Wuthering Heights: Reverse Colonialism and the Imperial Gothic Tradition

Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week’s income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together?’ 
– Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, p.40.

In Gothic fiction of the Victorian period, concepts of the racial other become inextricably linked with fin-de-siècle fears of imperial decline and subsequent degeneration. More specifically, characters that are denounced as racially distinct are often viewed as figures of abjection and fear; they are the ‘marauding, invasive other[s]’ in which ‘British culture sees its own imperial practices mirrored back in monstrous forms’.[1] This monstrosity is accentuated through a denouncement of the racial other as recidivist, linked intimately to notions of both moral and physical degeneracy. However, this degeneracy in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights not only internalises fears of Victorian England’s ‘devolution’ into a more primitive and morally degraded state of being, but more widely comes to critique and accentuate the increasing fragility of the British empire itself. This Victorian Gothic work is an example of the ‘imperial Gothic’, playing on Victorian anxieties.[2] In their respective representations of the racial Other, the texts come to highlight anxieties surrounding Victorian societies supposedly morally supreme status, presenting images of reverse imperialism to accentuate the decline of the British empire.

Anxieties surrounding colonial decline are clearly accentuated in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, a novel which Susan Meyer argues acts as ‘an extended critique of British Imperialism.’[3] Heathcliff, an orphan of ambiguous racial origin, becomes the embodiment of the racial ‘Other’; his social position and actions threaten the rigid imperialistic class structures engrained in the fabric of the rigid model of the Victorian family home, as well as the position of England as colonial superior. Throughout the novel, Heathcliff is repeatedly collocated with notions of racial inferiority; he is frequently compared to darkness and criminality, his uncertain race alluding to a supposedly corrupted underlying spirit.[4] These notions of otherness are first accentuated through Heathcliff’s introduction to the Earnshaw family. Nelly declares that:

We crowded round, and, over Miss Cathy’s head, I had a peep at a dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk- indeed, its face looked older than Catherine’s – yet, when it was set on its feet, it only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand.[5]

From his very introduction, Heathcliff is displaced as a figure of ‘Otherness’ that is scarcely acknowledged to even belong to the same species as those surrounding him. His ‘black’ hair, coupled with his ‘dirty’ and ‘ragged’ appearance (p.25), places him entirely at odds with the middle-class Earnshaw children. Heathcliff’s racial ambiguity consequently becomes associated with the dirt that masks his face, contrasting starkly with the white skinned ‘purity’ of Catherine and Hindley.[6] Heathcliff’s otherness further becomes demarcated through the Earnshaw’s inability to comprehend his speech, resulting in the denouncement of Heathcliff as merely speaking ‘gibberish’ (p.25). It is in the adjective ‘gibberish’ that racial superiority is ultimately compounded; in speaking ‘gibberish’ (p.25), defined as ‘unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing; nonsense’, Heathcliff finds himself silenced through a racial prejudice that denounces his voice as unimportant ‘nonsense’. [7] In doing so the Earnshaw family, including Nelly, attempt to silence Heathcliff under the colonial gaze; the family denounce Heathcliff as racially inferior in order to affirm their own colonially superior social position.[8] As Susan Meyer observes, Heathcliff finds himself ‘pronounced upon as if he were a specimen of some strange animal species’, ‘subjected to the potent gaze of racial arrogance deriving from British imperialism.’[9] Through this gaze, Heathcliff finds himself marginalised and consigned to social and class inferiority.

However, although treated as an inferior racial other, continual interest in Heathcliff’s ambiguous racial ancestry accentuates the liminality of his position and the threat this poses to the surrounding gentrified families. Throughout the novel, Heathcliff finds himself continually collocated with countries synonymous with imperial resistance and political uncertainty.[10] These fears are clearly evoked in Nelly’s speculations; she tells Heathcliff that he is ‘fit for a prince in disguise. Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week’s income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together?’ (p.40). At the time of Wuthering Heights’ publication in 1847, both India and China proved to be countries fraught with colonial uncertainty. Although the British empire had almost entirely established political control in India, English rule in China had been marred by the effects of the Opium wars. The subsequent decline in trade left England with far less confidence surrounding their ability to control and assimilate countries into their once burgeoning empire.[11] Through a collocation of Heathcliff with an ancestry closely tied to notions of colonial decline and uncertainty, Nelly’s narrative essentially gives voice to ‘prospect of an alliance’ between the two countries ‘and the possibility of their joint occupation of Britain.’ [12] In the suggestion of Heathcliff’s families purported wealth, which would ultimately give him the ability to buy up both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights for as little as ‘one weeks income’ (p.40), Brontë highlights the possibility of the conqueror becoming the conquered by countries before considered colonially inferior.

These economic fears appear to be realised on Heathcliff’s return, who subsequently subverts and monopolises the imperial gaze that once consigned him to racial inferiority. In his power over both the Linton and Earnshaw families, Heathcliff seemingly confirms Nelly’s conjectured anxieties. Revelling in his new position of economic power, Heathcliff enacts his revenge on his ‘colonisers’ and invokes a course of reverse imperialism. Through this reversal, Heathcliff’s position as racial ‘other’ provides him with the liminality to rise above and conquer those once considered his colonial superiors. This inversion is not only demonstrated through his economic ruining of Hindley and the stripping of Linton’s family home, but also in Heathcliff’s horrific oppression of Isabella Linton. Isabella, once superior to Heathcliff, finds herself subjected to a radical class inversion in the hands of her captor/husband. Isabella, who once looked from a position of social superiority on the man who looked ‘exactly like the son of the fortune-teller’ (p.34), finds herself oppressed by the same colonising gaze that she once deployed to belittle her husband. As Isabella is subjected to Heathcliff’s gaze, Brontë describes Heathcliff as looking upon her ‘as one might do at a strange repulsive animal: a centipede from the Indies, for instance’ (p.76). This results in Isabella turning ‘white and red in rapid succession’ and using ‘her nails’ to free herself from Cathy’s grip (p.77). Isabella, reduced under the imperial gaze inflicted upon her, becomes a figure collocated with animalism. She is not only colluded in the passage with both a ‘centipede’ (p.76), but is also denounced as a ‘tigress’ (p.77) by Cathy for her animalistic clawing of her arm in an attempt to escape Heathcliff’s gaze. Paralleled thus with the wildlife abundant in the West Indies Isabella finds herself, in the same way as her husband, ‘pronounced upon as if [s]he were a specimen of some strange animal species’.[13] Through this reduction, Heathcliff’s monopolisation of the imperial gaze is complete; his ability to wield this gaze, coupled with the class liminality provided to him through his ambiguous racial ancestry, subsequently allows him to enact his legal domination over the colonially superior figures that become the embodiment of the British Empire in the narrative.

As Meyer thus comes to argue, ‘the “vivid and fearful” scenes in Wuthering Heights, of which Charlotte Brontë complained, are primarily scenes in which the ugliness of starkly wielded colonial power, usually exercised in areas remote from the reach of British law or putative moral standards, is enacted through Heathcliff’s fearful reversals.’[14] It is in this way that the novel proved so horrifying to its Victorian readership; Heathcliff’s enactment of ‘fearful reversions’, as well as his meteoric rise, threaten the imperial superiority engrained in the social and moral values of the British Empire. However, Meyer further suggests that this threat is felt most sharply through the location of Heathcliff’s reversions being in England.

