What Do the Letters Say?

Since there are not a lot of characters present in Rebecca West’s novel The Return of the Soldier, inanimate objects begin to play a more important role in character and story development. These objects give us insight into character relationships and background story to further explain why certain events are occurring the way that they are in the novel.

I found the letters to be of major importance in making the novel what it is. Putting in letters or notes seems to be a popular device used in British literature as we have seen letters in all three of the novels we have read this semester (Frankenstein, Lady Audley, and now The Return of the Soldier). There is one major difference between the letters from the other two novels and this one. In The Return of the Soldier, we are never shown exactly what any of the letters say. In chapter 1, Mrs. Grey is telling Kitty and Jenny of the letter she received from Captain Baldry when he is in the hospital. Again, in chapter 4 we hear about more letters from Chris to Margaret but never see them.

It is interesting that West chooses to never show us, the reader, what the letters say and only have a character from the novel relay what they said or merely bring up their presence. For starters, we don’t even know if these letter truly exist or if this is just Margaret making them up. Mrs. Grey could also be leaving out important details of these letters or twisting Chris’s words around when telling Kitty and Jenny what these letters say.

Since we do not get the actual letters in the novel, it becomes important to see how the characters respond to them. After Kitty sees the letter from Chris to Margaret explaining that he is in the hospital, she responds by saying “This is a likely story” (58). Kitty hasn’t believed Mrs. Grey’s story the entire time and getting physical proof that her husband is hurt doesn’t change her mind either. This shows Kitty’s untrusting nature towards Margaret and her belief that Margaret is trying to steal money from her just because she is from a lower class.

Jenny is the only other person present when Margaret talks about the other letters that she received from Chris when she returned to Monkey Island. Although Jenny doesn’t give us her response to these letters, we do see how distraught Margaret is over them. Jenny says that “She bowed her head and wept” (89). When I read this for the first time, I saw this as Margaret regretting not getting these letters sooner. It seems to me that she is pondering what life would be life if she had married Chris instead of her husband and if she had seen these letters sooner, maybe she would have ended up with Chris instead.

It’s interesting to see the importance that letters have taken in the novels that we have read this semester, but it is more so to see how characters respond to letters when we never get to see them. Although this is frustrating, feeling like you’re missing out on part of the story, it leaves you wondering what the letters actually said and doesn’t allow you to build bias towards anyone because they may react to the letters differently than you would have.

Lady Audley: Villain or Victim?

By the end of Lady Audley’s Secret, we, the reader, are torn between whether we should feel sorry for Lady Audley or if we should view her as the villain of her own life. Braddon tries to play with our emotions into making us sympathize with Lady Audley by making her seem like a helpless victim. This becomes very apparent when Robert has taken Lady Audley to the mad house, where she will live the rest of her life, and Monsieur Val claims that he lets “the inmates dine together when it is wished” (395). This line is important because it allows readers that are unfamiliar with these mad houses to understand that the conditions were nowhere near ideal and most of the time the patients were treated like prisoners.

But contrasting to this want to feel sympathy for Lady Audley, Braddon again plays with the reader’s emotions and at times also wants us to see Lady Audley in the light of all her wrongdoings. The psychologist that Robert calls on to evaluate Lady Audley says that she is not mad (383) and that she is in fact dangerous after hearing all that Robert had to tell him about Lady Audley’s past (385). Although Robert was the one responsible for leaving Lady Audley in a mad house, with possibly less than humane conditions, he believes that “she will be very kindly treated” (415). Robert honestly believes in his heart that he has done the best he can for Lady Audley by sending her away.

By the end of the story, I still viewed Lady Audley as a villain. There may have been moments when I felt sorry for her (being thrown out by Sir Michael and put into a mad house), but I always came back to the conclusion that she got herself in this situation. She left her first husband and child, remarried and never told Sir Michael about her previous life, tried to kill multiple people, and was selfish and manipulative throughout the entirety of the novel. I believe that she got everything she deserved in the end and honestly thought it was generous of Robert to make sure she was taken care of properly (or so he believed) and not just kick her out and leave her to fend for herself.

What’s the Secret to Lady Audley’s Charm?

Lady Audley’s Secret centers around a woman who takes on many different identities throughout the course of the novel. As readers, we are able to get a more complete picture of who Lady Audley is and how she is able to charm others. Her step-daughter, Alicia Audley, doesn’t hold back on expressing her feelings toward the Lady. Alicia says the Lady Audley and her do not get along together and that she is childish and silly but sees that other people like her because she is very agreeable (86).

