RI PRELIMS 2013 PAPER 2: VICTORIAN LITERATURE
Common Problems • For the last time, get the punctuation right: Titles of novels and plays must be underlined only: Silas Marner, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Mrs Warren’s Profession Titles of poems must be in quotation marks:‘The Cottager’, ‘God’s Grandeur’, ‘Dover Beach’ • Analyse, don’t narrate, don’t describe what’s happening and don’t paraphrase the quotations in your own words. Analysis is only possible if you pay attention to the techniques used and explicitly mention them. • Don’t blindly apply contextual information just to show how much you know. Many of you mentioned Darwinism in ‘The Cottager’ which was written way before The Origin of Species and some of you jumped to imperialism and the white man’s burden just because of one reference to war and slaughtered foes. • Likewise, not everything on religion can be automatically linked to criticism and the crisis of faith. The narrator may be mocking the clergy but Slope himself is not challenging religion and advocating science (he is a chaplain himself!!). Instead, he is criticising the ceremonial and ritualistic practices of the High Church. • Exercise restraint – do not name drop for the sake of it.
‘THE COTTAGER’: THINGS TO NOTE • Clare does not condemn the cottager but merely portrays his virtues and flaws. • Clare does not adopt the persona of a cottager; the cottager is the subject of the poem. (Do not use the word persona. Speaker will do) • Always start with the most obvious point - do not start with rhyme scheme which many of you got wrong anyway (not alternating rhyme, not 2 line rhyme scheme). A short answer which begins with generic statements about the poems, alliteration, rhyme etc clearly shows the marker that you have no idea what the poem is about. Start with analysis so that the marker can see that you are competent and aware but ran out of time. Time management issues are justifiable under pressure but ignorance and idiocy is not. • Do not make sweeping statements eg The Victorian period was one of great change and social upheaval (change and reform is a valid point but note the date - the poem was written in the 1830s – much too early for social upheaval).
Barchester Towers: THINGS TO NOTE • Adding the word satire in every other sentence does not count as ‘paying particular attention to the ways in which it satirises the church and clergy in the Victorian age.’ Features of satire include irony, exaggeration, humour. • Narrative voice – the omniscient narrator and the differentiated points of view he offers. • Characterisation: Mr Slope is not a positive character – the narrator is as mocking of Slope as he is of the other clergymen and the ‘audience’. • Do not miss out huge chunks of the passage and be satisfied with general references to hypocrisy of the church as a whole. The first section on Slope and the last paragraph on the audience are also important.
Comparison Questions 2a Compare and contrast the ways in which two texts of this period present private and public selves. • Do not change the terms of the question blindly and if doing so, make sure the link is clear and evident. Many of you started writing about private and public lives, private pasts etc etc which creates unnecessary confusion. If you don’t understand the key terms, don’t do the question. • Public self: a public image constructed by characters in order to put up a front or to present a particular image • Private self: the true self, true emotions and feelings etc.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER When faced with a question that you’re unsure about, consider the fact that both plays lend themselves to several natural and neat categories: • The Mothers • The Daughters • Society as a whole represented by the secondary characters. • Additionally, Dramatic elements Your questions can then be approached from this perspective or if not directly possible, then this should at the very least get you started.
Introduction Society in both LWF and MWP is one that is founded on hypocrisy, illusion and pretence. As such, it is hardly surprising that public and private selves abound in the plays where individual characters, and even society as a whole, often deliberately cultivate and construct a public self or image that is distinctly separate from their private or true self. The prevalence of such duality is a clear reflection of the artifice upon which society is built as well as the conflicts which occur as a result.
The mothers – lwf as focus • Both MrsErlynne and Mrs Warren construct or attempt to construct a public self or image that is designed to hide the truth of their situation or to present a façade. • In MrsErlynne’s case, her first stage appearance presents a public image that runs contrary to the society gossip that precedes her entry. Instead of the vulgar and degenerate fallen woman that society is expecting, the stage directions present MrsErlynne as a woman of considerable wit, charm and poise. She ‘sails into the room’, ‘very beautifully dressed and very dignified’ and by the end of the evening, she has subverted both the audience’s as well as the characters’ expectations of the fallen woman. This subversion of theatrical conventions is reinforced in the staging of the scene where Mrs Erlynne, the marginalised outcast, ironically begins to occupy centrestage while Lady Windermere is almost literally relegated to the margins; left out on the terrace and away from the main action during her own birthday ball. In addition, instead of allowing herself to be mocked or condemned, it is Mrs Erlynne who mocks and manipulates as she goes around ‘manag[ing]’ the men and commenting on the ‘fools in society’ to Lord Windermere.