Featured Image
–  Illustration by Fritz Eichenberg, as taken from the 1943 Random House edition of Wuthering Heights. See Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847; London: Random House, 1943).

[1] Stephen D. Arata, ‘The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonisation’ in Dracula: Contemporary Critical Essays, ed. Glennis Byron (London: MacMillan Press Ltd, 1999), pp.119-145, p.121.

[2] The term ‘imperial Gothic’ was first introduced by Patrick Bratlinger. For more background information on the term, see Patrick Bratlinger, ‘Imperial Gothic: Atavism and the Occult in the British Adventure Novel, 1880- 1914’ in Reading Fin de Siècle Fictions, ed. Lyn Pykett (London: Longman, 1996), pp.184-210.

[3] Susan Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women’s Fiction (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), p.100.

[4] For more information, see Max Nordau, Degeneration (New York City: D. Appleton and Company, 1895).

[5] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847; Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 2000), p.25. All further references to Brontë s text are to this edition, and page numbers will be presented parenthetically.

[6] Throughout the novel, Brontë continually deploys light imagery to contrast the racial ambiguity of Heathcliff with the purity of the middle-class Earnshaw and Linton families. The use of dirt and mud is once again evoked at the start of Chapter 7 on the return of Cathy to Wuthering Heights. Cathy’s passage from ‘savage’ (p.36) to gentrified is starkly contrasted with Heathcliff, who is described as having ‘thick uncombed hair’, ‘clothes […] which had seen three months’ service in mire and dust’, and a ‘beclouded’ visage (p.37).

[7] Oxford Dictionary Online. Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gibberish [Accessed 17/03/2018]

[8] In postcolonial theory, the imperial gaze is often defined by the observed finding themselves defined in terms of colonially superiors own set of social systems and moral values. From this perspective, the imperial gaze thus infantilizes the object of the scrutiny whilst simultaneously denouncing the observed as racially and socially inferior. This is the concept of the imperial gaze, as first introduced and subsequently developed by E. Ann Kaplan, that this blog post will focus on and expand in relation to the supposedly racial inferior monopolising this gaze to enact discourses of reverse imperialism. For more information on the imperial gaze, see E. Ann Kaplan, Looking for the Other: Feminism and the Imperial Gaze (London: Routledge, 2012).

[9] Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women’s Fiction, p.97.

[10] Not only is Heathcliff associated with India and China in the novel, but also with the American Civil War. As Lockwood conjectures of Heathcliff’s meteoric rise in fortune, did ‘he earn honours by drawing blood from his foster country [?]’ (p.67). This, as Susan Meyer contends, further places Heathcliff into a discourse of ‘successful colonial rebellion’. For more information, see Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women’s Fiction, p.114.

[11] For more information, see Ross G. Forman, China and the Victorian Imagination: Empires Entwined (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[12] Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women’s Fiction, p.114.

[13] Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women’s Fiction, p.114.

[14] Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women’s Fiction, p.118.

Written by Steph Reeves.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Robin Hood Tradition: Tensions and Bonds in The Early Modern Ballads

‘Were thou not my maister…/
thou shuldis by hit ful sore;/
get the a man wher thou wille,/
for thou getis me no more.’
-Robin Hood and The Monk, ll.59-62.

In the early modern ballads of the Robin Hood tradition, homosocial bonds are almost continually compromised by tensions surrounding masculinity and power. These tensions are seen throughout both Robin Hood and The Monk and Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne; such conflicts are most interestingly presented through the characters, and arguments, of Little John and Robin Hood respectively. In both ballads, Little John and Robin Hood’s friendship becomes compromised mainly by power struggles, as often instigated and challenged by Robin Hood himself. These struggles consequently lead to vulnerability and dissolution within the outlaw community.

In Robin Hood and The Monk, Robin instigates tensions between himself and Little John through his attempts to assert authoritarian control. Written in around 1450[1], the ballad is far removed from the later gentrification of Robin Hood, yet Robin still possesses an undeniable authority over the band of outlaws.[2] He declares that ‘Litull John shall beyre my bow, Til that me list to drawe’.[3] The use of the modal verb ‘shall’ accentuates his belief in his authority; in using a modal verb, which ‘expresses necessity or possibility’, Robin propounds Little John’s compliance as already accepted.[4] In this case, Little John is reduced to ‘a squire rather than a fellow’[5], a depreciating position that Little John clearly refutes. Little John declares ‘were thou not my maister…thou shuldis by hit ful sore; get the a man wher thou wille, for thou getis me no more’(l.59-62). As Bernard Lumpkin argues, ‘In his rebuke, Little John rejects the language of fellowship and substitutes for it the language of hierarchy…such words vividly convey his shame and bitterness over the demeaning role Robin Hood has made him play.’[6] This ‘language of hierarchy’ is exemplified by John’s use of ‘man’, which in turn suggests servant, as well as ‘maister’. In using these terms, Little John exemplifies his lower status to Robin. However, although defining himself as subordinate to Robin in this way, Little John refuses to remain in such a lowly position. Power, therefore, becomes the key area of contention between the two men, causing tension in the homosocial community.

Power tensions in the ballad also result from the archery competition between Robin Hood and Little John, which itself articulates the masculine aggression underpinning the outlaw community. In the early fifteenth-century, archery was seen as ‘the weapon of lesser men’[7]; it was often seen as the choice weapon of the yeomanry populace. However, archery competitions were often seen as a way of showcasing prowess and masculine dominance. In Robin and Little John partaking in a competition, masculine aggressions and tensions are thus underlined; it is with Little John’s success that Robin incites tension into the seemingly peaceful forest setting. Robin Hood ‘seid schortly nay’, ‘lyed Litus Jon’ and ‘smote hym with his hande’ (l.55-56); in denouncing Little John as a liar, Robin clearly refuses to admit his inferior position and the loss of the archery competition to one of his fellow, yet simultaneously ‘lower’, outlaws. Furthermore, in the active verb ‘smote’, defined archaically as the ‘a heavy blow or strike’[8], Robin appears to berate Little John for winning, verbally and physically attacking him and consequently blemishing his archery prowess over Robin himself. This berating arises once again in Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, where Robin Hood sets out to destroy any sense of superior prowess that Little John possesses. Robin remarks that ‘it is noe cunning a knave to ken’[9], suggesting that Little John has no more skill than Robin in deducing whether strangers be friend or foe. As remarked in the ballad itself, ‘often words they breeden bale, that parted Robin and John’ (l.43); as a result of this, both ballads become ‘a full statement of the danger of conflict within the band’[10], accentuating tensions of power and masculinity and the effect of this on the cohesive homosocial community.

