Duped!

After last week’s class discussion, in which we debated just what it is about our tricky narrator’s descriptions that makes many of us sympathize with that snake, Rebecca, I was on the look-out for a demonstration of his tactics.  I found just such a display in Chapters 48 and 49, “In Which the Reader is Introduced to the Very Best Company” and “In Which We Enjoy Three Courses and a Dessert.”

 
Let us begin by looking at the second of these two chapters, for it is in that one that Becky receives sympathy not unlike the kind I repeatedly find myself extending to her despite the fact that I have received ample evidence suggesting that, even if she “had five thousand a year,” she would probably still not be a “good woman,” as she supposes she could be.  During this chapter, Lord Steyne hosts a dinner.  When he introduces Becky to Lady Steyne and her daughters, Lady Steyne gives her a hand “cold and lifeless as marble.”  Nobody wants to be considered cold and lifeless, so I found that I immediately aligned myself with Becky instead of Lady Steyne (as if I really had to decide between the two).  In case I had hesitated, the narrator follows up the unflattering description of Lady Steyne’s hand by noting that Becky received it, ill-offered as it was, “with grateful humility.”  Of course I know she’s putting on a show, but, nevertheless, I found myself favoring the appearance of “grateful humility” over “cold and lifeless” marble.

 
Later on in the evening, “when poor little Becky” is “alone with the ladies,” she is treated with quiet disdain.  When she approaches the fireplace at which the ladies are gathered, they move to the table.  When she moves to the table, they return to the fireplace.  Becky is plainly shunned.  It is at this point that it becomes worthwhile to reflect on the preceding chapter.  In Chapter 48, while visiting Becky at her own home, Lord Steyne had warned Becky: “gare aux femmes [beware of the women], look out and hold your own!  How the women will bully you!”  He compares them to the murderous Lady Macbeth and the selfish, flattering daughters of King Lear, Regan and Goneril.  No wonder, then, that when, jumping forward to the dinner in Chapter 49, I once again side with Becky.  Who wants to be on the same team as Lady Macbeth?  Not me!  So when Lady Steyne at last extends some pity to “poor little Becky” by going to her and striking up a conversation about music (and complimenting Becky’s skill, no less), I extend sympathy right along with her.  I know that Becky sings “religious songs of Mozart” for Lady Steyne with masterful hypocrisy, and yet I sit with Lady Steyne and listen because the narrator has set up the scene in such a way that I either sit with the Lady Steyne or align myself with a murder of crows.

 

Throughout Vanity Fair, the narrator garners sympathy for Becky by presenting her in the context of other people’s faults.  By repeatedly doing so, he prompts his readers to choose Team Becky not because of any virtue in her but, rather, because the offenses of her opponents are so often more obvious at the moment the choice is made.

 

Duped no more, tricky narrator!

 

Works Cited

Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.

“That Creature” – The Unappreciated Heroine of Vanity Fair

As the subtitle of Vanity Fair is “A Novel Without a Hero,” I found myself waiting for the scene in which the narrator would reveal Amelia Sedley’s character flaw.  He wasted no time in doing so with regard to Rebecca Sharp, who does not hesitate to declare regarding Chiskick, “I hate the whole house … I wish it were in the bottom of the Thames, I do; and if Miss Pinkerton were there, I wouldn’t pick her out, that I wouldn’t.  Oh, how I should like to see her floating in the water yonder, turban and all, with her train streaming after her, and her nose like the beak of a wherry.”  (Well, Miss Sharp.  I think I understand why Miss Pinkerton disdained to give you “the high honor of the Dixonary.”)  In contrast to this disturbing introduction to Rebecca, the narrator writes of Amelia that she is “fully worthy of the praises bestowed by” Miss Pinkerton and has “many [additional] charming qualities.”   He even tells us that she is “a dear little creature” and that it is “a great mercy … that we are to have for a constant companion, so guileless and good-natured a person.”  Does this not sound like a candidate for the role of heroine?  And yet the narrator’s very next words reject the idea: “As she is not a heroine, there is no need to describe her.”  My question is, why not?  Why can’t Amelia be the heroine of Vanity Fair?

 
After reading two-thirds of the novel, I am convinced that it is not because Amelia possesses some inner villainy yet to be revealed.  I am more inclined to suggest that the reason is simply that she is dull.  The Miss Osbornes represent the consistent review of Amelia among the members of her own sex when they “ask each other with increased wonder, ‘What could George find in that creature?’”  Amelia does not have what it takes to thrive in the world of Vanity Fair.  Where others are disloyal, she is faithful.  Where they are designing and corrupt, she is artless and honest.  Others manipulate emotions for their own gain.  The emotions Amelia expresses are sincere.  The world of Vanity Fair doesn’t know what to do with her.  Women like Mrs. Bute Crawley and Rebecca take the world by storm.  They exercise their agency and endeavor to get what they want by their own less-than admirable efforts.  Amelia, in contrast, does not spring headlong into the fray.