While most of society appears fooled by MrsErlynne’s public self as seen by the Duchess of Berwick’s complete change of opinion from viewing MrsErlynne as ‘absolutely inadmissible into society’ to pronouncing her ‘attractive’, ‘sensible’ and ‘safe’, it soon becomes clear to the audience and to Lady Windermere that the self-assurance and confidence that MrsErlynne demonstrates is merely a façade that hides her private self. • This is evident in Act 3 when she confesses her innermost thoughts to Lady Windermere by saying, ‘You don't know what it is to fall into the pit…to find the door shut against one, to have to creep in by hideous byways, afraid every moment lest the mask should be stripped from one's face, and all the while to hear the laughter, the horrible laughter of the world.’ • Apart from the explicit reference to the ‘mask’ which is representative of the false front that she puts on, Mrs Erlynne’s words here present an immediate juxtaposition to her dramatic entry in Act 2 where the elegance, grace and effortlessness of ‘sailing’ into the room is undercut by the clumsy and degrading picture of her falling and stumbling into the pit and creeping in by hideous byways. The extent of her pain is also evident in the sensory descriptions of her situation. Her fear of society’s exclusion and condemnation is so real and so tangible that she can feel the metaphorical door that is slammed in her face and hear the horrible laughter of the world. The all-encompassing power of society is also emphasised by the word ‘world’ which suggests that society’s influence extends far beyond a particular environment.
To counter the cruelties of the world, MrsErlynne thus constructs a public self or image that hides the vulnerabilities and pain that she feels and her private self is only ‘reveal[ed]’ at certain ‘moment[s]’ so much so that even Lord Windermere fails to hear the ‘note of deep tragedy’ in her voice towards the end of the play. Her maintenance of the public image is so constant that theatrical references begin to infiltrate her speech with words and phrases like ‘scene’ and ‘play the part’ suggesting that the façade is a conscious and deliberate one. • Like MrsErlynne, Mrs Warren also understands the necessity of separating the public and the private as seen from her line, ‘women have to pretend to feel a great deal that they don't feel’. But while MrsErlynne succeeds in separating the public and the private and thus fooling society and later Lord Augustus into getting what she wants, Mrs Warren is not so successful in her attempt. Her efforts at imposing on Crofts the figure of a ‘theatrically devoted mother’ fails miserably and her endeavour to convince Vivie that she is innocent breaks down when she herself lapses into her ‘natural tongue – the dialect of a woman of the people’. • Thus, both mothers negotiate their private and public selves and the resultant conflict between their social aspirations and innate maternal duty to varying degrees of success with MrsErlynne profiting both personally (relationship with Lady Windermere) and publically (marriage to Lord Augustus) while Mrs Warren only profits materially.
The Daughters – mwp as focus • While both mothers put on a façade in order to fit into society, their daughters’ duality exists for completely different reasons. • At first glance, both Lady Windermere and Vivie Warren come across as straightforward individuals with no distinct private and public selves. Vivie, especially, seems to pride herself on her outspoken, candid and blunt observations about people and society as a whole and it is this characteristic that leads to some of the major dramatic conflicts in the play, namely the two confrontations between Vivie and her mother and later between Vivie and Crofts. • On closer inspection, however, Vivie’s character reveals many ambiguities and contradictions. Her public self constitutes her New Woman image and this is underscored by the use of props like the bicycle and the chatelaine from which hang unconventional objects like a fountain pen and a knife which serve to demonstrate independence, activity and intellectuality rather than domesticity, passivity and confinement. Likewise, her ‘magnificent achievements’ at Cambridge and her ambitious nature indicate a woman way ahead of her time. • However, beneath the apparent intellectual, physical(she ‘pitch[es]’ chairs into Crofts’ arms) and emotional strength (as suggested by the steamroller image and her no-nonsense attitude when she rejects her mother and tears up the note from Frank ‘and tosses the pieces into the wastepaper basket without a second thought.’), there is a softer, more vulnerable private side to Vivie that is revealed during her weaker moments.
This private self is evident in two situations, namely, the babes in the woods escapades with Frank and the final scene where she almost breaks down completely. The babes in the woods reference emphasises a return to innocence and ignorance which is suggested not just by the idea of infancy and childhood but also the reference to woods which is associated with nature and the pastoral – a simpler, less complicated place and time where Vivie as ‘little girl’ can ‘be covered up with leaves’ and enter into a blissful ignorance that allows her to ‘forget all about her mother.’ • In the final scene, the conflict between Vivie’s private and public self is physically manifested in the setting of Honoria Fraser’s chambers at 67 Chancery Lane where the unadorned, ‘distempered walls’ and utilitarian functionality of the office mirror Vivie’s desire to simplify her life and cut out all the clutter. Her initial behaviour and attitude suggests that she has been successful at restoring order in her life by maintaining a precise, disciplined and rigorous schedule that is evident in her frequent references to time - ‘exactly twenty minutes for tea’, ‘six hours work before I go to bed’, ‘ten minutes chat after tea’ – which all imply that work is now the central focus of her life with everything else including leisure (tea, sleep etc) arranged around it. • But this order and structure is only on the surface and the physical clutter on her desk which is ‘snowed up in heaps of books and papers’, metaphorically represents the internal chaos and confusion that is plaguing her. Her torment is evident in the stage directions where the usually calm and cool Vivie ‘winces’ and becomes ‘hysterical’ and ‘desperate’. The ‘two infamous words’, prostitute and procuress (according to Shaw’s note to an actress) are no longer one-dimensional words on a piece of paper, but words that take on a concrete, physical reality that threatens to overwhelm her as it ‘ring[s] in [her] ears and [struggles] on [her] tongue’.
