Sunday, April 4, 2010

ENG 2653: Victorianism As it Relates to America

(Dr. Hochenauer: I used this week's prompt as a starting point for my blog. I used this blue for the parts that I added to what was posted in the discussion board so you can clearly see the difference between what is repetition and what is new.)

This week we looked at Victorian literature. Our professor gave us a link to the Victorian web and asked us if the article changed our perception of the Victorian era. My response was this: I didn’t come into this as one to bash the Victorians. I find them fascinating. An era known, as the article stated, for being “prudish” and “repressed” must have had so many layers. This article did, however, enlighten me to some of those layers.

I didn’t know that “In literature and the other arts, the Victorians attempted to combine Romantic emphases upon self, emotion, and imagination with Neoclassical ones upon the public role of art and a corollary responsibility of the artist.” But this reminds me of Kate Chopin who wrote in America during the English Victorian Age. I wrote a paper last year titled "Waking Up to Fight the System" about Chopin's famous work, The Awakening. I called her work, a "text bordering on Romanticism and patriarchy, a text that sees the struggle between the two and seeks to create a bridge firm enough to cross over on. ... it also praises an ideology that allows room for the creative person to go through their processes without hesitation. Chopin and her heroine are both fighting social norms and trying to create a new life for themselves as women and as artists. The odds are against them on both fronts." I later reference Kathryn Lee Seidel's article which claims that Chopin's protagonist's “art follows the Byronesque conceptualization of the artist as alienated and alone” (Seidel, 233-4). "The ’torture’ of creativity, this knowing what is expected of you but feeling an irresistible pull to subvert it, is what drives" the protagonist to the novel's climactic crisis (Seidel qtd. Carole Stone, 234). I talk about how there should be a community for artists (there is now, but wasn't during the Victorian age in England nor America), and the lack thereof is the downfall of Chopin's protagonist.

I love this correlation from the Victorian Web: “Victorian, in other words, can be taken to mean parent of the modern -- and like most powerful parents, it provoked a powerful reaction against itself.” It seems the perfect description.

“what makes Victorians Victorian is their sense of social responsibility, a basic attitude that obviously differentiates them from their immediate predecessors, the Romantics” (Victorian Web).  I am a proponent of the Romantics, so I hate to think of them as socially irresponsible. But as I alluded to before, I can see how the “bad” behavior of many – namely Romantic writers Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron (who had illegitimate children, slept with each other's spouses and spouses' siblings, and who loved to drink and misbehave [gross generalizations based on bios from a class taken last year])  – can be attributed to a lack of care for the social example you are setting. It makes sense that repressing your urges to act up or act out preserves the order of the group. I can see it.
But the Romantics cared more about what they individually wanted than what message they were sending to society. And this goes back to the notion in the Romanticism post (which I haven't posted yet) of self-government and a society where the self was valued like the whole group.  According to the Victorian article, Victorians selflessly sacrifice their whims for society, not doing or saying what might set an example for bad behavior.  This is great; but the Romantics - the American Romantics at least in my knowledge - assumed that each man should live by his own moral code regardless of what those around him did (Emerson, Self-Reliance).

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