 
In the context of a satirical novel, however, it is worth asking whether or not the book’s subtitle is to be accepted.  Is Vanity Fair really a novel without a heroine or hero?   I think there is reason to believe that it might actually have both: Amelia and William Dobbin, respectively.  Dobbin is Amelia’s male parallel.  He is honest, loyal, passive, and under-appreciated, as she is.  These two are not the exciting heros that the world of Vanity Fair is looking for.  They do not thrive on the empty pursuits and accolades of their peers.  In a novel that so criticizes the society it describes, the under-appreciation of Amelia and Dobbin among their peers actually functions as testimony of their heroic stand.  They are heros precisely because they do not respond to the beck and call of and receive praise from the vain world in which they live.

 

Works Cited

Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.

What Is It About That Man?

Moody. Demanding. Controlling. Oh, the appeal of Edward Rochester! Handsome, then? He must be handsome, then. Looks have been known to blind a woman or two to faults like his. Yet Jane answers promptly in the negative when Rochester requires her opinion in this matter. He is not generally affable, nor is his record in matters of love exactly a model to which younger generations ought to aspire.  So what is it about Rochester that Jane finds so very attractive?

 

If we turn to the critics – Bossche, for example – we might discuss Jane’s relationship with Rochester in terms of economic and social function. Does Jane, in the fashion of the Chartists, seek “social inclusion” and “economic autonomy” (Bossche 48) through marital union with Rochester? Moody and unattractive as he may be, he is wealthy and has status. Go, Jane, go?

 

I think not. While I do not deny that Jane Eyre, as a text, provokes a range of questions about “ideology, agency, and class” (Bosche 46), I think it is important not to neglect the profound simplicity of the fact that Jane Eyre, as a character, wants to know and be known, to love and be loved.  The attraction between Jane and Rochester is so strong because each knows and loves the very person – not merely the function of, the advantage of, or the body of – the other.

 

The nature of their relationship is seen most clearly when set in contrast to the relationship between Jane and St. John.  When St. John requests (demands) that Jane accompany him to India as his wife, he declares that she is “formed for labor not love” (466).  He views their potential marriage chiefly in terms functionality rather than intimacy.  He endeavors to gain Jane’s hand by assuring her that he will “set [her her] task from hour to hour” and that as “a conductress of Indian schools, and a helper among Indian woman, [her] assistance will be to [him] invaluable” (466-467).  Jane is very aware that St. John “will never love [her],” though he would “approve” of her, and she cannot accept the fact that if she were to marry St. John, she would “abandon half [herself]” (468).  She realizes that “[a]s his wife,” she would be “forced to keep the fire of [her] nature continually low, to compel it to burn inwardly and never utter a cry, though the imprisoned flame consumed vital after vital” (472).  In other words, she would remain the caged bird that Rochester wants to see freed and soaring “cloud high.”

 

In contrast to St. John, Rochester cannot stand the idea of possessing a caged Jane, for he knows that a caged Jane is not the full Jane, the real Jane: “[I]t is you,” he declares, “spirit, with will and energy, and virtue and purity, that I want” (370).  Rochester knows that Jane is not “an automaton” or “a machine without feelings” (296) as St. John would have her be; he calls her a “resolute, wild, free thing” (370) whose intimate love he cannot capture as he could her body.

 

In contrast to St. John (and, I think, to the spirit of Bossche’s article), Rochester does not view Jane as a means to an economic or social end.  She is not merely a function.  He is in love with her person.  And that, for Jane, is attractive.

 

Works Cited

Bossche, Chris R. Vanden. “What Did Jane Eyre Do? Ideology, Agency, Class and the Novel.” Narrative. 13.1 (2005): 46-66.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2005. Print.

“And the Psalms? I hope you like them?”

