Death and Ending

I have decided to focus on the ending for this final blog post because it can completely change any novel despite your pre-conceived notions. The ending ties a novel together and often answers many of the questions we as readers ask throughout the story. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the ending was absolutely not what I expected and this in turn lead to increased enjoyment of the novel. Another novel that utilizes ending in a dramatic and rather bittersweet way is George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. While both of these endings involve death, I see Hardy’s ending as much more dramatic than Eliot’s. A third novel that had an ending that interests me is Lady Audley’s Secret. In this novel, Mary Elizabeth Braddon employs an ending that involves death but involves much more happiness and new life. I find it interesting that all of these novels end in death, although these deaths do not always seem to be portrayed in a negative manner.

The death of Maggie and Tom at the end of The Mill on the Floss has a very bittersweet feel to it. “…but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (Eliot 517). Their relationship had been so toxic throughout the novel, and I find it very interesting that Eliot ended it on this note. It is almost as if Maggie is getting the devotion she always wanted from Tom in their death.

In Lady Audley’s Secret, the death does not really have that much of an impact on the novel. Rather, it is mentioned in passing in the concluding paragraph. “It is more than a year since a black-edged letter, written upon foreign paper, came to Robert Audley, to announce the death of a certain Madame Taylor, who had expired peacefully at Villebrumeuse, dying after a long illness…” (Braddon 445). I would say this novel has a happy ending. The entire concluding paragraph tells of the moved-on lives of the other characters and how well they are all doing. Lady Audley’s death is almost thrown into the conclusion as an afterthought. This is contrasts to the ending of The Mill on the Floss, which centers around the death of the main characters. Still, I would not say that either of these novels have an absolutely awful ending.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is an entirely different story. While the two novels discussed previously both end in death, neither of them are absolutely heart-wrenching. Tess’s death leaves the reader heartbroken and has a much darker effect than the other deaths. “The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on” (Hardy 396). Tess ends up being executed because she stabbed Alec to death, and she did this because he basically ruined her life. In this scene, Angel and Tess’s younger sister watch as the black flag is raised to signify Tess’s death. They almost seem to forget about it right after it happens, as they move on. This ending is absolutely heart-wrenching and eclipses both of the deaths in the other novels in my opinion. It is not just the fact that Tess was executed that makes this so awful. It is also the fact that she was so close to finally having the life she wanted. It was all taken away from her in an instant because of the choice she made to murder Alec. Then again, if she had not murdered Alec, she probably would not have gotten to be with Angel again. There really was no way out for Tess, and she ends up dying to signify this.

The End of the Fallen Women

Many novels deal with the idea of the fallen woman and her fate. The Mill on the Floss, Lady Audley’s Secret, and Tess of the d’Ubervilles each do just that. While the respectability of the women and their ends differ in each, there is an idea of the woman being replaceable, or at least being unnecessary to the other characters, in all three of the novels. The endings for these fallen women show how they were viewed. While writers garnered sympathy for their characters, in the end they had to be disposed of, and life had to carry on.

In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie is deemed to be a fallen woman after her extended boat ride with Stephen. When she returns, she is rejected by most of society, including her brother. While Phillip, her mother, and others do take her side, most of society sees Maggie as someone to avoid, even though she did not actually do anything with Stephen. However, this is enough not only to gain the ill will of the town she grew up in, but also for her to have to die. When the flood comes, she and her brother Tom die in each other’s arms, their ship sunk by debris in the water. Maggie had to die despite not actually doing anything wrong. In the end, Maggie is dead, and Stephen has moved on to be with Lucy. Life carries on, and while Phillip is sad and alone and Stephen visits her grave, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care about the fate of this fallen woman.

Things are worse in Lady Audley’s Secret, however. When Robert discovers that Lady Audley is the wife of his friend, George Talboys, he exposes her to his uncle Michael Audley. Lady Audley’s fate for marrying two men is not death like Maggie. She instead gets sent off to a sort of mental institution where she cannot bother either of her husbands anymore. She is just shoved out of the story at the end, despite all the sympathy the narrator tries to make the readers feel for her. While she is not replaced by either George or Michael, she is shown to be unnecessary to either. George lives with his sister and Robert, and Michael has his daughter to depend on. Everyone seems to get along fine with Lady Audley out of the picture, almost as though she never existed at all, save for the melancholy of the men who had married her.

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, however, the main character is actually replaced, at her own suggestion. Tess is a fallen woman because of what Alec did to her. She keeps what happened to her a secret, however, and by doing so is able to marry Angel. Once he finds out about Alec, he wants nothing to do with Tess, leaving her to fend for herself and eventually to be drawn back to Alec’s side. When he comes back for her though, Tess longs to be with him, murdering Alec so that she can. She is caught and persecuted for this crime, and interesting change from being punished for being fallen. Lady Audley of course did try to kill people, but Tess here is punished solely for her murder of Alec. She too though is replaced, this time by the younger sister whom she told Angel to be with when she was caught eventually. Tess’s death is in line with getting rid of a fallen woman, but the sister getting with her husband, at her own suggestion, is not. Still, however, to most of society Tess was a fallen woman, so she had to die in the end.

Tess of the d’Ubervilles stands out from other novels about fallen women because Tess is killed for a different, though related, crime and because Tess is replaced by her younger sister. Tess being killed for murder shows that the real crime was that she was influenced into taking such measures after all the terrible things that had happened to make her fallen. Her being replaced by her sister shows a form of sympathy for her, trying to have Angel be with Tess, or the closest thing to her, while still getting rid of the fallen woman who has no place in society. So while all these novels deal with fallen women, giving them bad fates and showing that they are unnecessary to the people in their lives, Tess of the d’Ubervilles goes farther, showing that the fallen women are only criminals because of the extreme situations wrongly forced upon them. It demonstrates that, if the woman had not done the one thing that made her fall, she would have been able to have a good life like readers can presume Tess’s sister can have with Angel. The way this novel deals sympathetically with the fallen woman sets it apart from others and makes it a novel truly worth studying.

In the Garden: How Tess of the d’Urbervilles shows gender inequality

Amongst the constantly looming religious undertones throughout Tess of the d’Urbervilles (which shall henceforth be referred to as TOD), the superiority of the male figure over the women one is a theme that grows with the plot. It is well known that in the book of Genesis, woman came from man and hence a stereotype lasting ages was born, where men dominate women. Tess, for all of her hard work and struggles, is constantly plagued by men. The men, in particular, are of course Alec and Angel, who both share the same love and show the same domination over the same woman. Though very different characters overall, the ability for both Alec and Angel to hold such emotional (and at some times, physical) power over Tess is used by Hardy to show just how bad the discrepancy between males and females were during the time the novel was written.

The most literal example of male domination is in the act of Alec sexually assaulting Tess. This act in and of itself is disturbing regardless of its modern implications and is the most direct instance of male domination over a woman character. The act of being sexually assaulted is not one done out of ignorance, as Alec is both fully aware and even acknowledges how awful he is for seducing Tess for his own pleasure. Tess is affected by this event for the rest of the novel, but in the grand scheme of things, she still goes back to Alec at times. It is interesting here to note that Hardy is giving the responsibility and acknowledgment to the men (Alec), and the consequences to the women. It can be argued that this was because even in sin men still dominated women, and would exploit this often.

Angel represents the emotional control men had over women. One example is when Angel reveals he prefers Tess over other women, one of Tess’ friends attempts to kill herself and another becomes an alcoholic. There is an unhealthy obsession that some of these females had over men, and this obsession ends up dominating their lives at no cost to Angel. This, of course, is not so much a commentary on the psychological state of humans as much as it is a reflection on the power relative gender roles had on the members of each respective role. Angel then creates a mold by which Tess is supposed to belong to, rather than actually loving her for herself. Angel describes Tess as “dead” (260) in response to learning about her secrets. This suppression of female identity, which to Tess was “all is vanity” (287) was the dominating emotional force behind the institution of marriage at the time, where females lost their name, their money, and what little freedom they had. The identity of Tess was never her own but was rather at the design of men who held perceived power over her.

Narrative Voice in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Mill on the Floss, and Frankenstein

Narrative voice is an essential element throughout any novel. At its core, this literary element is often used as a tool of persuasion, or dissuasion, that can encourage a reader to be compassionate toward one character and judgmental depending on the overall goal of the author. This blog post will examine the similarities and differences in the use of narrative voice in Shelley’s Frankenstein, Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, and Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles

In her novel Frankenstein, Shelley seems to play a game of telephone through her use of narrative voice. Although the narrative voice can be confusing at times, it’s important to remember that the story is being told through the lens of Robert Walton, who is retelling the stories told to him by both Victor and the creature. This leads the reader to question the accuracy of the narrative itself. Walton points this out himself, stating “Frankenstein discovered that I made notes concerning his history: he asked to see them, and then himself corrected and augmented them in many places…” (pg. 243). Rather than the narrator exhibiting qualities of omniscience, Shelley makes her narrator much more personable and involved in the story. The consequence to this, it seems, results in the narrator being more unreliable.

