To sympathize or to not…

Kitty is the epitome of a complicated and complex woman, as she struggles with maintaining an ostentatious façade for the public while repressing her internal pain. Although Kitty has endured hardship and tragedy, there is an element of judgment that West uses, which provokes the reader from completely sympathizing with her character. West uses Kitty as a tactic to cultivate the question to readers of whether or not she deserves wrath or sympathy.

Kitty is initially presented as a woman of high class and beauty, full of cold heartedness and pitilessness. This is shown in the scene when Margaret arrives to share the news about Chris and his amnesia, as Kitty gives her the time of day solely because she “wants to be kind to people while Chis is away… [and] wants to deserve well of Heaven” (52). This in itself begins to unravel the judgment that West is attempting to get readers to feel towards Kitty- Is kindness really kindness if there are selfish motives at hand? Jenny, the unreliable narrator, goes on to describe Kitty as a “splendid bird of prey” and hopes she will let Margaret go without “scarring her too much with words” (56). Kitty and her seemingly heartless self are exposed in this interaction, as Margaret has simply come to do a good deed and is completely mistreated for her compassion. At this point, as a result Kitty’s coldness, readers are challenged to sympathize with her character.

To play Devil’s Advocate, you would have to take into consideration all that Kitty has been through over the last years. She has lost her sweet baby boy, she has lost her husband to the war, and now his ex-lover shows up to announce that he has no recollection of whom she is. The poor woman “dressed in all respects like a bride” just to impress him on his arrival (66), and if that’s not complete desperation, I don’t know what is. Kitty is in a mad spiral of desperation to win her husband back (rightfully so), which leads her to show weakness, therefore tugging on reader’s heartstrings. It seems to me that although there is no excuse for mean-heartedness, Kitty is simply repressing many internal struggles, which have invited me to ultimately sympathize with her.

Apathy or Sympathy?

Through Braddon’s tactic of heartrending pathos, the possibility of gaining sympathy for Lady Audley is presented to readers. As secrets begin to unravel, Braddon places Lady Audley in a vulnerable state as she reveals her past. This vulnerability leads readers to feel sympathetic for Lady Audley, as she exposes hardship and the chance that she may not be completely responsible for her monstrous actions.

Lady Audley’s impoverished upbringing suggests how social standings and conditions affect mental well-being. Lady Audley explains that she grew up knowing “at a very early age… what it was to be poor” with a father that had “an inability to pay” money (357-358). The destitution that Lucy had to endure as a child gives readers an opportunity to understand why Lady Audley is the way she is. The shame that Lady Audley felt for her poverty-stricken upbringing led her to rely on her beauty, as her “ultimate fate in life depended on her marriage” (359). This dependence exposes the roots of why Lady Audley is so reliant on her appearance and manipulation tactics to gain power over others. This realization provokes readers to truly feel for LA, as her monstrous acts are justified with the possibility that she is simply trying to protect herself since she has never truly been able to rely on anyone but herself.

In addition, the ambiguity about whether or not Lady Audley is genuinely mad leads to the question of whether or not she is truly responsible for her behavior. Lady Audley explains that she grew up with a mother in a madhouse and was required to remain silent about the information. LA further explains that keeping such a secret is what “made [her] selfish and heartless,” and for the first time, admits that her flawless public façade is anything but genuine (359). She explains that her mother’s disease is hereditary and it’s the only thing she expects to inherit from her. The simple disclosure of such possibility completely shifts tone, as the reader automatically questions to what extent LA should be held responsible for her actions if she truly struggles with insanity. The questioning encourages readers to reclaim their judgment towards Lady Audley, potentially shifting their ideas from apathy to sympathy.

Psychologist or Barrister?

Braddon utilizes Robert Audley to give readers knowledge (or premonitions) regarding the mystery throughout this sensation novel. Robert, notorious for being a lazy man who rarely uses his occupation as a lawyer to his advantage, begins to shift into a character that a reader can rely on for information. Like a dark horse, Robert slowly reveals that he is capable of understanding the way people work and that he is full of psychological knowledge. Because of the knowledge that Robert holds, the reader is constantly provided with more insight to the plot or to other characters.