When Mr. Brocklehurst comes to Gateshead Hall and asks Jane whether or not she reads her Bible and which books from it she is “fond of,” she tells him that she likes “Revelations, and the book of Daniel, and Genesis and Samuel, and a little bit of Exodus, and some parts of Kings and Chronicles, and Job and Jonah.”  After further inquiry, he is appalled to learn that Jane does not enjoy the Psalms, which she considers “uninteresting,” and on account of her preferences he declares that she possesses a “wicked heart.”  What?  Not a fan of the Psalms, Mr. Brocklehurst?  In light of this man’s supposed religious zeal, I hardly think that he would admit to anything less than fervor for the whole of Scripture.  Why, then, does he pronounce Jane to be wicked for preferring Exodus and Kings over the Psalms?  I would like to suggest that Victorian conceptions of gender play into Mr. Brocklehurst’s conviction.

 

 

In “Gender Must Be Defended,” Nancy Armstrong suggests that, in the context of the Victorian period, “the minute one leaves the protection of the household, she ceases to be a ‘woman’ and loses the protection and support owed a gendered body” ­– that is, in the words of the Rivers’ housekeeper, Hannah, “the protection of gentlemen, and dogs, and guns” (Armstrong 543-544).  In light of Armstrong’s characterization of Victorian women as domestic, protected bodies rather than adventuring, protecting bodies, it is no surprise that Mr. Brocklehurst expects Jane to prefer the Psalms over Revelations, Daniel, Genesis, Samuel, Exodus, Kings, Chronicles, Job, and Jonah, most of which involve a great deal of masculine adventure, both in terms of exploits abroad and military defense at home.  In contrast, although the Psalms record a great deal of adventure (and violence), the psalmist is usually the supplicant in need of defense.  He calls out to God to protect him from his enemies who surround him from every side.  The role of the Psalmist, therefore, is more in line with the Victorian conception of the role of the female rather than the male.  In her preference for the accounts of the adventures of the Israelites over the psalmists’ supplications, Jane aligns herself with that which is masculine.  It is to this that Mr. Brocklehurst so strongly objects.

 

 

In light of the above, then, what are we to make of the fact that when Jane is in agony after learning of the existence of Bertha Mason and of her necessary separation from Rochester, the words of the Psalms – “Be not far from me, for trouble is near: there is none to help” (Psalm 22:11) – and not those of Genesis or Samuel “went wandering up and down in [her] rayless mind”?  Are we to understand that Jane more fully recognizes her role as a woman, dependent on the “protection of gentleman, and dogs, and men”?  While Jane certainly finds herself in need of help and protection after she flees from Thornfield, I do not think that by doing so she has surrendered to Mr. Brocklehurst’s notions of femininity.  Rather, Jane’s recollection of the Psalms in her hour of crisis reflects the development of her understanding of the character of God – a development that progresses with the narrative.  When Jane first arrives at Lowood School, her conversations with Helen Burns indicate that she does not yet know what she believes about God.  She asks Helen earnestly, “Where is God?  What is God?”  At that time, despite whatever religious teaching Mrs. Reed may have given Jane, and despite (or maybe because of) Mr. Brocklehurst’s religious teaching, Jane does not yet know God as her hope and refuge.  Helen Burns greatly influences Jane, however, and as Jane matures it seems that she, more and more, lives out the kind of faith first shown her by Helen Burns.  When Jane faces the pain of leaving Rochester, she turns to God not as an abstract religious teaching, but as a friend, as strength, as her hope, and as her refuge.  When Jane relies on God to lead her through the difficulties she faces after leaving Thornfield, she does embody the psalmist, but I would argue that she does so because her understanding of the character of God has changed, not because she has embraced Mr. Brocklehurst’s conception of Victorian femininity.

 

 

Works Cited

Armstrong, Nancy. “Gender Must Be Defended.” The South Atlantic Quarterly. 111.3 (2012): 529-547.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.

 

No Time Like the Present?

In describing the scenes at —– Jail, the narrator of It Is Never Too Late To Mend emphasizes brotherhood and equality among men.  It is disappointing that this same narrator so quickly reveals his sense of superiority over the Australian natives when he follows George overseas.  On what grounds does the narrator judge?  What supposed evidence leads him to his conclusion?  While I am sure the factors that play into the narrator’s prejudice are many, the narrative itself suggests that second language learners’ often unvaried use of the infinitive (in place of appropriate tenses) during early stages of language acquisition is one of those factors.

 
During George’s first interaction with Jacky, the latter responds to George’s extended hand, “Thank you, sar!  Jacky thank you a good deal! … suppose you lend me a knife, then we eat a good deal” (410).  In this first dialogue between the two men, Jacky uses the infinitive “thank” instead of the conjugated present form “thanks,” and he uses “eat” where an Englishman would express futurity (e.g. “will eat”).  As the conversation continues, Jacky continues to use infinitives, this time instead of the past tense.  Referring to the pair’s recent victory over the shark that had been pursuing Jacky, he states, “You [George] make him dead for a little while … so then I make him dead enough to eat.”  Both events – George’s assault on the shark with stones and Jacky’s subsequent knifing of the shark in order to polish him off – were completed events, but Jacky’s language does not situate those events in time.

