What is Realism, how does it work in practice, and what is its function? Chapter 50 Charles Dickens Oliver Twist


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Oliver_Twist_-_Samhällsroman_-_Sida_005In the same way Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew reported on the life of the working classes in his articles published in the ‘London Labour and London Poor’, Dickens captures the social fabric of Victorian London at the time of his writing. Mayhew’s depictions of the London street markets evoke chaotic scenes and images that invade the senses. Dickens’s commitment to capture the same realism in Oliver Twist gives the reader a clear image of the full range of the social spectrum together with a portrait of the city. Part of the construction of realism is symbolism and Dickens uses this with his descriptions of the houses and the way that the Victorian lowers classes lived. This realism projects a comprehensive use of stylistic finesse in a way that captures the reader and evokes an empathy with the lower classes. In Louis James’s book, The Victorian Novel, he states that ‘…Oliver Twist placed social concerns at the heart of the emergent Victorian novel.’ (James, 2006, p159). Dickens also uses his journalistic experience and reports on the social issues of the time; to confront the reader with the real. In the Cambridge Companion to The Victorian Novel, Deirdre David tells us that Dickens aimed to shock his audience with a novel that dealt with the Poor Law introduced in 1834, (David, 2001) and upon defending himself, Dickens claimed the criminals ‘really did exist…’ and ‘…to show them as they really were…’ (David, 2001, p7-8). This intention can be seen quite clearly in chapter 50 of Oliver Twist.

Dickens’ use of place names and descriptions of buildings at the beginning of the chapter allow the reader to see the settings exactly as they are. His lengthy sentences and descriptive list-making symbolise a realistic view of the life of the lower classes in the city, ‘…unemployed labourers of the lowest class, ballast heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children…’ (Dickens, 1992, p329). Dickens constructs lists as a way of showing the full range of people living in the slums and this gives the effect of hundreds upon thousands of people. The ‘city’ had become a new theme in Victorian writing and as the interest in ‘the novel’ was growing, this would have intrigued the Victorian readership immensely. The descriptions of places that they knew and heard of gives the novel a sense of the real and the journalistic approach to the start of this chapter evokes a startling imagery of filth and destitution. A ‘maze of close, narrow and muddy streets thronged by the roughest and poorest of waterside people…’ (Dickens, 1992, p329).

Dickens’ use of a metaphor here with his creation of a labyrinthine world with the word ‘maze’, suggests the poor and working-class people will never escape their fate. They are condemned to a life of poverty and again Dickens is commentating on the poor being constrained by this with many turning to a life of crime rather than go to the workhouse.

As Sikes’ whereabouts become common knowledge, the crowd begins to grow gradually from a ‘…multitude of angry voices’ (Dickens, 1992, p334) and then almost immediately to a mob, growing all the while. ‘There were tiers and tiers of faces in every window, cluster upon cluster of people clinging to every house top’ (Dickens, 1992, p336). Whilst Dickens is being melodramatic in his description of the crowd here, his realist approach to this scene portrays an image seemingly layered upon itself, like the layers of society. Similarly, Henry Mayhew categorises the layers of the social classes in his articles. There is even a figure described as ‘…an old gentleman…’ (Dickens, 1992, p336) showing the social makeup of the crowd was not confined to the lower classes. Dickens is using the crowd scene to depict life in the city. The frenzied crowd turns lynch mob and becomes apoplectic as Sikes appears above them. Sikes was a detested and violent criminal and as individuals no-one would have approached him. This new identity of ‘the crowd’ shows the fascination with crowd behaviour and the loss of individual identity within it. As part of a whole, they became energised and hidden, which in turn makes them a powerful and unrelenting force. Again, Dickens was confronting the reader with the real and the crowd scenes depict a visual image of the masses.

Dickens describes Sikes as ghostly, ‘Blanched face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, beard of three days growth, waster flesh, short thick breath’ (Dickens, 1992, p333). When the boy Charley sees Sikes hiding with the three robbers, he is horrified and calls him a monster. At this, ‘Sikes eyes sunk gradually to the ground’ (Dickens, 1992, p334). It is as though he cannot bear to hear the words. There is a psychology at play here. Sikes would appear to feel shameful and this makes him human rather than ‘monster’. This realist approach that Dickens uses here does not evoke a sympathy from the reader, rather an understanding of what Sikes has become. He is a product of society’s failings and a victim of his own situation. In David’s The Victorian Novel, she states that ‘Dickens’s novel registers a sincere commitment to fiction as a morally transforming force and a palpable belief that its form emerges naturally from its moral imperatives’ (David, 2001, p7). Dickens embodies Sikes to symbolise everything that is wrong with society and is a product of his environment. Again, this is Dickens commentating on social problems and bringing them to the forefront of the reader.