The girl who had the courage to challenge convention and who had the strength to ‘swing’ and ‘pitch’ chairs effortlessly, now faces physical and emotional collapse so much so that she has to ‘force herself to stand up, though not without some support from the table,’ and gather courage in order to tell her mother that they ‘have come to a parting of the ways.’ To prepare herself for the final confrontation, Vivie has to excuse herself and step out (‘Now I must go into the next room for a moment to make myself neat again, if you don't mind’), a move that perhaps foreshadows her final decision to step away, opt out and ‘plunge’ herself in her work rather than confront the complexities and ambiguities in life. • Like Vivie, Lady Windermere also initially stands out as one of the few people in the play who believe in truth rather than deception and illusion and her public image as a paragon of virtue is so definite that the Duchess identifies her house as one of the few places where she can feel ‘secure’ about her husband and her daughter. Her uncompromising principles and strong moral rectitude, however, are soon revealed to be merely inherited (from LadyJulia) rather than truly innate and like Vivie, her private self is prone to moments of weakness that threaten to destroy life as she knows it. • In the case of the daughters then, the negotiation between the private and public self is played out in relation to the outward show of strength versus the inner vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Society – refer to both • Lastly, society itself can be said to adopt a public self or image that is inconsistent with its true private self. • In both plays, it is the secondary characters who give society its collective identity. Throughout LWF, society, especially the women, present a public self that prioritises morality and virtue. This leads them to condemn MrsErlynne as ‘horrid’ and ‘wicked’ even before she steps onto the stage. In public, Lady Plymdale and the Duchess of Berwick are respectable married women but in private, both readily and expertly play the ‘game’ of marriage which reduces the sacred bond of matrimony to mere trivial amusement as spouses engage in or excuse infidelity. • This inconsistency is also evident in the men, namely, Lord Darlington, Dumby and Cecil Graham who seem to scornmorality and virtue which are associated with boredom and superficial elements like fashion. While the men strive to construct a public image that is imprudent, casual and cynical, however, their response to the women’s virtue or lack thereof betray a private self that is more idealistic and prudent. Lord Darlington’s plans for elopement, for instance, hinge precisely on Lady Windermere’s immorality and yet, it is ironically her rejection of him that leads him to praise her as a ‘good woman’, a woman who has ‘purity and innocence’ and ‘everything we men have lost’.
Likewise the other men’s public flirtation with and interest in MrsErlynne is later sharply contrasted with their private contempt and disgust for her which is played out in what one critic calls ‘a silent tableau of contempt and ostracism emphasised by the use of costumes – the black and white evening dress of the men where no variation is allowed versus Mrs Erlynne’s exposed vulnerability in her evening dress. • In MWP, the inconsistency between public and private selves is expressed through the Reverend Samuel Gardner whose purchased sermons, well-manicured gardens and clerical clothes imply a respectable public self that is at odds with his ‘obsolescent’, foolish and morally questionable private self. The same goes for Crofts whose public self is defined by his title, Sir, an indicator of social worth which hides an inferior moral worth. Shaw undermines Crofts’ public status with references to bestiality as well as inherent violence as he sits slashing at daisies during the proposal scene. • Most significant is society’s own public image of respectable morality which Vivie learns only exists on the surface. In reality and in private, society is depicted as a hypocritical entity that tolerates and protects the evildoers while remaining deliberately blind to the plight of the innocent who have no choice but to do ‘wrong and nothing but wrong’ in order to prosper. This deliberate blindness and reluctance to look beneath the surface of the projected public self is also evident in LWF where Lady Windermere points out that ‘To shut one's eyes to half of life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice.’
conclusion The characters in the two plays thus negotiate the tension or conflict between the public and the private self in order to not only protect themselves but also to highlight several inconsistencies which reveal the hypocrisy and superficiality of society. While there is a proliferation of public and private selves in both plays, there are also exceptions to the rule. In MWP, especially, characters like Frank and Praed who have no distinct and separate private and public selves suggest also that the individual is ultimately stronger than society and that it is not always necessary to succumb or conform to such duplicity in order to succeed.
Comparison question 2b Compare and contrast the treatment of the past in two texts that you have studied. • This question seemed to confuse people at first glance because references to the past are more implicitly than explicitly dealt with in both plays. • The only way to prevent yourself from being stumped by the question is to familiarise yourself with the text so that you will be able to deal with any question given to you.
