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Monday, December 28, 2009

Butler's Religion

"Instinct then is the ultimate court of appeal. And what is instinct? It is a mode of faith in the evidence of things not actually seen." (Chapter 65)

Throughout the novel Butler shows his contempt for organized religion with repeated attack on the Church and members of the clergy. As the above quote illustrates, Butler believes that man should be guided by instinct, which directs one's faith. Man does not necessarily need to be taught what is right because one is inherently drawn to what is right. He further states that reasonable people "settle smaller matters by the exercise of their own deliberation." One's instinct can ultimately guide one to the proper solution. Therefore, faith need not be in a supernatural element of Christianity but in one's ability to derive instinctively the most beneficial way to deal with a circumstance.

According to Butler, a true Christian is "he who takes the highest and most self-respecting view of his own welfare which it is in his power to conceive, and adheres to it in spite of conventionality." (Chapter 68) Ernest's ability to see the impediment his relationship with his parents caused and his willingness to break off that relationship so that he could achieve his highest calling illustrates his Christianity. Ernest was able to make an honest assessment and, despite the pecuniary losses he would take, allowed his instinct, which had caused him to dislike his upbringing all along, to guide his way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Victorian Parenting

Ernest has to deal with a father that doesn't like children and a mother that loves her children as long as they obey their unloving father. One way in which Ernest is to obey his father is by entering the Church. Butler contends that parents misdirect their children, not only in picking their profession but also in arranging marriages. Christina invites all of Ernest's male friends to the home in order pick a husband for her daughter but finds something wrong with each of them. Though Ernest is able to break ties with his parents, his brother and sister, Joey and Charlotte, are like robots and agree with their parents about everything. They see Ernest as a lost sheep, rebelling against the tutelage of his father.

One reason Ernest is able to escape his parents is that Butler provides him with new parents. His Aunt Althea elevates his company and encourages him to pursue his interest in music, while also allowing him to become financially independent of Theobald. Overton is like a father to Ernest and manages his money but unlike Theobald, does not constantly interfere with Ernest, but allows him to make mistakes and learn from them.

Ernest does not believe he will be a good father because of his upbringing and allows another family to raise his kids, though he sees them often. Ernest allsows his daughter to pick her husband and allows his so to pick his profession without suggesting that they do otherwise. He refuses to allow his parents to see his children, not wanting them to become tainted.

Butler upholds Towneley as the ideal type distinctly because he lost his parents at age two.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Casabianca in TWAF

In TWAF Theobald drills Ernest about the poem Casabianca:

"Then he (Ernest) thought of Casabianca. He had been examined in that poem by his father not long before. 'When only would he leave his position? To whom did he call? Did he get an answer? Why? How many times did he call upon his father? What happened to him? What was the noblest life that perished there? Do you think so? Why do you think so?'" (Chapter 29)

Casabianca is a 19th century poem by Felicia Hemans and it tells the story of young boy who refuses to leave a burning ship without the command of his father. His father, unbeknownst to the young boy, is already dead. The "young faithful heart" is eventually killed by an explosion but is honored for his loyalty to his father.

Butler, however, blames the father for the son's death.
"It never occurred to him that the moral of the poem was that young people cannot begin too soon to exercise discretion in the obedience they pay to their Papa and Mamma."

Had the boy used discretion, he would not have died. Butler further uses Ernest to show the consequences of having not used discretion in one's obedience to his parents. One consequence is that Ernest would not have been as gullible, believing everything he is told. Ernest is unstable and vacillates between goals because he is tossed to and fro by every new wind of doctrine to which he is introduced.

Another consequence is that he would have been a better father. Ernest gives his children away to a more stable family during their formative years because he fears he will be the same type of father to them that Theobald was to him. Had he used discretion toward his parents in his youth, he would not been so much like his father during his younger years.
The painting above is "The Destruction of L'Orient" (1825-27) by George Arnald.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The resemblance of parents to their children

Accidents which occur for the first time, and belong to the period since a man's last birth, are not, as a general rule, so permanent in their effects, though of course they may sometimes be so. (chapter 63)

One concept Butler explores in TWAF is that inherited traits a child receives from his father, however undesired, are difficult to overcome.

George Pontifex is a successful businessman that wants his son Theobald to enter the Church. Though "he had the greatest horror, he would exclaim, of driving any young man into a profession which he did not like," he strongly urges, if not forces, Theobald to become a parson by threatening to withhold his money. Theobald submits to his father, one reason being he had no inclination to any other profession. Theobold does not feel that being a member of the clergy is for him and is not a particularly good speaker, but he continues to perform his duty to the laity.

When Theobald marries and has his own children, he expects their complete submission and believes that all signs of self-will must be rooted out early on. Like his father, he chooses the Church for his son Ernest's profession, and Ernest, like his father, has no true interest in this profession but submits to his father. Ernest does display, however, an interest in music that Theobald finds appalling and discourages. Theobald also uses his money to try to control the actions, though his is ultimately unsuccessful.

Ernest resembles his father in many ways. He is gullible like his father and believes everything others tell him. He is not particularly fond of his siblings. But Ernest also has people that have a positive influence on him and encourage him in his interests. His Aunt Althea encourages his interest in music suggesting he build an organ on which he can play while at school. Overton more closely resembles a father to Ernest but doesn't interfere with any of Ernest plans. He allows Ernest to make mistakes and learns from them, occasionally supplying Ernest with money so that he may break from his parents. Althea's designation of him as her heir allows Ernest to become wealthy and financially independent. These influences save Ernest from following the same path as his father.

Painting above is "Looking out for Dad" by J. Baldwin.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Butler in TWAF

Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him. I may very likely be condemning myself, all the time that I am writing this book, for I know that whether I like it or no I am portraying myself more surely than I am portraying any of the characters whom I set before the reader. (chapter 14)

Butler functions in the novel as Overton, who vacillates between an all-knowing narrator and an active character who mentors Ernest, who is Butler as he ages from a youth to a middle aged man. Though Butler finished the novel around 1885, he entrusted the manuscript to his literary executor to be published after his death. One reason is that he was sure that the novel would be accepted in Victorian society. Another reason is he feared the backlash of those portrayed in the novel.

The tone of the novel shows Butler as a bitter man, who repeatedly makes snide remarks about various Victorian customs, such as those involving marriage or religion. For example, Ernest writes a tract while at Cambridge poking fun at the hygiene Simeonites and encourages them in a "freer use of the tub." (chapter 47) He later paints Towneley as fortunate for having been orphaned at the age of 2 and not having to deal with parents, who do nothing but brainwash their children. (chapter 48)

Pictured above: Portrait of Charles Dickens

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Autobiographical Nature of The Way of All Flesh

Samuel Butler was the son of very religious parents, and their piety was repugnant to him. He did not embrace the Church like his father, who was a parson. He drew heavily on his life as a parson's son in order to write TWAF. In the novel, Butler, who is Ernest Pontifex, is the son of Theobald and Christina Pontifex. Theobald was made by his father to enter the Church. Though he did not enjoy the endeavor, Theobald acquiesced to his father's demand as he did in every situation. He later expects the same from his children. He was forced into a marriage to a woman he did not truly loved but "became as fond of his wife as it was in his nature to be of any living thing." (chapter 16) He was even less fond of his children.

Christina "won" the right from her sisters to pursue Theobald through a card game. She too did not truly love Theobald but embraced him as husband because he was within her grasp. She loved the idea becoming a parson's wife because it offered the opportunity to become a bishop's wife. She hoped to have influence over the laity, including their dietary observances. She loves her children but loves her husband more and wants him to have everything he desires, particularly the complete subordination of his children.

Ernest is the eldest son of Theobald and Christina. He is expected to follow his father into the Church but has an affinity for music, particularly that of Handel (of whom Butler was fond). This preference repulses his father, but the interest in music was encouraged by an aunt who lived near Ernest while he was away at school. Ernest, like his father, does not wish to enter the Church, but continues with his Cambridge education and obtains his degree and a living as a curate. However, much happens afterwards, which causes Ernest to break ties with his father and his father's money, which Butler was never able to do in reality. Unlike his father, Ernest meets people along the way that cause him to question his upbringing as well as his beliefs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Samuel Butler

The parents of Samuel Butler (1835-1902) wanted him to enter the ministry but religious doubt caused him to leave England upon graduation from Cambridge and settle in New Zealand to become a sheep farmer. He eventually returned to England six years later (1864), and focused on painting and writing, producing the utopian novel Erewhon and Life and Habit, a work that embraces Darwin's theory of evolution, though Butler disagreed with the element of luck.

