Today in class there were two presentations. The first one was about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood by Suzanna and the second one was about the Jane Austen novella, Northhanger Abbey” presented by Jen. Suzanna went into detail about how the Pre-Raphealites were able to reject the standards of what was considered “good art” and still be respected/successful artists. Their primary influences included medieval frescos, genre paintings, and realist settings with attention to historical detail and nature. Part of the reason why they were respected despite resistance from the art academies was that John Ruskin, an influential art critic at the time, praised the work of the Brotherhood.
Jen gave us a summary of Northhanger Abbey and how it was Jane Austen first completed work, but was not able to get it published until after her death. The basic plot is that a woman named Catharine consumes way too many gothic horror novels that it starts affecting her over-active imagination causing her to think that the owner of a large mansion, the Northhanger Abbey, killed his wife when in reality, she died of natural causes.
At the end of the class, we discussed more of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein focusing on several recurring themes in the novel including: Irony, neglect, passion, isolation, and dehumanization. One thing during the discussion that I found interesting was that the creature does not start out as a violent monster. He is only curious of his surroundings and in some cases, shows care for other human beings.
It is only after the cottagers reject him and when Victor doesn’t fulfill his promise of making him a partner that he starts to become a self-loathing monster. There’s also the part that despite his ugly appearance, the creature is shown to be able to learn things very quickly and is very strong. Could this be a criticism about how an external appearance does not make a person’s personality or intellect but the influence from society does? I’m aware that declaring someone’s intelligence and personality could be based on the structure of his/her face was an accepted form of science at the time.
February 22, 2013
Sexism and Intelligence:
Early on in The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot, Mr. Tulliver discusses with Mr. Riley about which academy should he send his son, Tom, too to receive a higher education. During this discussion, Mr. Tulliver’s daughter, Maggie, stops reading a book and joins the conversation prompting the two men to ask what book she’s reading and comment on her ’cuteness. When it’s revealed that she’s reading a book about the history of the Devil, Mr. Riley gets very upset asking how she got a hold of the book. Maggie reveals that her father just simply picked it out (thus revealing that her father is somewhat illiterate) and the discussion then takes a turn where Mr. Riley asks Mr. Tulliver if he’s worried if his son is stupid.
This brings up a lot of questions about how men and women where supposed to behave in 19th Century England (or Western culture in general). Why is it that the two grown men show concern for one of their son’s intelligence, yet when right in front of them, one of their daughter’s is shown be much smarter than her father, is scolded and called a wench. This also goes back to the author as well. George Eliot the pen name for Mary Anne Evans and The Mill on the Floss is autobiographical. It was not unheard for female authors to use their real names in their works but judging by the content I just mentioned, I suspect she created a male pen name so her work could be taken seriously because at the time, only male authors could write more philosophical works. As a result, she’s one of the most well-known writers of the Victorian era.
March 8, 2013
Ugly Truths: The Mill on the Floss Edition
The interaction between the two boys in the third chapter of Book 2 of The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot brings up a few questions about Victorian England culture and its views on people with disabilities. Phillip has a hunchback and because of this, Tom avoids him until he is required to meet him by his superiors. Yet when Tom finally gets close to him, he discovers that the hunchback has a talent for drawing and is quite knowledgeable in fields of study like Latin, Greek, and mathematics.
Much like in Frankenstein, a character is an outcast because he is physically/visually repulsive and can’t do much about it. Yet despite their outer appearance, the monster and Phillip are shown to be incredibly intelligent and have their own goals and struggles. Could this chapter (and I assume the rest of Book Two) of The Mill on the Floss be a direct criticism of that type of prejudice that was part of the norm in Victorian society? Or is it simply and acknowledgement that doesn’t try to resolve anything. My thoughts on the early section of Book Two, these questions will most likely answered later into the reading.
April 26, 2013
Out of the numerous poems from an English Victorian Poetry anthology that I’ve read, the one that I appreciated the most was “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear” by Edward Lear. The poem is a portrait of the author and goes into detail describing his physical appearance, the things around his house, and his social circle. What I enjoy about it most is the self-deprecating nature of the poem. Lear makes humorous jabs at how ugly he looks (His mind is concrete and fastidious/His nose is remarkably big/His visage is more or less hideous/His beard it resembles a wig) and how depressed he seems to be (He weeps by the side of the ocean/He weeps on top of the hill). I like this kind of humor. It shows that the author admits that there are things off about him and that he has the decision to either improve upon it or not change at all. It’s also a fairly easy read with simple rhymes that flow from the mouth smoothly. This poem is also pretty amusing to read out loud in a southern accent.