Such dangers are accentuated through Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne; In the ballad, the tensions are more seriously positioned. Dissolution within the outlaw gang becomes marked by death and extreme violence. As Stephen Knight argues, this makes the ballad ‘a partner piece to Robin Hood and the Monk’[11]; Just like the previous ballad, Little John and Robin are left fundamentally more vulnerable after parting company. Once again, it is Robin who instigates the disbanding, taking offence at Little John’s attempts to protect him. From the opening stanza’s of the ballad, it becomes apparent that Robin’s characterisation has been elevated further than in Robin Hood and The Monk; his dream, in which he is ‘beete and binde’ (l.9) by ‘two wight yeoman’ (l.7), aligns Robin with the Medieval Romance genre, in which the heroes find themselves indulging in dream-like prophecies.[12] This elevation in characterisation is made further apparent through Robin’s overt awareness of his masculinity; Robin sees Little John’s remarks to be attacks upon his position as lead outlaw. He declares ‘A, John, by me thou setts noe store’, ‘how offt send I my men beffore, and tarry myselfe behinde?’ (l.37-38). In this, it is clear Robin takes Little John’s words as an accusation of cowardice, rather than ones of protection and allegiance. In the use of the prepositions ‘behinde’ and ‘beffore’, Robin, like Little John, ‘rejects the language of fellowship’ for ‘the language of hierarchy’[13]. Robin repudiates the notion of being one who delays the action, as ‘tarry’ suggests, refusing to be seen in any way as subordinate in masculinity to John. Moreover, in the use of ‘my men’, Robin once again compounds the notion of Little John’s inferiority; in his rebuke, Robin reduces Little John once more to a servant as opposed to his fellow, an action reminiscent of Robin’s similar treatment of Little John in Robin Hood and the Monk.

Robin’s preoccupation with cowardice highlights the multi-faceted nature of power dynamics amongst the outlaws; preoccupations with masculinity and courage become the focal point of tension in the homosocial community. It is this that fundamentally weakens the group, leaving the community vulnerable to attack from false foresters, as embodied by Guy of Gisborne, and the corrupting force of the Sheriff. As Lumpkin argues, ‘The medieval ballads thus reveal Robin Hood’s band as a dynamic community’, in which ‘the limits of individual power are continually negotiated’ and ‘the potential for the tyranny of one man is lessened by others who act, as it were, as checks and balances.’[14] It is apparent, then, that tensions arise from Robin’s supposed superiority over the group; it is up to characters, such as Little John, to advise and placate Robin, reminding him continually of his place amongst his fellow yeomen.

Featured Image:
Illustration of Robin Hood and The Guy of Gisborne.

[1] Although the exact dating of The Monk is unclear, this essay will take 1450 as its contextual basis for analysis.

[2] Robin, although possessing certain levels of elevation in character, does not become gentrified until The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington, written by Anthony Munday and produced by the Admiral’s Men in 1599. See Anthony Munday, ‘The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), pp.303-402

[3] ‘Robin Hood and the Monk’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (Kalamzoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), pp.31-57, p.38, l.37-38. All further references to this edition and are given parenthetically in the text.

[4] Oxford Dictionary Online. Available at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/shall [Accessed 28/02/2017]

[5] Bernard Lumpkin, ‘The Ties that Bind: Outlaw and Community in the Robin Hood Ballads and the Romance of Eustace the Monk’ in Robin Hood in Popular Culture, ed. Thomas Hahn (Boydell & Brewer: Cambridge, 2000), pp.141-151, p.146.

[6] Lumpkin, ‘The Ties that Bind: Outlaw and Community in the Robin Hood Ballads and the Romance of Eustace the Monk’ in Robin Hood in Popular Culture, p.146.

[7] Jim Bradbury, The Medieval Archer (Boydell & Brewer: Suffolk, 1985), p.1

[8] Oxford Dictionary Online. Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/smite [Accessed 26/02/2017]

[9] ‘Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (Kalamzoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997),pp.169-184, p.174, l.39. All further references to this edition and are given parenthetically in the text.

[10] ‘Introduction to Robin Hood and the Monk’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (Kalamzoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997),pp.31-36, p.33.

[11] ‘Introduction to Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, ed. Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (Kalamzoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997), pp.169-172, p.171.

[12] In the Medieval Romance genre, heroes experiencing prophecies and dreams was a common trope which elevated the position of the heroic characters. Such elevation can be seen in Medieval romances such as Guigemar, who receives a prophecy from an ambisexual stag after fatally wounding the animal with an arrow. See Marie De France, ‘Guigemar’ in The Lais of Marie De France, trans. Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby (London: Penguin, 1986),pp.43-55.

[13] Lumpkin, ‘The Ties that Bind: Outlaw and Community in the Robin Hood Ballads and the Romance of Eustace the Monk’ in Robin Hood in Popular Culture, p.146.

[14] Lumpkin, ‘The Ties that Bind: Outlaw and Community in the Robin Hood Ballads and the Romance of Eustace the Monk’ in Robin Hood in Popular Culture, p.147.

Written by Steph Reeves.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Immortality and Transcendence in John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

‘Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death’
Keats, Ode to a Nightingale, l.51-52.

The wish for transcendence adopts an arousing vision for the second-generation Romantic poets, as they strongly believed in the healing power of the imagination and the ability to escape real life with their creative thoughts. Samuel Taylor Coleridge offers a theory for creative transcendence in one of his famous passages in Biographia Literaria (1817). He establishes a harmonious relationship between the ideal world and the real world: ‘[the imagination] dissolves, diffuses, dissipates in order to re-create: even where this process is rendered impossible’.[1] Shortly after Coleridge’s work was published, poets including John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley shed a new light onto the transcendent powers of poetry. Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819) explores the transcendent influence of the human mind through the presence of nature as an immortal symbol. The use of imaginative transcendence from a real world to the ideal in both poems exposes the transition of multiple other binaries. The wish to transcend between the real and ideal can question whether the human imagination is subject to the limitations of human experience.

In Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, the bird is presented as an immortal icon. The speaker admires the happiness that the nightingale possesses: ‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot/ But being too happy in thine happiness’.[2] The nightingale embodies an excess of joy which is incomparable to the speaker’s. The superlative ‘too’ portrays the extremity of the nightingale’s immortality, invoking an excess of emotion onto the speaker. The overbalance of pleasure from a natural object links to the themes encompassing the Sublime. In The Prelude, William Wordsworth recognises nature’s superiority in the lines:

‘The Power which these/
Acknowledge when thus moved, which Nature thus/
Thrusts forth upon the senses.’[3]

The all-consuming ‘Power’ of the bird’s songs in Keats poem invokes a raw emotion that shows how the transcendence is initiated by a Subliminal, aesthetic experience.

Whilst the nightingale is an immortal entity, it is also a bird of darkness. The dark imagery in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ resembles the death-wish of the speaker; there is ‘no light’ (l. 38) except from where the breeze causes the trees to part. The stanza is full of absences and presences caused from the transcendence from reality to the ideal, reflecting the glimpses of life and death:

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
(ll. 41-52)

Keats’ bird is invisible in the shadowy forest of ‘embalmed darkness’, resembling the death-wishes connected to the transcendent thoughts of the speaker. The dark imagery plunges the speaker into confusion; he ‘cannot see’, blinded by the powers of his imagination. Furthermore, he addresses the nightingale as ‘Darkling’ to emphasise his loneliness in a dark world. Although the nightingale is immortal in the ideal world, Keats is suggesting that when combined with the real world, the bird brings deathly connotations because of its black colour. He views death as a welcomed prospect; ‘I have been half in love with easeful Death’. Death to Keats seems partly desirable because of the mortality of the world he lives in. The presence of the nightingale in reality makes him see death as an escape to release him from his troubles. The dark symbolism of the nightingale draws a close association between life and death, which blurs the boundaries between the two.

Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ contrasts the immortality of the bird with the reality of mankind to remind us of the permanent sorrow in the world, emphasising the human desire to escape it. The speaker wishes to ‘fade far away’ from the death and decay of the real world:

‘Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan’
(ll. 21- 24)

The verb ‘dissolve’ stresses Keats’ desire to disappear from the destructive world around him. The added emphasis of ‘dissolve’ in parenthesis separates the word away from the rest of the stanza; resembling Keats distancing himself from the decay of reality. Furthermore, the imagery of the miserable men visualises a world of grief and suffering that is not apparent in the nightingale’s world. The sensory ‘groan[s]’ interfere with the beauty of the nightingale’s song that ‘Singest of summer’ (l. 10). This contrast grounds Keats in the realms of reality and stops him from transcending. The regular rise and fall of the iambic pentameter syllables arguably represent the sound of a heartbeat; further keeping Keats connected to the physical body whilst transcending to an idealised state. This suggests that the mortality of the world cannot be escaped even if mankind wishes to be free. With regards to Keats’ poetry, Bernice Slote summarises that ‘because of the particular poetic quality of his life, Keats’ poems are nearly always viewed autobiographically’.[4] Contextually therefore, it is likely that Keats is referring to the death and sickness occurring in his life at the time he wrote the ode. His family’s misfortunes and impending struggle with tuberculosis enabled Keats to envision a world surrounded by life’s suffering and decay. This belief is exemplified in his letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, 3 May 1818:

I compare human life to a Mansion of Many apartments… [in which occurs the] sharpening of one’s vision into the heart and nature of Man- of convincing one’s nerves that the world is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression.’[5]

The degenerated earth that Keats lives in opposes the nightingale’s infinite life; as the bird ‘wast not born for death’ (l. 61). The age and decay of the real world in Keats’ ode contrasts with the state of the bird to suggest that mankind is inferior. Combining the world of imagination with the real world is important to Keats because without imagination, the real world is confined to ugliness. On the other hand, merging the two worlds with the speaker’s imagination shows how one cannot simply transcend into the other. Earl Wasserman argues that Keats’ juxtaposition of immortality and pain emphasises the instability of reality, ‘for the perfection of the nightingale’s happiness underscores an uneasiness of the poet’s’.[6] In a universe of suffering and pain, seeing the nightingale triggers the speaker’s imaginative thoughts. Keats binds a world of pain and fear by forging the ideal and real world as one: ‘Still wouldst though sing, and I have ears in vain-/ To thy high requiem become a sod’ (ll. 59- 60). In these lines, Keats is implying that even with the joyous sounds of the nightingale, death inevitably still surrounds him. It is not a jubilant celebration of life but a ‘requiem’ for the dead.

Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ highlights his awareness of the transcendent power of art when he rides on the ‘viewless wings of Poesy’ (l. 33). Furthermore, Keats transcends beyond admiring the nightingale when he notes that ‘Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes’ (l. 29). The nightingale is no longer an aesthetic beauty but a metaphor for poetic inspiration. For Keats, the power of poetry is not the only motivator for his transcendent experience. The poem’s rich imagery of intoxication emphasises a desire to escape into a world of hallucinogenic bliss. The imagery of the ‘beaded bubbles winking at the brim’ (l. 17) suggests that alcohol is an overwhelming factor to the quality of Keats’ thoughts. The plosive alliteration is onomatopoeic and captures the action of sparkling wine fizzing. The ‘winking’ is suggestive of bubbles forming and bursting, which personifies the alcohol as opening and shutting like an eye. This can allude to Keats’ imagination flitting from reality to the ideal through the influence of alcohol. The ode begins with ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/ My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk’ (ll. 1- 2) to suggest that the speaker is drinking to escape his misery. The decadent start of the poem concentrates on the suffering of the speaker, through the repetition of the first-person determiner ‘my’ to emphasise the speaker’s unstable state of mind. The ‘drowsy numbness’ adds delusion and portrays the real world as blurred and uncertain. Furthermore, Keats uses Greek myth in his ode to express his desire to transcend from the uncomfortable reality of modernity. Greek myth is used to describe the transcendence of Keats flying to the nightingale ‘Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards’ (l. 32). In Greek myth, ‘Bacchus’ is the god of agriculture, wine and fertility; encompassing the earthly consciousness of the real world. To ‘not’ use reality as a way to transcend to the ideal suggests that alcohol is an insufficient source of inspiration for his imagination. John Strachan disapproves of Keats’ work, describing it as ‘neither poetry nor anything else but a Bedlam vision produced by raw pork and opium’.[7] In disagreement with Strachan’s criticism, the intoxication of the speaker in the ode can be seen as a symbol of the real world’s chaos as opposed to the poet himself. Keats criticises the self-indulgence of mankind and shows its interference with the poetic inspiration.

Featured Painting:
Joseph Severn, Keats Listening to a Nightingale on Hampstead Heath, 1845, Oil on Canvas, 114 x 97cm, Guildhall Art Gallery, London.

[1] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. The Floating Press (Auckland: The Floating Press, 2009) pp. 365- 366.

[2] John Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ in Romanticism: An Anthology, ed. Duncan Wu, 4th ed (Oxford: Blackwell, 2012) pp. 1464- 1466 (l. 6) (All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically in the text).

[3] William Wordsworth, ‘The Prelude’ in Romanticism: An Anthology, ed. Duncan Wu, 4th ed (Oxford: Blackwell, 2012) pp. 554- 558.

[4] Bernice Slote, Keats and the Dramatic Principle. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1958) p. 4.

[5] Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, 3 May, 1818 in Keats, John. Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats (New York: Modern Library, 2001).

[6] Earl Wasserman. The Finer Tone: Keats’s Major Poems. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1953) p. 188.

[7] John Strachan, A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on The Poems of John Keats (London: Routledge, 2013) p. 39.

Written by Emily Warren.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Freedom in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange

‘What I do I do because I like to do.’
-Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, p. 31.

Anthony Burgess’ novella, published in 1962, invites discussion on the question of what is true freedom, and how much of it should we be permitted to have? T. H. Green’s definition of true freedom includes negative freedom, as well as positive.1 This is indicative of the idea that when freedom is desired, this idea of true freedom may not be implied. Instead, he suggests a sense of freedom with limitations, in which individuals are not free to do entirely as one wishes due to the potential negative consequences of this, as the more desirable concept.

Burgess’ protagonist, Alex, demonstrates Green’s idea of true freedom, as he is initially free from coercion or restriction and regulation. He also seemingly possesses the freedom to do as he pleases, committing monstrous crimes for his own pleasure. Although, as a society, we may supposedly crave a full sense of freedom, it is clear through characters such as Alex, that this complete sense of freedom may be detrimental to the community and therefore limitations must be enforced. The character narrates that ‘what I do I do because I like to do’, exemplifying his freedom of choice at the beginning of the novella and his application of this full sense of freedom.2 On the issue of morality, Burgess tells us in his introduction that ‘The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities’.3 Through the obscenities and gruesome crimes that the protagonist and his gang commit, we learn that with freedom comes moral choice and with good comes evil. Therefore, if we, as a society, allow freedom to be used for good, then it inevitably will be used in the same way for evil.