The realistic approach that Dickens uses in chapter 50 of Oliver Twist gives the reader a true depiction of life in the city. His journalistic style of description and lengthy sentence structure symbolises the chaos and noise of Victorian London and captures the imagination of the reader. Dickens wanted to shock with his depictions of life in the underbelly of Victorian London and shows us the city as it really is. The crowd turned mob imagery gives way to a new identity of ‘the crowd’ and the loss of identity within it showing that people did become truly lost within the masses. Dickens also takes a moral stand and embodies the character of Sikes as evil, representing everything that society has become. He confronts the reader with the real as a way of reporting on social issues in order to bring a gravitas to the poor and destitute.

#amwriting #cathythewriter #olivertwist #charlesdickens


David, D. (ed) (2001) The Cambridge Companion to The Victorian Novel. Cambridge: University Press

Dickens, C. (1992) Oliver Twist. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited 

Harrison, M. (2008). “The Paradox of Fiction and the Ethics of Empathy: Reconceiving Dickens’s Realism”. Narrative [Online] 16 (3) (Oct., 2008), pp. 256-278. Available from: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/stable/30219607

[Accessed 17/10/2017]

James, L. (2006). The Victorian Novel. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Kucich, J. (2001). ‘Intellectual Debate in the Victorian Novel’. In: David, D. (ed) The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mayhew, H. (1985) London Labour and the London Poor. London: Penguin

Meckier, J. (1982). Hidden rivalries in Victorian fiction: Dickens, Realism, and Revaluation. [Online] Kentucky U.P, United States. Accessed from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/detail.action?docID=1915201. [Accessed 17/10/2017]

Ward, J. (1907). The Realism of Dickens. Reviewed in: The Dublin Review 1836-1910.[Online] 141(282), pp. 285-295. Available from: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/docview/7909837/fulltext/113EAF18E8914338PQ/1?accountid=17254

[Accessed 17/10/2017]


Edgar Allen Poe’s The Man of the Crowd- A critical analysis


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Who is the man of the crowd in Poe’s tale, what is his critical and narrative function and what wider resonances does Poe’s figure have in relation to other texts you have studied? 

A new aesthetic experience for Victorian novel writers was the city. Literature began to respond to the challenges of life in the 19th Century as industry began to leave the countryside and develop in the city. People flocked to the city in their droves and Poe’s tale reflects the alienation of the individual in the city. The population grew and the city captured the whole spectrum of society, which fascinated Victorian writers. They were able to capture the heart and soul of the city and bring it alive in all its glory. Friedreich Engels essay ‘The Great Towns’ states that, ‘The hundreds and thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other…and still they crowd by one another as though they had nothing in common’. (Engels, 1987, p69) Engels is showing that the crowd phenomenon incorporates every social class yet is soulless and a mass of humanity; the city experience cold and unfriendly. Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist shows that identity can be lost within the crowd and people can be swallowed up and lost within the labyrinth of the city. There was also a de-centering of the individual in an age of migration caused by industrialisation and Poe’s radical tale The Man of the Crowd is an allegorical story of constructed identity in a crowd that shows the true horror of an emerging modern world. In Thomas Carlyle’s ‘Signs of the Times’, he reported on the ‘Mechanical Age’ and stated that, ‘men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand’ (Carlysle, 1858, p102). This is a true reflection of Poe’s The Man of the Crowd.

The construct of Poe’s Man in The Man of the Crowd is a new and experimental literary figure showing the true horror of modernity and this enables Poe to portray this horror in an allegorical manner; the man is a mere metaphor for life in the city. Poe’s tale incorporates a narrator who watches the world from a window following an illness, ‘…two dense and continuous tides of population were rushing past the door’ (Poe, 1978, p507). The imagery used here shows a dense throng of people rushing around and the narrator wishes to become a part of it. Davidson suggests that,

…this Man is an individual who cannot bear to be alone or whether he is… the narrator and protagonist in a cringing, fearsome guise that the narrator will not even admit to himself.’ (Davidson, 1969, p191).

