It’s Just a Phase

The phases in Hardy’s Tess have an effect on the reader that can be seen solely by their titles. Because he calls them “phases” and gives them names that demonstrate the changes within Tess in each phase, he emphasizes the importance of these shifts in Tess’ development.

The mere fact that Hardy chooses to use the word “phase” instead of “book” or “volume” implies that the novel – and Tess’ growth within it – is fluid and representative of growth or development. In this way, the title “phase” alone lends itself to imply that Tess does in fact have a bildungsroman; phases are impermanent, just as Tess’ state is impermanent throughout the novel.

The titles of the phases also contribute to demonstrating Tess’ bildungsroman. Phase the First is titled “The Maiden,” whereas Phase the Second is “Maiden No More.” This pattern can be seen in the next two phases as well: “The Rally” and “The Consequence,” respectively. The pattern here is that in the first phase, Tess encounters Alec, and she must deal with the consequences of that (the baby and her own grief) in the second phase. Likewise, in the third phase, she encounters Angel and seemingly falls in love with him, while in most of the fourth phase she deals with her guilt, the consequence of not telling Angel about Alec earlier on. In this way, Hardy appears to be showing Tess’ growth through how she copes with the things that have happened to her.

The last three phase titles move away from this pattern, however. Phase the Fifth, titled “The Woman Pays,” appears to be another volume discussing the consequences of her actions. In this volume, we see Tess at her lowest point after Angel leaves her, and at the very end of the section, Alec reappears. This appears to be an inversion of the previous four phases; Angel exits, and Alec returns, which sets up Tess’ temptation in the later phases. In “The Convert,” Phase the Sixth, the title itself implies a complete change from one state to another, and it at first appears to be in reference to Alec and Angel’s conversions: Alec’s questionable conversion to Christianity and Angel’s decision to return home. However, we learn in Phase the Seventh, “The Fulfillment,” that Tess has married Alec to help support her family. As a result, Tess is the real convert in Phase the Sixth – she has decided to give in to Alec. “The Fulfillment,” then, demonstrates the consequences of this conversion – Angel returns, Alec is murdered, and Tess must die. Tess has clearly changed through these three phases, from her lowest point to marrying Alec to her death, but she also must pay the price for the ways in which she has changed.

In Tess, Hardy uses even the volume titles to demonstrate Tess’ unsatisfactory bildungsroman. From calling the volumes “phases” to creating patterns within the phases that match their titles, Hardy underlines the importance of Tess’ growth and development.

Love and Marriage in The Odd Women

Several scenes in The Odd Women serve as debates in which social issues are discussed from different sides. In Chapter 6, a conversation between Rhoda and Miss Barfoot gives insight into their characters regarding love and marriage and demonstrates two differing social viewpoints on that issue.

Perhaps the strongest factor in Rhoda and Miss Barfoot’s differences of opinion is their experiences – or lack thereof, in Rhoda’s case – regarding love. Rhoda explains that the only time she had been in love was when she was a teenager, and not at all since. Miss Barfoot replies hinting that she’s had more involvement with love in the past: “You are not very well able to judge this case. I, on the other hand, can judge it with the very largest understanding” (81). This difference – Rhoda’s inexperience with love and Miss Barfoot’s familiarity with it – is what shapes their different stances on the issue.

Earlier in their conversation, Rhoda speaks at length about “love, love, love; a sickening sameness of vulgarity . . . in real life, how many men and women fall in love?” (82). Love itself, then, is a fantasy to Rhoda only found in novels. Additionally, because Rhoda’s involvement with love is minimal, it seems unfathomable to her why women would want to get married in the first place: “I maintain that the vast majority of women lead a vain and miserable life just because they do marry” (83). This, of course, becomes ironic when she falls in love with and agrees to marry Everard, but even this we can see as the result of her inexperience; after Everard marries another woman, Rhoda laments “you never loved me with entire sincerity” (324). After her experience with Everard, Rhoda has learned more about love and has effectively come full-circle.

If Rhoda is a budding social activist who matures in her activism by the end of the novel, Miss Barfoot is already a seasoned veteran when the conversation begins. She sees marriage as a viable option for some women: “We wish to prevent girls from marrying just for the sake of being supported . . . but surely between ourselves we can admit that the vast majority of women would lead a wasted life if they did not marry” (83). In this way, she considers marriage as being positive on a case-by-case basis. Later, she clarifies that while Rhoda is against marriage as part of “a new world order,” Miss Barfoot “speak[s] of human nature, not of the effect of institutions” (83). Miss Barfoot recognizes the desire – and necessity, for some women – to marry, whether for love or for the sake of being supported.

