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Victorian Period Literature Essay

The Victorian “spirit”, and 4 representative poems (50 pts.)

The Victorian spirit is the change from the idleness of the admiration of natural things to the movement and excitement of innovation and change itself. It has turned from the love makes the world go ’round ideal of the Romantics to a tell it like it is attitude. While the Victorian spirit moves to new explorations and energies from what was traditional – submission by women, dominance of men, and the focus on reaching an Ideal World through the beauty of nature – it maintains many aspects of the Romantic period that it is trying to escape.

C. Rossetti’s “No, Thank You, John”

In Rossetti’s “No, Thank You, John,” the speaker is a woman who is refusing the advances of a man – John. The woman has a mind of her own, and she does not need a man in her life. She does not conform to the traditional role of a woman, which includes servitude and subordination. The woman is not afraid to express her true feelings to John here, where in a previous time, a woman would have jumped at the chance to be some guy’s trophy. The woman in this poem portrays the Victorian characteristic of exploration in a sense. She is exploring life as a single woman instead of sacrificing herself and giving in to a man that she cares very little about.

A. C. Swinburne’s “A Forsaken Garden”

In Swinburne’s “A Forsaken Garden,” we see a reference of the Romantic past linked with the Victorian present. The garden was once filled with beautiful flowers, bushes, trees, and lovers who sat in the garden to admire all of the beauty. Just as the garden was filled with these things, so was the poetry of the Romantics. Since the Victorian spirit is about laboring and being on the go, one has had neither the time nor the desire to care for the garden. As a result, the garden has become a ground filled with weeds, thorns, and withered, dying, and dead flora. Just as the Romantic period and all of its ideals were at this time, “Love was dead” (line 48).

O. Wilde’s “Impression du Matin”

Wilde’s “Impression du Matin” somewhat describes the transition from the Romantic period to the Victorian period and the grand contrast between the two periods. The first eight lines describe a landscape, as do many of the Romantic poems. Just like the Victorians were anxious to change the pattern that the Romantics had set, this poem shifts its focus from the beauty of the land to the hustle and bustle that is the Victorian spirit, fueled by the Industrial Revolution.

O. Wilde’s “The Harlot’s House”

Wilde’s “The Harlot’s House” can be related to John Ruskin’s “The Stones of Venice.” Ruskin talks about people becoming tools in the Industrial Revolution, performing the same monotonous tasks over and over again so that the process is almost mechanical. In “The Harlot’s House,” the people have become tools not of industrialism, but of artistry. They dance because the music is playing, and their movements seem to be controlled by some stronghold instead of being free and from the heart. The energy characteristic of the Victorian period and the Victorian spirit are lost inside the house. The lover of the speaker even loses her own energy while listening to the music and watching the people inside the house. At the same time, she goes inside the house to fulfill the Victorian characteristic of exploration – she is going to explore and participate in something new and different.

Browning’s dramatic monologues and their ironic discrepancy (30 pts.)

In “Andrea del Sarto,” Andrea attempts to paint the picture that he is one of the world’s greatest artists with a wonderful, beautiful, loving wife. Dose of reality: his work is only mediocre, his marriage fell apart a while ago, and his wife is cheating on him, which he is aware of and seems to be okay with. Andrea believes that his work would be even greater if he was a single man (lines 135-136). He comes to realize that he will never be the great artist that he claims to be, but that will not stop him from striving to beall that he can be (lines 97-98). Andrea is somewhat indecisive. He asks himself what good is having a woman around if his work suffers because of it, but he is glad to have his wife (line 176) and would do almost anything to keep her around (lines 222-223).

Either he wants to get rid of her in order to become, in his mind, a better artist, or he wants to keep her around and work out their marital differences. The latter probably would not happen since Lucrezia already has another lover. She is bored with Andrea because he can’t seem to stop talking about art and because their relationship is both emotionally and physically sterile. For some reason, Andrea just doesn’t get it, and he continues to wonder why Lucrezia goes to her lover instead of staying with him (lines 242-243). Finally he lets her be free to go with her lover and at the same time he lets go of his obsession with her (capitalization of “Love”, line 267).

In “Fra Lippo Lippi,” the illusion is that Lippo is spiritual in the tradition of the monastery – he believes in and acts according to everything that he was taught by the monks. Lippo’s reality is that he wants to fully enjoy life, and one cannot truly be spiritual without embracing physical beauty and pleasure. Lippo does what he does not believe is complete so that the monks will be happy (lines 242-244). This upsets him and leads him to do things out of spite that go against the teachings that he has received from the monks (lines 252-254). Lippo sees himself more as an artist than a monk, and since God gave us bodies to house our souls (lines 265-269), the body has to be portrayed – in art – so that the soul can be seen in its fullness. We were given bodies for physical satisfaction; if no one finds the physical attractive, then no one will want to know what the soul is like. Encasing the spiritual soul in the physical body is how life and God are fully experienced (lines 300-306).

In “The Bishop Orders His Tomb,” the Bishop does not believe that he has lived as he should. He has not done his work as a clergyman to be active in making meaningful differences in people’s lives although his devotion seems to be to the church. While the Bishop’s illusion is one of humility, humbleness, and faithfulness, his reality is very secular – materialism, vanity, and sexuality. He has an unhealthy obsessive desire to beat or out-do his old rival Gandolf, even in death. His concern is with his material possessions in both life and death being better than Gandolf’s in life and death, as if this will make him a better person somehow. The Bishop is also either incredibly indecisive or very confused. He doesn’t even know what he wants his tomb to be made out of.