Robert’s ability to remain discrete in his questioning allows Braddon to keep the reader unaware of the knowledge required to fully solving the mysteries. It is apparent through Robert’s method of questioning dubious characters, that he realizes his capability of investigation skills. His collection of evidence is sly and he does it well, without having to disclose his reasoning behind his suspicion. As Robert visits with Phoebe Marks, he tells her that she “is a woman who could keep a secret” (pg 163). Such a comment like this is not only Robert’s way of almost warning Phoebe that he may know something, but readers are left with only enough information to create a premonition- perhaps a misleading one.

Robert’s care-for-nothing personality trait is deemed valuable, as his suspects attempt to manipulate his questions with lies that use femininity to their advantage. Although Lady Audley turned “a ghastly ashen grey… [and] had fainted away,” during a dinner filled with potential clues, Robert is impervious to such actions. In addition, Robert recognizes the tactic as “pieces of womanly jugglery” (174). I find it very interesting that Robert is so in tuned with his ability to recognize the woman’s tactic. The fact that Robert is unmoved by such feminine excuses makes me, as a reader, question his character (Braddon would be proud). Does he have some sort of deeper connection with females than most men? Braddon successfully uses Robert’s character to give me premonitions about the plot and characters. The question is… Is this a misleading deception or a valid clue?

A call to turn a blind eye

Shelley uses the old man De Lacey as a literary tool of a character who turns a blind eye (literally) to the monster’s appearance. The use of conversation between the blind man and the monster is the example of what humanity should be modeled after. The blind man represents an ethical model of response, as he remains unprejudiced and compassionate to the horrifying sight (or lack there of) of the monster. The responses modeled by the rest of the De Lacey family and Victor both counteract the accepting nature of the blind man and emphasize the dehumanization of the monster’s character caused by the disgust-filled reactions. Shelley’s use of contradicting responses encourages the reader to reflect on morality and ethics.

The Old Man symbolizes the ideal way that human nature should react in regards to appearance and dissimilarity. I believe Shelley is attempting to emphasize the emotional repercussions of preconceptions and the importance of accepting others regardless of their outer appearance. De Lacey states that he “is blind, and cannot judge [the monster] of [his] countenance… you are sincere” (page 147). Due to the monster being accepted for the first time in his existence, this immediately creates a sense of relief for him as he is finally receiving what he has always wanted- acceptance.  The common struggle of both characters being subject to judgement and condemnation allows for the monster to feel relatable and the empathy creates a sense of humanization (148).

In contrast, as the other De Lacys arrive, the monster’s connection with his sole acceptor is completely demolished due to their fearful and violent reaction. Felix “struck violently with a stick” and completely degraded the monster (148). Through this horrifying reaction, Shelley is conveying the violence that is entangled in judgement and is encouraging readers with the brutal imagery to understand the wrongfulness in judgement. Due to the reaction of fainting and beating, the monster is “overcome with pain and anguish,” totally dehumanizing him and reverting back to his original state of feeling unaccepted and hopeless (148).

Just as the De Laceys rejected the monster, Victor, too, shuts down the request of a mate. A mate for the monster would help him feel accepted and loved, perhaps humanizing him, yet the initial rejection proves that Victor, once again, is blocking the monster’s opportunity for acceptance. The monster claims that Victor is refusing to give him the “only benefit that can soften [his] heart”, which forces a sense of compassion and sympathy towards the monster (156). In turn, the reader is led to feel judgement toward Victor’s response, as he is refusing the monster’s innate need for compassion and relatability.

Who had it worse?

