The human and artistic concerns of both the Romantic and Victorian Ages are similar to our own concerns; the response to those concerns- given by poets, novelists, dramatists and artists- can help us live fuller, more meaningful and creative lives in our own times.
Image from: http://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2013/12/12/25-nineteenth-century-literary-characters-to-consider-inviting-to-your-holiday-party/
Romantic and Victorian Age literary artists have both human and artistic concerns that reflect our own in contemporary society. The ideas of both time periods are able to transcend the boundaries of time as they capture the essence of the human condition. It is the engagement with what is essentially human that allows the readers of contemporary audiences to live fuller, more meaningful and creative lives. It is in Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Tolstoy and Wilde that we observe parts of ourselves and our own culture.
Wordsworth began our literary journey. With his Romantic encouragement to feel, and engage with ourselves and with nature, we are able to immediately see the similarities between ourselves, the people in this library where I write this blog post, and those in the early nineteenth century. There is so much preoccupation with knowledge, logic and regurgitation of fact, that we lose the spirit, the love, and the passion that should fuel our lives. Romantics often look to nature. They draw out its beauty. There is something in its magnificence and simplicity that we are able to then engage with our own nature; our inner being. Artists often do this. See https://vzengl200.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/week-7-blog-post-art-gallery-creative/ for a creative exploration of Eugene Von Guerard’s Milford Sound (1877-79), which highlights in his artwork the tenets Romanticism and its concerns with nature. Like Wordsworth says ‘Our bodies feel, where’er they be, / Against or with our will.’ (Expostulation and Reply, 281). Feeling is inevitable, and suppressing it can only lead to devastation. Fooling yourself out of thinking, or being aware of those feelings, may place you next to Emma, in Jane Austen’s Emma.
Austen is one that alerts us to the importance of recognising feeling. We often preoccupy ourselves – Emma preoccupying herself with matchmaking – with quotidian tasks that we often exert all our energy on. But why? We focus on our jobs, school, cleaning, washing, filling up petrol as a way of distracting us from our feelings. Emma teachers us that we only fool ourselves in these circumstances, and distance ourselves from that goal of absolute happiness. Such warning should be headed for our contemporary society.
Dickens too forewarns the dangers of a lack of emotion. The depressed attitude of Lousia says so much. Head her warning, and you should be fine. Mr. Gradgrind and his insistence on the inundation and reiteration of facts is something not so different today. We see it in the HSC, in exam times, in everyday work, in these weekly blog posts: the lack of depth and interaction with information, but merely the parroting of information. Facts, facts, facts. Cissy Jupe is the one that makes us acknowledge the importance of fun, of imagination. See https://vzengl200.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/week-5-blog-3/ for an in-depth critique of the preoccupation with facts. If you imagination yourself as a circle, only so much should be filled with fact, so much of imagination, and so much of love and hatred. It’s all in the balance. Without one, we would be like Pac-Man, with an insatiable appetite for fulfilment. No one could forget the echoing sound of Mr Sleary’s lisp once you’ve put down the novel: ‘They can’t be alwayth a learning.’ With people today working in order to pay rent, buy food, earn a promotion, we think to Coketown and the similar economic concerns at the forefront of their society. We must not forget to be amused and to love.
Then again, because this consuming interest in money is so ingrained in many from late eighteenth to early nineteenth and into the twenty-first century, could this preoccupation ever be erased from humanity? Probably not. But George Eliot does attempt to display the detrimental effect it has on the soul. It’s when people have reached this financial stability, and we can call them privileged, that we can see a little bit of their human essence dissipate into the wind. Those struggling, the working class, are the ones who appreciate love, and that’s where their spirit comes from. You see this in the transformation of Silas Marner, where his literal stash of gold is his everything, only until he feels the love of young Eppie, that she then becomes his gold, his most prized possession.
Tolstoy similarly acknowledges this deterioration of the soul. I’m not sure about you, but my boss, coworkers, aunties, uncles, all show similarities to Ivan Ilych. They’ve let the evils of the world control them, and take away their life. Our preoccupations with money and promotion,, like Ivan, often detract from our liveliness. Like Eliot, it is in the working class, seeing Gerasim (from The Death of Ivan Ilych) and Nikita (from Master and Man) that we see how the soul really shines: in those free from these evils.
Wilde similarly satirically identifies these follies. Wilde acknowledges such preoccupation with greed, self-promotion, money, reputation – that is all too common today! – and turns it into humour. Not only are English audiences amused by this, they’re laughing at their own ridicule! Perhaps we are too self-involved to recognise our own follies. Perhaps Wilde is highlighting the stupidity of it all. How stupid it is to worry about the things that only superficially matter!
But a las! Will we ever fall out of such trap? The trap of materialism, superficiality, greed, gluttony, all the worst of it? Will we ever eventually learn from these timeless authors, and recognise that the meaning of life, the worth of our soul, lies beyond that we can physically touch? Given our track record, probably not. But then again, that is what makes us essentially human.
Best critical: https://vzengl200.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/week-5-blog-3/
Best creative: https://vzengl200.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/week-7-blog-post-art-gallery-creative/