Once Alex’s actions have been altered by the aversion therapy, the state have influenced and limited his sense of true freedom, manipulating his freedom to act as he chooses, as well as removing his freedom from coercion. However, Sumner argues that Alex’s choices were never free for him to make, as he has always been manipulated by the state. He contests that the character’s criminal actions, and even the cause of these, being the desire for criminality, are ‘socially or institutionally conditioned.’4 This idea suggests that, although Burgess depicts the authoritative state to deprive Alex of his free will, and freedom to choose to act independently, in fact, the protagonist did not possess this to begin with. Sumner argues that Alex acts against the state, as his personal form of resistance. He furthers these ideas, claiming that ‘In a social and political register, Alex is forced to choose between totalitarianism and anarchy. That choice is false and, if anything, testifies to a lack of individual freedom. If there are no good options, then individual choice is a mere abstraction; one might as well flip a coin.’5 Although the character seemingly actively chooses to behave violently and break the law, Sumner argues that this, in fact, is his choice between two options dictated to him by the authority, and therefore, he does not possess the true concept of freedom. Alex is a product of the totalitarian state and he is therefore conditioned to behave violently as his form of resistance.

Featured Image: Front Cover of Penguin’s 2013 edition. See Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Classics, 2013).

1. T. H. Green in Adrian Blau, ‘Against Positive and Negative Freedom’, Political Theory, 32. 4 (2004) http://www.jstor.org/stable/4148106 [accessed 2 May 2018] p. 549-50.

2. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Group, 1972), p. 31. All other references are to this edition and are given in parenthesis in the main body of the text.

3. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (New York: W.W Norton & Company, 1986), p. XIII.

4. Charles Sumner, ‘Humanist Drama in A Clockwork Orange’, The Yearbook of English Studies: Literature of the 1950s and 1960s, 42 (2012) http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5699/yearenglstud.42.2012.0049 [accessed 1 May 2018] (p. 57-7).

Romeo and Juliet: A New and Authentic Love

‘My heart’s dear love is set/
On the fair daughter of rich Capulet./
As mine on hers, so hers is set on mine.’
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Alexander Niccholes writes that ‘though love and lust, […] dwell under one roof, yet so opposite they are, that the one, most commonly burns down the house, that the other would build up.’ (1) Where Niccholes separates love and lust, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and its recycling of the traditional Petrarchan love language and bawdy male bonds initially suggests that love is, in fact, lust in disguise. However, as the play progresses Romeo fashions his own definition of his love with Juliet that incorporates both love and lust.

According to Dympna Callaghan, ‘the model for the play’s [Romeo and Juliet] poetry, […] was Petrarch’. (2) Throughout the play Mercutio ridicules the Petrarchan conventions, which, in turn, breaks down love and turns it into lust. In Act Two, Scene One, Mercutio looks for Romeo and commands:

‘Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh./
Speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied./
Cry but ‘Ay me!’ Pronounce but ‘love’ and ‘dove’.’ (3)

Romeo is turned into cliché when Mercutio links his appearance to a ‘sigh’ and tells him that he will be satisfied if he speaks the simplistic rhyme that pairs ‘love’ with ‘dove’, so lampooning its connotations with purity. Mercutio continues with what Callaghan calls his ‘mock blazon’: (4)

I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh,
And demesnes that there adjacent lie.’
(2, 1, ll. 17-20)

He begins conventionally but his language creeps into the lewd with his reference to the ‘quivering thigh’ and ‘demesnes that there adjacent lie’, clearly referring to Rosaline’s reproductive region. (5) This perverse parody of the blazon illustrates how, in the setting of male friendships, the Petrarchan conventions are stripped back to reveal that lust is what lies beneath the artificial language of love. As the speech continues, the sexual imagery gets increasingly vulgar, and is less hidden beneath convention, as seen in Mercutio’s reference to Rosaline as an ‘open arse’ (2.1.l.38). The language rapidly unravels the Petrarchan love parody from the beginning and shows how, at the start of the play, love is merely lust.

However, as Romeo’s relationship with Juliet develops, the play shows their attempt to create a language of love that incorporates their lust for one another. The famous balcony scene shows how Romeo’s love begins to be free of Petrarchan conventions. Romeo asks Juliet for ‘The exchange of [her] love’s faithful vow for [his]’ (2. 2. l. 127), to which she states ‘I gave thee mine before thou didst request it’ (2. 1. l. 128). As Callaghan points out, their love is ‘a profoundly reciprocal passion [in which] […] Juliet exercises considerable agency – not simply the Petrarchan fantasy of female power’. (6) This mutuality is what allows Romeo to stop using the conventional Petrarchan language. Romeo later tells Friar Laurence, ‘my heart’s dear love is set/On the fair daughter of rich Capulet./As mine on hers, so hers is set on mine’ (2.3.ll. 53-55). The repetition of

What Keirnan Ryan calls ‘symmetrical syntax and matching diction’ is what ‘define the equal exchange of desire and power that makes this relationship so different’, and it shows Romeo’s attempt at trying to articulate a new language for his love with Juliet. (7) The emptiness of Romeo’s speech from elevated Petrarchan metaphor ironically reveals the authenticity of Romeo’s love for Juliet. Romeo later engages with the bawdy language of his friends when he states he is ‘pink for flower [vulva]’ (2.4.l.57), and that his ‘pump [penis] is well flowered’ (2.4.l.59). This response contrasts his with ignorance to their comments in the play’s opening. (8) A comparison of both scenes reveals that Romeo’s love for Juliet becomes both free of Petrarchan convention and a place where he no longer needs to repress sexual desire. He is coining a love that involves his lust for Juliet. In Juliet’s chamber, after consummating their marriage, Romeo states that he ‘must be gone and live, or stay and die’ (3.5.l.11). Due to the sixteenth century pun which connects the verb ‘to die’ to orgasm, this reference suggests not only Romeo’s recognition of the consequences of their match but also that his staying would result in orgasm. As his relationship with Juliet develops, Romeo creates a new love in which lust is a large part. Whilst Mercutio makes love a façade to hide lust, Romeo puts love and lust together. In both cases however, they are not separate as Niccholes suggests, instead, they are closely connected.

Featured Photo: J.E. Jackson Adent, Romeo and Juliet, Poster, Metropolitan UTHO, Available at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/Romeo_Juliet.jpg   [accessed 24/09/2018]. 

1. Alexander Niccholes, ‘A Discourse of Marriage and Wiving and of the greatest mystery therein contained: How to chuse a good wife from a bad.’, in The Harleian Miscellany: Or, A Collection of Scarce, Curious and Entertaining Pamphlets and Tracts, as well in Manuscripts as in Print, Found in the late Earl of Oxford’s Library, Interspersed with Historical, Political and Critical Notes Volume 3, ed. by William Oldys and John Malham, (London, Robert Dutton, 1804), pp. 251-288, (p.273)

2. Dympna Callaghan, ‘Introduction’, in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Texts and Contexts (Boston: Bedford/St Martins, 2003), pp.1-35, (p. 11)

3. William Shakespeare, The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, ed, by T.J.B Spencer, (London: Penguin Books, 2005), (2,1.ll.8-10) All further references to this play are to this edition and the Act, Scene and line numbers are given parenthetically within the body of the essay.

4. Dympna Callaghan, p. 18

5. Dympna Callaghan, p. 18. Callaghan also notes that the term ‘‘demenses’ refers to property directly possessed and occupied by the owner and not leased out’. This link between women and property works alongside Mercutio’s bawdy language to reduce of love to lust.