Alicia is one of our main sources for understanding the appeal of the Lady to others but more subtle clues can be found in the narration of the story as well. We as readers are told that she takes “sunshine and gladness with her” everywhere she goes, “loved society”, and “had a charm which no one could resist” (90). She plays to her strengths and charms people into liking her. She finds peoples’ weaknesses and strengths and uses those to get them to admire her and believe that she is a kind and genuine person who could do no wrong. This become very apparent when she gets out of having to have dinner with Robert and George. Lady Audley knows that very seldom were her husband’s eyes not looking at her face. All she had to do was raise her eyebrow to signal to him that she wanted to leave and they did just that (93).

Simply put, Lady Audley is a charmer and a manipulator. She figures out who she is interacting with and finds ways to make them like her and do what she wants. Even as a reader, you sometimes forget about the things she’s done and fall into her charm. Sometimes you go chapters without reading anything about her and when you do again she seems so pleasant and concerned with the well-being of others. It is not until you stop to think about some of her shadier moments (leaving her first husband and child or using her maid to help with her dirty work) do you remember that it’s all just an act so people will like her.

What’s So Compelling About the Monster’s Story?

The monster does many things in his time with Victor to try and persuade him to see life from his point of view. The monster’s main points for convincing Dr. Frankenstein to feel pity for him is by retelling all the horrible reactions people have had when seeing him and by reminding Dr. Frankenstein that he gave life to the monster and should therefore be responsible for him.

The monster recollects of the time he spent watching the cottagers and learning their ways in hopes that they would accept him into their home. When he finally reveals himself to the cottagers, the boy attacks the monster because he thought the monster was trying to hurt the father. The monster says that while although he was angry, he “could have torn him limb from limb” but decided to refrain from doing so (148). With this story, the monster is not only explaining to Victor how he has been treated horribly by every person that has seen him but that he also doesn’t want to harm them.

When Victor still doesn’t show enough compassion for his creation, the monster decides to try another approach and remind Victor that he is the one that brought him into the world to begin with. The monster tries to relate himself to Adam and Victor to God. He hopes that Victor will realize his responsibility towards the monster and begins to realize this by stating “and did I not, as his maker, owe him all the portion of happiness that it was in my power to bestow?” (157).

While both of these parts of the monster’s conversation with Dr. Frankenstein are important in making Victor feel compassion for his creation, I believe that different people will also feel compassion for the monster at different points during his story. For me, I began feeling sorry for the monster after he was rejected by the cottagers because I could see his want and willingness to be a part of this family. For Victor, the main turning point for him was when the monster reminded him of his obligation to the monster much like a parent is to their own child.

Who is Dr. Frankenstein?

The first several chapters of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein give us a lot of insight to who Dr. Victor Frankenstein is as a person. The opening lines of the book state that he is “by birth a Genevese; and [his] family is one of the most distinguished of that republic” (64). We can infer from this that he is not a lower-class citizen and probable has quite a bit of means from his family name. This will allow him to receive the education that he does as he gets older. We are also told that he is the eldest of the Frankenstein children (65).  This allows Victor to be seen as another parental type figure to his younger siblings, mainly his brother Ernest (71). As readers, we are also told that “The world was to [him] a secret, which [he] desired to discover” (66) and that “[his] studies were never forced” (67).

I read Frankenstein when I was a sophomore in high school so I already know how the story ends. I think it is interesting to reread the beginning and see how Dr. Frankenstein’s youth and young adult life shaped him into the man that not only would be so adamant to create life from an inanimate object, but to also nurture it after it was “born.” Knowing that he was a good caregiver and a dedicated and curious student makes it much more reasonable to understand why Dr. Frankenstein is who he is now and why he takes the course of action that he does throughout the novel.

As we learn about Victor in these beginning chapters, he is telling us about his “tale of misery” and that he was “led to [his] ruin” (68). Dr. Frankenstein is foreshadowing a turn of events that is soon to come for him for people not familiar with the story. Most people nowadays are familiar with the general story of Frankenstein and know that the creation of the monster is what leads to Dr. Frankenstein’s downfall though.

It is interesting to see how much Dr. Frankenstein reveals about himself in these first few chapters of the book and how impactful his childhood was into making him into the man that he ends up becoming as the story progresses. His time being a caretaker for his brother, his curiosity for knowledge, and foreshadowing of his downfall are all important pieces to understanding future events that are to come in Dr. Frankenstein’s life.

Is Beauplaisir All Powerful?

During the first part of the story “Fantomina” it seems as if the lady has a new-found power when she takes her first role as Fantomina. She has all the men wanting to be with her and she takes pleasure in knowing that she can turn them all down (2567). The lady briefly has power until she meets Beauplaisir and from the story we are told it seems that she never has power again. From the moment Beauplaisir asks for her services, Fantomina gives into him by going home with him the next night and not denying him like all the other men. He is already demonstrating his power over her and how he is able to get what he wants out of life.