Butler began working on The Way of All Flesh in 1873 and continued to revise it for the next twelve years, though he refused to publish it while living. The book, quite autobiographical, is a strong condemnation of Victorian values and protrays Ernest Pontifex's revolt against his parents' plans for him. Ernest is successful in his attempt to determine his own course in life and, like his creator, becomes a writer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Conclusion of HSG

Holgrave is the first to discover the body of Judge Pyncheon after the flight of the two siblings. He reveals the body to Phoebe, who has returned from a visit back home in the countryside. The return of the siblings to the mansion allows Holgrave to reveal to everyone he is a Maule and he knows the location of the lost land deed that has haunted the Pycheon family for two centuries. Hoglrave also reveals his love for Phoebe, which she also has for him. Holgrave defies the past by marrying a Pyncheon, and the families are finally brought together. The curse is finally broken. Clifford, though not as effervescent as on the train, is no longer afraid of the harm Judge Pyncheon can cause him.

Both Clifford and Holgrave sought to be free of the past by getting rid of the conventional "home" for temporary modes of the living. But both come to the same conclusion that one can be free from the past and still have stability. Holgrave states,

"I have a presentiment that, hereafter, it will be my lot to set out trees, to make fences,--perhaps, even, in due time, to build a house for another generation,--in a word, to conform myself to laws and the peaceful practice of society." (Chapter 20)

Clifford inherits Judge Pyncheon's house according to his will and permanently leaves the old Pyncheon house, taking along Hepzibah, Phoebe, and Holgrave.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Train Ride

When Clifford and Hepzibah escape the Pyncheon mansion, Clifford leads her to the train station, and they go on a ride to an undetermined destination. Whereas before Hepzibah was like the parent and Clifford like the child, the two siblings reverse roles once they leave the House. Everything begins to speed up, and Hepzibah has trouble keeping up with Clifford. "They could see the world racing past them." Clifford declares, "I have never been awake before," acknowledging his first real vision of life.

During the time on the train, Clifford becomes more vocal than at any other time in the narrative. Before he almost seemed mute and spoke using short phrases, but all of a sudden he becomes verbose and speaks effervescently, divulging a philosophy similar to that of Holgrave, stating that man should lead a nomadic existence. He declares that the "invention of the railroad...is destined to do away with those stale ideas of home and fireside, and substituting something better." Hawthorne describes him as having a "winged nature," free to fly wherever he wanted. After having been trapped most of his life, Clifford realizes that "the soul needs air," giving a sense of his need to escape the prison in which he has been imprisoned. The death of Judge Pyncheon is the key that unlocks him from his prison.

But Clifford realizes that life is moving to fast for him and hands the reigns back to Hepzibah, saying "You must take the lead now, Hepzibah! Do with me as you will!" Speeding up life can fatiguing and one must go at one's own speed; change too suddenly can be a bad thing. Hawthorne shows that one must have a destination, not just a desire for movement.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Judge Pyncheon

Judge Jaffary Pyncheon, the other brother of Hepzibah, is a rich, influential, and respected member of his community.

The Judge, beyond all question, was a man of eminent respectability. The church acknowledged it; the state acknowledged it. It was denied by nobody. In all the very extensive sphere of those who knew him, whether in his public or private capacities, there was not an individual--except Hepzibah, and some lawless mystic, like the daguerreotypist, and, possibly, a few political opponents--who would have dreamed of seriously disputing his claim to a high and honorable place in the world's regard. Nor (we must do him the further justice to say) did Judge Pyncheon himself, probably, entertain many or very frequent doubts, that his enviable reputation accorded with his deserts. His conscience, therefore, usually considered the surest witness to a man's integrity,--his conscience, unless it might be for the little space of five minutes in the twenty-four hours, or, now and then, some black day in the whole year's circle,--his conscience bore an accordant testimony with the world's laudatory voice. (Chapter 15)

Pyncheon himself was convinced of his own righteousness. Unlike his piteous sister who carries a scowl, though only because of her nearsightedness, Pyncheon carries a smile though a deceptive one and one that could turn to frown very quickly, as Phoebe found out in her only encounter with the Judge when she drew back from a proffered kiss. The Judge responded with a "voice as deep as a thunder-growl, and with a frown as black as the cloud whence it issues." (Chapter 8) Hawthorne used the incident to illustrate that light and dark cannot co-exist.

Judge Pyncheon looks just like his ancestor Colonel Pyncheon, who is responsible for the Pyncheon curse. He has inherited a deep guttural sound that projects from him. Similarly, he has also inherited the greed that caused the Colonel to take the land belonging to the Maule family and build the titular edifice. This greed has caused him to seek endlessly for a deed to more land in Maine.

The Judge's greed leads him to the Pyncheon mansion to inquire of Clifford the location the lost land deed. He dies while waiting for Hepzibah to bring Clifford to him, and the two siblings flee the house. Finally, the curse is broken.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Holgrave is a descendant of the Maules, a rival of the Pyncheon family in the beginning of the novel, and a resident in the Pyncheon house with Hepzibah and Clifford. Though only 22 years old, he has already been a schoolmaster, salesman, political editor, and, at the time the novel takes place, daguerrotypist. He has also studied dentistry and mesmerism. Hepzibah suspects him of engaging in the "Black Art" and distrusts his questionable companions but allows such a "lawless person," as Phoebe terms it, to live with her because she "suppose(s) he has a law of his own." (Chapter 5)

Holgrave is a man who refuses to embrace the past, characterising it as a dead body one is forced to carry around. For him, the past has a haunting presence, which he illustrates with the following example:

"For example, then," continued Holgrave: "a dead man, if he happens tohave made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his own; or, if he die intestate, it is distributed in accordance with the notions of men much longer dead than he. A dead man sits on all our judgment-seats; and living judges do but search out and repeat his decisions. We read in dead men's books! We laugh at dead men's jokes, and cry at dead men's pathos! We are sick of dead men's diseases, physical and moral, and die of the same remedies with which dead doctors killed their patients! We worship the living Deity according to dead men's forms and creeds. Whatever we seek to do, of our own free motion, a dead man's icy hand obstructs us! Turn our eyes to what point we may, a dead man's white, immitigable face encounters them, and freezes our very heart! And we must be dead ourselves before we can begin to have our proper influence on our own world, which will then be no longer our world, but the world of another generation, with which we shall have no shadow of a right to interfere. I ought to have said, too, that we live in dead men's houses; as, for instance, in this of the Seven Gables!"

Holgrave dislikes the Past because he believes it has undue influence on the Present. This idea is expressed by Hawthorne in his preface when he states that the sins of one generation visit the next. According to Holgrave, man tries to escape his past all the days of his life. For this reason, Holgrave suggests that all public buildings should be torn down and rebuilt every 20 years, as a sign to mankind to grasp new ideas and reexamine one's morals. Additionally, each generation should build its own house, instead of having houses pass down. Holgrave's aim in saying this is to allow each generation to start with a clean slate and not have to face ghosts of the past.

Holgrave himself is haunted by his past and his family's feud with the Pyncheons. His family history with wizardry shows its influence in his experimentation with mesmerism, though unlike his ancestors, he did use the art for evil. Further, Holgrave's personal history of various occupation displays the lack of value he places in lineage; he's determined to make his own way in life and not rely on genealogical connections, placing him in opposition to the customs of the Pyncheon line.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hepzibah/Phoebe comparison

After describing the history of the Pyncheon family, Hawthorne introduces us to the matriarch of the family, Hepzibah, in chapter two. She is just waking up, preparing to face "a day of more than ordinary trial," in consequence of having to open a cent shop. Upon waking, she releases "heavy sighs" of "lugubrious depth," the only other sounds being the "agony of prayer," consisting of "now a groan, now a struggling silence," and the "creaking joints of her stiffened knees." Presently we hear her struggle with her "old-fashioned bureau" as well as the "rustling of stiff silks" as she heads toward the "dingy-framed toilet glass." She is "clad in black silk" with a "long and shruken waist." Everything in the room is offensive to the sight, such as the worn carpet and ugly chairs. Hepzibah is reluctantly to face the day ahead.

