Week 11 Critical/Creative

Assuming the role of Oscar Wilde, say in a paragraph or so what you were trying to illustrate about the way of life of the rich in late Victorian society.


The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
Image from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-1WPFBTqq4 

Pomposity. The way of life for the rich in late Victorian society was ridiculously pompous. It was about celebrating your money. Boasting about your money. Talking about your money. All without actually saying how much money you had. It was in the detail. Rich Victorian society relied on your party observing the amount of money you spent on such event: the food, the decor, the outfit you were wearing. It was immediately about building your character, not for self-fulfilment or the purpose of another, but for the purpose of building a reputation. It was the difference between serving scones, and cucumber sandwiches, from serving bread and butter. It is in the name of yourself that defined who you are. For, it is the importance of being Earnest. The irony in the name of the play itself can tell you about the lives of the rich in late Victorian society. It wasn’t exactly about being earnest in the sense of being steady, committed, devout, heartfelt, zealous, or sincere, but merely being known as being those things. Perhaps if you speak fast enough, or boisterous enough, or refined enough, people may not be able to notice what you are truely like underneath. For these people, the surface was all that mattered. Everything was fodder. The essence of the soul was something you couldn’t see, so why bother with it?


Week 10 Blog Post – Critical

What can you find out about Tolstoy’s belief in the value of the working class?

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, or just Leo Tolstoy, values the ethics and camaraderie of the working class. Essentially, Tolstoy depicts the working class as the most human. This is illustrated in Tolstoy’s short stories, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and Master and Man.

In The Death of Ivan Illych, it is through Ivan Illych’s proper and illustrious life that we are able to identify the dangers of being privileged. The only generation of love that occurs is between Ivan, his money and his promotions. It is only during times of suffering that the true nature of the human reveals itself. His wife, Praskovya Fyodorovna shows very little sympathy for Ivan’s slow, painful death. The only sorrow found is in the cessation of income after his death. It is in social or economic gain that Tolstoy suggests we begin to lose our soul (something that the working class still maintains): “It is as if I had been going down-hill while I imagined I was going up. And that’s really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me”(122). Here, we are able to see that in both childhood, before the influence of life taints the soul, and the working class, there is a kind of humanity: “It seemed to Ivan Ilych that Vasya was the only one besides Gerasim who understood and pitied him.” Tolstoy suggests that Vasya, Ivan’s son, and Gerasim, his servant, a working class man, were able to conjure empathy for his pain. Neither of them saw the monetary value, or devaluing in his death, what is meant for work or promotion, but singularly, the suffering of a man before death. Ivan notes that “There, in childhood, there had been something really pleasant with which it would be possible to live…but the child who had experienced that happiness no longer existed.’ Gerasim was the only one to care for the dying Ivan – not even the self-obsessed, greedy, wife. He “was sitting at the foot of the bed dozing quietly and patiently”. When commanded to “go away”, Gerasim refused and insisted that it was “all right, sir. I’ll stay a while.” This caring nature is absent in all other characters within the short story, and Ivan knew this, as he felt immense “loneliness in the midst of a populous town.” Thus, in his privileged social circle, Ivan Ilych observes a selfishness, whilst in his observations of the working class, Tolstoy portrays charitable creatures, humane and caring.url.jpgImage from: https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwiVkYzulofUAhVDgLwKHR2UAgAQjhwIBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.encyclopediaofukraine.com%2Fdisplay.asp%3Flinkpath%3Dpages%255CT%255CO%255CTolstoyLeo.htm&psig=AFQjCNHSTIcA3o5hzQz8PKDIx6O1DT6XYA&ust=1495668865783833