The difference between Rhoda and Miss Barfoot’s opinion on love and marriage in this conversation can be boiled down to their experiences with love. Because Rhoda is relatively inexperienced, she condemns marriage entirely, in much the same way a new activist might. Miss Barfoot, on the hand, has been in love, and from her experience sees marriage as a possibility for those women who desire it.

Pip’s Bildungsroman

While multiple characters in Great Expectations experience a Bildungsroman, Pip’s is perhaps the most convincing. If the definition of a Bildungsroman is a young person’s development to maturity, Pip goes through not one but two Bildungsromans—one regarding his class, and the other his human empathy.

The first layer of Pip’s Bildungsroman is the obvious—he moves from the lower middle class to gentility with the help of his anonymous benefactor. As a result, he learns how to be a gentleman through a combination of the people in his life: Miss Havisham and Estella at Satis House and Herbert, for example. However, in the process of becoming a gentleman, Pip does not appear to experience much in the way of a change in morals, as seen when he’s embarrassed of Joe after his first visit to Satis House.

The second layer of Pip’s Bildungsroman—perhaps his “real” Bildungsroman—is exposed as the first is pulled away: when he discovers his anonymous benefactor is Abel Magwitch, his convict. Immediately, Pip’s rise through class is shattered, and he loses essentially everything he has worked for as a result. In doing so, he looks back upon the mistakes he made and how he had treated Joe earlier: “I had never been struck at so keenly, for my thanklessness to Joe;” “my heart was deeply and most deservedly humbled” (Vol. 3, Chapter 13). Pip not only recognizes the way he’d treated Joe was wrong—which he had done earlier, to some degree—but here he also appears to regret it deeply.

Additionally, when he first learns that Magwitch is his benefactor, Pip uses words like “abhorrent,” “dread,” and “repugnance” (Book 2, Chapter 20), all based on Magwitch’s appearance and the fact that Pip knows it means he’ll lose everything. Nonetheless, when it becomes clear that Magwitch needs help, Pip starts to feel sympathetic toward him: “Looking back at him, I thought of the first night of his return . . . and when I little supposed my heart could ever be as heavy and anxious at parting from him as it was now” (Vol. 3, Chapter 7).

In this way, it seems like Dickens’ view on Bildungsroman and maturity is closely tied to empathy. Pip’s first Bildungsroman is a false lead, as it eventually falls away; however, his ability to learn to empathize with Joe and Magwitch, both of whom he’d previously considered beneath him, demonstrates his growth as a person and as a gentleman. Manners and class, then, appear to have less to do with maturity than does genuine human empathy.

Eliot’s Narrator in The Mill on the Floss

In her own words, George Eliot claimed that “The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling erring human creatures.” In The Mill on the Floss, she succeeds in that aim through several means, but especially via the narrator of the novel.

Although we aren’t told explicitly who the narrator is, we can get a feeling for her through the way she’s introduced in Book 1, Chapter 1. We’re given a description of the Floss and St. Ogg’s, and at the end of the first paragraph, the narrator repeatedly says “I remember.” The idea of memory, so important in the novel to Maggie in particular later on, is already established even in the narrator, who is a person with memories all her own. In this way, we’re introduced to the narrator as another character in the story, another person with experiences to learn from

In addition to solidifying the narrator as a character, the choice of allowing the narrator to step in at times is a unique one that works well for Eliot’s goal. It makes the entire novel more personal than it would be if it had a distanced omniscient narrator, or if it was written from Maggie or Tom’s point of view in first person. Instead, we are shown their lives through the lens of another person, one who shows sympathy to them. Tom is referred to several times as “poor Tom,” and the narrator spends an entire paragraph in Book 5, Chapter 5, telling the reader “do not think too hardly of Philip.” While the reader might be quick to judge the characters for their actions, Eliot’s narrator instead moves us a step backward and makes us look at the situation from the character’s point of view.

The narrator also brings in her own observations to make the actions of the characters more familiar and understandable for the reader. This happens multiple times in the novel; one interesting instance is in Book 5, Chapter 2, when the narrator discusses the differences between young people and the middle-aged or elderly. Everyone knows someone of Maggie’s age and someone of her father’s age – they might even know a father and daughter with a similar relationship – and this makes their interactions more accessible to the reader and elicits sympathy for the characters.

Although Eliot uses several means to achieve sympathy in the reader for the characters, the narrator herself is possibly the most prominent and interesting. Because she acts as another character in the story, we get to see the characters through her eyes, which allows us to feel compassion for the characters the same way she does.