 
The significance of Jacky’s use of infinitives in place of conjugated verbs that express tense (and therefore time) becomes clear when the narrator explains Jacky’s reason for throwing away all the parts of his newly-acquired coat except those found useful for carrying potatoes:  “[H]e had thrown it away because it was a good deal hot.”  When George responds, “But it won’t be hot at night, and then you will wish you hadn’t been such a fool,” the narrator provides the commentary, “No, [George] couldn’t make Jacky see this; being hot at the time Jacky could not feel the cold to come” (412).  In other words, the narrator characterizes Jacky as lacking a developed sense of time and, consequently, lacking the ability to plan for the future.  In his book Pessimism, Joshua Dienstag emphasizes time-consciousness as one of the defining characteristics of man.  He quotes Arthur Schopenhauer, for example, who describes non-human animals as “the present incarnate” (quoted in Dienstag 20) in contrast to humans who more clearly perceive the past, present, and future.  In characterizing Jacky as impulsive and lacking a developed sense of time, the narrator implies that Jacky is inferior, even animal-like.

 
The above characterization of Jacky as lacking a developed sense of time is not an isolated incident.  When George asks Jacky how many days he has been ill, Jacky’s response again suggests a sense of timelessness (even while indicating the passage of four days): “One, one, one, and one more day.”  Verbally, he does not express a understanding of progression as an Englishman would.  During this same conversation, Jacky recounts six different actions George performed in the past in answer to George’s question, “What makes you such a friend to me?”  Instead of counting the events one through six, he prefaces each item with the counter “one”: “One – when you make thunder the bird always die.  One – you take a sheep so and hold him up high … One – you make a stone go and hit thing…” (434).

 
The conclusion which it seems the narrator has drawn from the limited verbal communication of some Australian natives, such as that exampled above, is that the natives lack reason and efficiency – upon which powers Victorian England placed great value.  The narrator’s description of the scene in which George first meets Jacky evidences this plainly.  He describes three men “paddling along in boats of bark” and then remarks disparagingly, “These absurd vehicles have come down to these blockheads from their fathers, so they won’t burn them according to reason” (408).  His objection to their boat is that it is not as efficient as modern English ones.  He assumes a lack of the faculty of reason to be the culprit, for when one supposedly has an inferior sense of time and progress, how can he reason about the cause and effect (the consequences of the present on the events of the future) and pursue efficiency adequately?  It seems that, according to the narrator’s judgment, he cannot. Thus the narrator’s sense of superiority over Australian natives is closely linked with his notion of the undeveloped sense of time and reasoning skills he attributes to the natives based on the limited English (e.g. lack of tense) through which they communicate with Englishmen.

 

Works Cited

Dienstag, Joshua Foa.Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. Print.

 

Reade, Charles.  It Is Never Too Late To Mend.  Whitefish: Kessinger, n.d. Print.

Reflections of The Savior in Eden

It is easy to expect good things from a character whose name is Eden.  It requires no stretch of the imagination to consider that a man whose name harkens back to the first Adam might function as a type of the second: Christ.  Beyond his name and his role as parson and chaplain, how does Francis Eden meet the expectation his name creates?  I would like to suggest two specific ways that he does so in the early chapters of It Is Never Too Late To Mend: Eden affirms the dignity of the individual while valuing the community, and he enters into the suffering of those he ministers to in order to relieve it.

 
Eden’s interactions with the people of Berkshire demonstrate the importance he places on both individual identity and community participation in such a way that reflects the example of Christ.  When he first arrives in Berkshire and goes with Miss Merton on the first of many rounds of visits, his manner of engaging with the schoolchildren first suggests his regard for the dignity of individuals.  Miss Merton observes how he “fathomed the moral sense and the intelligence of more than one,” a phrase which emphasizes the individuality of the groups’ members, for he did not recognize “their” moral sense and intelligence, but rather the moral sense and intelligence of “more than one.”  In other words, one at a time, he recognized these qualities in the children.  Subsequently, the way Eden engages Mr. Giles in conversation further evidences Eden’s care for one man’s story.  He acknowledges that the well-being of the individual, however, is not disconnected from the well-being of a community, for he advises Miss Merton to give more of herself to causes beyond herself  for the sake of her own well-being as much as those to whom her efforts will give succor.  His actions reflect those of Jesus, who entered into the concerns of an outcast woman at a specific well, called down from a tree one especially despised man, and healed men and women of their particular afflictions while nonetheless valuing community, for he is the head of one church, his unified body.

