The Purity of Nature

While Tess does not remain pure in the strictest sense–she does, after all, commit murder. She is pure in the natural sense, rather than abiding by social law.

Tess is not unsusceptible to the view of society; she certainly feels sorrow and alone when society outcasts after she becomes pregnant with Alec’s baby. However, she has realizations that reveals she is more aligned with nature’s law then most people are. When society rejects her and she feels alone, she feels the least alone in nature: “and it was then, when out in the woods, that she seemed least seem” (114). Once she undergoes her second tragedy (Alec’s rape), she gains more worldly knowledge and realizes that she was not the one who was misaligned with nature; everyone else who sunned her was. She realized, “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 an anomaly” (115). She did not remain pure according to the laws of society; she did, however, remain pure according to the laws of nature: “But for the world’s opinion those experiences would have been simply a liberal education” (127).

We also see how purity relates to nature in Tess’s interaction with Angel. Angel is first drawn to her because of Tess’s withdrawal from society. He tells her, “Society is hopelessly snobbish, and this fact of your extraction may make an appreciable difference to its acceptance of you as my wife” (208), although we later learn that Angel holds on to society’s standards more than he lets on. When Angel does reveal his social values and tells Tess she is a peasant woman, Tess responds by saying “I am only a peasant by position, not by nature!” revealing that Tess believes she is not naturally a peasant (247).

We, of course, can’t discuss Tess’s purity without questioning whether or not she remains pure after she killed Alec. The murder itself is not natural. However, in a way this act set Tess free and allows her to become herself in her purest and most natural form. After she kills Alec, she runs to Angel, and this is one of the only times in the novel where she seems truly content and, ironically, the most innocent. Once she reunites with Angel, he notices, “Unable to realize the gravity of her conduct she seemed at last content; and he looked at her as she lay upon his shoulder, weeping with happiness” (385). Killing Alec may not have been the right thing to do socially, or even morally; however, it was what she felt she had to do, and in that sense, it was an act of nature. It did not last, and she had to answer for her decisions. While I wouldn’t say she was happy about being put to death, she did seem content. She said told Angel, “I am almost glad–yes, glad! […] I have had enough” (395). Despite it being the laws of society that killed her in the end, in a way she was set free from all of the pain society has given her.

People heavily critiqued this novel (because of the subtitle) because they believed purity should be judged by society’s standards, and those who depart are not pure. However, this subtitle was controversial because it caused people to question what they considered pure. This is why Hardy chose to highlight this quality in his title–because Tess was pure, not society’s standards, but by nature’s.

Monica: The New Woman

It’s apparent when reading this novel that Rhoda Nunn is the ideal New Woman. She is independent and wants more out of life than marriage. However, Monica represents an important group of women during this time: the ones in the middle. Monica wants to find a husband and even love; however, there are certain ideals that Monica isn’t willing to give up about herself. She represents the women of this time who were not yet ready to break out and be fully independent, yet who still were willing to stand up for themselves.

Monica is very naive (yet perceptive) when she firsts agrees to marry. She knows she doesn’t love Widdowson, but she is willing to marry him. However, she becomes more independent and stands up for herself after her scandal occurs. She begins to stand up for herself when her husband has someone follower her and thinks that she is having an affair. Monica then decides to leave her husband and truly does not care about what anyone thinks. She says, “I don’t care for anything let them believe and say what they like” (297). Monica refuses to go back to her husband, something that most women would do, and her logic reveals that she is more of a New Woman than she lets on. She says, “It is not my duty. It can be no woman’s duty to live with a man she hates–or even to make a pretence of living with him” (304). She also notes, later, “A deceitful woman, in my circumstances–you don’t understand them–would have cheated her husband into forgiving her–such a husband as mine. She would have calculated the most profitable course” (308). Monica reveals that while most woman might do anything and say anything to get back with their husbands because it is the most profitable, it isn’t worth it to Monica. Monica would rather stand her ground than take the easier course that may result in the most profitable and go back to her husband.

Monica is a tragic character. What she wants is innocent enough: love and a good life. What she gets is a terrible husband, a scandalous reputation, and a tragic ending, all of which she (arguably) doesn’t deserve. Perhaps Gissing gave her a tragic ending because he thought poorly on Monica’s type of woman: someone who (at first) looks down in single, independent women and wants love and wants a husband. Monica’s death may have been Gissing’s only option because society is unable to accept Monica’s type of New Woman; society will no longer accept her no matter what she does. Perhaps this shows Rhoda Nunn’s New Woman is better than Monica’s New Woman; she certainly strived for independency and was proud of it. However, Monica’s character reveals that there are more than just the independent New Woman and the Old Woman who only wants marriage and is not independent. Monica’s New Woman likely represents a large group of women at this time; women who still want marriage but who don’t think they should give up their values and beliefs.