6. Dympna Callaghan, p. 18

7. Kiernan Ryan, ‘Deconstruction’, in Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide, ed. by Stanley Wells and Lena Cowin Orlin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 518-524. (p.522)

8. Romeo’s earlier response to Benvolio when Benvolio refers to the vulva, ‘A right fair mark, fair coz is soonest hit’, is full elevated references: ‘Well, in that hit you miss. She’ll not be hit/With cupid’s arrow; she hath Dian’s wit’ (1.1. ll.209-208). He continues with the Petrarchan convention and therefore cannot engage with the bawdy language.

Written by Estelle Luck.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Racism in Eudora Welty’s American Short Story Where Is the Voice Coming From?

In the short story Where Is the Voice Coming From?, Eudora Welty writes from the perspective of a white, underprivileged and jealous man. Driven by feelings of hatred and frustration, the narrator recounts his murder of his black neighbour. Based on the true event of Medgar Evers in Mississippi in 1963, Welty exemplifies the racially fuelled conflicts that she witnessed throughout her lifetime in the American South; this is furthered through the basing of her fiction town, Thermopylae, on the capital Jackson. By basing her text on a true event, the author prompts the reader to question the fraught racial bias prevalent in American society by highlighting the horrific treatment of the black community. Narrated by the killer, Welty gives an insight into his motivations behind the murder; in doing so, she allows the reader to experience some level of sympathy for the character. As William Murray expounds, Welty avoids a straightforward assault on the people of Mississippi […] instead of a simple vilification of individuals, she delivers depictions of injustice that illustrate the complicity of the southern environment as a whole.’1 Rather than focusing on individual prejudice Welty, as Murray states, allows readers to place blame on the social systems for racial violence.

Welty demonstrates how the racial tensions in society incite hatred on both an individual and personal level. Her murderous white character believes that he commits his crime for personal reasons, refusing to accept that he was manipulated into possessing a discriminatory doctrine by the larger system that he is adhering to. The narrator repeatedly says ‘I done what I done for my own pure-D satisfaction’, exposing his naivety and passivity as he abides by the racist system in place; he fails to realise or admit that he did not act solely out of personal choice.2 The character epitomises the superiority that white men felt entitled to in the Southern state; he feels cheated by his black neighbour and is drawn to act on his jealousy. Although the character appears to believe that he acts on his own accord, this hatred is in fact sparked by a belief in white supremacy, a sense of entitlement enforced by society. His victim, Roland Summers, leads a desirable lifestyle which remains unattainable for our narrator despite his position as a white American citizen.

Welty uses the short story style to provide a  glimpse into the white perspective, as well as the hatred that aroused by the community and the media. At the beginning of the story, whilst viewing Roland Summers’ face on the television, the narrator says to his wife ‘“You don’t have to set and look at a black n*gger face no longer than you want to, or listen to what you don’t want to hear. It’s still a free country”’ (p. 396). Immediately, the narrator  illustrates his sense of superiority; he believes that he and his wife should not have to be subjected to viewing a black man on their TV screen. He goes on to state ‘I reckon that’s how I give myself the idea’ (p. 396). Although recognising that his crime was initially provoked by the media, he continues to adamantly declare that he formulated the idea himself. The attack, the narrator demands, is a personal attack.

Although the narrator is adamant that he acted alone, succeeding in this way to carry out his own sense of justice, it may be argued that he does feel a sense of remorse for his crime. Although the narrator continues to deny this remorse, Daniel Wood suggests that it is in the dropping of the murder weapon at the scene that implies a feeling of guilt.3 Despite his apparent pride and sense of achievement as he recounts the murder, this sense of guilt and remorse is made apparent through his continual attempts to justify his actions. Welty furthers this idea of the murderer’s remorse, through the format of the short story. The text acts as a recounted narration, and therefore a confession by the criminal. He also states that ‘I reckon you have to tell somebody’ (p. 399), insinuating that he felt burdened by his crime and unable to live with himself, without confessing. This is illustrated by Welty’s attempt to explain the murder by choosing not to demonise the murderer, but rather portray him to an extent as a victim of societal manipulation. Essentially the narrator is little more than a product of society, who fails to recognise societies control over himself. Welty therefore allows us to sympathise with her villain; this is particularly shown at the end of the story which concludes: ‘I set in my chair, with nobody home but me, and I start to play, and sing a-Down. And sing a-down, down, down, down. Sing a down, down, down, down. Down’ (p. 401). Welty succeeds in humanising her narrator by the end of the text, engaging the reader with a sense of responsibility for the racism that provoked the attack. In this way, Welty demonstrates that the racial tensions that existed require a shared responsibility by all members of society. As the narrator himself declares, ‘“At least I kept some dern teen-ager from North Thermopylae getting there and doing it first”’. In this, the narrator attempts to justify his actions by suggesting that the murder would have been committed with or without his involvement.

Featured Image-
 Portrait of Medgar Evers, taken in 1958 by Francis H. Mitchell. Associated Press/Ebony Collection.

1. William Murray. ‘Learning to Listen: The Way a Society Speaks in Eudora Welty’s “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” and “The Demonstrators”, Eudora Welty Review (8), 2016, p. 109.

2. Eudora Welty, ‘Where Is the Voice Coming From?’ in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, ed. by Joyce Carol Oates (1974; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 395-401 (p. 397) All other references are to this edition and are given parenthetically.

3. Daniel Wood, ‘At a Loss for Words: Subtext, Silence, and Sympathy in ‘Where Is the Voice Coming from?’, Eudora Welty Review (3), 2011, pp. 110-111.

Written by Amy Fretwell
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Resisting Metaphorical Slavery in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

‘I should have been a careless shepherd if I had left a lamb-my pet lamb- so near a wolf’s den.’
-Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, p. 216.

In its historical entity, the term slavery often invokes images associated with the horrific atrocities committed during the transatlantic slave trade of the imperial British Empire. However, nineteenth-century literature also utilized this discourse to exemplify the oppression of the domestic female worker through both their social position and in their ideology. It is in the latter use of the term that Charlotte Brontë carefully crafts a discourse of metaphorical slavery within her highly renowned female bildungsroman Jane Eyre, using the narrative of oppression to highlight Jane’s experiences as a lower-class woman.

From the very beginning of the novel, Brontë clearly deploys a discourse of metaphorical slavery to highlight Jane’s entrapment and enslavement to her cruel aunt Mrs. Reed. Forced by her social status as penniless orphan to live at Gateshead and under the continual tyranny of her cousin John Reed, Jane suffers cruelly under the families ‘reign’; she is forced to obey orders and is subjected to both physical and psychological torment. From these early years, Jane is instilled with the notion that her lower-class social status will hinder her progression in life; she is essentially informed that her penniless state will forever leave her a metaphorical slave to the upper-classes that she must serve and rely on to keep her alive through income and position. This is exemplified in Bessie’s warning to young Jane, who tells her that ‘you ought to be aware, Miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you; if she were to turn you off, you would have to go to the poor-house’.1 From the beginning of her life, then, Jane is subjected to adversity and metaphorical enslavement by her own relatives.

However, Jane refuses to remain in this subservient position, instead resisting the shackles emplaced on her through her lowly social position and her reliance on Mrs. Reed’s benefaction. This resistance is first displayed in her courageous outburst of anger towards her aunt, in which she declares:

‘I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if anyone asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.’
-p. 36.