Contrast this with the narrator in Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, who has both an omniscient yet intimate presence in the novel. Eliot uses the narrative voice as a tool for argument. In some cases, she gives the narrator a more personable voice to advocate for sympathy. This is shown in the first chapter of Book 1 when the narrator describes Maggie for the first time, “Now I can turn my eyes toward the mill again, and watch the unresting wheel sending out its diamond jets of water. That little girl is watching it too; she has been standing on just the same spot at the edge of the water ever since I paused at the bridge.” In other cases, the narrator’s voice has an omniscient quality to it – providing the narrator with the ability to provide the reader with insight into the character’s motives. This is seen in chapter five of Book 5 when the narrator warns the reader to “not think too hardly of Phillip” because people with his condition “have great need of unusual virtues, because they are likely to be extremely uncomfortable without them.”

Similar to the narrative voice presented in Mill on the Floss, the narrative voice in Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles also encourages compassion for some of the characters, particularly that of Tess and Angel. However, the narrative voice seems to provide more insight into the thoughts and feelings of the characters when compared to the other two novels. Among the most interesting examples in the novel is when Tess sees a group of birds suffering after being shot by hunters. The narrator elaborates on the inner thoughts in Tess’s mind, stating:

     “With the impulse of a soul who could feel for kindred sufferers as much as for herself,      Tess’s first thought was to put the still living birds out of their torture, and to this end           with her own hands she broke the necks of as many as she could find, leaving them to lie where she had found them till the gamekeepers could find… ‘Poor darlings – to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ such misery as yours!’ she exclaimed, her tears running down as she killed the birds tenderly.”

The narrator gives us allows us to peer into Tess’s most intimate thoughts regarding her rape. She identifies with other animals who are experiencing pain, we are given stronger insight into her thought processes regarding her decision to kill the birds out of compassion. When considering how Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles differs from the other two novels, it seems that the narrative voice used in Hardy’s novel provides insight into the psychological experiences of the characters, particularly Tess, and uses that to encourage the reader to have sympathy for her. The other two novels, however, comment more on physical occurrences in the novel as opposed to elaborating on the characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Fate and injustice in three parts

When looking back at the novels we’ve read this semester, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness welling up from within.  It is possible that this sadness is sparked by a sense of finality in the closing of the semester, but it could also be the progressive downward, depressing spiral that we, as a group, have experienced through these readings.  It is unlikely that this emotional response was the intended result of the order in which these novels were assigned, but the order was indeed intentional.  The obvious comparison that one could draw between the novels we’ve read this semester, is their tragic endings.  These tragic endings come in different shapes and resolve themselves in different ways, but a strong element that runs like a blood red thread throughout is the cruel nature of fate.  For this final blog post, I will look at how this cruelty is made manifest in the endings of Frankenstein, Mill on the Floss and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

 

The first novel we read for class was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  I struggled assigning blame to a single individual in this novel.  I think Shelley presents all the characters as flawed human beings, or in the case of Victor’s creation, an approximation of a human being.  Focusing on Victor’s creation, we find a being that was brought into a painful, certainly deformed existence without any consideration of how wretched his life would be.  There is no other place that this is more evident than in the quote from Paradise Lost on the title page of Frankenstein. “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?”  In this sense, the creation possessed zero free will and was fated for misery.  When he finally takes agency and performs actions driven by his desire, we find that those are, again, simply a response to some external stimuli of which he has no control over.  Victor refuses to provide his creation with basic human needs.  The creation’s only power is that of consequence.  Consequences can only be reactionary responses to actions that are out of our control.  With this, the creation strikes out like a rabid, helpless animal to inflict pain on anyone within striking range.

 

In George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, Maggie’s fatal end is a result of multiple intersecting circumstances of fate conspiring to her and Tom’s death.  Eliot presents this death in peaceful terms, with brother and sister embraced in a final reconciliation.  “In death they were not divided (657).” We can choose to agree with this perspective, or we can look at the suffering of Maggie throughout the novel.  The poor girl, turned woman through the course of the novel, never finds her place in the world.  The apex of this life is a frustrating failed relationship with a fancy boy, Stephen, and the fallout created is the final insult to Maggie.  Her life was filled with a struggle against a forceful patriarchy that beat against her like the flood waters that finally freed her from her suffering.  A force of suffering to which she recognized would be a lifelong affliction.  “I will bear it, and bear it till death… (649)” This force requires Maggie to submit to powers that are greater than her will.  Her fate was to be born in a time and to a family that had certain expectations of her.  A set of expectations that were not like those whom her brother was able to enjoy.  These gifts, we find, were wasted on a man-child, undeserving of such. His development is stunted before we even reach the middle of the novel.  Maggie’s family, which stifled her development, remains a constant force that persistently draws her back, closer to a watery grave.

 

The final novel, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess’s tragic end is an almost sweet release from a life ripe with cruel suffering.  She grieves the most under the will of fate – “Tess was now carried along upon the wings of the hours, without the sense of a will (231).”  Her guilt and obligation further disconnect her from autonomy.  Self-denial leaves her unloved and penniless.  Tess’s life filled with suffering and grief caused by a willful violation perpetrated by a representative of fate.  The moment she takes agency, she damns herself to death.  The killing of Alec is met with swift “justice.”  A Justice which is only afforded to those in the good graces of fate.  Tess attempts to enact her own form of justice by murdering Alec.    Alec absolves himself of the sin, but the pain caused is not so easily washed away.

 

The sense of injustice grows with each novel.  The one thing that truly differentiates Tess of the d’Urbervilles from the other two novels is the sense of hopelessness.  In Frankenstein the characters are all so flawed that we are not blindsided by the tragic ending.  We expect that the people who behave in this way, or flawed creations are bound to end up on the wrong side of providence.  In Mill on the Floss, we feel for Maggie, but her potential was stunted by her parents from the point of her creation.  Her behavior is rash and reactive.  She has agency, but she chooses to rebel in a destructive manner. Her life is a tragedy which presents itself in a slow, protracted, struggle leading to a train wreck of an ending.  Tess of the d’Urbervilles presents a young woman with potential, even if it isn’t real or wouldn’t amount to much by some standards.  However, Tess truly exists in a hostile world.  All people and forces conspire against her and her womanly obligation only serves to rip away any last semblance of free will she may have had.  None of the authors give the reader a sense of hope in the end and there is no justice enjoyed.  Certainly not justice that isn’t the result of someone death.  Justice for Victor’s creation is the death of Elizabeth and Clerval.  Justice for Tess is Alec’s death.  Justice for Alec is Tess’s death.  It is hard to find hope in these works, but realism and naturalism doesn’t always want to give that to the reader.

“What right have you to be merry?”: Silliness and Seriousness in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

My grandfather was Fezziwig. Standing on the stage at the end of the packing shed, fully dressed in a Victorian-style waistcoat and brown top-hat, with a sprig of holly in its side (though not, thankfully, in his heart), he announced to the audience that tables would be cleared and the band assembled so dancing could finally begin. Every early December on the weekends when I was growing up, my extended family would put on a series of Christmas dances for our living history farm. I or my cousin would always play Tiny Tim. Part dinner-theater, part dancing-hall, the packing shed became Fezziwig’s factory, and our production of A Christmas Carol would pause in that middle act so the “city folks” could try their feet at the “Roger de Coverly” and (always the house favorite) “Virginia Reel.”

Having Fezziwig for a grandfather meant that I always found Fezziwig’s scene in A Christmas Carol to be thoroughly joyful, happy, and good. It is always depicted in film adaptations as a moment where Scrooge and his audience lament the misspent opportunities and good influence that Fezziwig might have had on his young apprentice. Yet, in the novel, just after Scrooge begins to soften while watching, he receives a rebuke from his guiding Spirit. “‘A small matter, said the Ghost, ‘to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.’ Small!’ echoed Scrooge” (71). In that moment, Scrooge uncharacteristically defends merriment when he states that Fezziwig’s power of making his guests “so full of gratitude” is “impossible to add and count ‘em up … The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune” (72). The Spirit’s rebuke towards Scrooge could be an indictment of the latter’s miserly attitude, as is the case when the Ghost of Christmas Present uses Scrooge’s own words against him, asking “Are there no prisons? … Are there no poor houses?” (79). Ostensibly, the fact that Scrooge is more like his younger self when he responds would indicate that his remark is correct, or at least coming from a better part of his nature. I am inclined to agree with him, but does he adequately address whether or not Fezziwig and his guests are “silly,” or that Fezziwig’s kindness is “a small matter”? When suffering mars the world, is it right to express joy in such a silly way as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig do? Are they rightly the source of praise, if their benevolence is of a “small” nature? Should we not be more serious?