This humane characteristic is similarly exhibited within the character of Nikita, in Tolstoy’s short story Master and Man. We are presented with a master and his servant, and in the same way that The Death of Ivan Ilych displays this relationship, we are able to discern the contrasting qualities of the authority figures and the working class. Vasily Andreevich is a materialistic, greedy man, who is juxtaposed to Nikita, a soft, gentle, compassionate being. Tolstoy’s belief that the working class are humane and show camaraderie is evident in Nikita’s relationship with the horse. This camaraderie is mirrored in Gerasim’s affection towards Ivan. Nikita, who would often speak ‘to the horse just as if to someone who understood the words he was using’, and who ‘quite seriously and fully explaining his conduct to Mukhorty’, the horse, shows that he is gentle and open. The working class do not possess the same materialistic nature that often higher classes do. It is this lack of greed that allows them to be fully human. They are removed of the evils of the soul that often gnaw at the side until nothing is left. When these evils are removed, the soul is able to be whole. It is when Andreevich loses these disagreeable preoccupations that he is able to experience a ‘strange and solemn tenderness’. In the selfless moment when he kept josh ‘coat-skirts down around Nikita’s sides’, in an attempt to protect him from the cold, does he encounter this ‘peculiar joy such as he had never felt before.’ It is in the death of his materialistic self that he is able to acquire this new self, reboot with the values that Tolstoy believes the working class bestow. It is as Nabakov states as being the ‘Tolstoyan formula’, of which is applicable to both Andreevich and Ivan: “Ivan lived a bad life and since the bad life is nothing but the death of the soul, then Ivan lived a living death; and since beyond death is God’s living light, then Ivan died into a new life – Life with a capital L.’ This is evident when Ivan states ‘In place of death. there was light.’ This is the same transformation that Andreevich undergoes.

Tolstoy’s belief in the value of working class is evident in his characterisation of the personalities within his short stories. It is in the comparison between privileged society and the working class that we are able to decipher his praise of the working class in their ability to remain essentially human. This is possible through the withdrawal of the evils or money and stature within society.

Week 8 Blog, Critical

Take one stanza from the Scholar Gypsy and carefully explicate its meaning saying how you think the language and form (stanza shape) contribute to the stanza’s power and effect.NSRW_Matthew_Arnold

Image accessed from https://wn.com/the_scholar_gipsy 

The seventeenth stanza, lines 161-170, in Matthew Arnold’s Scholar Gypsy highlights the qualities of the Scholar Gypsy’s life, that those in Arnold’s times, and even our contemporary time, are without. These qualities of the Scholar Gypsy are accentuated through the use of the alliterative ‘f’ sound: ‘Fresh’ (162)… ‘Firm’ (163)… ‘Free’ (164). This draws the reader’s attention to the liberation of life that the Scholar Gypsy lives. He is ‘fresh’, untainted from society’s established values and demands. He is ‘Firm’, dedicated, decisive, in his ability to know, understand, and take action for what he wants and believes. He is also ‘free’ from the constraints and mechanical, monotonous duties of the everyday civilian. It is through the stanza’s structure that the responder is forced to stop and contemplate these things. The contrast between the long lines between lines of 161- 165, we are met with a shorter, exclamatory utterance in line 166: “O life unlike to ours!” This induced pause acts as a summative message, almost didactic, to urge the meaning of the poem. Here, Arnold reinforces that his life is markedly different to the one we lead. It is this contrasting short sentence that marks as a separator between the first and second halves on the stanza. In the first, we are presented with the Scholar Gypsy’s life. In the second Arnold illustrates how we live our life, and thus, in this transition, the audience is able to explicitly see the distinctions between our life and the Scholar Gypsies. Arnold illustrates the constancy of the life we lead: our continuous movement towards something. This ‘something’ is unknown, it is some sort of purpose in our life that may justify why we worked hard. He states: ‘Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives.’ Whilst we are offered two views in this stanza, there is an amalgamation between the two, achieved through the rhyming scheme. Arnold uses a strategic rhyming scheme of ABCBC ADEED that unites both the first and second halves of the stanza.

Matthew Arnold’s deliberate use of poetic devices allows for a powerful delivery of meaning. It is in the stanza form that his ideas of the Scholar Gypsy and the beauty of his life juxtaposed to our own that are firmly expressed.

Week 5, Blog 3

gradgrind.jpgMr Gradgrind
Image from: http://zeteojournal.com/2015/05/08/hard-times-scottwalker/

Own critical topic: Comment on the importance of facts and their impact on the individuals of Coketown. 

The Victorian Period was a time that promoted social responsibility. It was an age of efficiency and improvement, particularly for economic gain. With the Industrial Revolution in full force, the immediacy of these needs was evident. In Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, we are able to identify this urgency for practicality in school, the community and home life, and its detrimental effects on the soul.