Here, this resistance to her own oppression as a young woman reinforces the powerful female character Bronte desperately wanted to portray to her Victorian audience. Through Jane’s resistance, Bronte bestows a sense of empowerment within her heroine as no longer a prisoner to her social class and gender:

‘My soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.’
-p. 37.

Eyre’s defiance is a salient milestone within this bildungsroman; a step from girlhood to woman. The reader witnesses this act of insubordination to Mrs. Reed again during her final visit to Gateshead, as Jane tells her dying aunt: ‘Love me then, or hate me, as you will [..] you have my full and free forgiveness’ (p. 240). Through these displays of resistance to her early social enslavement, it is worth noting how Jane’s ill temper ceases to exist after her departure from the tyrannous rule of Mrs Reed at Gateshead. In her defiance of her aunt on her deathbed, Jane appears to free herself of the torment of her past life.

It is in Jane’s removal from Gateshead, and her later instatement at Thornfield Hall, that appears to at least superficially mark the beginning of Jane’s freedom from domestic enslavement. The blossoming romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester, which defies the opposing factions against the merging of distinct social classes, appears to suggest a transcendence of social constriction and cruelty. However, the once fiery and courageous personality possessed by Jane is almost immediately replaced by her sudden change into the trope of the submissive damsel; despite freeing herself from her past masters, Mrs. Reed and later the headmaster of the girl’s school she is educated in, Jane appears to replace these tyrannous figures with Rochester. Despite her position as Rochester’s love interest, Jane remains in the position of vulnerability and inferiority afforded to her by her lower-class working woman status; she remains indebted to Rochester for both her economic stability and emotional happiness. Examples of Jane’s metaphorical slavery to Thornfield are shown through an excerpt of dialogue between Rochester and Jane; as Rochester remarks to Jane that his ‘house is a mere dungeon: don’t you feel it so?’, Jane replies that ‘It seems to me a splendid mansion, sir?’ (p. 215). Here, Jane appears oblivious to her entrapment, remains entirely enchanted with Rochester’s privilege of wealth and class which ultimately leaves her unable to view her new life as little more than a different form of captivity.

Infatuated by Mr. Rochester, Jane’s perspective is ultimately hindered. She fails to recognize her hindered position within Thornfield as a domestic help, as well as her changed behaviour aligning her more to the position of slave and servant than a free and equal agent. As Bette London critiques, ‘instead of the exhilaration of freedom, the novel offers the pleasures of submission’; this essentially supports the concept that Jane’s enslavement to both her herself and Rochester hinders the notion of the novel being a progressive feminist text.2 Jane’s naivety results in her unable to recognize her enslavement even in Rochester’s most obvious comparisons. As Rochester remarks ‘I should have been a careless shepherd if I had left a lamb-my pet lamb- so near a wolf’s den’ (p. 216). In the comparison of Jane to a ‘lamb’, kept as a ‘pet’ and essentially enslaved to the tyranny of the deadly ‘wolf’s den’ (p.126), Jane is essentially depicted as feeble and vulnerable prey to Rochester’s tyranny. Rochester’s use of the possessive determiner ‘my’ further enables the reader to fathom an understanding of Jane’s submissive position to Rochester’s dominance as the ‘shepherd’, a relationship that further mimics the relationship between slave and slave owner.

It is only in Rochester’s attempts to stop her attempts to visit Mrs Reed that Jane finally begins to resist her enslaved position; she declares ‘I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you’ (p. 251). This speech marks the first act of resistance to her master; she exerts a liberating sense of power to define herself as a servant and not just a slave. This seed of resistance, planted in her visit to her dying aunt, evolves and spreads into her greatest act of revolt; upon discovering Rochester’s falsehood concerning his married status, Jane states that ‘I must leave Adele and Thornfield. I must part with you for my whole life: I must begin a new existence’ (p.303). This decision, which marks a considerably poignant part of the novel for the heroine, results in Jane abandoning Rochester’s love and her life at Thornfield Hall; she frees herself from the metaphorical chains of wealth and social standing, ‘Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours’ (p.316).

Featured Image- 
Illustration taken from Volume One of the 1890 edition of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, as published by Thomas Crowell in New York.

1. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) p. 12. All further references to Brontë’s text are to this edition and will be given parenthetically.

2. Bette London, ‘The Pleasures of Submission: Jane Eyre and the Production of the text’, English Literary History, 58 (1991), 195-213 (p. 199).

Written by Ashleigh Edwards.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Marriage as Mundane in Rosamond Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets

‘Anxiety brushed her, the faintest breath, there and gone again…He’s not young…So certain, so undiffident … Expert.’
-Rosamond Lehmann, The Weather in the Streets, p.123.

Rosamond Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets explores both the language of marriage and the language of desire alongside one another and in doing so it renders marriage as unfulfilling. Olivia, the protagonist, initially idealises a marriage with Rollo; she thinks, ‘Of course I had dreams of being Rollo’s wife’ (1). However, there are subtleties within the language which deconstruct Olivia’s hope. Her married sister, Kate, is the scolding and authoritative voice that asks ‘‘Still smoking like a chimney?’ […] through pins, beginning to cut.’ (p.31) It is no coincidence that Kate is undertaking a traditionally domestic task whilst ‘Olivia [had just] flung herself down in the basket chair and lit a gasper’ (p.30). They are the antithesis of one another. Kate’s questioning, made more aggressive with the placing of pins in her mouth, shows her to be cutting across Olivia’s new mode of femininity whilst simultaneously cutting through the fabric. Olivia later describes ‘Kate with her conventional, her sheltered successful life, tied to her husband by children and habit and affection and respect’ (p. 37). Olivia’s repetition of adjectives and verbs associated with restriction and routine reveals how she sees Kate’s married life as mundane. Similarly, when Olivia refuses to have some soup, Kate says ‘‘Look at me,’ […] ‘I’m drinking mine up’’ (p.51) to which Mrs Curtis, their mother, replies, ‘Yes’ with ‘[a]pproval and exasperation […] ‘‘[y]ou’re a sensible girl, thank goodness’’ (p.51). Mrs Curtis approves of Kate’s sensibility which in turn groups them together and makes Olivia an ‘other’ figure. The anonymous third person narrator who crops up in between Olivia’s narrative goes on in free indirect discourse, mocking Mrs Curtis: ‘Kate, bless her, had slipped with no trouble into a suitable marriage within easy motoring distance […] a mother of four fine healthy children she had established herself beyond question in all eyes.’ (p. 52). It reveals, through the excessive use of ellipses and punctuation, how Mrs Curtis cannot articulate the lives of Olivia and her brother James because they exist outside of marriage: ‘now that Olivia…now that James…phases we hope; phases, we hope; phases, of course […] Hush…Pass on.’ (p.52). Marriage is Mrs Curtis’ ideal, but the adjectives used, ‘suitable’ and ‘healthy’, resemble those in Olivia’s perception of Kate’s marriage in that they show an absence of passion and desire. The text therefore uses both Olivia’s narrative and the third person narrator to suggest marriage to be emotionally unfulfilling and uneventful.