Scrooge’s development in the novel can be seen as a “reclamation,” to use the first Spirit’s term, of childlike mirth and silliness, but it is not clear that such a demeanor is always the end of “Christian” maturity in the book (63).[1] At the novel’s final chapter, Scrooge begins his new life with the declaration, “I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here! … ”  (119). Childishness, or a kind of childish merriment, are seemingly among the crucial qualities that Scrooge had lost, and which the Spirits endeavor to re-cultivate in his cold and inhospitable heart. In a kind of reverse bildungsroman, it is not a growing up that Scrooge must achieve, but a growing younger, and I don’t think any reader mourns whatever Scrooge loses in that process. Bob Cratchit demonstrates a similar childlike glee when he “went down a slide on Cornhill” no less than twenty times as a way to “honor” Christmas (47). Part of keeping the holiday seems to receive it gleefully.

Yet, while readers might initially assume that Dickens universally promotes a child-like silliness because of Scrooge, Bob, and Fezziwig, it is notable that the Spirits themselves, and even Tiny Tim, are frequently serious.[2] The first Spirit is “soft and gentle,” but not jovial. Its commands are resolute, and its grasp, though “gentle as a woman’s hand, was not to be resisted” (63). It beams with light, but not warmth. Of course, the second Spirit, if it is a spirit of anything, is of “good humor” (84). It outpours its “bright and harmless mirth on everything within its reach” (91-92). Yet, even the “Jolly Giant” becomes grave at the introduction of Want and Ignorance at the end of its chapter, speaking to Scrooge “sorrowfully,” and prophetically spreading its hands towards London while crying out “bide the end” (79). The spirit of mirth grows to be more serious, rather than less. If the spirits represent what is most “spiritual,” in a broadly Christian sense, then why does their serious demeanor contrast so with Scrooge’s “spiritual” growth towards glee?

Tiny Tim, moreover, serves as a foil to Fezziwig and Scrooge, and even his father. The old men have a childish demeanor, while the boy has a serious wisdom. Tiny Tim may be a child and “as good as gold,” but he is never silly (87). Bob follows the characterization of his son’s goodness by saying, “he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and he thinks the strangest things you ever heard” (87). That Tiny Tim would want others to see his own disability to be reminded on Christmas day of him “who made lame beggars walk and blind men see,” indicates he has a profound and serious nature (87). Furthermore, in the few pages the reader has of Tiny Tim, it is notable that Dickens tasks him with singing “about a lost child travelling in the snow” (91). Whether this boy finds his way in the song is not specified, but it is possible that Tim’s subject is of an entirely tragic nature. Either way, suffering is present, and the song is as poignant and unresolved as the “wretched woman with an infant,” at the end of Dickens’ first stave, whom the shades cannot help (59). Much in the novel, then, is serious, and it raises the question of whether such middle-class silliness as Fezziwig’s ought to be seen as great or worthwhile in light of the suffering poor. How can such flippancy as a dance be meaningful when the wretched widow and her infant are alone in the cold?

I am reminded, at the end of this inquiry, that my grandfather is actually quite a serious man. He plays at Fezziwig, but conducts his business of guiding dancers across the floor, and replicating Christmas jollity on the farm in the winter, with a kind of gravity. “I would like to think it is God’s work,” he has sometimes said to me. Perhaps he reflects the demeanor of the narrator, as Dickens expresses in a strange break in his story. Relating of Belle’s children, he declares “What would I not have given to be one of them! … I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet been man enough to know its value” (74-75). That the narrator longs for the licence of a child implies that he does not have it, even if he thinks it is a good quality. The end of the spiritual journey in the novel may not be towards complete child-likeness or complete seriousness. We know Ignorance and Want creep under the robes of the Present. We know that death is in our future. However, there might be a way to retain a licence in joy while knowing the value of things. Cultivating it for others may itself be valuable, “silly” and “small” though it may seem, even if we ourselves do not always feel it.

 

[1] I mean “Christian,” here, in a more cultural than theological sense. Scrooge comes to practice the virtues that Fred characterizes as belonging to the time of Christmas, regardless of anyone’s position on Christian orthodoxy: that is, kindness, forgiveness, charity, and pleasantness (42).

[2] Not much need be said of the final Spirit on this matter, who is introduced as “grave” and with the characteristic that, “in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery” (102).

 

Works Cited

 

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Broadview Literary Texts, 2003.

Tess, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss: The Endings 

In modern storytelling, the ending is usually wrapped up in a pretty bow with loose ends being tied, generally leaving a satisfied and happy ending for the reader.  However, in Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss, this is not necessarily the case.  All three authors included the tragic deaths of the main characters, with Tess being the only one who had just one protagonist die and not two of them, like Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss.  All the deaths throughout the three books (Tess, Dr. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s creation, Maggie, and Tom) serve as the reason for the endings to contain themes of grief and injustice, as the main character usually lives to the end and has a happy ending, especially in modern works. 

 

In Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Tess is executed for stabbing Alec to death in the end of the novel.  This death can initially be viewed as a justified death, but because Tess is the main character of the book and subject of the title, the reader is inclined to observe her death as unjustified.  The author, Thomas Hardy, intentionally makes Tess the character that the reader focuses on to possibly affect this response to the ending specifically.  Her death, although technically justified because she murders Alec, can be seen as injustice because she is the protagonist, and this is essentially her story being told.  Tess herself is “almost glad – yes, glad” to die, which makes the reader feel sympathy for her because she thinks that dying would be an end to her suffering (580).  This might help pull the reader in the direction of Tess’s side of the story because it pulls on the emotion of sympathy from the reader.  This death in the end is the best ending in Tess’s mind, although it may not be the stereotypical happy ending for the protagonist.     

 

In Frankenstein, both Victor Frankenstein and the creature tragically die in the end, Victor succumbing to illness and the creature committing suicide after the death of Victor.  These untimely deaths serve as the loose ends being tied up in the novel, but this does not instantly mean that the ending is a happy one.  The gothic novel starts and ends with misery and dismal themes, with Victor feeling the “thirst of knowledge”, which resulted in him attempting to create life and then the dread that followed his success (Ch. 2).  This ending may have been created by Mary Shelley to correct the initial wrong done by Victor, creating an unnatural life, by forcing Victor to die a natural death and then killing off the creature to show the reader that it should not have been given life in the first place.  The reader might feel grief and sorrow for the two main characters because Victor is trying to correct the wrong that he made by creating the monster, and because the creature shows true love for his creator in the end by killing himself out of pain. 

 

Mill on the Floss, written by George Eliot, is similar to Frankenstein in regard to having two of the main characters dying tragic and untimely deaths in the end of the novel.  However, the reader feels the most sympathy for Maggie and Tom, as they die in a horrific flooding accident and were not executed for a crime, like Tess of the d’Ubervilles.  One reason for this ending would be that Maggie and Tom, who had been apart emotionally and physically, would be finally reunited by Maggie attempting to save Tom.  However, this reunion is cut short by the debris crashing into their small rowboat, effectively killing the two.  The reader, not expecting this ending, may be shocked by the deaths but could also take comfort in the possibility that Maggie and Tom “had gone down in an embrace never to be parted” (Ch. 5).  This is the only comfort that the reader can have regarding these deaths because the incident was so sudden and unjustified, and this theme of being together eternally shows that they at least were reunited in the end, both in life and in death.   

 

Tess of the d’Ubervilles is similar to these two novels, Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss, because all of the deaths were not fully expected by the reader and seemed to be very tragic events.  Tess’s death can be seen as unjustified to the reader because of the use of sympathy because of the rape, much like the deaths of Maggie and Tom pulling on the same emotion because they are finally reunited in order to convey the deaths as unfair.  While Frankenstein’s ending may have been more predictable than the others, all three novels did not explicitly hint at the turn of events at each ending, with both Victor and the creature dying, Tess being executed for the murder of her rapist, and Maggie and Tom being suddenly crushed by flood debris.  Tess is different in the sense that it is a more singular death in the end, even though Alec is killed somewhat close to the end.  The reader may not be inclined to include his death as a tragic one because of the rape and his overall character presentation in the novel.  Overall, the deaths in these three novels are similar in many ways, with a few exceptions.   