There is a stark contrast in the lever of Phoebe, who is a much younger and prettier cousin of a branch of the family that resides in the country. She has come to visit Hepzibah and, after spending her first night in the house, wake up at the beginning of chapter five. As she awakes, a "glow of crimson light" fills the room as the "dawn kissed her brow." Unlike all of the noise involved when Hepzibah awoke, Phoebe "quietly awoke" and looked outside to see a rosebush. Phoebe's room is just as dusky as Hepzibah, but because Phoebe is one of the "favored ones to bring out the hidden capabilities of things around them," she is able to add her own touch to the room. Whereas Hepzibah was reluctant to face the day, Phoebe hurries outside to gather roses to place in here room. By the addition of roses as well as the movement of furniture, Phoebe succeeds in adding an "inscrutable charm to the room, which Hawthorne recognizes as "now a maiden's chamber."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hepzibah and the House

The titular edifice is an old house built about two hundred years before the action of the novel begins. By the time story opens, the house is "dilapidated and rusty visaged" (chapter 4). Interestingly, the house is described as having "a human countenance." The "impending brow brow of the second story" gives the house a "meditative look." The long history of the house causes it to resemble "a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and somber reminiscences" (chapter 1).

Comparatively, Hawthorne uses similar words and phrases when describing the house and Hepzibah. The latter, "our decayed gentlewoman" (chapter 3), has a "rigid and rusty frame" (chapter 2) while clad in a "rusty blacksilk gown" (chapter 15). The former is "a rusty, crazy, creaky, dry-rotted, dingy, dark, and miserable old dungeon." (chapter 17) Hepzibah, the "mildewed piece of aristocracy" (chapter 3), is "decrepit and dusky" (chapter 5) while the house has "dusky windows" (chapter 5) and "dusky gables" (chapter 6). The scowl of Hepzibah can be compared with the "meditative look" of the house.

Hawthorne personifies the house in Hepzibah. She is sixty years old and is isolated from the rest of humanity. Her nearsightedness has given her a scowl that scares people away and causes her to be viewed as bitter. Due to her deep poverty, she is forced to open a cent shop in part of the house, an unsucessful venture. Her lack of beauty and grace is offensive to her sybarite brother Clifford.

Like Hepzibah, the house is old and worn down. It is no longer located in the fashionable part of town and sticks out like a sore thumb, with its "grime and sordidness" (chapter 9) surrounded by newer houses. The atmosphere of the house has a negative affect on cousin Phoebe, who is bright and vivacious upon arrival but, as a result of her stay in the house, "her petals sometimes drooped a little, in consequence of the heavy atmosphere about her" (chapter 9). Both the house and Hepzibah repel association.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American author born in Salem, Massachusetts. Before gaining fame as a writer, Hawthorne worked in a Customs House, which collected taxes on imports and exports. When he was fired as surveyor after the 1848 Presidential election resulted in a change in Administration, he began to devote himself fully to writing, producing his best-known novels in 3 successive years (The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance).

The House of Seven Gables (1851) is based on Hawthorne's family history. Hawthorne's great-great grandfather was a judge in the Salem witch trials, and according to a family legend, a woman sentenced to death during the trials cursed the Hawthorne family. After the death of the judge, the family remained in obscurity until Nathaniel Hawthorne distinguished himself as a writer. In his preface to the novel, Hawthorne states that he seeks to illustrate "a moral; — the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief." The novel depicts the decline of the Pyncheon family due to a curse.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Characterization in Our American Cousin

Our American Cousin is a comedy of manners that pokes fun at British mannerisms and American words and phrases. Lord Dundreary is an English aristocrat in the play who was originally intended to be a minor character but whose role was expanded by the English actor E.A. Sothern. Dressed in a "long, full-length coat with vest, cravat, collar, monacle, droopy moustache, massive mutton-chop whiskers and hair neatly parted down the middle*," in addition to his bushy sideburns, Sothern fully embraced the role, which allowed Taylor to make fun of the British aristocracy. One of Dundreary's principles faults was his inability to communicate clearly. He repeatedly confuses words (such as wigs and wings) and at one point messes up a joke in an exchanged with Florence:

Dundreary: When is a dog's tail not a dog's tail? [Florence repeats.]
Flo Yes, and willingly.
Dun When it's a cart. [They look at him enquiringly.]
Flo Why, what in earth has a dog's tail to do with a cart?
Dun When it moves about, you know. A horse makes a cart move,so does a dog make his tail move.
Flo Oh, I see what you mean--when it's a wagon. [Wags the letterin her hand.]
Dun Well, a wagon and a cart are the same thing, ain't they!That's the idea--it's the same thing.

In addition to this, Dundreary has a lisp ("suppothe"). English, as well as American audiences loved Dundreary's character.

Asa Trenchard, the American cousin from Vermont, struggles at times communicating with his British counterparts, as shown in the following exchange with Binny, the family servant:

Bin Will you take a baath before you dress?
Asa Take a baath?
Bin A baath.
Asa I suppose you mean a bath. Wal, man, I calkalate I ain't going to expose myself to the shakes by getting into cold water in this cruel cold climate of yours, so make tracks.
Bin Make what?
Asa Vamose!
Bin Make vamose!
Asa Absquatulate.
Bin Ab-- what sir?
Asa Skedaddle.
Bin Skedaddle?
Asa Oh! get out.

Asa manages to confuse the Brits in the play with many of his words and phrases such as "darned old shoat," "you're small potatoes," and "a regular snorter." One of the funniest exchanges occurs during the first meeting between Asa and Dundreary and Asa expresses his surprise at Dundreary's appearance with the following exclamation: "Concentrated essence of baboons, what on earth is that?" Additionally, when a female character insults his manners, he responds with, "you sockdologizing old man-trap," likely the final words Lincoln heard before he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. The comedic value of Dundreary and Asa are what made the play a success.

*This quote is from http://www.josephhaworth.com/ea_sothern.htm .

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our American Cousin

Our American Cousin is an 1858 play by British playwright Tom Taylor (1817-80). Though best known today as the play President Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre, the play was very popular in England and America when it debuted. Taylor had a interest in dialects and the inspiration for the play came from American visitors during the Great Exhibition of 1851. One of the main features of the play is the use of American words and phrases by Asa Trenchard, the titular figure, and the British dialect of Lord Dundreary.

The play opens in England at Trenchard Manor, the home of Sir Edward. Asa Trenchard, a representative of the American branch of the family, arrives in England to accept an inheritance left to him by his uncle. The family agent, Mr. Coyle, arrives to tell Sir Edward of the latter's impending financial ruin, but a plot is discovered in which Coyle has lied to Sir Edward in order to secure Edward's daughter Florence as his wife. Florence, however, has her sights set on Harry Vernon, whom she cannot marry until he gets a sailor position.

Meanwhile, Florence introduces Asa to his cousin Mary, the rightful heir to his uncle's fortune, which he releases to her control. Asa falls for Mary, proposes to her, and helps to expose Coyle, while Lord Dundreary helps Harry secure a position. In the end, everyone is happy and the Trenchards avoid financial ruin.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Great Exhibition of 1851

In 1851 London became the center of the world. From May to October 1851, an international exhibition, officially called "The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations," took over London, with over six million visitors from all over the world. The building of railroads in the previous decade enabled people to travel to London much easier. The Crystal Palace (pictured above) was the central location of the exhibits, which featured displays from such places as the United States, China, India, Australia, various parts of Africa and all of Europe. Exhibits included fashion, art, machines, inventions, furniture, and jewelry.