Shelly’s use of Justine is more of an authorial tool rather than a self-standing character. Justine’s trial and conflict is Shelly’s way of demonstrating the injustice that was so prominent in disputes that prevailed during the French Revolution. The justice system itself is considered unjust purely due to the fact that Justine is considered a tyrant as the true executioner is “reeking with the blood of innocence” (108). Shelly is able to parallel this situation of the injustice she is familiar with in reality with Justine’s unfair trial. Justine is not even offered a chance, nor an opportunity to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I find it interesting that there are several mentions of heaven and the afterlife throughout Justine’s trial, as if it is the only thing for Justine to have hope in at this point. Elizabeth mentions that Justine should have “confidence elevated beyond this world,” hinting at the fact that her only hope is being ultimately released from the torture of the trial by death. The irony is found in the fact that Justine initially confessed and was convicted of the crime because of her belief in the afterlife. Because Justine ultimately escaped the miserable den (aka her life on earth), the question is: Did she ultimately find justice because she was released from the hateful and unjust world (108)? Although dying as a “murderer”, Justine was resting, while the true convict was alive and internally tortured. Victor’s cowardly actions of not manning up and confessing the truth led him to a life filled with a heavy weight on his conscience. Victor was now “seized by remorse” and ultimately led him to feeling as if he was in a “hell of intense tortures” (111). This in itself leads me to believe that maybe justice was served after all. Although the unjust trial led to Justine’s death, it ultimately released her of worldly pain; as for Victor, his justice is served by forcing him into a suffering that he would be forced to endure for the rest of his living days.

All Is Fair In Love and War

Haywood keeps readers interested with the frequent question of who has ultimate control in his novel, Fantomina. This eighteenth century novel represents the viewpoint on female power and control and offers two sides to consider. One aspect portrays the Lady as a female who is subject to oppression and suppression due to her willingness to do anything it takes to gain approval from her lover. In contrast, the Lady represents freedom from society’s constraints by expressing her sexual desires, while simultaneously manipulating her lover to fall in love with her again and again.

 

Due to the fact that Fantomina remains nameless throughout the novel, this leads to the idea that she represents a character of submission. Fantomina is constantly changing identity out of desperation for her lover, conveying the idea that she has no true identity or personality- she will transform into whomever it takes, as long as Beausplaisir desires her. The Lady becomes so desperate due to obsession that she claims she could die “with the agitations of her soul” (2584). While a woman of power and self-respect would likely move on to what is deserved, Fantomina remains trapped under the control that her lover has over her with his ability to move on at any point her decides. Her lack of control is stemmed from the act required of her to maintain several different identities in order to be considered worthy of affection. This considers the ultimate power of the male gender over women in this time period, as their tendency to be unreliable proves that women were incapable of satisfying them.

 

In contrast, the sexual freedom that Fantomina acquires through her manipulating plot to gain affection from Beausplaisir ultimately enables her to control the situation. Fantomina uses her wit and charm to outsmart her victim- I mean lover-, who remains foolish and oblivious to the scenarios of all of her characters. Fantomina executed her power by being so skilled in her acting that “she had the power of putting almost what face she pleased” (2576). The Lady’s talent to act all of these parts resulted in her ability to gain what she desired, along with liberating her from society’s oppression. In addition, Beausplaisir’s inability to resist his own sexual desire represents his greatest weakness of all. Fantomina was ultimately able to “triumph over her lover’s inconsistency” with her “strength of genius and force of resolution”, representing the manipulation that led to her victorious achievement (2580). Her character is powerful enough to enjoy the ability to attract and control men, gain freedom of desire, all while surpassing the judgment that would have accompanied nonconformity.

The Struggle Is Real.

Although ambiguous, I believe Rossetti creates the message of the internal struggle that women of the Victorian era felt through the use of symbolic representation. Women, as part of the Victorian society, were required to follow and submit to the typical role of what was expected of them. Rossetti uses Laura to convey the battle of refraining from exploration of natural human desires and the consequences that could follow such weakness to temptation.

Both sisters do everything in their power to resist the goblin men’s fruit, yet “curious Laura chose to linger” and eventually fell into temptation (69). The indulgence to the forbidden fruit that was “sweeter than honey” symbolizes the attempt to repress sexual desire and the end result of losing innocence (129). Because Laura fell short of the expectation that society had for women, Rossetti illustrates the consequences that Victorian women would be required to confront as a result of the premature transition to adulthood. Almost as a warning, it is explained that such indulgence can lead to a “knocking at Death’s door,” which could potentially be interpreted as the loss of a woman’s worth (321). In other words, Victorian women will be poisoned and deemed as worthless if they give into natural desire too early. Laura represents a Victorian woman who acts on internal struggle by challenging society’s/men’s expectations with nonconformity and self-exploration.