 

When Suffering Enters A Christmas Carol

In the commercialized Christmas we have come to know and love (?), we often frame A Christmas Carol as full of cheer and goodwill . . . an old man moved by the intervention of ghosts to care for a young crippled boy in the spirit of the holiday. When we call someone “Scrooge,” we usually mean they are not being cheery enough: perhaps they are refusing to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. This collapse of emotions into “cheer” is why I was surprised by the range of emotions represented in A Christmas Carol when I came back to it this year. Difficulty and grief are placed alongside brilliant happiness and cheer. I’d like to explore how the cheer and troubles are placed together, though, since there is danger in representing suffering and pain in art. Does A Christmas Carol ultimately handle suffering ethically?

One of the biggest hurdles for me in saying “yes” is that the most vivid moments of people suffering are within the ghost sequences, not the “real present” of the frame, and all the suffering is very immediately solvable by personal action. In the “real present,” the gentlemen request funds to support the poor and describe “Want” as “keenly felt,” and we see Bob shivering at his small fire, but that is all (45). If Scrooge simply gave them money and wasn’t rude, then those problems would go away. If we view A Christmas Carol as tackling the problem of suffering and poverty in general, this is dissatisfying: the text would seem to be saying that if we individually just gave more money, there would be no suffering.

Within the ghost sequences, we see more moments of people suffering—like Tiny Tim dying—but even these are then alleviated or are “what ifs” that Scrooge’s actions can stave off. What if Scrooge met more people than could be supported by his personal generosity? All the suffering people he sees in the journey with the Ghost of Christmas Present are ultimately made cheerful by the Ghost’s happy blessing: “the Spirit stood beside sick beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery’s every refuge . . . he left his blessing” (99). They are fixed. The two sad figures at the end of the stave might complicate this, because they are not helped, but they are not even individual humans but allegorical figures of Ignorance and Want. They do not have hopes and dreams; they do not have stories with which to grab the imagination, and so they do not complicate the narrative as much as they could. If Scrooge met more poor individuals suffering in poverty instead of allegorical figures, he would also be prompted to help them, and his own financial resources would eventually run out.

This raises the question: would running out of personal financial resources actually be problematic for Scrooge’s attempts to alleviate suffering? Perhaps not—the Spirit does not sprinkle money on the people he spreads cheer to. The problem is, though, that in the last stave Scrooge fixes the suffering around him by giving money to the boy, to the Cratchit family, to the gentlemen representing the charity, and to Bob Cratchit. So it does seem that representing larger suffering would create difficulties: what does one do with suffering that refuses financial solutions, and how would that frustrate the text’s tone?

Please understand me, dear reader: I am not trying to cry “humbug!” on the tale. But it does seem important to ask the question of how we should portray suffering and its solutions, and what the consequences are of doing so. How does one include suffering in a text that ultimately seeks to persuade us that our actions can remove suffering …when those actions actually can’t remove it completely? Tiny Tim lives in the end because Scrooge helps provide for his family. What if he had a terminal illness and could not have been saved by financial help?

Perhaps I am asking the tale to bear a weight it was not trying to—not all works involving suffering have to be theodicies or be comprehensive.

Or perhaps I am overly limiting my definition of suffering. What if I broaden my definition from physical want to emotional pain? Maybe it is also tackling the problem of dealing with our own experiences of emotional suffering.

In my summary of that last stave, I left something off of my “things money helps to fix” list, and it’s a big one: it is Scrooge’s acceptance of Fred’s hospitality. Scrooge does not fix this relationship with money—he does not even show up with a host gift. But here there is “wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!” (122). There was not suffering in Fred’s house before, but now Scrooge is included in the happiness. To me, this hints that part of the happy ending is that Scrooge is no longer suffering, and that reframes the tale not just as one of a man ignoring the physical suffering of others but also one of a man ignoring his own emotional suffering.

At the beginning of the book, Scrooge asserts, “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly” (45). This tale obviously shows how “interfering” with others is actually good. I think it is equally important to see that the text also proves false another aspect of this statement. Scrooge implies that he understands his own business. If we take “business” to mean what he means when he refers to other people’s business (their lives), then his implied claim to understand his own business is patently false. He ignores many aspects of his life…who he has been, who he is to others now, and who he might be becoming: what life is left in that construction? His healing comes when he reintegrates those selves, and he does so via grief. When the ghost takes him to his past, he “wept to see his poor forgotten self as he had used to be” and “he said, in pity for his former self, ‘Poor boy!’ and cried again” (65-66). In the journey with the Ghost of Christmas Present, he feels “penitence and grief” over his own cruel words the ghost repeats back to him (89). With the Ghost of Christmas Future, he is confronted with his own lonely death and his sadness at that way of dying. He can no longer equate money with happiness as he does at the beginning (42). He has to own his unhappy state. This explains why the lesson he repeats at the end of the tale is “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me” (117). Instead of focusing on what he will do for others, he focuses on an integration of his various selves, past, present, and future, despite the painfulness of owning who he has been and the pain of his experiences. This adds additional weight to his words “I am here” near the ending, when he realizes he is back in the true present (118). Of course, this integration then leads to helping others in the rest of that final stave.

After all this, though, I am still unsure if this emphasis on Scrooge owning his own emotional suffering makes the text more of an ethical representation of suffering or not. Could it be it terribly solipsistic to focus on Scrooge’s suffering in this way? Hopefully the way he moves from reintegration of his self to providing for others means not. Either way, though, I should hesitate before casting the first stone: I too have been guilty of limited vision. In remembering A Christmas Carol, I had forgotten the different types of suffering hidden within it. Whether this misremembering is all my own fault or is encouraged by the text—well, I leave that up to you.

A Stranger to Oneself: A Hellish Scene in A Christmas Carol?

It is interesting how an audience’s setting and expectations can alter how a text (whether read or performed) is received. The last time I read the Christmas Carolwas in a Dickens seminar as an undergrad at UC Davis. The effort there was to place it in the context of Dickens’ overall life and work, especially its thematic relation to the author’s other novels. Ebenezer Scrooge cast shadows of Fagin (from Oliver Twist), David Copperfield’s stepfather, and the litigants in the darkly hilarious “Jarndyce v. Jarndyce” (from Bleak House). Scrooge, however, is ultimately redeemed—though the manner and nature of his redemption is also quintessentially Dickensian, as it arguably reinforces Victorian middle class values. This is no story of St. Anthony or St. Francis, wherein Scrooge might have given all of his riches as alms and assumed the life of a holy poor man in penitence. In Dickens’ moral universe, he ought to remain rich, but generouslyrich—a pillar of his community and fount of charitable deeds. Scrooge’s position as a wealthy businessman with the power to exploit his employees or community is not critiqued at any structural level (or so I would argue). Rather, he is instructed to wield that power benevolently, in the service of London’s Tiny Tims, for which benevolence he will also presumably reap rewards in the hereafter. One wonders if John Barton would have found the point of the story sufficiently moral.

Of course, most people (myself included) don’t experience the Christmas Carolin the context of studying Dickens. The tale has taken on an independent life in western culture comparable to the Santa Claus tradition—it’s simply a fixture of the “holiday season” and experienced as one of a series of cultural performances and practices. It’s easy to know the story without ever having read the novella (has anyone ever attempted to catalogue all of the adaptations in theater or film?). Its very ubiquity is perhaps revelatory of modern western values: nobody is much threatened by a story in which a mean rich man learns to be a nice rich man. And that, it seems, is how the story is typically received, as a parable about generosity. There’s a reason that “Scrooge” has become a universally recognized epithet for a miser.

With those two receptions of the text—as a part of the Dickensian corpus and as a cultural commonplace—in mind, it was all the more interesting to approach the story as the final installment in our course this semester. To think about Scrooge and his encounters with the living and the spectral as loci for acts of hospitality and strangeness.

Especially with regard to the later (strangeness), one scene in the tale struck me in a way it hadn’t before. It occurs in the context of Scrooge’s the third and final ghostly encounter, wherein he glimpses the future:

“Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man’s lamp, he viewed them with detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though they had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.”

Scrooge witnesses the scavengers going over an (as yet unknown) corpse. The scene is deliberately hellish—the dim lightning, the grotesque figures who are explicitly compared to demons. It is also pregnant with dramatic irony, at least for those who know the story (and arguably, Dickens has also given enough narrative clues for first time readers to sense it as well). The dead man whose possessions are being pilfered is none other than Scrooge himself, yet he remains strange to himself. The strongest connection he can fathom between himself and the deceased is a moral analogy:

“Spirit!” said Scrooge, shuddering from head to foot. “I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way.”

