I have decided to focus on the ending for this final blog post because it can completely change any novel despite your pre-conceived notions. The ending ties a novel together and often answers many of the questions we as readers ask throughout the story. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the ending was absolutely not what I expected and this in turn lead to increased enjoyment of the novel. Another novel that utilizes ending in a dramatic and rather bittersweet way is George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. While both of these endings involve death, I see Hardy’s ending as much more dramatic than Eliot’s. A third novel that had an ending that interests me is Lady Audley’s Secret. In this novel, Mary Elizabeth Braddon employs an ending that involves death but involves much more happiness and new life. I find it interesting that all of these novels end in death, although these deaths do not always seem to be portrayed in a negative manner.
The death of Maggie and Tom at the end of The Mill on the Floss has a very bittersweet feel to it. “…but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (Eliot 517). Their relationship had been so toxic throughout the novel, and I find it very interesting that Eliot ended it on this note. It is almost as if Maggie is getting the devotion she always wanted from Tom in their death.
In Lady Audley’s Secret, the death does not really have that much of an impact on the novel. Rather, it is mentioned in passing in the concluding paragraph. “It is more than a year since a black-edged letter, written upon foreign paper, came to Robert Audley, to announce the death of a certain Madame Taylor, who had expired peacefully at Villebrumeuse, dying after a long illness…” (Braddon 445). I would say this novel has a happy ending. The entire concluding paragraph tells of the moved-on lives of the other characters and how well they are all doing. Lady Audley’s death is almost thrown into the conclusion as an afterthought. This is contrasts to the ending of The Mill on the Floss, which centers around the death of the main characters. Still, I would not say that either of these novels have an absolutely awful ending.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles is an entirely different story. While the two novels discussed previously both end in death, neither of them are absolutely heart-wrenching. Tess’s death leaves the reader heartbroken and has a much darker effect than the other deaths. “The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on” (Hardy 396). Tess ends up being executed because she stabbed Alec to death, and she did this because he basically ruined her life. In this scene, Angel and Tess’s younger sister watch as the black flag is raised to signify Tess’s death. They almost seem to forget about it right after it happens, as they move on. This ending is absolutely heart-wrenching and eclipses both of the deaths in the other novels in my opinion. It is not just the fact that Tess was executed that makes this so awful. It is also the fact that she was so close to finally having the life she wanted. It was all taken away from her in an instant because of the choice she made to murder Alec. Then again, if she had not murdered Alec, she probably would not have gotten to be with Angel again. There really was no way out for Tess, and she ends up dying to signify this.
For the majority of Lady Audley’s Secret, Luke Marks was a character I did not think much of. He did not seem to add much to the plot and was kind of just there in a way. That is, until the end. Luke ends up playing one of the biggest roles in the novel when he reveals the wealth of information he possesses that ends up solving the mystery about Lady Audley. “‘…suppose I feel that I can’t die with a secret on my mind (…) I’d have been burnt alive before I’d have told her.’ He spoke these words between set teeth, and scowled savagely as he uttered them” (Braddon 421). I find it so intriguing that Luke knew something about Lady Audley for the entire novel and only decided to disclose it when he was close to death. He obviously has strong negative feelings regarding her, so one would think that he would have wanted to reveal this information sooner. In addition to this, “‘…I’d never have told her – never, never! I had my power over her, and I kept it; I had my secret, and I was paid for it…’” (Braddon 421). It is revealed to the readers that the main reason behind Luke’s decision to withhold the information about George from Lady Audley is because it gave him a sense of power over her. Lady Audley believed she had killed George when she accidentally pushed him into the well. Luke believed that this idea of being responsible for George’s death probably tormented Lady Audley. Luke was the only person who knew George was actually alive for awhile, and he knew that knowing this would bring Lady Audley relief – something he did not think she deserved.