Some things to consider • There are several ways to approach the question. You could consider the treatment of the past in terms of the following: • Characterisation (daughters) • Thematic development (woman with a past) • Dramatic development (the knowledge of the past is essentially what leads to conflict and confrontation). • But the previous suggested categories will also work: • Mothers: the impact of the past on the present • Drama: the intersection between past and present as the starting point for conflict • Daughters: the past treated with nostalgia and idealism
introduction Both LWF and MWP are based on the premise of ‘the woman with a past’ and because of this, the treatment of the past is imperative to our understanding of both the thematic and dramatic significance of the texts. While references to the past are implicit rather than explicit in both plays, it is impossible to deny that the impact of the past has a bearing on the present and even the future decisions of the characters. In this sense, the past pervades almost all aspects of the characters’ lives and thus affects our response to individual characters as well as the play as a whole.
The mothers – Focus on MWP • The past is firstly most relevant in relation to the two mothers in the plays and through them, the past is shown to be an inescapable force that has an inevitable impact on the present. • While MrsErlynne’s past reputation precedes her so much so that the Duchess of Berwick comments that ‘many a woman has a past, but I am told that she has at least a dozen’ even before Mrs Erlynne steps onto the stage, Mrs Warren’s past is mostly kept hidden until the explosive confrontation scene in Act 2. • Confronted by her daughter, Mrs Warren “suddenly breaks out vehemently in her natural tongue—the dialect of a woman of the people—with all her affectations of maternal authority and conventional manners gone.’ Starting with her mother’s hardship of raising four daughters on her meagre income gained from a fried-fish shop, Mrs Warren’s story moves from her sister’s plight in the whitelead factory to her suffering as a scullery maid and waitress to her own conscious decision to embark on prostitution.
Mrs Warren’s revelation of her past serves not just as a form of personal history but also as a thoroughly scathing indictment of a capitalist society that is economically and morally rotten to the core. Shaw’s point that prostitution is more an economic rather than a moral problem is evident in the proliferation of economic terms and monetary references in Mrs Warren’s diction. • The working class struggle for survival is evident in the way she painstakingly lists the clearly insufficient and paltry wages earned which is juxtaposed against the disproportionately extensive and prolonged hours of labour and drudgery (‘twelve hours a day for nine shillings a week’, ‘fourteen hours a day…for four shillings a week’). Her final decision to turn to prostitution is based not on immorality or a lack of virtue but an awareness that it is foolish ‘to let other people trade in our good looks…when we could trade in them ourselves and get all the profits instead of starvation wages’, where words like ‘trade’, ‘profit’ and ‘wages’ again suggest that her decision is a purely economic one. • Mrs Warren’s past also extends to a criticism of ‘the hypocrisy of the world’ which pretends not to recognise that any ‘respectable girl [is] brought up…to catch some rich man's fancy and get the benefit of his money by marrying him —as if a marriage ceremony could make any difference in the right or wrong of the thing!’ Her statement undermines the sanctity of marriage and suggests that it is merely a façade, a ceremony or formal observance that hides the underlying economic motive that makes it not much different from prostitution.
Apart from the social critique, Mrs Warren’s past is also relevant on a personal level and teaches her key lessons that have a bearing on her present and future decisions. Describing her ‘respectable’ half-sisters as ‘undersized, ugly, starved looking, hard working, honest poor creatures’, Mrs Warren seems to suggest that virtues like honesty and hard work have little merit and value in a capitalist society which prioritises social worth over moral worth. Honesty and respectability has not led to reward but degradation, starvation and even dehumanisation as suggested by the word ‘creatures.’ • It is this that leads Mrs Warren to continue her brothel management business and the fact that the lessons that she has learnt in the past have a bearing on the present is evident not only in the path she chooses for her daughter (she uses her ‘money and influence’ and brings her up to be ‘respectable’) , but also in her insistence on the path that she has chosen for herself. While the rest of ‘pious’ society may condemn Mrs Warren for what she is, Shaw’s presentation of Mrs Warren’s past enables the audience to understand why she ends the play with a firm commitment to and reaffirmation of wrongdoing that is ironically addressed to ‘Heaven’. • Having ‘tried honest work’ and having ‘wanted to be a good woman’, her good intentions are frustrated first by society which never rewards virtue, and by Vivie who ‘turns [her] out as if [she] were a leper’. The only way to ‘prosper’ then is to ‘do wrong and nothing but wrong’ and as much as we may censure Mrs Warren for her blatant lack of maternal instinct, we must also acknowledge the fact that our real scorn and condemnation must be reserved for the society which ‘tolerates’ and ‘protects’ the immoral ‘capitalist [bullies]’ and the ‘lying clergymen’ who contribute to the making of Mrs Warren and others like her.
Like Mrs Warren, MrsErlynne also learns key lessons from her past which influence her decision to sacrifice herself for her daughter. Having learnt that ‘love is easily killed’ and having gone through the ‘tragic’ circumstances of living through the ‘horrible laughter of the world’ which defines women according to their past transgressions rather than their present character, MrsErlynne saves Lady Windermere from treading the same path. • While MrsErlynne’s expression of regret and remorse differs from Mrs Warren who is ‘proud’ of her past, both plays eventually subvert the theatrical and social conventions of the fallen woman with a past. Neither is subjected to death, suicide or punishment and while both do not quite get a full reconciliation with their daughters, both are rewarded with what they wanted in the first place – marriage for MrsErlynne and continued prosperity and profit for Mrs Warren.