The narrator begins to speculate on the way the light flits over the window in the same way that the crowd flits past it, ‘The wild effects of the light enchained me to an examination of individual faces…’ (Poe,2017). Poe is showing that although the city is now entrenched with the masses and people migrate towards it following industrialisation, the search for the individual within it becomes an impossible task. The man though represents the full spectrum of the social classes and it is in this way that Poe’s allegorical tale shows the true representation of life in the city. Upon the narrator seeing the Man, he tells us of the effect this has on his mind, ‘there arose confusedly…the ideas of vast mental power, of caution, of penuriousness, of avarice, of coolness, of malice, of bloodthirstiness, …of supreme despair’ (Poe,2017). The narrator cannot understand the individual he has picked out because his identity changes with his surroundings thus making it impossible for the narrator to read him. Ian Munro argues that ‘…the crowd was a powerfully contradictory presence, symbolizing conflicting aspects of the city through metonymy and metaphor’ (Munro, 2005, p1). This shows us that the narrator is essentially following a ghost whose appearance is deceptive and changes so many times that it would be impossible and in vain to try and understand it. Baudelaire’s theory suggests that man cannot live without the city and would always be searching for modernity, ‘…By ‘modernity’ I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent…’ (Baudelaire, 2017). This would suggest the narrator in Poe’s tale is chasing a transparent entity. Baudelaire believed that being part of the crowd was to be exposed to the modern world and become recharged by it. Yet his theory of a man being more than a flaneur would suggest like Poe’s narrator who is searching out the individual, he will never find it. As the chase ends, the narrator realises that it would be futile to follow him any longer, ‘He refuses to be alone…it will be in vain to follow, for I shall learn no more of him, nor of his deeds.’ (Poe,2017). This realisation is the horror that Poe wants the reader to see.

Dickens and Poe captured the vivid image of the city with their portrayal of crowds and the people within them in very different ways. Poe’s allegorical portrayal separates out the individual in the crowd whereas Dickens show the crowd as a conformative whole. These condensations of symbolic techniques show the disillusion that was felt of life in the city. Poe’s radical approach is in sharp comparison to Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  Dickens flamboyant style shows the crowd as a mass who become one with no identity. In chapter 50 of Oliver Twist, Sykes is pursued through the city by a crowd that grows into a furious throng, ‘…a strong struggling current of angry faces…cluster upon cluster clinging to every house top.’ (Dickens, 1992, p336). Whilst Dickens is being melodramatic in his description of the crowd here, the scene portrays an image of society represented at all levels. He portrays the crowd as one whole, a collective identity instead of an individual one. As part of a whole, the crowd becomes powerful and individuals become hidden, which makes them very dangerous. His use of the word ‘current’ and Poe’s use of the word ‘tide’ to describe the masses, gives the effect of fluidity and movement and one that also cannot be stopped. It is a metaphor for the ever-growing mass of people crowding into the city. There is also a sense of belonging in the crowd, a new-found identity as people joined the cries of the crowd without knowing why, ‘Those who were at too great a distance to know its meaning, took up the sound…’ (Dickens, 1992, p336). This shows the desire for identity, whether individual or collective, was just as powerful as the narrator in The Man of the Crowd. Ian Munro suggests that, ‘The crowd is an inherently polymorphous concept, always evading definition’ (Munro, 2005, p2) and we can see this in both Dickens’ and Poe’s work. Dickens extinguishes the individual identity to be part of a larger group and Poe’s representation of the crowd portrays individual identity as being made of many parts of the crowd.