But of course Scrooge does not yet see, and to emphasize his blindness, the scene immediately shifts to the vision of the corpse on the table, covered by the shroud. Scrooge desires to take away the cloth and reveal the dead man’s face—his own face—yet he “had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the spectre at his side.”

Scrooge has perhaps begun to suspect the true identity of the corpse, and yet is kept from gazing on its face. A veil literally lies between himself and self-recognition. It is at this point that Dickens invites the reader to imagine a resurrection:

[Scrooge] thought, if this man could be raised up now, what would be his foremost thoughts? Avarice, hard dealings, griping cares? They have brought him to a rich end, truly!

This image, coupled with the demonic language just above, leads me to think that Dickens is deliberately evoking the motif of judgment: even if the man on the table were to experience a resurrection, he would remain enmeshed and burdened by his sins. Such a resurrection would in fact be condemnation, because it would be eternity without hope for moral improvement, without growth in love or charity. It would merely confirm him to be a broken creature beyond repair. This couples well with how Scrooge’s ghostly encounters began, with Marley’s thick chains, which he is forced to drag along his ghostly way. When Scrooge finally does recognize the corpse as himself, it is as if he has been cast into hell—except for him, there is still time.

All of this, it seems to me, bears on this semester’s theme of the “Stranger.” There are different kinds of strangeness that we have encountered in our texts, scriptures, and treatises. On the one hand, strangeness is divine—God comes to us as the weary traveler seeking hospitality, as the unknown “mulatto” in Waco, TX. But there is a strangeness that comes from embracing what is not God, too. Scrooge can only meet the image of himself confirmed in his sin with horror—“that’s not me!” (except it is). Indeed, that the image still evokes strangeness may be a sign that it’s not too late, that there is still a part of him that recoils and so can be redeemed. The texts this semester may encourage us to think of human life as existing between poles of strangeness, with the challenge being of recognizing God in the midst. It’s a theme that’s often explored in medieval mystical texts and also some Reformation theologies (Luther’s Deus absconditus). Maybe by these lights we could even talk of Christian life as a journey from estrangement into strangeness.

Regardless, finding these themes in A Christmas Carolis certainly more interesting than a bland parable about being generous. If we are to give Dickens credit, perhaps he intended a much more complex tale that has subsequently been flattened out by popular culture. It would be interesting in class how contemporary artists might attempt to adapt the story in fresh ways that make it (what else) strange again to readers and audiences.

 

 

 

 

The Fallen Woman

In Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Lady Audley’s Secret and Mary Barton, the author writes about the character development of a fallen woman. Each of these texts critiques the society of the time period the author writes in. Within these critiques, there are models for how people of the society should act and also as a counter to the models, the characters that show how not to act. The fallen woman does something that society deems as unforgivable so they are cast from society. Mary Barton’s Ester becomes a prostitute to take care of her baby, Lady Audley represents a fallen woman who keeps a secret and betrays her family, and Tess is raped by Alec which leads complications in her marriage. Each of these fallen women act out of necessity, have a secret to keep and feel ashamed through out the novels.

In Mary Barton, Mary serves as the model woman who is loyal, dedicated and hard working despite the poverty and horror around her. Ester and Mary’s lives parallel. They both work hard to provide for their family because the man in their life left (or is unable to work, in Mary’s case of her father); however, because Ester does so in a way deemed wrong by society, she is cast out. They also both fall for an upper-class man. Marrying a richer man is the only way women have agency in the society. If the man Ester fell for had stayed, her life would have been set. Since the man left her, Ester had no other option and she was forced to act out of necessity to provide for her child. She then flees from her family and keeps it a secret because she is so ashamed. When she sees Mary going down her same path, she desparetly tries to warn Mary. Mary and Ester parallel because any woman could turn into a fallen woman. There are only so many options for a woman. While Ester succumbed to a life of poverty and shame, she was able to warn Mary and help give her a better life.

Similar to Ester, Lucy tries to marry a rich man to get out of poverty, however, her secret comes back to haunt her. When Sir Michael Audley proposes, she tries to refuse and say she doesn’t love him but he persists. Like Ester, marrying rich does not make one a fallen woman. It is what the woman does when something goes wrong that makes her a fallen woman. When Lucy, or Helen’s secret comes out is when she must act of necessity. When George comes back, Lucy fakes her death; when he finds her out, she tries to kill him; and when Robert confronts her, she tries to set a hotel on fire to kill both him and Luke. On top of these acts, she hides another secret: her mother’s heredity madness. All of these things do add up to a fallen woman, so much so, Sir Michael Audley basically flees the moment he finds out. When Ester knew she could not get that life back, she gave up. Lucy fought hard to keep her life in luxury, but it backfired and her real secret of madness came out. Madness is another option for a woman, and in this novel, it seems to be an excuse. The author allows her to die peacefully in a institution despite her actions, and leaves the reader wondering if she learned her lesson like Ester did.

While each of these reasons the women “fell” happened because of a man, the same is true for Tess. Despite her constant decline of Alec’s love, he still rapes her which leaves Tess a tarnished woman. Just as with Ester, society cast her away and she believed it. Tess continues to work, though her self worth is devalued in her eyes, which is why she is distant and removed from Angel, even though she has real feelings for him. When she tells him the truth, he sleepwalks and imagines her as dead. The scene is so obviously how Angel really feels about Tess. Even though he leaves her, Tess is faced with the same problem as Ester and Lucy: marrying a richer man. As we have seen with these two, it does not go well. Tess fights to succumb to the temptation of being taken care of by Alec until he finally convinces her Angel isn’t ever coming back. When Angel comes back, Tess fully surrenders to the “fallen woman” image and kills Alec, though it is out of love of Angel, unlike Lady Audley who does it for selfish reasons. Like Lucy, Tess is able to have a time of peace with Angel where they fall back in love, but unlike Lucy’s death, Tess is taken by the police to face her punishment. Tess battles with temptation throughout the entire book, but with her “moral woman” image being taken from her in the beginning, her fate is set.

Even though, Tess is labeled as a “fallen woman” by society in the very first phase, Thomas Hardy labels her as a “pure woman” before the novel even starts on the title page. This is the difference between Tess and the other fallen women: she is pure despite what she has done. While there are very few options for a woman, Ester does not seem to look very hard before becoming a prostitute. She does not ask her family for help nor does she seek other work. Though it seems she learned her lesson when she tries to save Mary, the author paints a negative picture of her when she implies Ester fleeing is the reason for Mary’s mother’s death. Ester is a fallen woman from the beginning. Several different times the author implies there is something wrong with Lady Audley. The most notable being the dog doesn’t like her. Also, the end of the very first chapter, the author allows the reader to suspect she is hiding something with the description of the lock of hair and locket. Again, from the very beginning, Lady Audley is a fallen woman. Ester and Lucy both act out of necessity but seem to do it easily. The author makes it clear Tess does not love Alec before he rapes her. Tess has preserverance and denies Alec’s proposals many times despite what is happening in her family. Even though Tess eventually succumbs to Alec and then killing Alec, she surrenders to her punishment. She goes willinglingly when the police show up: “I am ready” she says (487). Tess understands what she has done wrong because all along she is a pure woman.

 

Bearing Tidings in ‘A Christmas Carol’

As Richard Kelly notes in his introduction to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the novella is marked by its contrasts: it is “a paradoxical mixture of light and darkness, joy and despair, warmth and cold, life and death.”[i] One striking element that conveys this paradoxical mixture within Carol has to do with the way in which speech acts are offered and rejected, given and received, even asked for and withheld. This is most evident in the opening stave, before Ebenezer Scrooge receives his ghostly visitations; however, this element is developed throughout the novella and Scrooge’s conversion.

While in his counting-house near the beginning of Carol, Scrooge receives three visitors, foreshadowing the unearthly visitors soon to come. The first visitor is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, who offers him an invitation to Christmas dinner. Scrooge refuses this offer, but not only this offer, he also ignores and rejects Fred’s enthusiastic well-wishing for the Christmas and New Year. Soon after two gentlemen come in to speak with Scrooge, asking for donations in order to buy food for the poor. Scrooge, after what might be considered heartless remarks about the poor and their apparent suffering, refuses to give anything, remarking that it is none of his business, and ends the conversation with a sharp “Good afternoon, gentlemen!”[ii]

However, it’s the third visitor that is the briefest and perhaps the most revealing for Dickens purpose of these visits, and the novella itself. Scrooge’s third visitor is a poor, cold-bitten young man, whose nose is “gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs.”[iii] The visitor does not come inside, but rather stoops near the keyhole in order to offer a song—a Christmas carol. Dickens has this character sing only two verses of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” yet here Dickens changes the lyric to “God bless you merry gentleman!” This slight change from “rest” to “bless” seems significant and deliberate. Is Dickens here deliberately using “bless” to steer his readers from an understanding of rest that would dissuade from charitable action?[iv] Perhaps it simply signifies the changed meaning of “rest” from its more archaic “to keep;” nevertheless it does allow Dickens to begin the emphasis on blessing later to be echoed by Tiny Tim, the narrator, and Scrooge himself. Further, through this Christmas carol, the young man would have offered tidings of comfort and joy in the verses that follow, but he is silenced and scared off by Scrooge and his menacing ruler-grab. Each of these spoken (and sung) offers and invitations are rejected by Scrooge, and each of them seems to have comfort at the heart of them—be it the comfort of one’s family, the comfort of a meal and warmth, or merely the tidings of comfort offered goodheartedly in the season of joy.