Dramatic elements – Focus on LWF • The past also creates dramatic impact as it contributes significantly to the structure of the plays. • This impact is evident in the first act of LWF itself which ends with Lord Windermere’s dramatic statement to the audience, ‘My God! What shall I do? I dare not tell her who this woman really is. The shame would kill her. [Sinks down into a chair and buries his face in his hands.]’ Act 1 thus ends with the secrets of the past creating dramatic tension and anticipation for the audience who is left to ponder over several issues such as the true identity of Mrs Erlynne and the link between her and Lady Windermere which threatens to result in ‘shame’ for the latter. • The secrets of the past threaten to infiltrate the present yet again in Act 2 with Mrs Erlynne’s statement that ‘the last time I saw [Margaret]--twenty years ago, she was a fright in flannel.’ Her casual tone soon changes, however, when she sees Lady Windermere’s letter, ‘[takes it up and lays it down again with a shudder of fear.] No, no! It would be impossible! Life doesn't repeat its tragedies like that! Oh, why does this horrible fancy come across me? Why do I remember now the one moment of my life I most wish to forget? Does life repeat its tragedies? [Tears letter open and reads it, then sinks down into a chair with a gesture of anguish.] Oh, how terrible! The same words that twenty years ago I wrote to her father! and how bitterly I have been punished for it! No; my punishment, my real punishment is to- night, is now!’
In contrast to her earlier self-assurance when she ‘manage[d]’ and charmed the men and women at the ball, Mrs Erlynne, here, displays an anxiety and uncertainty that is heightened by the use of exclamation marks and the series of consecutive questions that indicate her mounting panic and fear that the past will repeat itself in an inescapable and vicious cycle. • The return of past memories also stirs up forgotten passions and maternal instincts which are mingled in her awareness that comedy can swiftly turn into tragedy as ‘a moment may ruin a life.’(‘What can I do? I feel a passion awakening within me that I never felt before. What can it mean? The daughter must not be like the mother--that would be terrible. How can I save her? How can I save my child? A moment may ruin a life. Who knows that better than I?’) The woman who Lord Windermere identifies as the possible bane of Lady Windermere’s life in Act 1, now ironically becomes her possible saviour and this creates further anticipation as the play moves towards the climatic third act.
Lastly, the past also contributes to dramatic effect and audience response and this is most evident in the final two acts. In Act 3, it is Mrs Erlynne’s confessions about her past that presents us with moments of pathos and truth in the midst of the light-hearted cynicism and superficiality that pervades the rest of the play and in Act 4, emotion is also aroused when Mrs Erlynne is forced to face the consequences and effects of her past on others besides herself. Lady Windermere’s comments on her father -‘My father- -my father really died of a broken heart. His was the most ruined life I know’ – indicate not just his pain but also Lady Windermere’s pain which is evident from the fragmentation of the line when she mentions her father. The ‘note of deep tragedy’ in Mrs Erlynne’s speech also enables Wilde to evoke sympathy for rather than disapproval of the fallen woman who has to continually hide her feelings behind an impenetrable mask. This is evident in her line, ‘Only once in my life have I known a mother's feelings. That was last night. They were terrible--they made me suffer--they made me suffer too much. For twenty years, as you say, I have lived childless,--I want to live childless still. [Hiding her feelings with a trivial laugh.]’ • The dramatic impact and significance of the past is similarly evident in MWP where the revelation of the past leads to key turning points such as Vivie’s awareness of her mother’s real profession and her confrontation with her mother which exposes the hypocrisy of society and results in Vivie’s enlightenment which is symbolised by light as well as her recognition of the beauty of the landscape ‘bathed in the radiance of the harvest moon’. This first confrontation is contrasted against the second confrontation between mother and daughter which leads to very different results and ends with Mrs Warren’s reaffirmation of wrongdoing and Vivie’s ‘plunge’ into her work.
The daughters – refer to both • In contrast to the mothers who associate their pasts with hardship and pain, both daughters look upon their own respective past experiences as a simpler, less complex period which they wish to return to. • In the daughters’ case, past experiences shape and influence current behaviour and this is evident in the uncompromising principles that Lady Windermere has inherited from Lady Julia which leads her to unequivocally declare in absolute terms that there is a clear difference ‘between what is right and what is wrong. SHE allowed of no compromise. I allow of none.’ Lady Windermere abhors the moral laxities of the present and the fact that she considers the past superior to the present is clear in her self-righteous statement, ‘You look on me as being behind the age.--Well, I am! I should be sorry to be on the same level as an age like this.’ • Like Lady Windermere, Vivie Warren is shaped by the influences in her own past, namely her Cambridge education and her friendship with Honoria Fraser, another unseen influential presence much like Lady Julia. Vivie’s no-nonsense, business-minded approach to life can also be traced back to her childhood. As Vivie herself describes it, ‘since I was a child I have lived in England, at school or at college, or with people paid to take charge of me. I have been boarded out all my life. My mother has lived in Brussels or Vienna and never let me go to her. I only see her when she visits England for a few days. I don't complain: it's been very pleasant; for people have been very good to me; and there has always been plenty of money to make things smooth.’