The Creature and Nature

For much of the novel, the Creature in Frankenstein is shown as a menacing, violent character toward humanity. However, when the Creature is in nature, he appears to be much more docile than during his interactions with humans. The scene shortly after the Creature’s first experiences in nature provides a glimpse into the Creature’s future conflicting feelings about humanity and develops within him the desire to be heard.

In Volume II, Chapter III, the Creature begins his narrative about his life after leaving Victor’s apartment. After a day or two, the Creature experiences the cold for the first time: “I was a poor, hopeless, miserable wretch, I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but, feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.” In this instance, the Creature can’t do anything to combat the cold. This is a very different contrast from later in his story, such as when he tries to make William become his friend; the weather is something he can’t control.

Just after the Creature’s episode of self-pity, however, “a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave [him] a sensation of pleasure.” Earlier, the Creature had described the sun as a reason to “shut [his] eyes,” but here he has a very different reaction. He describes it as “a radiant form,” and he watches it with “wonder,” both of which are common descriptions used in sublime nature scenes. Whereas the Creature had previously found nature to be harsh and uncontrollable, here he seems to find it enjoyable. This contrast in reactions to nature could be seen as a parallel to his relationship with humanity; while he vows to exact his revenge on all mankind, he also desires for companionship.

Sublime settings, as stated by Nancy Fredricks, “provide a space where the marginalized can be heard,” and later in the same scene we see the Creature reflect this literally. He listens to the birds, and tries to replicate their music: “Sometimes I tried to imitate [their] pleasant songs.” More than that, though, he tries to articulate his thoughts: “I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the uncouth . . . sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.” While the Creature is unsuccessful at fully expressing himself at this point, it’s interesting to see that he has the desire to speak and be heard before he has any concept of real speech. Of course, he does become able to express himself later, as demonstrated by his entire conversation with Victor—they are in nature, and the Creature is making himself heard by telling Victor his story and ultimately asking for a companion.

All of the Creature’s encounters with nature prove to be interesting in terms of his character. His first, however, is interesting because it not only foreshadows future events in regards to his interactions with humans, but it also demonstrates his desire as a marginalized being to be heard.

Realism in Emma

Realism is one of the most important modes seen in 19th century literature, and Austen’s Emma exhibits qualities that place it among other realist novels. Through the character of Emma, we can see where Austen adds realist elements to the novel.

In “Realism,” George Levine argues that “no definition of realism can be quite satisfactory” (8). However, Levine attempts to describe realism and its qualities, claiming that, “despite its appearance of solidity, realism implies a fundamental uneasiness about self, society, and art” (12). Emma’s character best shows the implications of each of these qualities through her wishy-washiness.

At the beginning of Chapter 8, Volume 2, Emma, through indirect discourse with the narrator, contemplates her opinion of Frank. In the first sentence of the paragraph, she “continued to entertain no doubt of her being in love,” but by the end of the paragraph, “it struck her that she could not be very much in love.” Emma changes her mind so quickly that, although she has appeared to favor Frank up to this point, she is not as firmly planted in her opinion of him as she might have thought.

Additionally, Emma gives us an idea of the uneasiness that existed in society during the time. Her dislike of Miss Hawkins begins when she first learns about her existence. Emma guesses that her father, a merchant, “to be the drudge of some attorney, and too stupid to rise” (186), which is why the family has no real connections. Although Emma thinks Miss Hawkins below her, she does not reserve the same judgment for everyone. Emma steers Harriet away from Mr. Martin in Chapter 4, deciding that because Harriet has become Emma’s friend, “there can be no doubt of [Harriet’s] being a gentleman’s daughter” (75) and, as a result, a marriage to Mr. Martin would only lower her position. While class structure and etiquette seems to be permanent, Emma still bends the rules to suit her.

Last in Levine’s statement is that of the uneasiness about art, which is most clearly seen through Emma’s musical and artistic abilities. Emma spends much time on Jane Fairfax’s faults, but she concedes that Jane’s “performance … was infinitely superior to her own” (218). While she acknowledges this, she does not take it well, as, “with mixed feelings, she seated herself a distance from the … instrument” (218). Whereas Emma appears confident in her artistic abilities in Chapter 6, because of Jane she seems to become aware that she’s not the most talented all-around artist. This can be seen as a reflection of society’s views on art at the time, in which the establishment decided what constituted “good” and “bad” art—including the novel itself.

Levine’s description of realism as a sort of feigned solidity seems to be in line with certain aspects of Emma’s character. In this way, Austen displays elements of realism throughout the novel, indirectly pointing at issues in society through Emma’s everyday life.