As a result of the Exhibition, the population of London tripled over the next 50 years. New structures, such as Big Ben (pictured above) were built. A subway was constructed in 1854, and cities were modernized with new plumbing. The term "Victorian" began to be used popularly to describe the era, a period of pride for the English. English society was transformed as a result of the exhibition.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Autobiographical features of TBRG

Wilde was uniquely qualified to write TBRG because of his experiences in Reading Prison. He draws on these experiences when describing the cell as a "foul and dark latrine" with the "fetid breathe of living Death" pervading the jail, the inmates "each in his separate Hell." Wilde places himself as a narrator who identifies with the poem's subject, with whom he describes himself as "two doomed ships that pass in storm." Despite the fact that Wilde is eventually released, he encountered his death when he met Bosie. That phrase augurs that Wilde will not be as productive in his art as he was before his prison stay.

Wilde inserts into the poem his personal story when he states "For he who live more lives than one/More deaths than one must die." Wilde lived many lives. He had a literary career before his marriage, had a married life that produced two children, had a secret life that altered his married life and led to his relationship with Bosie, and established his literary fame with his plays of the 1890s. Each of these lives died when he went to prison, as he was cut off from the rest of the world. Only his relationship with Bosie was reestablished once he left prison. Wilde felt the weight of these deaths, which were responsible for the fact that this ballad was the only work he produced after he served his sentence.

Wilde wrote "I know not whether Laws be right/Or whether Laws be wrong." These lines challenge the nature of his conviction. Though homosexuality was illegal in England, Wilde questions not only the law but also the harshness of his punishment. But Wilde uses a premediated murder, though beautifully drawn, to illustrate that the laws may be too harsh, which challenges the reader and goes against his natural senses. While the poem is written to honor CTW, it also allows Wilde to criticize the judicial system as well as prison conditions, all while serving as a cathartic experience for Wilde himself.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Use of color in TBRG

In TBRG, Wilde's use of color is a prominent feature of the poem. In relation to the prisoners, the most prominent color used is grey. CTW is described as not wearing a "scarlet coat" during the murder but walks the grounds of Reading Prison for six weeks in a "suit of shabby grey." He gazes wistfully at the "leaden sky" which after death changes to a "tent of blue." His fellow prisoners are "grey figures" who pray the night before the execution. The grave dug especially for CTW is described as a "yellow hole." The use of these colors create a gloomy and lifeless atmosphere in the prison for the prisoners, who are no longer men but "souls in pain."

The prison officials, on the other hand, tend to be described using more striking imagery. The chaplain is "robed in white" while the Governor is dressed in "shiny black," though having a "yellow face of Doom." The judge who sentenced CTW is described as a "man in red," signifying that CTW's blood is on his hands. Finally, the gallows have become the "blackened beam."

The above painting is "Past and Present I" (1858) by Augustus Egg.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

CTW as a Christ figure

Despite the fact that CTW killed his wife, Wilde portrays his crime as something not any worse than that of which every man is guilty.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

Yet, Wilde goes further with his portrayal and elevates CTW to a Christ figure. As Alkalay-Gut points out in her essay, the last line quote of above suggests that despite the fact that every man is guilty, CTW, like Christ, suffers punishment for all mankind. "The murderer allowes himself to be punished for a universally shared sin and suffers the most, knowing he is suffering for the others as well." (p. 352) CTW has become the sacrificial lamb chosen to die, a role he embraces by submitting to his fate.

He does not stare upon the air
Through a little roof of glass:
He does not pray with lips of clay
For his agony to pass;
Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek
The kiss of Caiaphas.

Instead, he is described as "light" and meditative:

And strange it was to see him pass
With a step so light and gay,
And strange it was to see him look
So wistfully at the day,
And strange it was to think that he
Had such a debt to pay.

Being described as having a "debt to pay" shows that he has an obligation to mankind. He is "resolute" and unafraid of death, stating that "he was glad/The hangman's day was near."

Ultimately, therefore, the murder of his wife was an act of love. Alkalay-Gut identifies the juxtaposition of the words "loved" and "murdered" in the opening stanza ("The poor dead woman whom he loved/And murdered in her bed") places murder as "a virtually natural outgrowth of love." Furthermore, Wilde's use of the present tense in the line "Yet each man kills the thing he loves" shows that murder did not result in an end of the love of "the thing." Instead, love has been enhanced by the murder.

The above painting is "Light of the World" (1851-3) by William Holman Hunt

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Written in 1897 after leaving the eponymous prison, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (TBRG) describes the final days of Charles Thomas Wooldridge, a trooper in the royal guards sentenced to death in July 1896 for the murder of his wife. Wooldridge and Wilde likely met while the two served their respective sentences in Reading Gaol. Wilde did not witness the hanging but must have seen the hangman. In his poem, Wilde describes the conditions of the jail in which he was imprisoned and the man to be executed.

Ellman points out that TBRG follows a similar theme developed in Wilde's 1881 poem Humanitad, which contains the following lines referring to Christ:

And we were vain and ignorant nor knew
That when we stabbed thy heart it was our own real hearts we slew.

"Humanitad" like TBRG is made up of six-line stanzas, though the rhyme scheme is different. Seamus Heaney has said that Wilde abandoned his aesthetic principles in the poem, but another writer describes him as embracing the aesthetic in writing about murder. It proved to be Wilde's last work of significance.

Works to be quoted: Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman
The Thing He Loves: Murder as Aesthetic Experience in "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" by Karen Alkalay-Gut
The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures by Seamus Heaney

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Christ in De Profundis

In De Profundis Wilde once again writes about Christ, "the most supreme of individualists" (p.168) because of his focus on the soul. Man must be in full possession of his soul in order to "Be thyself," the message of Christ as described in The Soul of Man. Once again, each man is to live for himself and for the prosperity of the soul. "When he says, 'Forgive your enemies,' it is not for the sake of the enemy, but for one's own sake that he says so." (p.170) And it is through this emphasis on the soul that Christ was able to sympathize with others. "He realised in the entire sphere of human relations that imaginative sympathy which in the sphere of Art is the sole secret of creation." (p.165) The realization of this kind of sympathy opens the soul to creativity.

Artists are drawn to Christ because he understands the value of sorrow, which Wilde describes as the only true emotion because it is "the outward...expressive of the inward." (p.160-1) "Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself" and sorrow is the one emotion in which the "soul and body are one and indivisible." (p.160) Sorrow cannot hide its pain, but it is pain that Wilde has learned to appreciate because sorrow is the way to perfection. He quotes from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship in making the point that not knowing sorrow means not knowing God:

Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
Who never spent the darksome hours
Weeping, and watching for the morrow,—
He knows ye not, ye gloomy Powers.
Wilde has come to value sorrow as an integral part of life because without it, "we may really be starving the soul." (p. 162)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tone of De Profundis

De Profundis, the title given to Wilde's letter by friend Robert Ross, is the Latin translation of the beginning of Psalm 130:1, a penitential psalm in which the writer begs God's forgiveness for sin. That is not, however, the tone Wilde uses in his letter. In De Profundis Wilde uses a condescendingly accusatory tone toward the intended recipient. Wilde specifically states, "I will begin by telling you that I blame myself terribly." (p.98) Nevertheless, Wilde goes on to blame Bosie for impeding his creative talents while they spent time together, for his bankruptcy, and his eventual imprisonment. Accepting the blame allows Wilde to remain in control though it is obvious that Wilde has no self-control.

Wilde states that he was unable to complete An Ideal Husband while he was with Bosie, only finishing when Bosie traveled to Egypt. He blames Bosie saying "while you were with me you were the absolute ruin of my art." (p.101) Wilde describes every encounter with Bosie as destructive but still gives Bosie room in his life. Though Bosie's family was rich, Wilde covered all of Bosie's expenses and gave Bosie whatever he wanted, whether in the form of money, food, housing, and travel. These expenses contributed to Wilde's eventual bankruptcy, for which Wilde ultimately blames Bosie. Wilde also accuses Bosie of using him to get back at his father, with whom Bosie endlessly feuded. Bosie encouraged Wilde to pursue the libel case, which led to his eventual conviction and imprisonment. Bosie's hate of his father blinded him to the fact that his miscalculation could harm Wilde. Bosie knew that having a relationship with Wilde would anger and provoke his father to action. Bosie's only concern was that his father would lose money.

Wilde is condescending when he repeatedly states that a relationship with Bosie was a mistake because Bosie was intellectually inferior.