He changes his mind from rosy peach marble (lines 29-30), to lapis lazuli (lines 42-44), to black basalt (lines 53-54), to jasper (lines 68-72), and back to lapis (line 102). He also asks himself the question “Do I live, am I dead?” a few times, which could be a reference to a spiritual death. The Bishop’s sexual nature comes through when instead of wishing for his sons to be monogamous with God-fearing women who have inner and outer beauty, his concern is on the physical (line 75). Even the holy image of the Madonna is not safe from the Bishop’s corrupted mind. In describing how blue the lapis lazuli should be for his tomb, he does not compare it to eye color or the color of an article of clothing. Instead he says that the lapis should be “Blue as a vein o’er the Madonna’s breast…” (line 75).

Review: Rudyard Kipling’s “Without Benefit of Clergy” (10 pts.)

Kipling’s “Without Benefit of Clergy” is the story of two lovers, an Englishman and an Indian woman. Interracial relationships of this type were practically unheard of during this time period, which is why John Holden and Ameera were never married. This story is a wonderful one of love, — shown by the relationship between Holden and Ameera and the relationship that the two of them have with their son Tota – tragedy, exhibited by the sudden deaths of Tota and Ameera – and greed, displayed by Ameera’s mother, who seemed to care more about the benefits of her daughter’s relationship with a white man than she cared about her daughter.

Throughout the story, Holden shows his emotions reluctantly unless he is speaking lovingly to Ameera. It is interestingly beautiful how he calls her his queen and she calls him her king, and they call each other “life of my life.” The words themselves are beautiful in any relationship, but it is interesting because at one point Holden wished for the death of Ameera, their type of relationship was practically seen as a disgrace anyway, andHolden seemed to be somewhat ashamed of his relationship with Ameera when he was away from her. He never spoke of her while in the presence of other Englishmen, he never mentions or defends his relationship when those Englishmen say that he is lucky to be a bachelor and not have the burden of a wife, and he never mentions his son.

It took Holden a while to get used to the idea of having and loving a son. It was with that same type of reluctance that he grieved for Tota when the boy died. It seemed as if he did not want to allow Ameera to grieve in her own way for her son. He was correct in his attempts to keep her from blaming herself for Tota’s death, but how on earth could anyone, especially the love of her life, tell a grieving mother to “let it go”? Only when Ameera dies does Holden express his emotions openly and immediately. He even chastises Ameera’s mother in his grief. He now realizes how difficult it is to just “let it go” when you have lost someone that you love so much.

Ameera was full of emotion throughout the story. At the same time she was very submissive, as probably was the culture in India at the time. Even in grieving for her son, she did not try to feel better until she knew that Holden had become more content. Because she was an Indian woman in love with an Englishman, she felt the need to seek reassurance about his love for her almost constantly – at least, until their son was born. Then, Ameera knew that she and Holden shared a bond that could never be broken because she had given him something that her English counterparts could never give him – his firstborn son. I think that Ameera was very dependent on Holden. While it may appear that she called Holden “my life” in a loving and endearing way, under the surface it is almost as if she seems to say that she cannot exist without his love and his physical presence.

When Holden tries to send Ameera away, out of the path of the black cholera, that is when she grows a little bit of a backbone. She reminds him that he is not her husband, and he cannot tell her what to do. Almost as suddenly as she exhibited her temporary independence did her insecurity about Holden and the English women return. Only on her deathbed does she accept the possibility of Holden marrying a white woman, and she declares that he is the only God in her life.

Nonsense Poetry (10 pts.)

A Limerick

There was a Young Lady of class

Who created a stair made of glass,

Then formed a connection

With her own reflection

In that little stair made of glass.

Another Limerick

There once was a village idiot

Who liked to touch women’s ends a bit.

He pinched the wrong booty,

Then came Big Rudy,

And no more is the village idiot!

The Stag and the Doe

The stag and his doe went all through the forest

Frolicking happily with glee,

When the stag got a whirl to say to his girl,

“I’d love it if you’d marry me.”

The doe, with bright eyes, said, “I’d be much obliged

to become your faithful and loving wife.”

With that they didn’t tarry and soon went to marry

and begin a family life.

It’s honeymoon time for the newlyweds now,

and they are both filled with great joy.

But now the stag cries, for to his surprise,

His doe is not a girl, but a boy.

Extra Credit (up to 5 pts.)

I enjoyed the Victorian period texts. The vast majority of them were very long, but it helped me to be more devoted to the reading. The Victorian period seemed to be a very artistic time for both literary art and paintings/drawings. It seemed to me that there was a central theme that drove most of the conflicts in the Victorian literature – remnants of the Romantic period. The Romantic period, for the most part, discussed spirituality as a result of a love for and an understanding of nature. The period attempted to instruct people on how to obtain and fully experience spirituality without very much physicality so that the Ideal World could be reached. In the Victorian period, the body and the spirit are one. In order to truly experience one, you have to fulfill the other. The Victorians mostly concentrated on their work and creations, not ideal escapes.

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