Realistic (and other) Elements of Great Expectations

Great Expectations is overall a realist novel. It focuses on the internal state of Pip and shows moral ambiguity throughout the novel. However, it also contains gothic descriptions and sensational elements.

One of the biggest characteristics that defines Great Expectations as a realist novel is the exploration of the character’s internal states, specifically Pip. We see Pip struggle internally throughout the novel. Pip feels guilt throughout the novel. From the beginning, he wants more from life and more than what he has. He feels guilty that he is ashamed of his home: “It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home” (v. 1 ch. 14). He even knows that the working life he was born into may be better, and it “had nothing to be ashamed of, but offered me sufficient means of self-respect and happiness” (v. 1 ch. 17). However, we see him change once he has the opportunity for more and to become a gentlemen, He notes, “As I had grown accustomed to my expectations, I had insensibly begun to notice their effect upon myself and those around me” (v. 2 ch. 15). Pip’s internal struggle of how gaining expectations has changed him throughout the novel demonstrates the realistic characteristic.

Another major factor is the complicated and ambiguous nature of this novel. Instead of categorizing elements as black and white or good and evil, certain elements of this story are ambiguous and hard to determine. For instance, Pip’s secret benefactor turns out to be a convict. While it may seem that this is bad and Pip should no longer have anything to do with him, it’s more complicated than that. Pip is shocked and repulsed when he finds out who his benefactor is. However, he Pip feels like he owes Magwitch, so Pip helps him try to run and hide. By the end, Pip tries his hardest to appeal Magwitch’s sentence when Magwitch is ill an a prisoner, and Pip visits him everyday. If this novel were addressing things as black and white, Magwitch would be a bad guy and Pip would not care for him. When he dies, Pip, says, “O Lord, be merciful to him, a sinner!” As it is, the reader, and Pip, sympathizes with Magwitch the convict, thus showing that the situation is ambiguous and complicated.

While this novel is largely a realist novel, it does depart from the realism tradition and contain some gothic and sensationalism elements. We have some dark and gloomy scenes and settings, which is a gothic characteristic. Miss Havasham and the Satis house are very gloomy and eerie. The outside is dreary and there are chains on the door. There is no daylight inside. Miss Havisham herself is very gloomy: she is dressed in a wedding dress from long ago: “I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its luster…I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, and had shrunk to skin and bone.” Everything about this setting, person, and situation is very gloomy, which reflects gothic elements.

We also see some sensational elements in this story. While most of the novel focuses on the ordinary (Pip is a very ordinary boy in the beginning), there are some parts that emphasize the strange. The fact that Pip’s benefactor is a convict is shocking and not ordinary–most realist novels don’t deal with convicts. The mystery of who is Pip’s benefactor is also a sensational element.

The Change in Maggie

Whether or not you think Maggie grows throughout the novel of The Mill on the Floss entirely depends on your definition of grow. Maggie changes, certainly, but does she change for the better?

Throughout the novel, Maggie becomes more and more dispirited with the world and more sorrowful. As a child, Maggie is a clever, spunky little girl. She’s not like other girls, and “she didn’t want her hair to look pretty–that was out of the question–she only wanted people to think her a clever little girl, and not to find fault with her.” One her family loses everything, she becomes more despondent. It is even mentioned that, “She was too dispirited even to like answering questions about Bob’s present of books,”–books and learning being one things she enjoyed (306).

She never regains an optimistic view of the world by the end of the book. In fact, she, who has always given her pity to the unfortunate, begins to envy and resent those more fortunate. In her most selfish moments, she wonders, “why should not Lucy–why should not Philip suffer? She had had to suffer through many years of her life; and who had renounced anything for her?” (462). When she has to deal with the repercussions of her actions with Stephen, she is not sure she can deal with the sad, lonely, purposeless life that she must now live. She notes, “But how long will it be before death comes! I am so young, so healthy. How shall I have patience and strength?” (511). She becomes so discouraged with the world that she’s not sure how she will have the strength to live the rest of her life.

One of Maggie’s biggest struggles is controlling her outward and inward self. Inside, Maggie desires for a purpose in life and affection. She desires to do something in the world: “a blind, unconscious yearning for something that would link together the wonderful impressions of this mysterious life, and give her soul a sense of home in it” (262). However, she is limited on what she can do on the outside because of her family, position in society, and the fact that she is a girl. Because she is so passionate and desires more, h”as the struggle of conflict between the inward impulse and outward fact, which is the lot of every imaginative and passionate nature” (297). Over the course of the novel, Maggie doesn’t learn to manage this conflict. She doesn’t learn to overcome the constant struggle between her inner and outer self.  She even loses faith that she will overcome this struggle, wondering, “Was her life to be always like this?–always bringing some new source of inward strife?” She doesn’t learn to control her inward strife.