We then see Beauplaisir physically demonstrate his power over Fantomina when he forces her to have sex with him that first night together and takes her liberty away from her (2569). After this Fantomina tells Beauplaisir that “[his] love alone can compensate for the shame [he has] involved [her] in” and that she would be able to “forgive [herself]” for what has happened between the two of them (2570). We can see the power that he has over the lady when she is forgiving herself for what he has done to her, but we can also see the lady try to regain control of the situation by using what happened to her to her own advantage. She wants to guilt Beauplaisir into loving her. The lady thinks that she has gained power in the relationship but it is Beauplaisir that ultimately grows bored of their relationship and leaves her once again demonstrating that he had the power this entire time.

The lady never gives up on trying to be with Beauplaisir and disguises herself as two more women just so she can be with him. He remains having full control of those relationships as he did when he was with Fantomina. We see the lady try to regain power over Beauplaisir one last time by becoming her last disguise, Incognita. She plays on the fact that he loves mystery and new adventures to intrigue him. She tells herself that “is he [cannot] content himself with that which she was willing to reveal, and which was the conditions of their meeting, dear as he was to her, she would rather part with him for ever than consent to gratify an inquisitiveness (2581).” The lady has a plan set out for herself so that she can either have control over the relationship by only giving Beauplaisir what she wants to give him or by ending their affair once and for all. The only problem with her plan is she doesn’t do go through with parting ways with him when he doesn’t follow the rules of the meeting and wants to know Incognita’s true identity.

And if that wasn’t proof enough that the lady has absolutely no power in her and Beauplaisir’s relationship, she becomes pregnant with his child. The lady tells her mother who the father of the baby is and sends for him (2583). Sadly, after being with the lady as four different women, he still doesn’t recognize her at all when she is giving birth to his own child. This shows his obvious lack of care for her since he has slept with her multiple times and different women and he doesn’t even have the slightest clue who she is now.

Although when we are first introduced to the lady she has a new-found power in her alternate identity of Fantomina, it is not long before she loses her power to Beauplaisir in a multitude of ways. He takes control of her physically and emotionally again and again so he can get what he wants out of life without being held down. Beauplaisir had the power over her the entire time and she didn’t even realize it.

Goblin Market: The First Sin Retold?

I believe that there is a moral to be learned from Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market but I do not think that it is the importance of sisterly love that is stated at the end of the work. I think that the moral that should be taken away from the story is to not give into temptations. I say this because of the similarities I saw between goblins inviting Laura to eat their fruit and Eve being tempted by the serpent to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge as seen in the old testament.

Laura’s sister Lizzie acts as the voice of God here saying “We must not buy their fruits” (43) and “Their evil gifts will harm us” (66) to warn Laura not to eat the fruit much like God did in bible when telling Adam and Eve “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die” (Genesis 3:3, New International Version).  Laura is constantly tempted by the goblins to come eat the fruit by crying “Come buy, come buy” (90) whenever she would pass by them. She manages to fight off the temptation for a while but eventually gives in and trades a lock of her hair for some of the goblin’s fruit. This parallels when the serpent finally gets Eve to eat the fruit from the garden of Eden of by telling her that God won’t let her die but rather that her eyes would be opened to all new kinds of knowledge (Genesis 3:4-5, New International Version).

As we all know well, the punishment for Adam and Eve for allowing temptations to get the better of them was their removal from the garden of Eden, the pain of childbirth for women, and having to work for food (Genesis 3:16-24, New International Version). Laura’s fate in the Goblin Market is much different though. Laura becomes sick and begins “dwindling” (320) and “Seemed knocking on Death’s door” (321). She is being punished for falling into temptation like Adam and Eve were, but in a different way.

Although Lizzie’s love for Laura is ultimately what saves Laura from herself by the end of the poem, it is the fall of Laura into temptation in the first place that causes the events of this story. Therefore, the main moral that should be taken from the poem is that giving into temptation doesn’t come without cost. For Adam and Eve it was the fall of humankind, and for Laura it was her slowly dying before her sister’s eyes.

Why Use Repetition?

One literary device that Thomas Hood uses in Song of the Shirt is the use of repetition to further the point of how hard daily life is for the lower working class. When I read the lines “Stich-stich-stich” (5) and “Work-work-work” (9), I hear the narrator in my head saying it in a beat down tone. I feel that this is something that happens to a lot of us when we get overwhelmed with all the work we have to do and we start listing off our to-do list in our heads. The woman singing “Work-work-work” (9) repeatedly is her version of this to-do list.

Although I believe that Hood is trying to distance some readers, mainly “the rich”, from this woman, I felt like I understood her troubles of constantly working and never feeling as if she gets a break to do anything that she wants to do. In line 81 Hood says “Would that its tone could reach the rich!” implying that the rich don’t know what it feels like to be a working woman like the woman singing the song because they don’t work as hard as she does. I may be in a better situation than what this woman’s life is described as, but I do relate to her constant, overwhelming workload since I am a pre-med student. As a pre-med student, we are always having to work hard to make good grades and be the best med school applicant that we can possibly be just so we can even have a chance at getting into medical school. Often it feels like we study “From weary chime to chime” (43) until our “eyes are heavy and dim” (12) like the woman singing the song does.