The description of the Man is composed of many things that don’t go together, ‘his clothes… filthy and ragged…his linen, although dirty, was of beautiful texture’ and underneath his cloak was ‘both of a diamond and of a dagger’ (Poe,2017). He is a mass of contradictions. The narrator tells us that he is feeble, yet he manages to run through the streets and the narrator struggles to keep up with him. He is a hybrid, a construct and represents the whole of the crowd, which in turn represents the whole spectrum of the social classes. ‘I saw jew pedlars with hawk eyes…sturdy professional street beggars…feeble and ghastly invalids…’ (Poe,2017). All manner of humanity is represented in Poe’s description and it is made in the style of descriptive lists of the people in the streets. The stylistic technique of using no full stops shows the text as self-referential. Dickens uses the same style of list making in Oliver Twist to describe the vigilante mob. The list technique gives the impression of a huge mass ever growing. But whereas Poe describes the individual, Dickens shows the mob to be as one. Dickens had quite a reserved view point of city life and whereas it fascinated him greatly, he also kept himself at arm’s length from it. Poe also uses the stream of consciousness technique in the narrative which is also symbolic of Victorian authors and the narrator tells us that, ‘I felt a calm but inquisitive interest in every thing’ (Poe,2017). The reader can hear the narrator’s thoughts and it is this that connects humanity with the text. The Man of the Crowd is also observational. The narrator is watching life from a window, seeing the world go by and all manner of people pass by. Kevin J Hayes suggests that Poe’s story is ‘one mans effort to read another man, who happens to be a denizen and therefore a representative of the modern urban environment’ (Hayes, 2002, p445). This observational theory is comparable with Baudelaire’s flaneur and was the modern way that art and literature was heading. The loss of self also showed how industrialisation needed to cater for the age of modern life. The Victorian times were about trying to keep identity assured in an already fractured world but Poe’s tale of loss of identity and that it cannot be read breaks away from this mould and explores the true horror of the realities of industrialisation and the modern world.

Poe’s The Man of the Crowd portrays the horrors of modern life and shows the narrator following a Man that doesn’t exist. The Man represents all of society and cannot be read as he embodies all aspects of the social classes. His appearance is deceptive and this represents the way society is heading now that industrialisation is taking over in the city. Poe attempts to separate the identity of the Man but the Man is made up of many things and is impossible to read. Poe’s representation of this is allegorical in that it is a sociological experience of city life and showed the disillusion that came with it. In Oliver Twist, Dickens’ portrayal of the crowd scene in chapter 50 shows a crowd moving as one, a conformative whole with a collective identity. They are part of something which gives them power and strength and Dickens does not show the individual. Baudelaire suggested that modern life was ghostly and fleeting and the crowd was something to lose yourself in and escape. Whilst Baudelaire had this modern take on life, Poe demonstrates the true horror of the modern life in the city.


Baudelaire, C. (2017) ‘The Painter of Modern Life’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity November 2017 by Martin Jesinghausen

Carlyle, T. (1858) ‘Signs of the Times’ (1829) in Collected Works Vol 3, pp. 101-102. London: Chapman & Hall

Davidson, E.H. (1969) Poe- A Critical Study.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Dickens, C. (1992) Oliver Twist. Hertfordshire; Wordsworth Editions Ltd

Engels, F. (1987) ‘The Great Towns’ in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) London: Penguin

Hayes, K. J. (2002) ‘Visual Culture and the Word in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd”’ in Nineteenth Century Literature, Vol 56, No. 4, pp. 445-465. [Available from: http://ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/docview/211933431?accountid=17254 [Accessed 18/12/2017]

Munro, I. (2005) The Figure of the Crowd in Early Modern London: The City and its Double [Online] New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Available from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/detail.action?docID=308224. [Accessed 28/12/17]

Poe, E. A. (2017) The Man of the Crowd. Great Britain: Amazon

Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth- An Analysis of Two Critical Essays


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Amy L Blair’s essay entitled ‘Misreading The House of Mirth’ is an investigation into the reading practises at the turn of the 20th Century. She discusses the beginnings of the ‘how to’ guides and literature becoming a life manual. Wai-Chee Dimock’s essay ‘Debasing Exchange: Edith Wharton’s The House Of Mirth’ argues that Wharton places the characters in a marketplace and as such, the ‘deal’ is the ultimate goal and downfall of the protagonist Lily Bart. Both these texts are concerned with theme of class. Blair argues that the reader of The House of Mirth is a how to guide for the upwardly aspiring social climber whereas Dimock’s argues that the book revolves around the exchange system and Lily’s naïve attempt to play the market.