Raised by unnamed ‘people’ who are ‘paid to take charge’ of her rather than take care of her, Vivie grows up somewhat unaccustomed to human relationships which is obvious from her ability to only engage Frank in the realm of fantasy (babes in the wood) and her disrespectful and contemptuous treatment of her mother whom she considers so appalling that she would rather ‘open an artery and bleed to death’ than be associated with her. Her mathematical training in the competitive and challenging environment of Cambridge also moulds her into an independent and self-reliant New Woman of her time with a focus on work and unambiguous ‘actuarial calculations’ rather than beauty, art and love. • When confronted with problems, both girls are able to acknowledge the complexities of life, with Vivie praising her mother for being ‘stronger than all of England’ and Lady Windermere acknowledging that ‘I don't think now that people can be divided into the good and the bad as though they were two separate races or creations. What are called good women may have terrible things in them, mad moods of recklessness, assertion, jealousy, sin. Bad women, as they are termed, may have in them sorrow, repentance, pity, sacrifice.’
While they’re able to acknowledge the complexities, however, both daughters display an unwillingness to deal with them directly, opting instead to recreate their simpler past in their own way. MrsErlynne keeps the past a secret and in so doing allows Lady Windermere to hold on to her idealistic view of her mother represented by the miniature photograph that she ‘kisses every night before she prays’ where MrsErlynne is presented as a ‘young innocent-looking girl.’ And at the end of the play, she persuades Lord Windermere to retreat to Selby where the roses are unambiguously ‘white and red’ in contrast to the ‘fog’ in London which makes everything indistinct and unclear. • Similarly, while Vivie accepts her mother’s past, she is unable to come to terms with her present decision to continue as brothel manager and this leads her to retreat into her own comfort zone, the purely functional and utilitarian office space of Honoria Fraser’s chambers where she can seek solace in the familiarity of becoming ‘absorbed in [the] figures’ and cut herself off from the complexity of human relationships.
Conclusion The treatment of the past thus provides an added dimension that extends far beyond the light-hearted comic genre that both plays inhabit. It is the residual influences of the past that ultimately create the underlying tensions in the surface resolution of the plays and it is also the contradictions raised by the treatment of the past that points to some of the more problematic and insidious elements of Victorian society such as class consciousness (where the lack of a past in the form of ‘demmed relations’ signifies one’s lack of social standing) and the double standards between men and women (the past is considered an irreparable mistake for women but is viewed as an ‘experience’ for men). The treatment of the past also determines the final outcome of the characters in both plays. For Vivie, the past proves to be destructive and she almost literally becomes the ‘steamroller’ that crushes everything in its path when she rejects human relationships in favour of the rigidity of work and numbers. Conversely, MrsErlynnerecognises the need to keep the past hidden so as to prevent the loss of ideals and maintain equilibrium in the present thus saving her daughter and her marriage which promises some happiness since it is the most authentic marriage in society.
Question 4a ‘A simple allegory of little practical value.’ How far do you agree with this verdict of Silas Marner? • An allegory is not a fairy tale and do not try to be too clever by starting with convenient statements like: ‘Silas Marner has often been considered a fairy tale or allegory…’ • You do not have to separate the two parts of the question and deal with simple allegory and practical value separately since the statement is an interrelated one ie the assumption made is that SM has no practical value because it functions merely as a simple allegory and nothing else. • Your argument then should acknowledge that SM can be seen as a simple allegory but that the novel also goes far beyond that in its focus on complex social, philosophical and psychological issues that provide practical value due to their relevance to the period as well as their contribution to our understanding of humanity as a whole.
Allegory A literary device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form, represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. Allegory aims to illustrate complex ideas and concepts in ways that are easily digestible and tangible to its viewers, readers, or listeners. An allegory conveys its hidden message through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, and/or events. An allegorical narrative acts as an extended metaphor in which persons, abstract ideas, or events represent not only themselves on the literal level, but also stand for something else on the symbolic level. An allegorical reading usually involves moral or spiritual concepts that may be more significant than the actual, literal events described in a narrative. Typically, an allegory involves the interaction of multiple symbols, which together create a moral, spiritual, or even political meaning. (Pilgrim’s Progress and Animal Farm) THIS SLIDE IS FROM THE PRE-PRELIM SILAS MARNER LECTURE
Key Terms Simple allegory • Allegories are by nature simple as the very purpose of an allegory is to illustrate complex and abstract concepts or ideas in a way that is easily digestible to readers. In an allegory, a message is conveyed through symbolic figures, objects and/or events. An allegorical reading usually involves moral or spiritual concepts that may be more significant than the actual, literal events described in a narrative. Typically, an allegory involves the interaction of multiple symbols, which together create a moral, spiritual, or even political meaning. • In SM, the main idea that Eliot wants to convey is that of causal determinism where individual agency and God’s will converge to bring about poetic justice. This concept is portrayed through various characters and events which take on symbolic significance, namely Dunstan, Eppie, the theft of the gold and the entrance of Eppie. Practical value • Useful, realistic function ie a relevance that goes beyond a mere moral lesson or entertainment and has possibility of real world application. NOTE: Given that allegory implies a moral message, morality or moral value should not be considered as a point under practical value. You must go beyond the features of allegory.