Social responsibility is epitomised in the workers of Coketown. In the passage, riddled with repetition, we are encouraged to acknowledge the monotony of the workers’ lives in order to achieve society’s financial goals:

‘ It contained several large streets all vey like one another,

and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited

by people equally like one another, who are went in and out

at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements,

to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same

as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the

last and next.’ (18)

Coketown is anaphorically denoted as a town with ‘so much material wrought up, so much fuel consumed, so many powers worn out, so much money made,’ a place of ‘direful uniformity.’ It is the uniformity that is viewed as practical in the town, as individuality is not effective, or is deemed unnecessary. The ‘unnecessary’ is found in feeling, in difference, in uniqueness, or in expression. For the avid members of Coketown, like Mr Gradgrind, these are not qualities that can be quantified and are therefore not resourceful.

Mr Gradgrind advocates anything quantifiable, such as facts. He is so passionate about his facts, such that ‘you may force him to swallow boiling fat, but you shall never force him to suppress the facts of his life.’ He was an ‘eminently practical father’. So much so, that the value he saw in his daughter, was not love, but a ‘metallurgical Lousia’, seeing only her knowledge in science and technology. The same as his son Thomas, ‘mathematic Thomas’, impressing his father solely by his facts in mathematics. Mr Gradgrind removes all sense of imagination and childhood innocence from his children’s lives. A cow is not a cow, and can never be featured in a nursery rhyme jumping over the moon, but is a ‘graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs.’

It is living with these ‘facts’ and constant determination for more useful knowledge that, whilst expands the mind, diminishes the soul. This is evident in the ‘jaded sullenness’ of both children, Thomas and Louisa, each with a ‘starved imagination.’ Neither had ‘the brightness natural to cheerful youth’, like that of Sissy Jupe, who has sunlight irradiating from her. There is a juxtaposition between classmates Bitzer and Sissy, the former from elite society, and Sissy, the daughter of circus performers. Bitzer with skin ‘so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge’ was a ‘pitcher’ full of facts and yet did not have the same soulful capability that Sissy did.

It is evident from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times that there is a stress put on individuals to know all the facts in order to operate a well-working, streamlined, productive society. However, these qualifications may be stripping the individual of their capacity to love, to feel and to imagine. 

Wk 3 Blog Post

In your own words briefly, say how the ideas in “Expostulation & Reply” & “The Tables Turned” have helped you to understand Romanticism.

Romanticism was a movement that boasted individuality, self-expression and evaluation, and encouraged individuals to connect with imagination and feeling. These facets of Romanticism were a  subversion of the Enlightenment; an age of reason, logic, knowledge and fact. This period encouraged an investigation into the human heart, revealing its immense capacity and impressionability. William Wordsworth is an exceptional example of a Romanticist. The aforementioned qualities of Romanticism permeate his oeuvre, particularly in the lyrical poems ‘Expostulation and Reply’ and ‘The Tables Turned.’ Both of which enhance and aid in our under of Romanticism.

Romantics urge the human to connect with nature and be enlightened by the natural. Wordsworth’s narrator urges the same thing within ‘Expostulation and Reply’. Enticed by rhythm, responders are invited to engage in what is only natural: to feel. Wordsworth compares the notion of feeling, to that of the instinct of seeing:

‘The eye – it cannot choose but see;

We cannot bid the ear be still;

Our bodies feel, where’er they be,

Against or with our will.’ (281)

Wordsworth argues that it in that lack of action, the lack of reading from books, or deliberately engaging in education, that we learn the most. This action, or lake thereof, he terms a ‘wise passiveness’. This passivity allows one to wholly immerse themselves in their surroundings, and in such engagement learns only what nature can teach. 

Furthermore, Wordsworth continues his enticement of nature in his 1798 poem ‘The Tables Turned’. Through descriptive language, riddled with sibilance, and further amplified through rhyme, responders are attracted to the melody of nature:

‘The sun, above the mountain’s head,

A freshening lustre mellow,

Through all the long green fields has spread,

His first sweet evening yellow.’(281)

Wordsworth’s employment of the imperative encourages us to ‘Come forth into the light of things. / Let Nature be your Teacher.’ He directly critiques the logic and reason encouraged by the Enlightenment period, and states you can learn more by nature than by man: ‘One impulse from a vernal wood / May teach you more of man’.

Thus, Wordsworth’s work has aided in my understanding of the tenets of Romanticism, encouraging me to engage more in nature, hence, leading a fuller, more in-tuned life.

Reference list:

Romanticism. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/art/Romanticism. 15th March, 2017.

Wordsworth, William. “Expostulation and Reply.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: Norton, 2012. 280-81.


Wordsworth, William. “The Tables Turned.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: Norton, 2012. 281-82.


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