The main focus in Blair’s argument is that the theme of the book invites a practise she calls ‘reading up’, in which the novel is approached as a how-to manual for the reader to ascend to the dizzy heights of the characters. She states, ‘…class identity was decoupled from solely financial considerations so that a remaking of the self through cultural acquisition…became the imperative means of upward mobility’ (Blair, 2004, p150). Blair believes that as a result of the middle classes need to elevate their status, a ‘…new hybrid genre emerged and flourished…’ (Blair, 2004, p152) in the form of life guides and the promise of a better life for the reader. She also argues that the readership had little sympathy with Wharton’s critique of consumerism and high society and in fact were horrified with the fate that Wharton bestowed upon Lily. Blair contrasts her argument with Michel de Certeau’s theory of the ‘reader as poacher’ explaining that the reader can aspire to higher society if they become actively engaged with the text. Blair also believes that the negative reviews that Wharton’s The House of Mirth received were in part because of these practises of ‘reading up’.

Furthermore, Blair believes that Wharton uses the character of Gerty Farish as a guide in the tableau vivant scene and that it was written for a reader who was not of high society, ‘…she displayed the awed alertness of one unaccustomed to glamour and intent on taking everything in…’ (Blair, 2004, p158). Blair continues that this was also in contrast to Wharton’s criticism of the gossip pages, who, in reality, did the same job. Blair argues that ‘…the practice of reading up relies on a shift of identification as a means of wish fulfillment…’ and the ‘…identification of the self with a character who is a social better’ (Blair, 2004, p167). In this way, Blair is arguing that the text is a guide for the social climber and Wharton’s use of the character of Gerty Farish, who is of a lower status, enables the reader to do this.

The critical debate that Blair uses to evidence her findings is one that ran for a few months in the New York Times in 1905 between two letter writers, one who signed off as Newport and the other as Lenox. Both were embattled on either side of the argument regarding whether they were part of the inner circle in which Wharton wrote about or that it did not exist. Blair argues that the letter by Lenox ‘validated the superior discernment of the insider and the hopeless outsiderness of the outsider’ (Blair, 2004, p161).

Unlike Blair’s essay, no secondary criticism is used in Dimock’s piece. Dimock bases his argument on Wharton’s ideologies and criticism of the market place and his essay focusses entirely on the power within it and how Lily is the only character in The House of Mirth who plays it fairly. He states, ‘A self-acknowledged “human merchandise” she is busy marketing herself throughout most of the book…’ (Dimock, 1985, p124).  Dimock argues that the question of currency runs as an undercurrent throughout the book and that debt and cost are the main themes in relation to class status.

Furthermore, the idea of ‘exchange’ is something that for Lily is not in her power. Dimock states that the rate of exchange is fixed by those more powerful than her and argues that when Lily “owes” Trenor money, ‘…he now demands only according to his rate of exchange…’ (Dimock, 1985, p125). He also states that the higher classes are those who are the ‘non-payers’, believing that the characters of Bertha and Gus Trenor are neither required to play fair nor penalised for doing so. Dimock also argues that it is Lily who pays for playing fair and is ‘…penalised then, not for breaking the rules but for observing them’ (Dimock, 1985, p131).

However, Dimock also states that Lily makes two errors of judgement, ‘…in refusing to do business, Lily is perhaps also refusing to live…’ (Dimock, 1985, p132). Lily’s refusal to act upon Bertha’s letters and Rosedale’s offer of a loan condemn Lily to her fate. Dimock argues that this moral triumph however is bittersweet as ‘Lily is simply reverting to her customary role within the exchange system: her role as the one who “pays”’ (Dimock, 1985, p134). Dimock states that morality within the book is useless against an ‘…exchange system that dissolves the language system into its own harsh brassy parlance’ (Dimock, 1985, p135), confirming that Lily paid the ultimate price with her life. Dimock’s argument in the case of morality is that within the world of capitalism, morality doesn’t exist and because of this Lily would never have survived anyway.

Dimock closes his argument with a look at how Wharton deals with the working class in the character of Nettie Struther. He states, ‘To be all that Wharton wants her to be, Nettie must be abstracted from the all-contaminating exchange system’ (Dimock, 1985, p137), confirming that Wharton’s idea of the working classes is distinctly for redeeming purposes only and that she bases this character on an ideal that there is an ‘…organic life beyond the marketplace’ (Dimock, 1985, p137). Dimock is suggesting that Wharton wanted a glimmer of hope and the character of Nettie offered this.

Both texts are concerned with class but as very different concepts. Blair finalises her essay with a nod to the reader who, if they can ‘read up’, will bypass Wharton’s criticism of the higher classes and ‘…continue[s] to cultivate an upwardly mobile lifestyle’ (Blair, 2004, p170) whereas Dimock’s argument presents itself as a stark contrast to the world of capitalism in which he argues that it becomes a survival of the fittest.