introduction A superficial reading of Silas Marnercan indeed lead one to the conclusion that it is little more than a simple allegory due to the overall simplicity of the story, the prevalence of symbolic figures and events like the theft of the gold and the arrival of Eppie, and the creation of a morally determined universe based on causal determinism and poetic justice. The simplicity of the novel is, however, deceptive and upon deeper reflection, it is clear that the allegorical function does not negate or detract from its practical value and instead enhances it since the allegory is used to illustrate more complex and abstract issues such as Eliot’s faith in the ‘religion of humanity’, her belief in the interconnection of human lives and her observation of the general laws of human nature. In this sense, the statement is invalid since the value of Eliot’s novel extends beyond the moral and incorporates the practical.
Simple allegory • The novel uses many symbolic figures and events to bring out its allegorical significance such as Dunstan’s theft of the gold which leaves Silas bereft and empty and Eppie’s subsequent arrival at Silas’s hearth which fills up this emptiness. • Eppie herself proves to be more representative than realistic since she stands for Silas’s ‘blessing’ and Godfrey’s retribution. Her association with the Wordsworthian quotation and the fact that her name itself is a religious allusion also suggests that her function is more symbolic than literal. • On one level, then, the story of Silas’s loss and gain (of himself as well as his gold) is a simple and allegorical one which calls attention to Eliot’s morally determined universe where virtue is rewarded and vice punished. Eliot negotiates the extremes of determinism and random chance through the stories of Silas’s Lantern Yard experience as well as Godfrey’s worship of Favourable Chance and suggests that ultimately it is the confluence of both that will lead to promise and reward since she steadfastly believes in the ‘orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind,’
Transition • While the story and the coincidences and symbols it makes use of to bring forth its moral message are straightforward, the simplicity of the allegory does not negate or detract from the practical vale of the novel itself since it is precisely the symbolism and allegory that calls attention to some of the more complex issues in the novel which provide readers with psychological and philosophical insight, as well as an understanding of the social and historical context of the period.
Practical Value • Psychological: The anthropological narrator who identifies herself and her reader with her characters and penetrates the inner workings of mankind and human nature in general, provides us with an important practical lesson on the commonality of human experience regardless of whether one is Silas Marner, a member of the rustic population or the wealthy Godfrey Cass. • Philosophical: Complex philosophical ideas on the interconnection of human lives and human relationships which is reinforced by the image of the web and the convergence of the two apparently divergent plot strands highlights the concept of Spinoza’s oneness.
PRACTICAL VALUE (CONTINUED) • Social: Eliot also suggests a "religion of humanity" founded on community as a substitute for the failure of organized religion. This is aligned to Comte’s Positivism and Feuerbach’s ‘Essence of Christianity’ which advocates the doctrine of sympathy rather than the unquestioned doctrine of theology. In this sense, Eliot demonstrates the ineffectuality of organized religion in contrast to simple human compassion and sympathy which transcends all religions. • Finally, the novel also has practical value in terms of its relevance to the period where the issues of class, industrialization, and religion are realistically addressed in the context of the author's time.
Relevance to the Period – Shirley Galloway Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe was first published by George Eliot in 1861. For most critics, it stands apart from her other novels in the perceived thinness of its characterizations, the arbitrariness of its plot (which often partakes of the miraculous), and the simplicity of its conclusions. Many have called it her "moral fable." However, it is precisely because of the bare, allegorical nature of the novel that the relationships of plot, character, and symbolism can most easily be discerned. For the story is by no means a fantasy, but a compact and serious work, wherein the issues of class, industrialization, and religion are realistically addressed in the context of the author's time through a series of contradictory parallels. Through both the structure and content of the novel, Eliot' refutes the common belief of the latter 19th century (held most strenuously by many of the upper classes) that membership in the upper classes indicated moral superiority; makes the implicit argument that industrialization dehumanizes and alienates workers; and suggests a "religion of humanity" founded on community as a substitute for the failure of organized religion. THIS SLIDE IS FROM THE PRE-PRELIM SILAS MARNER LECTURE
conclusion The given statement suggests that the novel has little practical value because it functions as a simple allegory but as discussed, what appears to be two mutually exclusive extremes are actually interlinked. The practical value of the novel cannot be divorced from its allegorical features as it is precisely the allegorical elements that help to bring out the more complex issues that are essential to our understanding of the social and cultural environment of the period, as well as humanity in general.