 
The value of Eden’s dual concern for the individual and the community is more striking when contrasted with the system of isolation and dehumanization he faces when he becomes the chaplain of the jail.  Governor Hawes’ methods – which correspond strikingly to the system of isolation inherent to Bentham’s Panopticon, according to Foucault’s description of it in “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” – deny the inmates any sense of community, as they are physically separated in individual cells and prohibited from speaking with one another.  Even while emphasizing the separateness of the individual, however, the system simultaneously attacks the dignity of the individual.  The  inmates take on numbers in place of their names and are required to wear hats with vizors that obscure their features and make them indistinguishable to one another.  In imitation of Jesus and in contrast to Hawes and the warders, Eden affirms the individual dignity of every man at the same time as he acknowledges every man’s need for fellowship with other men.

 
Because Eden cares for individuals, he cares about their suffering.  He does not view them in the abstract; he understands their suffering, therefore, to be likewise definite, and he, like Christ, is even willing to enter into it in order to relieve them from it.  Eden’s willingness to enter into the inmates’ suffering is most clear when he voluntarily spends six hours in one of the dark cells upon his arrival at the jail.  He is in the jail from 3:00p.m. to 9:00p.m., just as Jesus was on the cross from the third to the ninth hour.  Although the third to the ninth hour corresponds approximately to the hours of 9:00a.m. and 3:00p.m. rather than 3:00p.m. and 9:00p.m., the numbers three and nine, as well as the duration of suffering, nevertheless make the parallel between Eden’s time in the cell and Jesus’ suffering on the cross clear.

 

Works Cited

Foucault, Michael. “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.” n.p. n.d. PDF

Reade, Charles.  It Is Never Too Late To Mend.  Whitefish: Kessinger, n.d. Print.

“Other Courts” of Judgment

In an essay entitled “‘Fighting Even with Death’: Balfour, Scientific Naturalism, and Thomas Henry Huxley’s Final Battle,” Bernard Lightman characterizes scientific naturalism as “the English version of the cult of science in vogue throughout Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century” (325).  As the title suggests, the essay describes the disagreement subsisting between Huxley, one of scientific naturalism’s most prominent proponents, and Arthur J. Balfour, who, in 1895, published a critique of naturalism, The Foundations of Belief.  Whereas Huxley argued in favor of a “[system] of speculation from which the supernatural is excluded” (339) and “attacked those within and outside the [scientific] profession who were determined to go beyond [the boundaries of proper science] by bringing improper theological concepts into science” (340), Balfour, who endeavored to “[disengage] naturalism … from science itself” (331), maintained that “true science has no quarrel with theology or religion, for all science says is that matters such as the existence of God are beyond its jurisdiction and must be tried ‘in other courts’” (332).  In other words, Balfour did not oppose science; he objected to the naturalists’ criticism of “spiritualism and other beliefs that allowed for the existence of the supernatural” (325).  Balfour considered, “If naturalism … be the whole truth, then is morality but a bare catalogue of utilitarian precepts; beauty but the chance occasion of a passing pleasure; reason but the dim passage from one set of unthinking habits to another” (328).  Convinced of the reality of God, morality, beauty, and reason, Balfour considered scientific naturalism irrational.

 
Bram Stoker’s Dracula – published only two years after Balfour’s critique of naturalism and Huxley’s subsequent response (“Mr. Balfour’s Attack on Agnosticism”) – engages in that same debate.  Throughout the story, Dr. Van Helsing champions Balfour’s distinction between science and scientific naturalism and opposes Huxley’s neglect of the supernatural.  Van Helsing is a scientific man who believes in God and the immortality of the soul, as well as in the enemies of God and the soul.  Before Lucy’s death, Van Helsing speaks of the danger of losing Lucy “body and soul.”  After her death, he speaks of her soul’s bondage and hopes for the time when “the soul of [that] poor lady whom [they all love] shall again be free.”  When that hope is at last accomplished, he rejoices that Lucy is no longer “the devil’s UnDead.  She is God’s true dead, whose soul is with Him.”