Maggie certainly changes–she becomes more dispirited with the world. However, she doesn’t necessarily grow. She doesn’t find a place in the world, doesn’t learn to accept and control her inner self and desires, and she is despondent.

Nature and Human Characteristics

Nature plays a large part in the novel Frankenstein. There are numerous instances of the characters in nature and images of sublimity. The characters’ reactions to nature both reveals something about the character and human nature.

When the monster is telling his story, he notes several instances of nature and his reaction to nature. He has different responses to nature. At one point, after he is beaten and is wondering the woods. He becomes enraged at nature because it is mocking him: “the cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above me” (pg. 149). However, there are also moments where nature calms him. He notes, “The pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day, restored me to some degree of tranquility” (pg. 149). By the monster reacting this way to nature, he is revealing his morality.

Victor, too finds solace in nature despite the harshness of it. In the end, while he is traveling and searching for the monster, he endures harsh weather and a difficult journey. However, it is also the weather that he finds consolation in. He says, “Sometimes, when nature, overcome by hunger, sunk under the exhaustion, a repast was prepared for me in the desert, that restored and inspirited me” (pg. 204). He also notes, “when all was dry, the heavens cloudless, and I was parched by thirst, a slight cloud would bedim the sky, shed the few drops that revived me, and vanish” (pg. 204). Despite nature causing him hardships, he finds consolation from it.

At the end of the novel, Walton has different reactions to nature as well. While the monster finds calmness in nature, and Victor finds solace, Walton finds adventure and excitement from finding a piece of nature that remains untouched: “I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (52). However, by the end of the novel, he finds trepidation and helplessness. At the end of the novel, when he is traveling the cold sea, “the ice began to move, and roarings like thunder were heard at a distance, as the islands split and cracked in every direction. We were in the most imminent peril; but, […] we could only remain passive” (pg. 215). While he was in immense danger, he didn’t feel like he could do anything.

The characters have different reactions to nature; each character even has different reactions depending on his surroundings or the weather. This images and reactions show different sides of human nature. Nature brings out the monster’s morality by showing he can feel tranquil and calm in the midst of nature. Victor, too finds solace in nature despite the hardships he endures because of the weather. Walton first finds both excitement and helplessness from exploring nature.

The Vain Spirit and Serious Spirit

“‘Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?’

‘Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit.–If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it’ (292).

Mr. Knightly’s comment on Emma’s two sides perfectly sums up Emma’s character and demonstrates Emma’s growth throughout the novel. There are many areas in which Emma’s character needs to grow. However, her biggest is needing to, as Mr. Knightly puts it, let her serious side tell her vain side when she is wrong. Emma’s changes becomes noticeable when her “serious spirit” overcomes her “vain spirit” more often than not.

One of the biggest moments of self reflection is after the Box-Hill incident. While Emma acted wrongly, she evaluates herself more than she does in any other part of the novel. She notes, “She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so […] But it should be be so no more. She would call upon her the very next morning, and it should be the beginning, on her side, of a regular, equal, kindly intercourse” (327). This is when Emma begins to truly attempt to listen to her serious spirit more than her vain spirit.

Emma’s views on Jane Fairfax change drastically throughout the novel. Emma is always uncertain of Jane as Jane gives little insight to what she is feeling or thinking. However, she finally puts aside her vain spirit in regards to Jane Fairfax when she apologizes. “I feel that all the apologies should be on my side. Let us forgive each other at once” (387).

By the end of the novel, Emma has not changed completely, which reflects a realistic view of her character. She still believes she is right in certain ways, but she reevaluates herself and holds back more than she did in the beginning of the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Emma manipulated Harriet into declining Mr. Martin’s proposal, and she denies to Mr. Knightly that she persuaded Harriet. She responds to his accusation by saying, “And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing, I should not feel that I had done wrong” (97). In this instance, her vain spirit trumps her serious spirit.

However, when Emma hears of Harriet’s engagement to Mr. Martin at the end, she does not become completely ecstatic or accepting of Mr. Martin. She still doesn’t believe that Harriet would accept his proposal. “Are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him” (397). However, instead of expressing disdain or arguing that Harriet is too good for Mr. Martin, Emma accepts their marriage by saying, “I am perfectly satisfied, and most sincerely wish them happy” (398). While Emma hasn’t completely changed her mind about Mr. Martin, she doesn’t let her vain spirit and judgement take precedence.

Emma can be classified as a bildungsroman because Emma does undergo changes. It’s uncharacteristic of Emma to completely change her views, but she does grow as a character when she doesn’t let her vain side dominate.