliefs of her parents that all will be judged harshly who have compromised those beliefs.

Sophia had sinned. It was therefore inevitable that she should suffer. An adventure such as she had in wicked and capricious pride undertaken with Gerald Scales, could not conclude otherwise than it had concluded. It could have brought nothing but evil. There was no getting away from these verities, thought Constance (Book 4, Ch. 4).

Constance's unforgiving attitude toward her sister's demise dehumanizes Constance as a barbaric, unfeeling personification of the Wesleyan Methodist system.  Her first thoughts of her sister after her death is not of her soul but of her sin.  She offers no means of redemption, the deed was done and the punishment was absolute.  In this society, every misdeed faces harsh judgment (though admirably, Constance defends her son when he steals money from the till), and any misfortune must be the result of some character flaw.  In the case of Daniel Povey:

The flighty character of his wife was regarded by many as a judgment upon him for the robust Rabelaisianism of his more private conversation, for his frank interest in, his eternal preoccupation with, aspects of life and human activity which, though essential to the divine purpose, are not openly recognized as such—even by Daniel Poveys. It was not a question of his conduct; it was a question of the cast of his mind (Book 2, Ch. 2).

His perverse frame of mind is to blame for his wife's character.  In another instance, the refusal of Madame Foucault to allow her residence to be used as a brothel any further is rewarded, showing the other side of divine justice:

Madame Foucault was deeply impressed. Characteristically she began at once to construct a theory that Sophia had only to walk out of the house in order to discover ideal tenants for the rooms. Also she regarded the advent of the grocer as a reward from Providence for her self-denial in refusing the profits of sinfulness (Book 3, Ch. 6).

A respectable tenant is the reward for her "self-denial."  All wasn't bad in this society, though everything that happened was viewed as a divine judgment, whether favorable or unfavorable.  Nevertheless, subjection to this judgment was a fearful aspect of life.


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