Blair, A. L. (2004) ‘Misreading The House of Mirth’. In American Literature, [Online] vol 76 (1) p149-170. Available from: https://staffs.summon.serialssolutions.com/#!/search?bookMark=ePnHCXMw42JgAfZbU5lAx5QamesCxfALhGkBWppYWzIAS8lgfUSJ4OsbyawJgCvFlcAhouCB7C7m6qQn6bgm1lUksHNoOrmGuLsoYs6IxyfCBqTjw8yMDYxN7C0AN1MQJw6ACClK6I [Accessed 30/10/2017]

Dimock, W. (1985) ‘Debasing Exchange: Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth’. In: Bloom, H (ed) (1986) Edith Wharton: Modern Critical Views. p123-137. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.

Does Peacock’s novel, so critical of Romanticism, set it outside the remit of the Romantic agenda, or could it be argued that Peacock’s critique comes to the rescue by suggesting ways of overcoming the crisis of Later Romanticism?


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Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey was a satirical and experimental novel. Prose was a new form for the Romantics and Peacock took great care to move away from traditional tropes of the early Romantics work by gently pushing the boundaries and taking a light-hearted swipe at his contempories. Robert Kiely believed that Peacock understood the Romantics view of history but ‘…that romantic literature too often failed to connect the past with the present’ (Kiely, 1973, p177). Peacock shows that even in prose format, he can move the Romantic project forward as he questions the basic principles of the Romantics and his positive critique of the same shows a desire to rescue and renew. Peacock wanted a more social environment to come together and not to be melancholy. He recreates his friends in a Roman a clef as the characters in the novel. This also links with his disappointment that Shelley and his circle had moved abroad, and Peacock shows the characters that represent them as coming back together. Peacock felt that he had been left behind and the satirical nature of the text shows his feelings towards them. Marilyn Butler believed that Peacock and Shelley, ‘…strongly deplored the idea of a merely elitist culture…’ (Butler, 1981, p181) and that Peacock urged Shelley to ‘…consider his audience…’ (Butler, 1981, p182). This desire for a wider audience showed Peacock wanted to move away from the hierarchy of intellectuals that the Romantics wrote for and offer up literature to what Coleridge coined the ‘reading public’. The later Romantics also introduced wider cultural and historical tropes into their writing and Peacock shows this concept throughout the text. With a nod to the old traditions, Peacock faces the crisis of later Romanticism head on and Nightmare Abbey becomes a renewed optimism.

Nightmare Abbey was a modern rather than Romantic text offering a satirical and light-hearted take on Peacock’s contemporaries and the Romantic Project. Peacock wanted to show that text didn’t have to be serious and complicated. This liberated view shows through the text and the first time we are introduced to Scythrop’s character, he is meditating and then decides to write a book. Upon hearing that it has only sold seven copies, Scythrop is not dismayed, ‘Let me find the seven purchasers of my seven copies, and they shall be the seven golden candle-sticks with which I will illuminate the world’ (Peacock, 2016, p9). Peacock’s humour here is in stark comparison to the works of the Romantics and this would suggest that Peacock believes that a more positive attitude is required moving forward. When Scyrthop is walking the halls of the abbey, it states he ‘…stalked about like the grand inquisitor’ (Peacock, 2016, p9). The humour is a chance for the poets to not take themselves too seriously. Kiely suggests that ‘In making fun of the Romantics…he demonstrates why there is no such thing as romantic comedy despite an abundance of romantic humor’ (Kiely, 1973, p178). However, the humour satisfies a need that Peacock has to show the Romantics that the satire in the text is required as a renewed optimism and that the Romantic project will benefit greatly from this. This humour is at its greatest near the end of chapter twelve. Upon believing that a ghost is near, the assembled guests reaction is similar to a comedy sketch. Mr Toobad is so alarmed at the presence that in his panic, he misses the door and jumps through a window (Peacock). ‘Mr Asterias and his son, who were on watch for their mermaid, were attracted by the splashing, threw a net over him and dragged him to land.’ (Peacock, 2016, p52). The humour in this scene is in juxtaposition to the mythical creature that is being searched for.