The fact that he withheld this information shows how much power he actually has in this novel. If Luke was not involved in this way, the novel would probably have a completely different outcome. I find this extremely interesting, since Luke is a character I previously thought nothing of. The fact that Braddon uses him in this way makes for a very interesting plot twist that I really enjoyed. As soon as Luke is an important part of the novel, he is gone. “The landlord waited upon him at dinner, and told him that Luke Marks had died at five o’clock that afternoon. ‘He went off rather sudden like,’ the man said, ‘but very quiet’” (Braddon 434). Luke had been struggling to survive ever since he was badly injured in the fire, and it was this pivotal information he possessed about the supposed murder of George that was keeping him alive. The fact that he dies so suddenly after revealing his information to Robert shows what an intense hold it had over him. The thing that intrigues me the most about Braddon’s use of Luke is that he becomes important in one chapter and is then dead by the end of it. This really adds to the suspense and intrigue of the novel in my opinion, and is one of the reasons this novel is known as “sensational.”
From the very beginning of The Mill on the Floss, I knew the relationship between Maggie and Tom would be of very significant importance to the narrative. I see them as almost being “frenemies,” which is pretty typical of a sibling relationship. Although they do have some sweet moments and ultimately seem to rely on each other and need each other, I see their relationship as being rather toxic. For example, “But Maggie had hardly finished speaking in that chill, defiant manner, before she repented, and felt the dread of alienation from her brother” (Eliot 399). Right after Maggie confronts Tom about taking back his command for her not to see Philip Wakem, she almost seems to subtly regret it. Maggie wants to be independent, and I believe she is. However, she subconsciously seems to need some type of validation from Tom. If he is not happy with her, it affects her more than she would like to admit. In addition to this, “‘Not for myself, dear Tom. Don’t be angry. I shouldn’t have asked it (…) I shall only see him in the presence of other people. There will never be any secret between us again’” (Eliot 400). Right after mentally regretting standing up to her brother, Maggie covers up her bold confrontation with Tom. She takes a step back, and I think this shows some uncertainty and insecurity on her part. Granted, this makes a lot of sense in the culture and time period she grew up in. The fact that she stands up to her brother at all is very impressive and shows her strength and confidence. I think Eliot chose to employ this back-and-forth toxic sibling relationship to bring a sense of raw emotion to the novel as well as to show that gender power struggles were even present in family settings at the time.
Although there is quite the power struggle between these siblings, there is also a sweet display of love and connection. Tom and Maggie seem to gravitate towards each other no matter how much they irritate one another. By book seven, Maggie has endured a lot of shame and is shunned by many people, including Tom. This doesn’t stop her from trying to reconcile with him. “‘Tom,’ she began, faintly, ‘I am come back to you – I am come back home – for refuge – to tell you everything’” (Eliot 483). Tom is always the person Maggie will go to for the hope of safety and comfort, no matter how bad things have gotten between them.
While the relationship between the two siblings is very back and forth, it is ultimately rooted in a mutual love. They know they have each other, no matter how badly one hurts the other. The ending of this novel encompasses their deep love, “…but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (Eliot 517). The conclusion I draw from this is that Tom and Maggie always had a deep longing for connection with one another. They felt it at times but it was also extremely damaged by their unhealthy interactions. They both longed for a simple loving sibling relationship, but the difficult circumstances in which they lived slowly tore them apart. The way in which Eliot ended the novel with their death shows that despite their many disagreements, they still had unconditional love for each other. I see the central theme of this novel as love and family, and both of those things are summed up in this last sentence.
The narrative voice in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton is one of the main aspects that makes this novel stand out so much to me. I have always loved an omniscient narrator, and the narrator in this novel seems to know everything about everyone. From my point of view, the narration is pretty consistent throughout the novel in regards to viewpoint. Sometimes the narrator even gives her own opinion. For example, in chapter eight, the narrator seems to know everything that is going on in Mary’s head during an interaction with Jem, “She was very cunning, I am afraid. She pretended to read diligently, and not to listen to a word that was said, while in fact she heard all sounds, even Jem’s long, deep sighs, which wrung her heart” (Gaskell 79). In this passage, the narrator knows Mary through and through. She seems to be in Mary’s mind and knows her exact motivations and confusing thoughts about Jem. However, she definitely does not agree with Mary’s actions. Although this all-knowing, nameless narrator sees Mary, she is also quite critical of her, as seen by the fact that she calls her cunning and says it instills fear in her.