Lizzie, on the other hand, represents the struggle of Victorian women by submitting to the expectations of society. The use of violent language as she enters into the Market, such as “elbowed and jostled her”, symbolizes the double standard that was extremely prevalent in such times (400). Although women were expected to remain pure and intact with their youth, the goblins represent the Victorian men as they “squeezed their fruits against her mouth to make her eat” (407). The point is that men were allowed to do what they wanted with women, indulge in oppression, luxuriate in temptation- you name it. The unjust truth of the contrasting standard made the internal struggle real for these women.

I find it interesting that men are never even confronted in the work, leading me to presume that Rossetti is attempting to illustrate that all eyes were constantly on the women, watching their every move. In contrast, men had the liberty to act on anything they desired and their indiscretions were often overlooked. The dichotomy between Lizzie and Lauren’s actions regarding the strict rules of Victorian women shows the ubiquitous strife that females endured regarding temptation and oppression from men in Victorian society.

 

Won’t Stop or Can’t Stop?

In the poem “Song of the Shirt”, Hood weaves repetition throughout its entirety to create a tone of monotony and frustration. The situation makes it clear that the woman in this poem is being oppressed and crying out for mercy. In addition, Hood is attempting to gain the attention of the powerful to express his concern for the exploited.

The repetition of “work-work-work!” and “Stitch-stitch-stitch!” quite literally explain what the woman does all day, from sunrise until sunset, with “no blessed leisure” (68). The humdrum rhythm creates a tone that explains her constant sorrows and the painful realization that she will live “in poverty, hunger, and dirt” for the rest of her days. In addition, this repetition is a form of plea, as the woman is begging for someone (anyone) to hear the “dolorous pitch” of her song (79). The use of the word ‘dolorous’ in itself describes the tone that Hood is attempting to convey, as well as his distress regarding the social “reform”. The repetition is evidence to the fact that the woman has given up hope in “reaching the rich” (82). The torturous and tedious work has created a stir-crazy woman, craving recognition from someone other than her shadow (40).

Hood forces distance between the hopeless woman and myself by creating a sense that things are too far-gone. The victim claims that her “heart is sick” and her “brain benumb’d”, solidifying the fact that although I ache to liberate her from misery, the woman is, and will always be, a prisoner of society (48).

Who doesn’t like a good rain storm?

Jonathan Swift uses several contradicting literary techniques, such as grotesque language and satire, to cope with the pathetic truth of London and its people. Swift uses gruesome words throughout, such as sinks that will “strike your offended sense with double stink” (5-6), to expose his utter disgust in what England’s society has become. Although England declares itself to be a country of charitable assistance to those in need, Swift makes it clear through the use of symbolism and mockery that its people are pathetically guilty of a spurious act.

 

Once a storm begins to pick up, Swift describes how such conditions have the power to unite people from different backgrounds. At one point, Swift uses humor to say, “Whigs forget their feuds and join to save their wigs” (41-42). This proves that even men from different political parties will come together (even to fix their hair!) during adversity. The storm represents not only unity, but also the fact that such unfortunate events have no prejudice against social standing. Natural disasters (such as storms) disregard social standing and in the face of death, social class ranking is completely ignored. Swift uses the storm as a symbol of encouragement, hoping for England to close the spacious gap between the rich and the poor and unify as a whole.

 

In the final lines of the poem, Swift shifts the tempo from rhyme and rhythm of a steady rainfall, into the chaotic twist of a downpour. The shift in tone and description of the flood closes the poem with a pessimistic feel. The gothic elements, such as “guts…blood, Drowned puppies…Dead cats” (61-62), exposes Swift’s disappointment in his society due to the fact that he knows they will go about their own business once the storm has passed. Swift is attempting to call out to his people, begging them to understand that their false sense of unity is a façade, which will result in detrimental outcomes.