"your lack of any power of sustained intellectualconcentration: the unfortunate accident?for I like tothink it was no more?that you had not been able toacquire the "Oxford temper" in intellectual matters,never, I mean, been one who could play gracefully withideas, but had arrived at violence of opinion merely?that all these things, combined with the fact that yourdesires and your interests were in Life, not in Art, wereas destructive to your own progress in culture as they wereto my work as an artist. When I compare my friendshipwith you to my friendship with still younger men, as JohnGray and Pierre Louys, I feel ashamed. My real life, myhigher life, was with them and such as they." (p. 100)

Bosie was not on Wilde's level intellectually and appreciated the things of life that were of a lower nature. He did not share Wilde's affinity for the artistic life, and this side of himself Wilde was forced to rely on other friendships-Wilde lessens his interactions with Bosie to just friendship-in order to fulfill his intellectual needs. He calls his friendship with Bosie "intellectually degrading." (p. 100) Wilde points out that his time with his friend Robert Ross was not only cheaper but also more intellectually rewarding.

Wilde portrays Bosie as selfish and mentally weak, which is probably true. But it is obvious that Wilde enjoyed the time that they spent together. They had disagreements but Wilde always allowed Bosie back in his life because of the good times they had together. This belief is aided by the fact Bosie and Wilde ended up together once Wilde left prison. Despite the ideas expressed in De Profundis, Wilde can only blame himself for the results of his relationship with Bosie.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Background on De Profundis

When Wilde met first met Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) in the summer of 1891, Wilde had already written "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" as well as the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde was 36 and Bosie was 20 and a student at Wilde's alma mater Oxford University. The two only saw each other four times over the next year until May 1892, when Bosie was kicked out of Oxford. Though Wilde was married and had two sons, he had been estranged from his wife for quite some time. This relationship with Bosie was the beginning of 3 years of chaos for Wilde.

Wilde describes the relationship with Bosie in De Profundis. One person who expressed his disapproval of the relationship was Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensbury. Wilde sued Queensbury for libel in 1895 but was forced to drop the case when details about his personal life began to be discussed before the court. Queensbury subsequently took Wilde to court for being a homosexual and was sentenced to two years in prison and hard labor.

During his last six months in prison, Wilde wrote De Profundis, which he originally titled Epistola: in Carcere et Vinculis, meaning Letter: in Prison and Chains. This letter was written to Bosie and describes the relationship from Wilde's point of view. An abridged version of the letter was published by Wilde's friend Robert Ross in 1905, though Bosie likely was not familiar with its entire content until 1912.

Sources used include: Oscar and Bosie: A Fatal Passion by Trevor Fisher
Oscar Wilde by Robert Keith Miller
Oscar Wilde by Donald H. Ericksen
Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman

Friday, June 26, 2009

Christ in "The Soul of Man"

To make his argument for a shift in society, Wilde uses the teaching of Christ, which he characterizes by the expression "Be thyself." (p. 27) Ultimately, Christ wanted man to realize that true riches were what a man possessed not in material things but in the "treasure-home of your soul," riches that could never be stolen. (p. 28)

Though Christ does not villanize wealth, he conveys that "man is complete in himself" (p.28) and that "the spiritual needs of Man (are) greater" than his material needs. (p. 29) In other words, wealth and private property are needless burdens with which man need not trouble himself because "it hinders you from realizing your perfection," for which man should strive.
The above painting is based on the etching "Christ Preaching" (1652) by Rembrandt.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wilde and Slavery

In bringing up the issue of slavery, Wilde present what may have been the Victorian opinion on the US Civil War:

"Slavery was put down in America, not in consequence of any action on the part of the slaves, or even any express desire on their part that they should be free. It was put down entirely through the grossly illegal conduct of certain agitators in Boston and elsewhere, who were not slaves themselves, nor owners of slaves, nor had anything to do with the question really. It was, undoubtedly, the Abolitionists who set the torch alight, who began the whole thing. And it is curious to note that from the slaves themselves they received, not merely very little assistance, but hardly any sympathy even; and when at the close of the war the slaves found themselves free, found themselves indeed so absolutely free that they were free to starve, many of them bitterly regretted the new state of things." (p. 23)

This is an interesting perspective on the war, though not many today would agree. Wilde believers that northern abolitionists provoked the slaves to rebel against their masters, though the slaves had no real interest in doing so. Nevertheless, one should not interepret this to mean that Wilde was a supporter of slavery, as he clarifies later in the essay. The only slavery permitted should be the slavery of the machine: "Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends." (p. 33) Instead, man should be free to choose work for which he is best fit, with no government intervention.

The role of the State is "to be a voluntary association that will organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The individual is to make what is beautiful." (p. 32) The State is not to interfere with man but to assist man in his aims, especially since "the form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all." The more liberated the artist, the more that artist will be able to develop the gift with which he has been blessed. Though Wilde labels his beliefs socialism, his ideas approach anarchism.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Property--the root of all evil

One concept that Wilde sees as most responsible for the evil in society is the ownership of private property. He explicitly states that "the possession of private property is very often extremely demoralising." (p. 21) The reason Wilde feels this is the case is that it forces the poor to rely on charity, which "creates a multitude of sins" because it results in the perpetuation of poverty. (p. 21)

Wilde makes the seemingly paradoxical statement that "private property has crushed true Individualism," by which he means that man has allowed possessions to define him instead of what is in him as well as what he expresses through himself. As proof, Wilde points out that "English law has always treated offences against a man’s property with far more severity than offences against his person, and property is still the test of complete citizenship." (p. 25) Unfortunately, property has become more valuable to many than mankind itself.

As a result of the emphasis place on property ownership, there has been a proliferation in the number of crimes being committed. Wilde describes the result of the elimination of private property:

"The less punishment, the less crime. When there is no punishment at all, crime will either cease to exist, or, if it occurs, will be treated by physicians as a very distressing form of dementia, to be cured by care and kindness. For what are called criminals nowadays are not criminals at all. Starvation, and not sin, is the parent of modern crime. That indeed is the reason why our criminals are, as a class, so absolutely uninteresting from any psychological point of view. They are not marvellous Macbeths and terrible Vautrins. They are merely what ordinary, respectable, commonplace people would be if they had not got enough to eat. When private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist." (p. 31)

When the punishment for crime is reduced, the number of crimes will be reduced. The main reason for the existence of crime is poverty, and its elimination will rid the world of crime as well. Wilde further clarifies his statement, "but though a crime may not be against property, it may spring from the misery and rage and depression produced by our wrong system of property-holding, and so, when that system is abolished, will disappear." (p. 32) The ownership of private property crushes Individualism, which leads to poverty, which ultimately leads to the proliferation of crime.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wilde's discontent with public opinion

The reason behind Wilde's dissatisfaction with the public's attempt to judge art is that the public judges art by what has been. Anything that is not familiar the public rejects. According to Wilde:

"They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it appears they get so angry, and bewildered that they always use two stupid expressions—one is that the work of art is grossly unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral. What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true." (p. 37)

The public has no trouble appreciating the classics because they have already been declared so, but they object to contemporary works that present anything unfamiliar. Wilde makes the case that Victorians who venture outside the norm would not be truly appreciated during their lifetime because the Victorian public could not be made to value art with any touches of originality. Wilde maintains the artist must be given freedom of expression, even if that freedom is used to expressed insensitive subjects. Wilde states "to call an artist morbid because he deals with morbidity as his subject-matter is as silly as if one called Shakespeare mad because he wrote King Lear." (p.38)

It is for this reason that Wilde advocates socialism, in order to avoid a society in which man "cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him—in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living." (25) If an artist dwells under a system that hampers his creativity, it disturbs his joie de vivre.