Although the narrator seems to be harsh on Mary in certain instances, she also shows understanding for her situation. “…how sorely Mary’s heart ached; for more and more the fell certainty came on that her father was the murderer! She struggled hard not to dwell on this conviction; to think alone on the means of proving Jem’s innocence…” (Gaskell 236). I get a more sympathetic vibe from the narrator at this point in the story. I think that the narrator is harsh on Mary when she is having conflicting thoughts about Jem, but once she decides to help him and feels more loving towards him, the narrator starts to be more positive towards her. This leads me to draw the conclusion that the narrator is subtly a pretty big fan of Jem and has been rooting for him.
Jem is a character who stirs up a lot of sympathy in me personally, and I think that is because of both how the narrator portrays him and also how she portrays Mary. Mary is so back and forth with Jem for awhile and it really makes me feel for him. The narrative voice in this novel is the main reason we can see just how indecisive Mary is. On the other hand, Jem loves Mary and always has. It seems to be more black and white for him, while for her it is just messy and confusing. “Her heart began to despair, too, about Jem. She feared he had ceased to love her; and she – she only loved him more and more for his seeming neglect” (Gaskell 188). Bringing my personal experiences into play here, I know what it is like to have someone want you more only when you stop wanting them. It is quite aggravating. This is one of the main reasons I am so sympathetic with Jem in his love story with Mary. The number one reason we as readers are able to see the raw emotions displayed in this love story is because of the narration technique. The narrator sees Mary’s raw thoughts, her confusion, and her indecisiveness about Jem and showcases it for the reader. Omniscient narration, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to tell a riveting story like this one.
The idea of the sublime is something that is new to me and I really connect with it. There has always been something about literature with a sublime setting that has fascinated me, and learning about it through Frankenstein has made me realize where that fascination comes from. I have always felt a connection with nature and have felt almost as if being immersed in nature “elevates” me in a way, just like the sublime settings do for Victor.
A couple quotes about the sublime stood out to me:
“Immense glaciers approached the road; we heard the rumbling thunder of the falling avalanche, and marked the smoke of its passage. Mont Blanc, the supreme and magnificent Mont Blanc, raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles, and its tremendous dome overlooked the valley” (Shelley 115).
“I remembered the effect that the view of the tremendous and ever-moving glacier had produced upon my mind when I first saw it. It had then filled me with a sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy. The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always had the effect of solemnizing my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life” (Shelley 116).
I see both of these block quotes as perfect examples of the sublime in Frankenstein. The
first quote does a great job of describing a sublime setting. Words such as immense, supreme, magnificent, and tremendous all give the reader a feeling of being a part of something bigger and more powerful. I find it very interesting that this thought of Victor’s about the landscape he is in can make such a big impact on me as a reader. A lot of times, setting doesn’t stand out to me very much, but that is not the case here. I think Shelley definitely put a lot of effort into making Victor’s impression of the setting very clear and detailed so we as readers could feel what Victor was feeling in the moment.
While the first block quote is mainly a description of the sublime setting, the second one is Victor describing how this setting has made him feel. These larger-than-life scenes of nature seem to make Victor feel small and powerful at the same time. I find it really interesting how he pairs “the awful and the majestic” together here. I think these two words perfectly encompass what a sublime setting is and how it should make someone feel. I find Victor’s expression of emotion in this scene powerful and moving. It shows that nature has more power than a lot of readers of Frankenstein realize. In this novel, I see the sublime settings and the extended descriptions of them as a tool used by Shelley to increase the character development in Victor. The times I have felt most connected to Victor’s mind while reading this book are when he is in awe of these settings.