As Scrooge’s evening continues, it is interesting that these speech acts seem to be reversed, yet the centrality of comfort remains. When Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge pleads: “Speak comfort to me, Jacob.”[v] Marley responds that he has no comfort to give, saying that such comfort “comes from other regions…and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men.”[vi] Additionally, the first ghost claims his business to be Scrooge’s “welfare,” and yet Scrooge, though thanking the ghost, says instead that that a night of “unbroken rest” would be “more conducive.”[vii] Although Scrooge attempts to refuse such charity,” the ghost silences him, naming Scrooge’s reclamation over his welfare to be his concern: “Take heed!”[viii] Later, faced with the reality of the present, Scrooge is silenced by second ghost, who uses Scrooge’s own words to silence him. And it is finally with the third ghost that Scrooge is met with one who is completely silent, who refuses Scrooge with any spoken answer, despite Scrooge’s sorrowful query: “Will you not speak to me?”[ix] It is not until Scrooge vocalizes the promise of his change—“Spirit…hear me!”[x]—which is interestingly followed by an unspoken prayer, that Scrooge awakes in his own bed. Having been converted and his heart now full of laughter, Scrooge becomes the bearer of good tidings, tidings of comfort and joy, tidings of blessing.

Through this work, Dickens himself seems to offer tidings, but contrastive tidings. He offers readers both a tale of hope and a tale of realistic anguish and destitution. Dickens mentions in his preface, he endeavored “to raise the Ghost of an Idea.”[xi] He tells of the worst of human nature, but bears the comforting news of possible change. Through this telling, he further offers an image of the reality of poverty, but in it he also finds joy. By raising such a ghost of an idea, in some sense he leaves the reception open-ended for the reader, offering tidings that can be refused or accepted, but will hopefully continue to pleasantly “haunt” readers with its message.

 

[i] Richard Kelly, “Introduction,” in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, ed. Richard Kelly (Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2003), 10. Cf., 27.

[ii] Dickens, Carol, 45.

[iii] Dickens, Carol, 46.

[iv] I am thinking here of how the ghost of Jacob Marley tells Scrooge that he cannot rest (55), and later how Scrooge tells the Ghost of Christmas Past how he could use a night of “unbroken rest” (63). Something more seems to be at issue with “rest” in this work, though it is not clear exactly what Dickens is trying to convey.

[v] Dickens, Carol, 55.

[vi] Dickens, Carol, 55.

[vii] Dickens, Carol, 63.

[viii] Dickens, Carol, 63.

[ix] Dickens, Carol, 103

[x] Dickens, Carol, 115.

[xi] Dickens, Carol, 37.

The usage of setting as it relates to characterization

An author’s use of form in his or her creation of a novel’s setting is of course necessary for any plot-driven text, but it can also strengthen the development of its characters and play a role in the novel’s thematic points. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Frankenstein, and Mary Barton, each author uses setting to further develop its main characters. Thomas Hardy uses setting to illustrate his protagonist’s purity and normalcy, while Mary Shelley does the exact opposite to characterize Frankenstein’s monster and the detachment from the world around him. Elizabeth Gaskell, on the other hand, uses her setting as a middle ground from which Mary can experience a spectrum of settings and their designated social and monetary statuses.

In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, setting plays an important role in demonstrating the heart of Tess’s morality. Hardy uses the environment as an interesting parallel to Tess, making her a part of nature and of the novel’s setting. She is a farm girl, and is comfortable around nature as such – making it a contrast as she finds similarity to the portraits in the ancestral mansions. Instead, Tess “felt akin to the landscape” (Hardy 61) in the country. Hardy illustrates how Tess and nature are related in purity, as they are both of this earth and, by definition, natural. While Tess often takes omens from the behavior of animals, she is also often wrong. The narrator explains that “it was not the expression of the valley’s consciousness that beautiful Tess had arrived, but the ordinary announcement of milking-time” (Hardy 63). By allowing the environment to mirror Tess, he transcends her over the social climate of the time and makes her everlasting, just as the laws of nature are. Any rejection of her from the environment is false, and “this encompassment of her own characterization, based on shreds of convention, peopled by phantoms and voices antipathetic to her, was a sorry and mistaken creation of Tess’s fancy…it was they that were out of harmony with the actual world, not she…she had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly” (Hardy 51). This mirroring can also be seen in the tragic darkness of Tess’s original fall at the hands of Alec, where “everything was blackness alike” (Hardy 44) in that forest. Through his descriptions of setting and nature, Hardy provides the reader with further characterization as to Tess’s humble purity and her congruence with the natural world.

Shelley’s use of setting is emphatically different from Hardy’s, as she uses the gothic imagery of the monster’s surroundings to illustrate how he is unable to assimilate with others. On his own, the monster is immediately subject to the dark and cold, without shelter. The harsh environment rejects him, mirroring his isolation but condemning his unnatural being. Following the additional rejection from the De Lacey family, darkness falls and “as the night advanced, a fierce wind arose from the woods, and quickly dispersed the clouds that had loitered in the heavens; the blast tore along like a mighty avalanche, and produced a kind of insanity in [the monster’s] spirits” (Shelley 151). As anger and betrayal excite him, so too does his surroundings surge with this emotion, and the wind and clouds mimic the monster’s strong feelings of isolation and paranoia. Even though the monster finds refuge in the forest, he recognizes that there is no place for him. Frankenstein’s monster reflects that “with the world before [him,] whither should [he] bend [his] steps? [Although he had] resolved to fly far from the scene of [his] misfortunes…every country must be equally horrible” (Shelley 151). Therefore his ending is somewhat fitting, as the monster resolves to commit to the eternal surroundings of the endless ocean. He places himself “upon the ice-raft…[and] he was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance” (Shelley 221). Although both Hardy and Shelley do allow the description of setting and nature to deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters’ places in their world, they do so by expressing its acceptance or rejection of the character, respectively.

Gaskell’s use of setting differs from both Hardy’s and Shelley’s in that it does not take an extreme stance. Where Tess exemplifies the normality of nature, and Frankenstein’s monster represents the opposition to normal natural law, Gaskell’s protagonist Mary Barton finds herself in middle ground. The setting passively accepts her, as Gaskell does not use setting to comment on Mary’s specific place in her world. Instead, Mary here represents the entire middle class as a whole, and these surroundings illustrate that Mary is an “every-day-man” of sorts that can transcend social class boundaries because of it. The setting of Mary’s house allows the reader to look into her private life and character, as the interior is described, that “resting against the wall, was a bright green japanned tea-tray…[on which] the fire-light danced merrily” and “gave a richness of colouring to that side of the room” (Gaskell 14). The warmth and simplicity of the house mirrors the comfort of Mary. However, this middle-class setting is contrasted by two sides of the spectrum, and Gaskell shows the reader two other households and how they compare. In the Davenport home, the door “led to a black cellar, with a grating instead of a window…the floor was one mass of bad smelling mud…[and] there was not an article of furniture in it” (Gaskell 60). Through seeing the pitiable living conditions of the Davenports, the reader can contextualize the privilege of Mary’s upbringing, and how this corresponds with her perspective. On the other side of the spectrum at the Carson house, it “was a good house, and furnished with disregard to expense…[where] a roaring fire burnt merrily” (Gaskell 63). Through being able to experience the other neighborhood surroundings of different class distinctions, the reader is better equipped to perceive the world as Mary does. Therefore, through exposing these three different settings, Gaskell caters sympathy to Mary and the goal of the middle class to blur the lines among these settings.

Hardy’s use of setting in Tess of the D’Urbervilles differs from the other two novels’ usages in that its layers radically help illustrate the notion of purity in Tess. The setting as it relates to nature makes claims regarding Tess’s normalcy and place in the world, and argues against any social stigma. The added layer of setting includes its Victorian landscape, and the present social climate that had every preparation to condemn Tess for the so-called “seduction,” while preserving Alec. Unlike in the other novels, the setting both sets up an argument against Tess, while also making a case for her. Whereas one factor of the novel’s setting speaks to her breaking of social code and social law for females at the time, the other factor of the novel’s setting speaks to how this perception will come to pass, but that the natural world claims Tess’s purity as its own forever. Hardy’s duality of setting only deepens the reader’s relationship with Tess, as her surrounding either condemns or accepts her, and attempts to sway the reader into a side as to her intentions, personality, and purity.