Question 4b Discuss Eliot’s use of mysterious chasms, gaps and uncertainties in Silas Marner. • This is a fairly simple question but merely listing the various examples of chasms and gaps will not be sufficient and will get you C and below. • Listing the examples, picking out quotes and analysing them fully will get you the B++ or the borderline A depending on analysis. • Extending the use of gaps to Eliot’s key issues like religion, interconnection, narrative style etc would get you the A++
approach On the whole, chasms, gaps and uncertainties more or less refer to the same idea of a breach or an emptiness so there was no real need to deal with each of the terms separately. It is possible to do so, though ,if you consider the following: • Chasms: Silas’s literal ‘chasms of consciousness’ or fits which contribute to the plot since as with one chasm he loses all, with the next, he gains all. Also the metaphorical significance of these chasms which bring out the larger issue of the religion of humanity. • Gaps: The gaps in the narrative which draw attention to the two separate plot strands in the novel and their eventual convergence which is also reflective of Eliot’s focus on causal determinism. • Uncertainties: The unresolved mysteries and uncertainties that are never resolved but are still significant because of their relevance to larger social issues eg disappearance of LY which is relevant to Silas personally but also to the larger historical context of the novel.
Some points to consider • Literal chasms and their plot significance • Metaphorical chasms and their thematic significance (eg identity and religion of humanity) • Narrative gaps and uncertainties (15 yr gap of Silas’s life before the theft of the gold, 16 yr gap during which Godfrey and Nancy get married, LY’s disappearance, Dane’s disappearance) • Chasms/gaps of understanding between characters eg rustics and Silas initially, church and chapel etc) • Gaps between past and present which leads to discontinuity and stagnation • Gaps filled by work, love and community. • Gaps and holes as punishment – Eppie in coal hole, Dunstan in stone pit.
Language itself often highlights chasms on various levels; loveless chasms, blank, void etc etc • Dependence on chance as a form of uncertainty • Chasms used to highlight the evolution of religious response from unquestioned doctrine to fetishism to religion of humanity. • Chasms as a means to bring about character growth and psychological development • Chasms used to highlight the stagnation and progression of time. • Chasms contribute to the mixed genres in the novel ie the realist and non-realist elements since the fits can be explained scientifically but at one point are also referred to as the ‘invisible wand of catalepsy’ which seems to associate the fitswith magic and the non-realist realm. • Chasm created in LY bridged by the covenant of the Rainbow.
introduction Mysterious chasms, gaps and uncertainties abound in Silas Marner and serve both a literal as well as a symbolic function. The main plot of the novel itself hinges on Silas’s ‘chasms of consciousness’ where his first epileptic fit in Lantern Yard results in overwhelming loss while the second results in an almost miraculous gain. More importantly, the various chasms, gaps and uncertainties are also used to highlight some of Eliot’s key issues which extend beyond the novel itself, such as the evolution of religious response, the interconnection of human relationships and the significance of causal determinism.
Final reminders Some misunderstandings: • In the first half of the text, Silas is dehumanised but this dehumanisation is not about bestiality or animalism. It is about detachment from humanity ie degenerating into a machine-like existence. • Fate: submission to higher power • Chance: submission to random probability (secular version of fate) • Agency: individual will or individual agency Eliot uses the 3 ideas above to highlight her conviction in causal determinism: • Causality – relationship between cause and effect ie consequences are determined by your own actions • Determinism: The doctrine that all events are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. • Causal Determinism: a mixture of the above ie a convergence of individual agency and fate is what is considered ideal in SM. • Do not recycle your essays without thinking – allegory is not equal to fairy tale. • Label and tie questions together properly
In the case of Silas Marner, try as far as possible to bring up these crucial points: religion of humanity, human nature, causal determinism and narrative style if you can fit it in (not just the narrative voice but also the genre which is predominantly realist but with the inclusions of non-realist elements). • Keep essays objective ie the pronoun I should not appear. ‘No I do not agree with the…) • Do not merge your texts – poetic justice is not applicable to the plays and rustics and anthropology cannot be blindly mentioned every time there is a cottage or a tree in the unseen. But do use your set texts intelligently as they can often inform your reading of the unseen passages/poems. • There is no necessity to deal with the period in the SM and comparison question unless it fits in naturally eg subversion of the fallen woman convention in plays and industrialisation in light of LY’s disappearance. Writing a general paragraph on industrialisation would be a waste of time that could have been better spent on analysis. • You should not mention other texts in the SM and comparison question. • Watch your phrasing: Dictions such as X Words such as The diction of X The word
CONSULTS • Don’t waste time bringing your papers and asking me the same questions over and over again (What’s wrong with this essay?), (Why didn’t I get the A/B?), (I thought I was analysing but how come I didn’t do well?) • At this point, you should be picking up specific things in your essay and telling me how you can make it better. • Stop going over old ground and move on to more practice. If it takes you 3 hrs or 3 days to write an essay at home, you’re not going to be able to do it in one hour under the stress of exam conditions. • Let’s also not be selfish. Those with solid As and Bs, you can spend time writing and leave the consults for those who need it more. For this reason, those with As and Bs will be limited to one consult. The rest can sign up for more than once if necessary. • Those who got 55 and below – please see me on Monday at 10am at A58. Bring Silas Marner with you.