English Lamp Posts Top Victorian Blog Award Winner 2011

Brought to you by English Lamp Posts

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.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Last Rose of Summer

"The Last Rose of Summer" is a poem by Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852). The poem was published in his Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems, which also included "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms." The poem was set to music later by the Irish composer John Stevenson, and it is this tune that Sergeant Cuff repeatedly hums while trying to figure out the case of the stolen diamond. Below is the text of the poem:

'Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
From Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit,
This bleak world alone?
One of the reasons Cuff is fond of this tune is his love of roses. Whenever he begins to figure out pieces of the puzzle, he begins to hum this tune. However, the tune may signal that this case will be his last, as he heads into retirement after he supposes he is done trying to locate the missing diamond.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Moonstone

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was published in 1868, first appearing in the Dickens publicaton All Year Round. Belonging to the sensationalist genre, The Moonstone is considered the first modern detective story. It is the last of his four successful novels of the 1860s (The Woman in White, No Name, and Armadale being the first three), and is similar in structure to The Woman in White, having different characters narrate the events of the novel. The plot revolves around a sacred diamond, stolen from India during British occupation, that is given to Rachel Verinder on her 18th birthday. The disappearance of the diamond results in a search that takes many twists and turns.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Next up: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The next novel I am reading is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It will be interesting to compare and contrast the styles of Collins and Dickens, who were collaborators. Collins' novels tend to be plot driven whereas Dickens focuses on character development. One can foreknow the plot of a Dickens novel and still enjoy it because Dickens' style and characterization are what make his works enjoyable. While both men are able to create memorable characters, one could argue that Dickens' characters have more depth. Nevertheless, Collins is probably one of the most talented storytellers of the Victorian era.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Imagination vs. reality

"It was but imagination, yet imagination had all the terrors of reality; nay, it was worse, for the reality would have come and gone, and there an end, but in imagination it was always coming, and never went away." (chapter 31)

One of the major themes of the novel is imagination vs. reality, sometimes portrayed through the dream world, and this quote illustrates the conflict Dickens creates between the two in TOCS. Nell is repeatedly accosted by "shadows" that frighten her with the force of reality. In the quote above, she imagines hearing her grandfather entering her rooms a second time, after having robbed her of the only money the two of them had so that he could once again gamble in an attempt to earn money for Nell once he is gone. Despite the fact that no one has entered her room, Nell remains gripped by the arms of fear for the time being.

In another episode, Nell overhears a conversation between her grandfather and some card players, who suggest that the former steal money from Mrs. Jarley in order to continue playing with them. Nell feigns her fear this time, by sharing with her grandfather that she "dreamed" that he would be tempted to steal money if they did not choose to flee from Mrs. Jarley's abode. In this instance, Nell uses the dream world to justify movement from what she imagines will happen if they stay put.

"There was an empty niche from which some old statue had fallen or been carried away hundreds of years ago, and she was thinking what strange people it must have looked down upon when it stood there, and how many hard struggles might have taken place, and how many murders might have been done, upon that silent spot, when there suddenly emerged from the black shade of the arch, a man. The instant he appeared, she recognised him—Who could have failed to recognise, in that instant, the ugly misshapen Quilp!" (chapter 27)

In the passage above, Nell imagines the strange people that must have passed through the arch way when her imagination becomes reality in the form of Quilp. It must have seemed like a dream to Nell, who is deathly afraid of Quilp. It is almost as if one's thoughts can be be realized upon thinking them. No matter how far Nell continues to run, this nightmare continues to haunt her.

One last scene involves the nursing of Dick Swiveller back to health by the Marchioness. Dick awakes from a long slumber, but imagines himself to be dreaming when he hears and sees the Marchioness in an adjoining room:

He was rambling in imagination on these terraces, and had quite lost himself among them indeed, when he heard the cough once more. The walks shrunk into stripes again at the sound, and raising himself a little in the bed, and holding the curtain open with one hand, he looked out.

The same room certainly, and still by candlelight; but with what unbounded astonishment did he see all those bottles, and basins, and articles of linen airing by the fire, and such-like furniture of a sick chamber—all very clean and neat, but all quite different from anything he had left there, when he went to bed! The atmosphere, too, filled with a cool smell of herbs and vinegar; the floor newly sprinkled; the—the what? The Marchioness?