This view is further explored in the way that Olivia’s desirous language towards Rollo contrasts with the language of marriage. After their second meeting in the novel, the third person narrator observes how Rollo ‘pulled her towards him and began to kiss her […] [h]e went on kissing her, whispering to her, floating her away.’ (p.123) The multiple clauses along with the poetic image of ‘[n]ames, faces, times and places slipped off into the reel of darkness’ (p.123) reveal a quickening of pace and suggest how desire leads to a loss of certainty and an inability to focus on anything other than the present moment. This ambivalence contrasts with the language of marriage which is weighted down by familiar and conventional ways to describe it. The narrative continues: ‘Anxiety brushed her, the faintest breath, there and gone again…He’s not young…So certain, so undiffident … Expert.’ (p.123) Whilst Judy Simons argues that ‘[t]he textual ellipses highlights the fissures between imagination and reality as well as pointing up the connective emptiness of the experience’, I suggest that the repetition of ellipses here, shows how Olivia cannot articulate this desire because it exists outside of marriage. (2) There is no set vocabulary to describe the situation she finds herself in and this reveals an inadequacy of language to describe desire because unlike marriage, it is abstract. This novel resonates with the argument Stella Browne put forward at the British Society for Sex Psychology in 1915: that ‘the realities of a woman’s sexual life have been greatly obscured by the lack of any sexual vocabulary’. 3 This lack of language explains why later in the novel, Olivia uses cinematic techniques to describe the couple’s closeness on holiday. Olivia narrates their trip: ‘rivers rolling their turbulent, thick, grey snow-waters through Innsbruck, Salzburg; spacious white peasant houses with their painted fronts and shutters and rich wooden balconies covered with vines and geraniums’ (p.210). Olivia’s narrative is a series of images which resemble cinematic sequences and again suggest the inability of language to express desire. This comparison between the way in which desire is articulated, and the recycled language of marriage again suggests the text’s critique of the domestic situation; it renders marriage mundane and deconstructs it as a goal.

Featured Image: Front Cover of Virago Press’s 2006 edition of Rosamond Lehmann The Weather in the Streets. See Rosamond Lehmann, The Weather in the Streets (London: Virago Press, 2006).

1. Rosamond Lehmann, The Weather in the Streets (London: Virago Press, 2006), p.157. All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically.

2. Judy Simons, Rosamond Lehmann (Horndon, Northcote House Publishers, 2011), p. 50.

3. Stella Brown, as quoted in Judy Simons, Rosamond Lehmann (Horndon, Northcote House Publishers, 2011), p.47.

Written by Estelle Luck.
© The Literature Blog, 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Language as a Method of Control in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange

‘These grahzny sodding veshches that come out of my gulliver and my plot,’ I said, ‘that’s what it is.’
‘Quaint,’ said Dr Brodsky, like smiling, ‘the dialect of the tribe.’
-Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, p. 91.

Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is narrated by protagonist Alex and is written in Nadsat, a new language created by Burgess. This language is used by Alex to demonstrate how he dominates the streets but then attempts to retain this control when he becomes subject to a government experiment that aims to modify his violent behaviour. Nadsat acts a buffer to the graphic violence Alex and his ‘droogs’ commit. When they break into a woman’s house, and attack her, Nadsat blurs the violence to the reader. He ‘upped with the little malenky like silver statue and cracked her a fine fair tolchock on the gulliver and that shut her up real horrorshow and lovely’ 1. The language limits associations the reader would normally have if Alex spoke in ‘proper’ English due to the confusing and new words. Burgess’s use of alliteration in ‘fine fair tolchock’ creates a playful and poetic image and, as he said himself, the use of Nadsat does ‘not sound as bad as booting a man in the guts.’2 The lack of complete understanding invites empathy and sympathy from the readers towards Alex in a situation where scenes of rape and violence would normally create horror and disgust. Blake Morrison discusses the effect of the language and suggests that ‘much of the excitement […] comes not from what Alex says, but how he says it: from his slovos.’3 Morrison recognises the reader’s reaction to Alex as he becomes the anti-hero in the novel that readers sympathise with and root for. Alex also plays on the reader’s empathy by referring to himself as ‘your little droog Alex’ (ACO, p. 61), and ‘Your Humble and Suffering Narrator’ (p. 97). The use of the word ‘your’ includes the reader in Alex’s journey, even when his ‘droogs’ leave him to be arrested and he is alone. It creates a relationship between the reader and Alex. As the novel progresses, he even shortens the reference to ‘Y.H.N’ (p. 126), implying that the relationship evolves as Alex becomes more isolated. Morrison suggests that ‘Alex insinuates and allies himself so intimately with his readers (‘O my brothers’) that we end up sharing every laugh (‘haw haw haw’) and cry (‘boohoohoo’).’4 Although readers know that Alex’s actions are wrong, the combination of the confusing Nadsat language and the pronoun ‘your’ creates a relationship that blurs the reader’s moral compass thus demonstrating how language can be used to manipulate and control the reader.

Whilst Nadsat can be used for Alex to control his narrative, it is also a way to gain control in a world where he finds himself being manipulated and controlled. When Alex talks to adults in the text, he mostly uses standard English to charm them but sometimes uses Nadsat. When he is partaking in the Ludovico technique, he has a conversation about what will happen when he leaves:

‘Oh I shall go home. Back to my pee and em.’ ‘Your -?’ He didn’t get Nadsat-talk at all, so I said: ‘To my parents in the dear old flatblock.’ ‘I see,’ he said.’
(ACO, p. 87)

Here, Alex is attempting to gain some control in a situation where he is being monitored and forced to watch videos against his will. The reader’s lack of understanding leads them to believe Alex has a superior knowledge. However, in the text those in authority treat him in a patronising way. Alex uses Nadsat even more so when in distress:

‘These grahzny sodding veshches that come out of my gulliver and my plot,’ I said, ‘that’s what it is.’ ‘Quaint,’ said Dr Brodsky, like smiling, ‘the dialect of the tribe.’
(ACO, p. 91)

When he becomes aware of the aim and process of the experiment, he uses Nadsat aggressively by including more words of the language in his speech. He attempts to use an alternative language to gain back the control he has lost. Dr Brodsky’s reaction of ‘quaint’ is patronising and dismissive, highlighting how ultimately the government are in control, no matter how hard Alex tries. Keith Booker comments on Nadsat and suggests that it ‘shows the imaginative superiority of Alex and his fellows.’5 The attempt to gain control highlights that Alex believes he has superiority with a different language but whilst he may have an advantage over the readers, the adults and those in power take no notice of Nadsat. Alex uses Nadsat to try and gain back some control when victim to their manipulation.


Featured Image: Cover Image created by David Pelham for Penguin’s 1972 edition of the novel. See Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Group, 1972).

(1) Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Group, 1996)

(2) Christian Bugge, ‘The Clockwork Controversy’, The Kubrick Site [n.d.] <http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0012.html&gt; [accessed 20th April 2018]. The rest of the quote follows as ‘But in a film little can be implied; everything has to be shown. Language ceases to be an opaque protection against being appalled and takes a very secondary place.’ Burgess has often showed distaste towards Kubrick’s film version as the violence is seen visually which takes away the element of cloaking that Nadsat achieves in the novel.

(3) Blake Morrison, ‘Introduction’ in Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Books, 1996), pp. vii-xxiv (p. ix).

(4) Ibid., p. xii.

(5) Keith Booker, Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 96.

Written by Sophie Shepherd
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