Painting above is "Joie de Vivre" (1906) by Henri Matisse.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"The Soul of Man Under Socialism"

In this essay, Oscar Wilde makes a case for a socialism that will liberate man and cause him to be more productive and creative. Nevertheless, Wilde was not trying to issue a political treatise; instead, he was writing from the perspective of an artist wanting the utmost control over his work. He begins making his case by stating that the principal benefit that socialism bestows on mankind is that it would "relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others." (p. 19)

One area in which he applies this statement is in the area of art (that being visual as well as literary arts). Wilde believes that the public has no right to dictate how an artist produces his work. He even goes so far as to say that "public opinion is of no value whatsoever." (p. 29) The reason Wilde gives is that art should not be adapted but people should adapt themselves to art. Art should come from the experience of the artist not from the popular sentiment. Wilde describes the relationship between art and the public thus:

"If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive." (p. 43)

Art is most productive by the artist and of the most value to the public when the latter allows the work of art to shape him instead of trying to shape the work or the artist's subject matter. Wilde believes that truly valuable art is that which is not popular because most of the public cannot detect the intrinsic value of the work in question. This sentiment is the basic philosophy of the Aesthetes, a group to which Wilde belonged, who adopted the doctrine "art for art's sake," believing that art existed for the perfection of the technique, not for outside criticism.

Wilde identifies those contemporaries that he believes have transcended public opinion as well as those who have been shaped by it. In Henry Esmond, William Thackeray produced "a beautiful work of art because he wrote it to please himself," though in other works Thackeray was "too conscious of the public, and spoil(ed) his work by appealing directly to the sympathies of the public, or by directly mocking at them." On the other hand, George Meredith "has never asked the public what they wanted, has never cared to know what they wanted, has never allowed the public to dictate to him or influence him in any way but has gone on intensifying his own personality, and producing his own individual work." (p. 44-45) Though not popular at first, Meredith receives Wilde's praise because he did not adapt his style to public opinion.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist of the late Victorian era. He was a very successful writer during his lifetime, accumulating much wealth. Writing in a multiplicity of genres, he is best known for his humor; nevertheless, in the works I will analyze, he writes about serious subjects.

In the essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891)Wilde advocates a type of socialism in which individualism is free to thrive, which one source terms libertarian socialism.

De Profundis is a letter Wilde wrote while in prison to his lover, Sir Arthur Douglas. It is a poignant reflection of the events of his life since the two first met.

Wilde paints the picture of an inmate he encountered during his imprisonment in The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1897). This poem paints the inmate as a man no different than those outside the prison's walls.

All quotes from the above works by Wilde come from De Profundis and Other Writings, edited by Hesketh Pearson.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Religion in The Moonstone

Collins was not an overly religious person himself, as he was turned off by his overpious father and the evangelical movement in Victorian England. However, he was not opposed to religion, as he once wrote that he "believe(s) Jesus Christ to be the Son of God." Nevertheless, he did not believe that religion as a topic belonged in a newspaper, as he once told an editor for whom he wrote, and it is not a topic on which he dwells in his novels (Keith Lawrence, "The Religion of Wilkie Collins: Three Unpublished Documents").

In The Moonstone, religion plays a role in the narrative as the reader sees Chrisitianity and Hinduism as ooposing forces. Christianity is represented in the character of Miss Clack while the three Indians as well as Murthwaite's travel to India allows us to obtain a view of Hinduism. Despite the feelings of superiority of Englishmen toward Indians, Hinduism is portrayed positively in the novel while Christianity is given a bad name.

Though certain characters diapprove of the Indians' presence near the Verinder estate, Collins uses Murthwaite's ability to communicate with the Hindus to show that their object is noble. Their goal is not to harm anyone, though that may be a result, but to recover the stolen diamond. It is a diamond that is ultimately stolen on two different occasions by two English Christians, who have only financial gain as their motive. As a result, they both flee threats of death, though Godfrey is eventually killed while in possession of the diamond. Despite this death of an Englishman, the reader sympathizes with the Indians who only sought to reclaim that which had first belonged to them.

Collins ends the novel with a cativating description of a Hindu ceremony in which Murthwaite witnesses the diamond placed back in the head of a statue of the Hindu moon goddess.

"Looking back down the hill, the view presented the grandest spectacle of Nature and Man, in combination, that I have ever seen. The lower slopes of the eminence melted imperceptibly into a grassy plain, the place of the meeting of three rivers. On one side, the graceful winding of the waters stretched away, now visible, now hidden by trees, as far as the eye could see. On the other, the waveless ocean slept in the calm of the night. People this lovely scene with tens of thousands of human creatures, all dressed in white, stretching down the sides of the hill, overflowing into the plain, and fringing the nearer banks of the winding rivers. Light this halt of the pilgrims by the wild red flames of cressets and torches, streaming up at intervals from every part of the innumerable throng. Imagine the moonlight of the East, pouring in unclouded glory over all—and you will form some idea of the view that met me when I looked forth from the summit of the hill.
A strain of plaintive music, played on stringed instruments, and flutes, recalled my attention to the hidden shrine.
I turned, and saw on the rocky platform the figures of three men. In the central figure of the three I recognised the man to whom I had spoken in England, when the Indians appeared on the terrace at Lady Verinder's house. The other two who had been his companions on that occasion were no doubt his companions also on this.
One of the spectators, near whom I was standing, saw me start. In a whisper, he explained to me the apparition of the three figures on the platform of rock.
They were Brahmins (he said) who had forfeited their caste in the service of the god. The god had commanded that their purification should be the purification by pilgrimage. On that night, the three men were to part. In three separate directions, they were to set forth as pilgrims to the shrines of India. Never more were they to look on each other's faces. Never more were they to rest on their wanderings, from the day which witnessed their separation, to the day which witnessed their death.
As those words were whispered to me, the plaintive music ceased. The three men prostrated themselves on the rock, before the curtain which hid the shrine. They rose—they looked on one another—they embraced. Then they descended separately among the people. The people made way for them in dead silence. In three different directions I saw the crowd part, at one and the same moment. Slowly the grand white mass of the people closed together again. The track of the doomed men through the ranks of their fellow mortals was obliterated. We saw them no more.
A new strain of music, loud and jubilant, rose from the hidden shrine. The crowd around me shuddered, and pressed together.
The curtain between the trees was drawn aside, and the shrine was disclosed to view.
There, raised high on a throne—seated on his typical antelope, with his four arms stretching towards the four corners of the earth—there, soared above us, dark and awful in the mystic light of heaven, the god of the Moon. And there, in the forehead of the deity, gleamed the yellow Diamond, whose splendour had last shone on me in England, from the bosom of a woman's dress!
Yes! after the lapse of eight centuries, the Moonstone looks forth once more, over the walls of the sacred city in which its story first began. How it has found its way back to its wild native land—by what accident, or by what crime, the Indians regained possession of their sacred gem, may be in your knowledge, but is not in mine. You have lost sight of it in England, and (if I know anything of this people) you have lost sight of it for ever."

Against the backdrop of this ethereal scene, the diamond is back where it belongs and peace has been restored. In no way does Collins mock the ceremony of the restoration of the diamond. Instead he paints a beautiful picture of the Hindus that is evocative of the respect that Collins has toward their religious beliefs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Man's Dual Nature cont'd

Murthwaite is an intriguing character of duality. He is an Englishman with much Eastern traveling experience. In fact, he feels more comfortable in the East than he does among the English. His dual nature gives explanation to the actions and motives of the Indians and aids the investigation of the missing diamond. He alone is able to communicate with the Indians in their native tongue. Without his help, the mystery could not have been solved. Collins allows him to provide the final narrative of the novel in which the diamond is restored to its rightful place; no other character could provide that narrative. In the backdrop of the British-Indian conflict of 1857, Murthwaite suggests that the Indians are not savages and should be given greater sovereignty.

Ezra Jenning, Mr. Candy's assistant, bares out his duality physically. He is the son of an English father and a mother from one of England's colonies. He is dark skinned and Betteredge describes him as having "piebald hair," which is half black and half white. Franklin describes him as looking as young as forty or as old as Betteredge, who is in his mid-seventies. He has been rejected by thoses among whom he dwells due to his appearance, which has resulted in false rumors. Despite being a doctor's assistant, he has attacks which cause him to rely upon laudanum. Jennings decodes the message that Dr. Candy wants to give to Franklin and this message ultimately explains how the diamond left Rachel's possession. Despite his chaotic inwardness, Jennings is able to provide answers that otherwise would have been left unanswered.