The Second Fall: Fallen Women

A key feature of the novel is character development. The typical development is a positive change. The character learns something from his struggle in the plot and improves. The following novels use a downward character progression to examine the character of the fallen woman. In this application, society perceives that a previously innocent woman loses her purity. After this shift, society rejects her. Mill on the Floss, Mary Barton, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles explore the character of the fallen woman. Mill on the Floss depicts Maggie as a fallen woman. When her brother rejects her, she searches for affection in the wrong people. Her brother condemns her, and society upholds his decision. She can only find redemption in the form of forgiveness and affection through death. In Mary Barton, the fallen woman is a side character of the novel. Esther sees herself as a lady. When she falls in love with a soldier, she thinks she will attain that vision, but he does not marry her. Instead, he leaves her behind with an ill child. She turns to prostitution to support herself and her child. Her child dies, and she escapes through alcohol. As a side character, she serves as warning for Mary. Although she saves Mary, she still has to die in order to be reunited with her family. Tess of the D’Urbervilles explores the lack of a woman’s choice in her fate as a fallen woman. Tess’s family puts their future in her hands by expecting her to provide for them through marriage. They send her to live with a woman, whom they believe to be a long-lost relative. The woman’s son, Alec, fails to seduce Tess, so he rapes her. She later has a child who dies. Alec ensures her fate as a fallen woman without any fault of her own.

In Mill on the Floss, Maggie faces the plight of the fallen woman without committing any true sexual misconduct. As a child, “Maggie was always wishing she had done something different” (Eliot 95). Maggie struggles to find the balance between her identity and societal pressures. Throughout the novel, Maggie chooses one over the other, and Tom reprimands her. Either way, she can never live up to his expectations in order to receive his affection. While attaining Tom’s affection remains her goal, she looks for other forms of affection, such as friendship with Philip or romance with Stephen. Both lead Tom to view her as a fallen woman and turn against her. After Tom learns of Maggie’s walks in the woods with Philip, he says, “If your feelings are so much better than mine, let me see you show them in some other way than by conduct that’s likely to disgrace us all – than by ridiculous flights first into one extreme and then into another. Pray, how have you shown your love, that you talk of, either to me or my father? By disobeying and deceiving us” (361). Maggie’s father made his children promise not to be a friend to Philip, and Tom enforced that promise. Maggie’s actions therefore slight Tom on two accounts. She first proves to be disloyal and dishonest by breaking the promise and keeping her actions secret. She furthermore puts the family’s reputation, which Philip’s father puts at risk, in greater danger by being alone with a man in the woods. Tom has worked to redeem that reputation, and he reacts accordingly when he learns she has disregarded it. Together, her deeds ensure that Tom cannot forgive her. Maggie therefore finds unsolicited affection from Stephen, who offers her another form of forbidden love. She unwittingly runs away with Stephen, but she turns away from him without marrying him, which is her greatest sin. When Tom finds out about the affair, he responds, “I loathe your character and your conduct” and goes on to insist that “the world shall know that I feel the difference between right and wrong” (484). Tom believes that Maggie has again done irreparable harm to him and his family through dishonor and deceit. He turns against her for the final time. Society mimics his rejection on a larger scale and ensures Maggie’s demise. She seeks redemption by saving her brother’s life in a flood, but he only forgives her in their death. The last line of the novel is the epitaph on their shared grave, which reads, “In their death they were not divided” (517). As a fallen woman, Maggie had no chance for redemption in the world of the living. It is only through death that she finds forgiveness and affection.

Mary’s Aunt Esther in Mary Barton represents the traditional fallen woman. At the beginning of the novel, Esther thinks of herself as a lady. Her brother-in-law, John Barton, says, “Esther, I see what you’ll end at with your artificial, and your fly-away veils, and stopping out when honest women are in their beds; you’ll be a street-walker, Esther, and then, don’t you go to think I’ll have you darken my door, though my wife is your sister” (38). Esther focuses on material and physical desire rather than social propriety. Her goal is to become a lady, not for its status, but for its financial and emotional security. John aptly predicts her fate when he suggests she will become a prostitute for her behavior in achieving those ends. When John later discovers she becomes a prostitute, he physically rejects her and throws her into the street (173). As in Mill on the Floss, it is the rejection by a male family figure that seals Esther’s fate as a fallen woman. She later shares her story with Jem in order to serve as a cautionary tale for Mary. She follows her lover, a military officer who wanted to marry her but had to leave her, and has a child out of wedlock (215). When the child grows ill, she becomes a prostitute to save her daughter, who ultimately dies. When Jem tries to rescue her, she answers, “God bless you, Jem, for the words you have just spoken. Some years ago you might have saved me, as I hope and trust you will yet save Mary. But it is too late now; – too late” (218). She uses her last days to save Mary from sharing her fate. Though she succeeds, she knew that she could not be saved in life. She returns to her home to find her death bed. When she wakes just before her death, “‘Has it been a dream, then?’ asked she, wildly. Then with a habit, which came like instinct even in that awful dying hour, her hand sought for a locket which hung concealed on her bosom, and, finding that, she knew all was true which had befallen her since last she lay an innocent girl on that bed” (481). Edith finds herself significantly changed though in the same place. She cannot imagine that what she has endured was a reality, but her locket confirms her fate as a fallen woman. She lost her innocence, her lover, her child, and ultimately, herself. Like Maggie, she can only rejoin her family in death. After she dies, “[her family] laid her in one grave with John Barton. And there they lie without name, or initial, or date” (481). Their only identification is a Bible verse from Psalm 53:9, “For He will not always chide, neither will He keep His anger forever.” Edith finds family and forgiveness in death. Her unity in the grave with John Barton nonetheless suggests that her crimes equate that of a murderer. She loses her identity in her death, and the only way she can find redemption is when God’s anger subsides. Even her family succumbs to the judgement of the fallen woman.

Tess in Tess of the D’Urbervilles descends from pure heroine to fallen woman. At the beginning of the book, the narrator states, “Tess Durbeyfield at this time of her life was a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience” (Hardy 48). Tess is an innocent girl without knowledge of the world. She exists in nature rather than in society. It is only when society infringes upon her that she loses her innocence. When Alec rapes her, the narrator explains, “Why is it that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a course a patter as it was doomed to receive” (104). Unlike the other fallen women, Tess has no choice in her fall. She was asleep when Alec raped her. In addition, Tess’s moment of lost innocence is vague. This vagueness leads even her to question her role in her defilement. Throughout the novel, Tess is a scapegoat for horrific acts, such as the death of the family horse or her rape. Her family relies on her and uses her as a method of support. Her mother sends her to Alec in he hopes that he will marry her, but she does not teach her daughter about the intentions of men. Tess is left on her own to learn “that the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing” (105). She loses her innocence through experience because of her lack of knowledge. When she returns home, her mother laments not the loss of her daughter’s innocence, but her loss of income (112). The village is relatively ambivalent toward Tess until the death of her child, which symbolizes a larger judgement of her. Tess leaves the village to seek a new life for herself after tragedy, but she instead finds love. She tries to reject this love from the belief that she is not worthy. When Angel proposes, she tries to tell him her past, but he silences her. After they marry, he tells her of a previous affair, and she reveals her story. Once Angel learns the truth, “he looked upon her as a species of imposter; a guilty woman in the guise of an innocent one” (243). In their relationship, Angel sees Tess in the context of nature, where she is innocent, rather than in society, where she is guilty. He considers her the ideal woman without consideration for her past struggles. When he learns of her suffering, he condemns her. He does not consider his own sexual impropriety because he only upholds the need for female innocence. In addition, he ignores that her transgressions were inflicted upon her. He shows no mercy and leaves her behind with a suggestion that he might return for her. She is again left to endure her own struggles in an effort to provide for herself and her family. She must ultimately turn back to Alec because she does not know that Angel will come back for her. He finds her too late as she has married Alec, whom society views as her true husband. After she sees Angel, she kills Alec and runs away with Angel. They are safe in nature, but society catches up to them, and Tess must pay for her crimes. The novel ends when the narrator states, “’Justice,’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschlyean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess” (396) Her death is only justice in that it rids society of the fallen woman. Tess’s death is the one death that is not natural; instead, it comes from society. The quotations around justice suggests that the narrator does not view her death as just, which reinforces Tess as a pure woman according to Hardy’s subtitle. Like the other fallen woman, Tess finds redemption in death alone. Through the character of the fallen woman, Hardy explores the contrast between nature and society. It is society that condemns Tess. As a passive character, Tess is a victim to her surroundings. When she leaves nature to endure society, she falls.