 
All of these passages evidence Van Helsing’s belief in the supernatural, but what about his admiration for science?  In listing science among the weapons he and his allies will use to fight Dracula, Van Helsing indicates that he does not consider his belief in the supernatural to be in conflict with scientific study.  As Balfour “made it clear … that his critique of naturalism [was] not meant to annihilate science” (331), so also Van Helsing advocates the use of multiple sources of knowledge.  He appeals both to “sources of science” and to “traditions and superstitions” in the fight against Dracula and the UnDead.  “For enemies more mundane,” he recommends a “revolver and [a] knife.”  For those which are spiritual, he presents his allies with “a portion of Sacred Wafer.”

 
Van Helsing acknowledges both natural and supernatural realities, and, throughout Dracula, he demonstrates how imperative it is not to ignore the supernatural, for men do not fight enemies in whose presence they do not believe, and if not fought, such enemies will prevail.  Van Helsing asks his friends, “A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility [the existence of vampires], in the midst of our scientific, sceptical, matter-of-fact nineteenth century?”  And yet the “other courts” of which Balfour spoke proved to them just such a reality, which to ignore would have been fatal, both in this life and the next.

Works Cited
Lightman, Bernard. Evolutionary Naturalism in Victorian Britain. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. Print.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

Hey, Harker! What’s the Time?

“Left Munich at 8:35 P.M.”  This record of time, from the journal of Jonathan Harker, constitutes the first sentence of Dracula.  It is the first of sixteen such records, specific not only as to the hour but even to the minute.  Among the remaining fifteen, the presence of “6:46,” “3:34,” and “10:18” – all signifying times of train departures or arrivals – indicates attention to precision.  Compared with the complete lack of reference to such specific times in Mary Barton and Daniel Deronda (there is not a single reference to the specific minute of any hour in either text), sixteen is striking.  Of what significance is the regard for time which is apparent throughout Dracula?

In a lecture entitled “The Victorians: Time and Space,” Professor Richard Evans makes clear the connection between Victorians’ sense of time and technological progress: “The railway, the steamship, the telegraph and the telephone not only speeded up communications on several different levels, they also completely transformed people’s perceptions and experience of time, indeed they transformed the nature of time itself.”  Evans describes the process of the standardization of time in connection with the above technological developments, as well as the effects of that standardization on European individuals and culture.  In addition to influencing notions of time, Evans observes that “mechanization and industrialization” “[advertised] the power and wealth of [a] nation.”  Competitions of shipping speed, for example, “soon became a symbol for the prowess of… countries.”

In light of Evans’ explanations, I would like to suggest that the English characters’ regard for the precision of time in Dracula (for all sixteen of the time records come from English characters’ journal or diary entries) represents these characters’ sense of the technological and, consequently, cultural superiority of England in comparison to that of Central Europe.  When Jonathan writes an account of his initial trip to Transylvania, for example, he notes, “The train started a little before eight, or rather it ought to have done so, for after rushing to the station at 7:30 I had to sit in the carriage for more than an hour before we began to move.  It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?”  His judgment regarding punctuality corresponds with his judgment of culture.  In the same journal entry, Jonathan uses the adjectives “strange,” “barbarian,” “picturesque,” and “harmless,” as well as the phrase “wanting in self-assertion,” to describe, for example, the Slovaks he sees in “the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.” While “picturesque” and “harmless” are not necessarily negative qualities, coming from an Englishman describing another culture, it is hard not to take “harmless” as “inferior in terms of defense” or “easily subjugated.”

Despite the English characters’ sense of technological and cultural superiority, however, the events of Dracula and the role of Dr. Van Helsing, who is Dutch, suggest that the technological development that prompts the English sense of superiority is not without its drawbacks.  First, Count Dracula’s use of technology for his own evil ends (for example, his strategic use of modern modes of transportation) presents a reminder that villains and criminals can make use of new technologies just as much as those whose aims are noble.  Technology, therefore, cannot in itself be a sure cure for all varieties of cultural ills.  Second, the scientific, naturalist thinking that accompanied English technological advancement results in the main characters’ initial blindness to the real nature of the situation, for at the beginning of Dracula, the English characters all consider tales of and precautions against vampires as mere superstition.  If not for the Dutch Van Helsing, it does not seem likely that the other characters would have figured out (or accepted their conclusions about) what really killed Lucy and threatened their own lives.

Works Cited

Evans, Richard. “The Victorians: Time and Space.” Gresham College.  Museum of
London, London. 13 Sept. 2010. Lecture.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013.
Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

A Drop in the Bucket: Reflections on Purpose, Truth, and God in Daniel Deronda

*Spoiler Alert*

I have entitled this post “A Drop in the Bucket” because the topic I here discuss is to my heart, soul, mind, and strength of such importance that I feel so very compelled to engage thoroughly with it and yet so very aware of the limits of my ability to do so.