 

Swift’s combination of satiric and gruesome language represents his confusion of why the society he is surrounded by is remaining complacent in their stagnant actions. The satirical language is interpreted as a coping mechanism, yet the horror towards the end portrays the reality of the consequences England will face for its actions. Swift’s use of poetry is an attempt to explain to England’s people that they must change their ways of social division and unite as a whole, before they completely self-destruct.

What man doesn’t like a good challenge with a side of ego boost?

Through the genius use of an ego-boosting man talk, Kipling is able to convince The American White Man to work towards transforming the Filipinos into a ‘true’ civilization. Acting as a cheerleader throughout this poem, the poet is encouraging The White Men to use their superiority for good by giving those who are “heathens” and “folly” the gift of civilization. Kipling uses the flattery of morale, yet the threat of losing manliness, to achieve the goal of convincing The American Man to answer to their civil duty.

This poem depicts the common, smug thought that The White Men had of feeling as if those around them lack the structure and order that is required to have a successful country. Kipling brilliantly boosts The White Man’s ego by claiming that only those who are the “best ye breeds” (2) are capable of such a task to transform the so-called aliens into a civilization. By declaring this burden as exclusive to solely the best of men, the competitive nature of males actively kicks in and makes the task seem more appealing. In addition, by capitalizing “The White Man” repetitively, Kipling is placing importance on their racial superiority, but also their gender dominance. By referring to the Filipinos as “sullen peoples, half-devil” (7), it is no question that this makes The White Men feel as if they could be a savior to an entire population through their noble and generous acts of bravery… cue heroic music now. This tactic gives The White Men an opportunity to exercise their power onto the powerless, while simultaneously making them feel noble for their acts of benevolence.

In line 20, Kipling, yet again, sweet-talks The White Men by calling them to “bid the sickness cease” (20), nearly claiming that they are capable of god-like requests. With this, Kipling expresses that The White Men are mighty enough to stop natural powers, such as sickness and pain, just as a God could. Now if that’s not an ego boost, I don’t know what is! Because Kipling states that those who are courageous enough to take on such a mission will “mark them with their dead” (30), he is promising the one who takes up the burden will forever be a legacy, earning never ending praise. Ultimately, Kipling successfully convinces The White Man to take on this noble obstacle by using the hardship of the mission to his advantage, challenging only the strongest, most powerful men to consider. Now what kind of man would pass up an opportunity like that?

Prospero: Exposed

By the end of the book, as I prepare to read the gory detail of Prospero’s revenge against all characters, Shakespeare throws a complete curveball and leaves me with my jaw on the floor. In Act V, Prospero has the PERFECT set up to obliterate all the characters he had been complaining about for the past 144 pages, then suddenly becomes soft and forgiving. Prospero is no longer seen as a cold-blooded monster, ravenous for power, but rather humanized into a character that is worthy of sympathy. Through his genuine care for Miranda and his so-called “punishment” (or should I say “non-punishment”) of the thieves, Shakespeare transforms Prospero into a character deserving of redemption and almost an apology from the audience for seeing him as manipulative and deceitful. All of the plots for revenge that Prospero had planned out are suddenly justified through the harsh explanation that his brothers acted “unnatural though thou art” and treated him “most cruelly” (V.1.80-89). This in itself gives reason behind all of the revenge that Prospero desired and makes us empathize with the poor man. There is a common thought that we become who people believe we are… Maybe the reason Prospero was so villainous was because that’s what his brothers made him out to be and eventually, he believed it in himself as well.

In the epilogue, Prospero, alone on the stage, states that he has officially surrendered his power and given up the last of his magic. This bold statement symbolizes that Prospero has given up all that he was known to be, again transforming him into more of a human. Lastly, Prospero requests the audience/me to “release [him] from his bands with the help of [our/my] good hands” (V.1.9-10). This request seems like an outcry for forgiveness, a last attempt to gain compassion. With applause, he would no longer be imprisoned by the guilt of his wrongdoings and could be emotionally liberated.

All in all, Prospero is transformed from a monstrous creature into a tender hearted father and brother by giving up power and offering forgiveness. Yet, by asking for the applause from us, that in itself is a bit manipulating, as he is trying to clear his conscience. Does this mean that we have been the ones all along falling for his deceit, hence empowering him with our ignorance and naivety?