Godfrey is another character of duality. He has a philanthropic side, as that is the side with which Miss Clack is most familiar. Betteredge describes this side of Godrey:

"If you ever subscribed to a Ladies' Charity in London, you know Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite as well as I do. He was a barrister by profession; a ladies' man by temperament; and a good Samaritan by choice. Female benevolence and female destitution could do nothing without him. Maternal societies for confining poor women; Magdalen societies for rescuing poor women; strong-minded societies for putting poor women into poor men's places, and leaving the men to shift for themselves;—he was vice-president, manager, referee to them all. Wherever there was a table with a committee of ladies sitting round it in council there was Mr. Godfrey at the bottom of the board, keeping the temper of the committee, and leading the dear creatures along the thorny ways of business, hat in hand. I do suppose this was the most accomplished philanthropist (on a small independence) that England ever produced. As a speaker at charitable meetings the like of him for drawing your tears and your money was not easy to find."

He is seemingly devoted to helping women through charity, but it becomes clear that he is just in it for the money. He sees marrying Rachel as an opportunity to clear his debts but a specific clause in Mrs. Verinder's will prevents his access to Rachel's money; therefore, the engagement is broken. Ultimately, he is discovered to have stolen the diamond but is killed by the Indians before he can pay his debts. The curse of the diamond has manifested itself by wreaking havoc everywhere it has gone until it is back in the possession of the Indians.

Collins shows human duality in other ways as well. He dresses the Indians up as jugglers visiting the neighborhood, though they are actually priests in search of the diamond. Franklin, in an opium-induced expedition, steals the diamond, which Godfrey takes uses as surety for a loan. Collins depicts man as a multi-sided personality.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The duality of the human nature

One notable facet from the novel is that several character display a dual nature. Betteredge gives us this view of Franklin when he talks of the latter as having French, German, and Italian sides developed from foreign education, in addition to his native English side. Betteredge explains the dichotomy in the following paragraph:

"What do you think, for instance, of his discussing the lengths to which a married woman might let her admiration go for a man who was not her husband, and putting it in his clear-headed witty French way to the maiden aunt of the Vicar of Frizinghall? What do you think, when he shifted to the German side, of his telling the lord of the manor, while that great authority on cattle was quoting his experience in the breeding of bulls, that experience, properly understood counted for nothing, and that the proper way to breed bulls was to look deep into your own mind, evolve out of it the idea of a perfect bull, and produce him? What do you say, when our county member, growing hot, at cheese and salad time, about the spread of democracy in England, burst out as follows: "If we once lose our ancient safeguards, Mr. Blake, I beg to ask you, what have we got left?"—what do you say to Mr. Franklin answering, from the Italian point of view: "We have got three things left, sir—Love, Music, and Salad"? He not only terrified the company with such outbreaks as these, but, when the English side of him turned up in due course, he lost his foreign smoothness; and, getting on the subject of the medical profession, said such downright things in ridicule of doctors, that he actually put good-humoured little Mr. Candy in a rage."

The above paragraph illustrates the awkwadness that Franklin's many-sided personality produces. His French side shows his levity in serious discussions while his German side is philoophical in nature. He loses all intellect with his Italian side while his English side is uncouth and insular. Franklin, in his narrative, completely rejects Betteredge's hypothesis.

Sergeant Cuff is another character that has a dual nature. Cuff is the famed detective that is hired to solve the mystery of the diamond. He is able to uncover numerous clues at the beginning of the novel and at the end and names Godfrey as the thief before such is discovered. However, he has a fascination for roses and repeatedly debates the Verinder's gardener about the estate's rose garden:

'I found Sergeant Cuff and the gardener, with a bottle of Scotch whisky between them, head over ears in an argument on the growing of roses. The Sergeant was so deeply interested that he held up his hand, and signed to me not to interrupt the discussion, when I came in. As far as I could understand it, the question between them was, whether the white moss rose did, or did not, require to be budded on the dog-rose to make it grow well. Mr. Begbie said, Yes; and Sergeant Cuff said, No. They appealed to me, as hotly as a couple of boys. Knowing nothing whatever about the growing of roses, I steered a middle course—just as her Majesty's judges do, when the scales of justice bother them by hanging even to a hair. "Gentlemen," I remarked, "there is much to be said on both sides." In the temporary lull produced by that impartial sentence, I laid my lady's written message on the table, under the eyes of Sergeant Cuff.'

Despite being in the middle of an investigation, Cuff feels sufficiently confident enough in his abilities to pause momentarily and debate the gardener on the subject of roses. A love of detective work and roses does not seem to be compatible but Cuff explains the apparent contradiction:

'"If you will look about you (which most people won't do)," says Sergeant Cuff, "you will see that the nature of a man's tastes is, most times, as opposite as possible to the nature of a man's business. Show me any two things more opposite one from the other than a rose and a thief; and I'll correct my tastes accordingly—if it isn't too late at my time of life."'

Cuff is convinced that having opposing interests is a part of human nature.

Even the devout Miss Clack displays a dual nature. She is persistent in passing out tracts, such as "A Word With You On Your Cap-Ribbons," and keeping everyone from the flames of Hell but Betteredge points out that she drank liberally of the wine during the birthday dinner. Also, despite her Christian wisdom, she proves to be a bad judge of character in her assessment of Godfrey, whom she paints as a true Christian devoted to poor women's causes but who turns out to be the villain in the novel. Collins uses Miss Clack to poke fun at organized religion.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ezra Jennings

Ezra Jennings is the assistant to Mr. Candy, the Verinder family doctor. He is first mentioned as a guest at Rachel's birthday dinner; however his prominence in the novel is not developed until the narrative of Franklin Blake. At this point of the story, Jennings is taking care of the ill Mr. Candy, whose illness first sets in after the dinner and who requests Franklin to visit but has trouble remembering what it is that he wants to tell the latter. Jennings is able to decipher what it is that Mr. Candy wants Franklin to know, thus providing a significant piece to the mystery.

Franklin finds Jennings to be a very intriguing person, first by his outer appearance.

"His complexion was of a gipsy darkness; his fleshless cheeks had fallen into deep hollows, over which the bone projected like a pent-house. His nose presented the fine shape and modelling so often found among the ancient people of the East, so seldom visible among the newer races of the West. His forehead rose high and straight from the brow. His marks and wrinkles were innumerable. From this strange face, eyes, stranger still, of the softest brown—eyes dreamy and mournful, and deeply sunk in their orbits—looked out at you, and (in my case, at least) took your attention captive at their will. Add to this a quantity of thick closely-curling hair, which, by some freak of Nature, had lost its colour in the most startlingly partial and capricious manner. Over the top of his head it was still of the deep black which was its natural colour. Round the sides of his head—without the slightest gradation of grey to break the force of the extraordinary contrast—it had turned completely white. The line between the two colours preserved no sort of regularity. At one place, the white hair ran up into the black; at another, the black hair ran down into the white. I looked at the man with a curiosity which, I am ashamed to say, I found it quite impossible to control. His soft brown eyes looked back at me gently; and he met my involuntary rudeness in staring at him, with an apology which I was conscious that I had not deserved."

From this description one learns that he has a dark complexion and he resembles someone of Eastern origin. The use of the phrase "fleshless cheeks" almost assigns a lifeless look to him. His hair, which Betteredge describes as piebald, is a mixture of black and white. His sullen looks are a testament of the past he has endured, especially considering he is only 40 but could be mistaken as being older than Betteredge who is at least seventy. Jennings, whom Franklin describes as inscrutable, begins to tell the story of his family history before abruptly stopping:

"'No. I was born, and partly brought up, in one of our colonies. My father was an Englishman; but my mother—We are straying away from our subject, Mr. Blake; and it is my fault. The truth is, I have associations with these modest little hedgeside flowers—It doesn't matter; we were speaking of Mr. Candy. To Mr. Candy let us return.'"

Nevertheless, we get a clear picture that he is of mixed origin.