What is this subject, to which I would align the parts of my being called upon to love God?  It is none other than God.  Who – or what – is God?  “What?” you might ask.  Do I consider God inanimate?  I do not.  However, from the confessedly little I have read about George Eliot, I have been led to understand that she did.  More specifically, articles such as Susan E. Hill’s “Translating Feuerbach, Constructing Morality: The Theological and Literary Significance of Translation for George Eliot” and Sara Moore Putzell’s “The Search for a Higher Rule: Spiritual Progress in the Novels of George Eliot” seem to me to suggest that Eliot considered God an idea rather than a being. In her article, Hill refers to “Eliot’s visions of a moral world without God” (636).  Putzell similarly characterizes Eliot’s worldview as predicated on the rejection of the actual existence of any deity: “Eliot’s representation of the relation of religion to intellectual development is founded in the common nineteenth-century view that the history of religion reveals man’s developing capacity to perceive a single truth.  For some Victorians it is a supernatural truth; for Eliot it is a human truth.  She says her books ‘have for their main bearing a conclusion … that the fellowship between man and man which has been the principle of development … is not dependent on conceptions of what is not man: and that the idea of God, so far as it has been a high spiritual influence, is the ideal of a goodness entirely human,’” (390).

In her analysis of spirituality in Eliot’s novels, Putzell concludes with a discussion of the titular hero Daniel Deronda, who finds in Judaism (and early Zionism) the purpose and duty for which he has longed throughout the narrative.  It is with this point – now that my post, in terms of length, ought to be about over – that I would like to begin.

In Daniel Deronda, though Mordecai is the one who disciples Deronda, Mirah is his first link to Judaism.  I do not think it is any coincidence, therefore, that the narrator begins the scene in which Deronda meets Mirah with a description of Deronda rowing down the Thames wondering “whether it were worth while to take part in the battle of the world.”  Deronda’s contemplation reflects the questions about purpose that accompanied the religious doubts of certain Victorian intellectuals such as Eliot.  Though the Judaism to which Mirah introduces Deronda provides him with the duty and purpose that serves as “an effectual remedy for ennui,” Deronda describes the faith he adopts in terms of social function rather than eternal truth, which I believe is likewise a reflection of a particular strain of Victorian intellectual trends.  The emphasis on the functionality of faith is clear in Deronda’s words to Gwendolyn when he calls upon her to say goodbye before leaving England: “I am going to the East to become better acquainted with the condition of my race in various countries there … The idea I am possessed with is that of restoring a political existence to my people, making them a nation again, giving them a national center … That is a task which presents itself to me as a duty; I am resolved to begin it, however feebly.  I am resolved to devote my life to it.”  While there is no incompatability between believing in God as being and dedicating one’s life to living out the ideas which one believes to flow from him, Deronda’s expression of his duty and purpose in terms of dedication to “the idea [he is] possessed with” rather than to God who possesses him is consistent with the narrator’s overall characterization of religion throughout Daniel Deronda.  Neither Deronda nor the narrator talk about religion in terms of truth.  The fact that Deronda’s acceptance of Mordecai and Mirah’s faith depends upon his discovery of his own Jewish identity and an accompanying sense of belonging and purpose – and not upon any conviction regarding the identity of the Messiah – reflects Eliot’s view that, as quoted above, “the idea of God, so far as it has been a high spiritual influence, is the ideal of a goodness entirely human.”

If truth were what the characters were after, I do not think Sir Hugo would look at Lady Mallinger “with amusement” when she expresses her hope that Mirah will “embrace Christianity.”  He does, however.  In fact, he leaves her to conclude that she has “said something foolish.”  What is the cause of his amusement?  Why does he consider her desire foolish?  As I understand it, the reason is that Sir Hugo, like Eliot, considers belief in God as eternal being as something naive, even childish.

The difference between God as eternal being and God as idea is great.  In the first case, he creates; in the second, he is created.  If we created him, he is but a means to a human-defined end, and we need not ask “Who is God?” – for he is not.  If he, however, created us – if he is a real being who, therefore, is certain things and is not others – then it does matter whether Mirah embraces Christianity or Daniel adopts Judaism.  If God is a real, eternal being and not a human construct, then it is worth asking who he is – a question Daniel Deronda, for all its discussion of religion, does not take up.