Yes; playing cribbage with herself at the table. There she sat, intent upon her game, coughing now and then in a subdued manner as if she feared to disturb him—shuffling the cards, cutting, dealing, playing, counting, pegging—going through all the mysteries of cribbage as if she had been in full practice from her cradle! Mr Swiveller contemplated these things for a short time, and suffering the curtain to fall into its former position, laid his head on the pillow again.

'I'm dreaming,' thought Richard, 'that's clear. When I went to bed, my hands were not made of egg-shells; and now I can almost see through 'em. If this is not a dream, I have woke up, by mistake, in an Arabian Night, instead of a London one. But I have no doubt I'm asleep. Not the least.'

Here the small servant had another cough.

'Very remarkable!' thought Mr Swiveller. 'I never dreamt such a real cough as that before. I don't know, indeed, that I ever dreamt either a cough or a sneeze. Perhaps it's part of the philosophy of dreams that one never does. There's another—and another—I say!—I'm dreaming rather fast!'

For the purpose of testing his real condition, Mr Swiveller, after some reflection, pinched himself in the arm.

'Queerer still!' he thought. 'I came to bed rather plump than otherwise, and now there's nothing to lay hold of. I'll take another survey.'

The result of this additional inspection was, to convince Mr Swiveller that the objects by which he was surrounded were real, and that he saw them, beyond all question, with his waking eyes.

Upon waking, Dick has trouble distinguishing reality from imagination and doesn't want to believe what he sees with his eyes. Aware that he is not himself, he convinces himself that he must be dreaming, until it is beyond all doubt. Dick readily embraces the imagination because his environment seems opposed to what he has become familiar with. He is no longer in the Brass residence though he sees the Marchioness seated before his eyes. Only after a mental evaluation of the entire scene does he realize that reality is as it seems. His identification of reality allows the narrative to continue.

Monday, May 4, 2009

TOCS review

The movie was good, not totally accurate, but good. The portrayal of Dick Swiveller was spot on, Geoff Breton embraced the role perfectly. Quilp was pretty good, Nell was okay, Sally Brass was missing her headdress, and GT was more robust than I had envisioned. The movie was weak in its portrayal of the journey of Nell and her grandfather; one does not get the same trudging feeling from their trek that is depicted in the book. Overall, the movie gets an average rating.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Masterpiece Theatre 9pm EST tonight

Add Image
Tonight PBS will show a BBC production of TOCS. Judging by the DVD cover, Nell looks too old (she's supposed to be 13). I think the interesting thing will be the depiction of the contrasts that Dickens uses in the book.

*The age contrast between Nell and her grandfather

*The good Nell vs. the evil Quilp

*The effeminate Sampson Brass vs. the masculine Sally Brass

*The free-spirited Dick Swiveller vs. the trapped Marchioness

The movie is only 90 minutes which seems short for a Dickens novel but there is not as much action to be portrayed as there would be in say Bleak House.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The innocence of Nell

One thing that becomes clear in TOCS is that Nell attracts men to her. In fact, all but one of the characters that Nell interacts with for an extended period are men, that being Mrs. Jarley, an owner of traveling wax-work. For Quilp, the attraction is of a strange, sexual nature. Not only does he enjoy sleeping in her bed when he occupies the titular shop but also he even asks her to be Mrs. Quilp when his wife perishes. He calls her "charmingly pretty" (chapter 6) and even goes so far as to describe her as "Such a fresh, blooming, modest little bud, neighbour" continuing his description with "such a chubby, rosy, cosy, little Nell" (chapter 9). The evil Quilp sees the good in Nell and seeks possession of her in order to corrupt her. Nell herself is terrified by the unnerving presence of the dwarf.

For the Grandfather, his attraction to Nell is based on his feeling of obligation to provide a fortune for Nell once he dies. This urge causes him to develop a gambling habit in which he loses all of the money he borrowed from and is not able to repay to Quilp, from whom he and Nell are forced to flee. When Nell is able to earn money while working for Mrs. Jarley, he again pursues the game of cards until he steals money from Nell. Nell eventually removes him from that environment to prevent the same temptation in the future.

The poor schoolmaster, later named Mr. Marton, is attracted to Nell's innocence because he meets her right before the death of his "little scholar." In Nell, he sees another pupil of sorts who could replace the last in terms of temperament. Like that scholar, Nell, though young, is mature and intelligent beyond her years. Her imaginative perspective draws others to her. She too is able to sit at his feet and learn, though the schoolmaster eventually loses her too.


Related Posts with Thumbnails