Despite Jennings' appearance and his history of being an outcast, Franklin describes him as a "gentleman." The outer appearance of Jennings has caused other to view him suspiciously, making it nearly impossible for him to maintain a position anywhere in England. Nevertheless, Collins portrays him as a man injustly ostracized from society but who proves to be not only educated and learned, but also valuable in solving the mystery of the diamond. It is through someone of mixed heritage, which along with his piebald hair suggests a coexistence of the races, that the mystery is solved. Jennings' addiction to opium may be an illustration of the struggle between England and its colonies.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mr. Murthwaite

The presence of Mr. Murthwaite in the novel assists Collins in his portrayal of the Indians. When he is first introduced at Rachel's birthday dinner, he is described as

"a long, lean, wiry, brown, silent man. He had a weary look, and a very steady, attentive eye. It was rumoured that he was tired of the humdrum life among the people in our parts, and longing to go back and wander off on the tramp again in the wild places of the East. Except what he said to Miss Rachel about her jewel, I doubt if he spoke six words or drank so much as a single glass of wine, all through the dinner. The Moonstone was the only object that interested him in the smallest degree. The fame of it seemed to have reached him, in some of those perilous Indian places where his wanderings had lain."

He functions in the novel as a mediator, which is demonstrated when the Indians show up at the Verinder country estate performing tricks. He approaches them and begins to speak to them in their native tongue.

"If he had pricked them with a bayonet, I doubt if the Indians could have started and turned on him with a more tigerish quickness than they did, on hearing the first words that passed his lips. The next moment they were bowing and salaaming to him in their most polite and snaky way. After a few words in the unknown tongue had passed on either side, Mr. Murthwaite withdrew as quietly as he had approached. The chief Indian, who acted as interpreter, thereupon wheeled about again towards the gentlefolks. I noticed that the fellow's coffee-coloured face had turned grey since Mr. Murthwaite had spoken to him. He bowed to my lady, and informed her that the exhibition was over."

He is able to calm the fears of Betteredge and Franklin Blake, who are the only ones at the time who are familiar with the aims of the Indians. For the moment, the threat is not an immediate concern. Later, he explains to Betteredge that the Indian are not performers but Hindu priests in disguise. Through Murthwaite the reader is able to understand the Indians from a well-informed source. We understand that they are not bad people.

He also uses his knowledge of the Indian culture to further the narrative. He explains to Mr. Bruff the reason the chief Indian visited the Bruff residence and asked about the amount of time that elapses before a debt is to paid. He is also used to decipher a coded letter written in Hindustani, as Collins calls it. He explains the attack of Mr. Luker and Godfrey Ablewhite and is the first to suspect Godfrey of the theft of the diamond. In fact, without his help, the mystery would have had too many holes to solve.

At the end of the novel, Mr. Murthwaite returns to the East and becomes an eyewitness to the diamond being placed back in the moon god statue by the three Indians whom he correctly identifed as Hindu priests. He is the only character that fits in whether in India or England. Though an Englishman, he tires of English society and desires to travel to the East. In Murthwaite, Collins expresses his desire for the English to develop a better understanding and appreciation for Indian customs.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Women in the novel

Though women play a significant role in the novel, they are given very little voice. The only narrative told from a female perspective is that of Miss Clack. The selection of Miss Clack is an interesting choice considering her bad judgment of character. She is the niece of Lady Verinder's late husband and, for the most part, an outcast from the family. Despite her professed biblical wisdom, she is unwise in thinking Godfrey to be an admirable person while Rachel is perceived as being evil and untrustworthy. Miss Clack is very fond of passing out Christian tracts and particularly persistent in trying to ensure the eternal salvation Lady Verinder of whom she is skeptical. For Collins, she is a complete caricature and is his opportunity to take a shot at organized religion. Kenneth Robinson, in his biography of the author, points out that Collins had encountered many evangelistic women (Wilkie Collins, 221).

However, it becomes obviously that the one voice that is missing from the novel is Rachel Verinder, the subject of all of the action. She is main female character but the only time her views are presented, it is through other, mostly male characters. Jennifer Swartz has an explanation for her silence. She explains that English laws of coverture removed a woman's right to property and essentially took her voice. For that reason Rachael, as a married woman when the novel takes place, is not given an opportunity to present her side of the story, which is very convenient to Collins in order to maintain the mystery until later in the novel. Therefore it is no coincidence that the only female narrator is a single woman because a single woman had more rights than a married woman ("Personal Property at Her Disposal," Victorian Sensations, 160-169).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Portrayal of Indians in the novel

Though many in England saw the Indians as uncivilized and thieir ritiuals as paganistic, Collins sought to paint a different view of India in The Moonstone. He opens the novel with the story of the history of the yellow diamond and how the diamond belongs in the forehead of the Hindu moon god. Nevertheless, though the diamond holds a religious significance to the Indians, financial gain is the only motive behind the theft of the diamond. In this way, Collins depicts the Indians as having true values and the English as seeking only wealth while not respecting the religious worth of the diamond.

When Betteredge first meets the Indians, he describes the chief of the three as having "the most elegant manners," while Mr Bruff opens his narrative describing the same person as "an Oriental stranger of distinguished manners." Clearly, the object here is not to present the Indians as savages. Instead, Collins portrays them as very respectable gentlemen seeking an object that belongs to them. The portrayal of Mr. Murthwaite shows an Englishman who is described as an "Indian traveller," yet he maintains an understanding and appreciation for Indian society and religious customs. On the other hand, Godfrey Ablewhite, who is ultimately responsible for the lost diamond, seeks only financial gain due to being in debt and needing money immediately. Obviously, the aim of the Indians in attaining the diamond is a higher aim than the motive behind Godfrey's actions.

In the end of the novel, Mr. Murthwaite, in his travels to India, happens across the path of the three Indians and sees the diamond restored to its proper place. In a way, Collins is able to predict the eventual victory of India over British rule.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Context of the Novel

In 1857 the British empire faced turmoil in its Indian colony when native soldiers revolted against the intrusion and unjust treatment of the British. Though the Indian experienced some early victory, the British quickly put down the revolt, killing thousands of Indians in the process. Back in England, the press justified the killing of the rebels. One such publication was Household Words, a Dickens owned serial for which Wilkie Collins was a writer. Collins wrote "A Sermon for the Sepoys" for the publication uses a story from India's history to make a point that everyone should live in a way that benefits all humanity, not just oneself. Collins' point is that colonizers should stories from the Orient first, not Christian ones, in order to reform the Indians.

In presenting this point of view, Collins offered a more conciliatory attitude towards India than most of the British. He expressed an interest in seeing true reformation rather than just submission. This tone allowed him in the novel The Moonstone to be more accepting of Hindu beliefs rather than presenting those beliefs as paganistic and unsophisticated.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Description of the Moonstone

"Lord bless us! it WAS a Diamond! As large, or nearly, as a plover's egg! The light that streamed from it was like the light of the harvest moon. When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that they saw nothing else. It seemed unfathomable; this jewel, that you could hold between your finger and thumb, seemed unfathomable as the heavens themselves. We set it in the sun, and then shut the light out of the room, and it shone awfully out of the depths of its own brightness, with a moony gleam, in the dark."

A plover is a small bird, but a plover's egg, pictured above, is a pretty large egg, meaning the moonstone is exceptionably large. The comparison to "the light of the harvest moon" creates an ominous mood for the reader. This stolen jewel bequeathed to Rachel Verinder as a birthday present from her late uncle mesmerizes those who glance into it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Robinson Crusoe

Another motif of the first narrative is the Daniel Defoe novel Robinson Crusoe. The book serves as a guide for the faithful servant of Lady Verinder, Gabriel Betteredge, who receives prophetic messages from Defoe's work. It is almost biblical-like text for Betteredge, who quotes it when giving advice.

"I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way. Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond. You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as ROBINSON CRUSOE never was written, and never will be written again. I have tried that book for years—generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco—and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad—ROBINSON CRUSOE. When I want advice—ROBINSON CRUSOE. In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much—ROBINSON CRUSOE. I have worn out six stout ROBINSON CRUSOES with hard work in my service. On my lady's last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and ROBINSON CRUSOE put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain."
Betteredge believes that no matter the difficulty, he can open his copy of Robinson Crusoe and he will find the answer he needs.
This belief is interesting in its juxtaposition to a narrative by Miss Clack, the very religious woman with a strong fondness for champagne, according to Betteredge. She relentlessly tries to pass out her tracks to those she fears may be on the path to destruction. Whereas Betteredge uses his text to give advice, Miss Clack uses her text to condemn.
Robinson Crusoe is a novel about the title character's attempts at survial on a dsert island. It was based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk, who was stranded in the Pacific.


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