Works Cited

Eliot, George. Daniel Deronda. projectgutenberg.org. The Project    Gutenberg, 2013.
Web. 7 Feb. 2013.
Hill, Susan E. “Translating Feuerbach, Constructing Morality: The Theological And
Literary Significance Of Translation For George Eliot.” Journal Of The American      Academy Of Religion 65.3 (1997): 635-653. MLA International Bibliography.     Web. 7 Feb. 2013.
Putzell, Sara Moore. “The Search For A Higher Rule: Spiritual Progress In The Novels
Of George Eliot.” Journal Of The American Academy Of Religion 47.3 (1979):     389-407. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.

 

Into the Open Air

In “Causality versus Conscience: The Problem of Form in Mary Barton,” Catherine Gallagher argues, “It is not surprising that, in Gaskell’s words, no one ‘saw’ her ‘idea of a tragic poem,’ for the tragedy [of John Barton’s story] is… obscured by antagonistic interpretations at the end of the novel” (87).  In her essay, Gallagher lays particular emphasis on the novel’s “final episodes” as the cause of Gaskell’s “failure” to “express perfectly her tragic intentions” (87), claiming that these episodes render John Barton’s story “irrelevant” (84).  Gallagher contends that, in light of these episodes which grant Barton forgiveness and redemption without reference to the causality or consequences of his crime (87), “all John Barton’s and the narrator’s explanations are for naught” (84).
In concluding thus, however, does not Gallagher ignore her own astute observation that Gaskell distinctly resists in Mary Barton the notion that reality is always “amenable to clear cause-and-effect analysis” (83)?  Gallagher’s thesis attempts to imposes on Mary Barton the very artificial and sterile logic that the novel reveals to be an utterly inadequate account of real life.  Though Gallagher identifies the influence of James Martineau’s “Religion of Conscience,” which Martineau describes as “an escape from a logical cage into the open air,” on Gaskell’s thoughts and intentions for the novel, and while Gallagher even highlights Gaskell’s objection to “abstract language,” which, again in the words of Martineau, prohibits one from “[mingling] with the world and [believing] in what one [sees] and [feels], without refracting it through a glass, which [construes] it into something else” (65), Gallagher’s critique of Mary Barton comes from within the very cage of logic from which Mary Barton insists on emergence and freedom.  Gallagher does not recognize the non-contradictory nature of the realities of hardship or prosperity of all varieties, on the one hand, which weigh on every individual and carry the potential to influence or shape, and individual choice and will, on the other, which defy determinism.  Consequently, from the narrow view which the cage of logic within which Gallagher remains affords, Gallagher does not see the continued significance (and non-contradictory nature) of the narrator’s and Barton’s explanations relating to causality once Barton takes moral responsibility for his crime.
In opposition to Gallagher’s thesis, I would like to suggest that the ultimate redemption of Barton does not render the rest of his story irrelevant, nor are his or the narrator’s explanations relating to causality “for naught.”  The basis of my argument is that Gaskell, according to her own declaration, intends John Barton to represent the “many such whose lives are tragic poems… which cannot take formal language” (66).  In light of this intention, neither John Barton’s suffering nor his sin represents merely the abstract or hypothetical which the cage of logic houses.  John Barton’s story is not about the logic of suffering or moral responsibility, but the undeniable experience of both.  Barton’s salvation does not render irrelevant either his own suffering or the suffering he caused.  None of the dead – Bartons, Wilsons, or Carsons – spring back to life upon Barton’s repentance and redemption, nor will the deceased or dying loved ones of the families whom Gaskell’s characters represent.  Moreover, the suggestion of eternal peace for Barton or any other character does not negate the need to deal with temporal realities, for the same gospel that mediates John Barton’s redemption enjoins men and women to bind the wounds of their neighbors, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in and clothe the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned.
In other words, the fact that the narrator concludes, in the words of Gallagher, “that John Barton should be forgiven, no matter what the sources or consequences of his crime” (87), does not mean, in contrast to Gallagher’s interpretation, that those sources or consequences are less real or explained “for naught.”  Rather, the narrator’s and Barton’s explanations remain not only relevant but powerful because their accounts represent those of real people who face both the suffering and the moral responsibility which both Barton and Carson face in their different ways.  The workers, masters, and families of Mary Barton represent the workers, masters, and families who live in the real, open air of which Martineau writes – men and women who daily face decisions regarding how to act in light of the humanity each shares with every other.  In such open air, there is no contradiction between the existence of moral freedom (and responsibility) and “social and economic necessity” (64).

Works Cited

Gallagher, Catherine. “Causality versus Conscience: The Problem of Form in Mary
Barton.” The Industrial Revolution of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form 1832-1867. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985. Print.

Gaskell, Elizabeth. Mary Barton. London: Penguin Group, 1996. Print.