Every week I make a to-do list of what I need to do that week to stay on top of class work, events for organization, and other plans that are coming up. Whenever I read through these lists, I relate to the line “Work-work-work” (9) because it feels like my work load is never ending. I believe Hood made good use of this repetition throughout his poem to describe how tedious and tiring this woman’s life is, but I don’t think he fully succeeded in distancing the readers that he wanted to distance. He demonstrates how hard life is for the lower working class but fails to recognize that there are other people that don’t fall into that category that also work tirelessly to do their jobs.

The Easter Rising: A Terrible Beauty?

It should come as no shock to the reader after reading the first stanza of Easter, 1916 that William Butler Yeats has conflicted feelings about the Easter Rising of 1916. He ends this first stanza by describing the rebellion as, “A terrible beauty” (16) which in and of itself is a very contradictory statement. It’s not often that we think of something that is beautiful as also being terrible at the same time. Yeats chooses to characterize the rebellion this way throughout the entirety of his poem though because of his mixed feelings towards the event.

Yeats begins his thoughts on the rebels by saying that he shares, “Polite meaningless words,” (8) with them when he sees them in passing. From this statement, we can see that even from the start he isn’t completely against the rebel cause but also isn’t a full-fledged supporter of the cause either. He then continues to discuss he feelings towards the leaders of the rebellion group by making statements such as, “A drunken, vainglorious lout,” (32). While this may seem a little strong, he does conclude that they are all fighting for this cause because they are, “Hearts with one purpose alone,” (41).

Yeats finishes his poem out with a stanza that shows a more understanding side of why the rebels fought for what they believed in. He poses the question, “Was it needless death after all?” in line 67. Yeats makes the reader think about the rebellion in a new way now. He wants us to see that the rebels dreamed big and fought to see the change that they wanted in their country. Although Yeats doesn’t completely agree with the rebels’ want for change and the character of their leaders, he does respect them for their desire to fight for what they believe in no matter what the costs may be.

Why Are People Judged Off Appearances?

Mary Robinson’s poem “The Negro Girl” is a depiction of her views towards slavery, and I believe that her main point as to why certain people were enslaved is because off their physical appearances. Stanzas 9 and 10 demonstrate these views quite clearly with the lines “Whate’er their TINTS may be, their SOULS are still the same!” (54) and “Can features alienate the race” (57).  While other lines of the poem describe the cruelty and unjust treatment that the institution of slavery caused on others, stanzas 8-10 are where I think Robinson hits home on why slavery is inhumane and needed to be abolished. The main idea behind these three stanzas as to why people thought slavery was ok is because the people they were enslaving looked different than themselves. It was a way of making these people feel lesser because they didn’t have the same colored skin, hair, or traditions as the people they were now living amongst. The slave owners didn’t even look past the physical appearances of these people before they judged them.

The Bible states “For in the same way you judge other, you will be judged” (New International Version, Matthew 7:2). During the time that this poem was written, the majority of the English population followed Christian beliefs which means most of them would have heard these words from the book of Matthew before. When taking this all into consideration, Robinson’s point of why the institution of slavery should have be abolished is strengthened based off the fact that our judgments of others is not only wrong on a sinful level but also why enslaving people based off these is judgments is inhumane.

How Does Prospero Demonstrate His Powers Over Others?

Throughout the majority of The Tempest, Prospero displays his power over others in a multitude of ways. He first demonstrates his power of authority over Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban in Act 1 Scene 2. Prospero tries to control Miranda’s knowledge of their lives in Milan by keeping it a secret from her. He continues to show his power over by trying to set up Miranda and Ferdinand for marriage but allowing them to believe it was their idea and not his. Prospero shows his authority over Ariel and Caliban by making them be his servants and keeps telling them that he will give them their freedom if they do as he asks. The power of authority is not the only type of power that Prospero shows in the play. He also has magically powers that he uses on other people. While Prospero is trying to tell Miranda why they no longer live in Milan, he uses these powers to make her fall asleep so he can talk with Ariel. We can see Prospero uses these powers again in Act 3 Scene 3 when he makes himself invisible to Alonso, Antonio, and Ariel while they are all looking for Ferdinand after the shipwreck. Although Prospero loves having power and control over others, we see another side of him when he decides to give up his magical powers and give Ariel his freedom back in order to move back to Milan with Miranda and Ferdinand. This could just be a scheme for him to regain power in Milan or Naples since Ferdinand is the heir to thrown of the king but we are never told that specifically in the play. This is just a belief that some people have concerning the situation considering what we learn about Prospero’s character throughout the play.