The Mechanics of Scrooge’s Repentance

Matthew Turnbull

 

12 November 2018

 

In the opening scene, Dickens introduces the protagonist of A Christmas Carol as a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner;” Ebenezer Scrooge is as “hard and sharp as flint” and “as solitary as an oyster” (40). Nevertheless, 24 hours later (which magically comprise three nights) he is transformed into “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew” (123). Scrooge suffers a moral revolution, and this revolution forms the substance of the action of the plot. Notwithstanding, it seems hard to account for the rapidity and thoroughness of his not necessarily religious conversion. How could such a radical change occur in such a hard heart? To explain this transformation, it seems worthwhile to ask what mechanisms Dickens embeds in the course of the narrative to account for Scrooge’s reversal.

The first measurable moral movement occurs when Marley’s ghost appears to Scrooge. While he struggles to dismiss the appearance of Marley’s face on his door knocker and in the tiles surrounding the fireplace with a “humbug!”, when the ghost later materializes to his view, Scrooge’s struggle intensifies: “though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him . . . he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses” (51). Even after the ghost is seated and they briefly converse about the veridicality of Scrooge’s perceptions, he resists the obvious by claiming that such appearances can be accounted for by “a slight disorder of the stomach” such as “a blot of mustard” or “a fragment of underdone potato” (52). Despite all empirical testimony to the contrary, Scrooge maintains his skepticism with another “humbug.” This word elicits a “frightful cry” from Marley’s ghost, as he shakes the chains and removes his bandage allowing his jaw to fall (54). In response, Scrooge falls to the ground, cries for mercy, and confesses to Marley’s spirit that he believes in him. What provoked this initial reversal of position? Apparently, it is fear. Scrooge is terrified; and his fear makes him willing to forsake the materialist philosophy he had hitherto held. Is it true that a fear-inducing experience will cause moral change in a person? Is it realistic to assert that skeptical materialists who are frightened by a supernatural occurrence abandon their metaphysical stance and accept the reality of the spiritual realm? Or is this believable only in the world of this story? For Scrooge (and Dickens), sharp fear seems to be the proper preface to deep moral transformation.

A second instance of change in Scrooge occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Past makes his visit. He leads Ebenezer on a journey into the places and times of his childhood and youth. At the double vision of his own, young self, reading all alone in the decrepit schoolhouse, and of Ali Baba, Valentine and Robinson Crusoe parading past the nearby window (a picture of the scenes in his youthful mind as he reads), Scrooge weeps.  After expressing pity for his former, lonely self, he remarks that he laments not giving something to the young caroler who had visited his office earlier that night. Taken in context, these are significant manifestations of change in the “old sinner.” Weeping is not his habit. Regret over a missed opportunity to show kindness is not his way. Thus, the soul of Scrooge moves further away from his former hardness. Curiously, this movement is provoked not by terror or a morbid spectral visitation, but by revisiting the past and seeing himself as a forlorn child. Why would this vision have such power to move? Does revisiting long-forgotten places soften a hard heart? Does a feeling of sympathy for one’s past suffering engender sympathy for others who likewise suffer in the present? Or, is repentance birthed out of nostalgia? Is it the fruit of sentimental recollection? What is Dickens implying?

Next, the Ghost of Christmas Present displays several scenes to Scrooge. First, he shows him the friendly aspect of the city on Christmas morning where people shoveling snow are “jovial and full of glee,” while poulterers, fruiterers, and Grocers generously invite shoppers to partake of abundance before the churches call them all to worship—after which the whole town shines with “good humour” (82, 84).  Second, the Ghost grants him a long and detailed view of Bob Cratchit’s family, poor people rejoicing in what they have and treasuring one another as the best gifts of the season. But as this scene closes, Scrooge grows concerned and asks what will become of Tiny Tim. When the Ghost tells him that Tim will die and reminds Scrooge of his own remark about reducing the surplus population, Ebenezer “was overcome with penitence and grief” (89). What is it about Tiny Tim, or Bob Cratchit’s humble family that pierced and cracked the casing on Scrooge’s compassion? Is it the obvious implication that poor people might find joy from something other and more than wealth? Does Scrooge realize his own poverty through these visions? Or is it, again, the sight of a young boy’s future suffering (and his family’s) that compels him to sorrow and “penitence”?

Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come resembles Marley more than the other two Christmas Ghosts. Seeing it, Scrooge “feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled” (102). Now, as though completing a circle, Scrooge is terrified once more. But this time he seems ready and willing to believe what the Ghost teaches: “I know your purpose is to do me good, and . . . I hope to live to be another man from what I was” (103). These are not the words of a grasping, narcissistic materialist, but a man already changed and wanting to change more.  After the frightful visions of businessmen coldly speaking of his own death, of scavengers rejoicing in the spoil of his earthly possessions, of the Cratchit family grieving at the loss of Tiny Tim, and of his own headstone, Ebenezer cries out to the Ghost: “I am not the man I was” and thus declares his repentance complete. By what means was it completed? By a vision of his own mortality? By a conviction that he cared for another person—Tim and Tim’s family—more than he knew? By a final, fearful, transforming encounter with the supernatural? As we watch the progression of Ebenezer Scrooge from a man who warned “all human sympathy to keep its distance” to a man who “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” (41, 125), what should we think Dickens asserts about the mechanics of repentance?

 

 

Endings in Frankenstein, Mill on the Floss, and Tess

The endings of Frankenstein, Mill on the Floss, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles are very important because the author makes some sort of statement about the characters and passes judgement to some degree on a social issue. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the author seems to imply that Tess’s death is not her own fault and is a tragedy, while the deaths of Frankenstein and the monster are justified, and Maggie Tulliver’s death is sympathetic.

Frankenstein ends with Walton wrapping up the story and telling us that Frankenstein is dead and that the monster is leaving to kill himself. The monster regrets his crimes, telling Walton, “You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself…polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?” (220)  In this ending, the reader may not be very sympathetic to either Frankenstein or the creature. Frankenstein’s death ends his misery and almost seems a justified recompense for creating the monster. The creature’s death puts an end to his murders and crimes. Shelley implies that these deaths are a good thing, and justified in the eyes of society, especially in that they serve to teach Walton. The ending of Frankenstein also sees the death of a pair: Victor and the monster. Both die, which is something seen in Mill on the Floss, but not Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

In Mill on the Floss, Maggie and Tom die together. While it is an untimely and tragic death, Eliot does write that in death they found unity with one another. “…brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (483). If anything, their death is one that brings peace and understanding to the reader. Maggie’s love for Tom which overarched the novel has finally come to a fruitful conclusion and death has finally freed her from her sufferings. Like Frankenstein, Maggie and Tom are the most important pair in the novel and they die together.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles also ends in the main character’s death. Although Tess seems to have to terms with death, saying “…I am almost glad—yes glad!” (395) she clarifies that she did not want to live long enough for Angel to hate her. Moreover, the moment of her actual death is hollow and somber. The appearance of the black flag signals that “justice was done” but the reader cannot help but feel that Tess suffered more injustice than anyone else in the novel. Hardy not-so-subtly implies that Tess’s death was a tragedy, unjustified, unfair, and unsettling to the readers. The imbalance is accentuated through the fact that Tess alone dies, and not the other half of the pair: Angel.

While Mill on the Floss and Frankenstein both end with the deaths of main characters and bring a sense of peace to the reader, Tess of the d’Urbervilles upsets the audience and leaves them with a sense of injustice. Hardy, like Eliot and Shelley, has passed judgement on the way society ostracizes the fallen person and forces them to be “the other” but Hardy’s novel stands out in that it impacts the injustice. Where the creature’s death was balanced out by his creators, and Maggie’s death balanced by her unity with her beloved brother, Tess’s unfair death only came to her and not Angel. One might argue that Alec is killed by Tess, which balances out her death. However, the relationship between Alec and Tess is not quite the same as those of Frankenstein and the monster or Maggie and Tom. Where those relationships are marked by obligation, familial ties, and hatred or love, Tess and Alec are only connected through Alec’s rape of Tess. Her relationship with Alec is characterized by confusion and fear. Moreover Hardy draws a sharper contrast between Angel—who voluntarily had an affair with a woman—and Tess—who was raped. Where Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss do address injustice in society, I believe Tess of the d’Urbervilles truly explored the impact of it upon the innocent.