Peacock also wanted to advocate a conviviality between friends. A chance to get together and have conversations instead of living insular lives. In particular, Peacock was making a case for laughter and merriment. In the case of the Reverend Mr Larynx, Peacock shows the convivial atmosphere he enjoyed at Nightmare Abbey, ‘he would condole with Mr Glowry,- drink madeira with Scythrop, – crack jokes with Mr Hilary,…lament the good old times of feudal darkness with the transcendental Mr Flosky’ (Peacock, 2016, p7). Peacock wanted to move away from the melancholy of the Romantics and look forward to life. This positivity was to encourage talking and debate rather than solitude and is also linked to Peacock’s disappointment over Shelley and his circle moving abroad. He no longer had them near him and was unable to engage in discussions with them.

Peacock’s novel incorporates roman a clef in a way that makes the text very personal. His characters are encrypted caricatures of his peers and are overexaggerated versions of themselves. The character of Scythrop is a portrayal of Percy Bysse Shelley and is mysterious and prone to falling in love. Upon seeing Marionetta’s distress after he shows disinterest in her, he ‘…found his tender sympathies awakened, and did his utmost to comfort the afflicted damsel’ then telling her that he was working on ‘a very hopeful scheme for the regeneration of human society’ (Peacock, 2016, p35). Here we can see the link to Shelley’s claim that poets are the ‘…unacknowledged legislators of the world’ (Wu, 2012, p1247). Peacock is mocking Shelley’s position and elitist view not only as a critique of the Romantic project but also as a jibe to not take himself so seriously.  It is also quite clear who the characters are based on and Peacock’s not so subtle disguises are an attempt to shake things up in the Romantic community. The character of Mr Flosky is based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. David M Baulch suggests that Nightmare Abbey, ‘in its characterisation of Mr Flosky offers the rudimentary critique of the ideological implications of Coleridge’s Kantianism’ (Baulch, 2004, p559). Peacock is essentially mocking Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and his friendship with the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that the way in which thoughts are processed and human nature as an experience alone are the answers to the question, what is our position in the world? When asked about his belief in ghosts, Mr Flosky replies, ‘I live in a world of ghosts. I see a ghost at this moment’. (Peacock, 2016, p52). This is a making a mockery of Coleridge’s beliefs. The belief that he can see ghosts gives the demeanour of a mad man.

Lord Byron is represented by Mr Cypress, an old acquaintance of Mr Glowry. He arrives at the abbey to say farewell before he leaves for the continent. In a conversation regarding humanity, Mr Cypress states, ‘The mind is diseased of its own beauty, and fevers into false creation. The forms which the sculptor’s soul has seized exist only in himself’. (Peacock, 2016, p47). The dark, brooding figure of Byron can easily be seen in Cypress and the characters troubles mirror those of Byron when he himself finds it necessary to leave England because of accusations of incest.  Kiely suggests that Peacock’s complaint with the Romantics was that they, ‘…occupied themselves too much with sorrow, but that they go about it an idle, self indulgent fashion and invent imaginary miseries rather than coping with real ones.’ (Kiely, 1972, p179). In fact, the character of Mr Hilary, who is thought to be Peacock himself, berates Cypress, saying ‘To rail against humanity for not being abstract perfection…is to rail at the summer for not being all sunshine…’ (Peacock, 2016, p46). Peacock is showing that as an insider of the Romantic movement, his critique of Byron’s melancholic, negative views is the way forward towards positivity and overcoming the crisis of late Romanticism.

Nightmare Abbey illustrates a critique of gothic fiction. With its towers and turrets, the abbey itself was, ‘…a venerable family mansion, in a highly picturesque state of semi-dilapidation, pleasantly situated on a strip of dry land…’(Peacock, 2016, p2). The use of the words ‘family’ and ‘pleasantly’ do not evoke the powerful feelings of horror that gothic was designed for. Marilyn Butler argues that, ‘its images project and evil or disturbing environment…’ and it was ‘felt to be a breakdown of control, both in the psyche and in the state’ (Butler, 1981, p157). Peacock however does not follow these conventions. Kiely states that, ‘…the setting for human experience is not a lonely chamber or prison cell, but a full table or a crowded drawing room which people are constantly entering or leaving’ (Kiely, 1973, p182). This was not stereotypical of gothic tropes. The supernatural elements in Nightmare Abbey were treated with humour and sarcasm. The style of Peacock’s narrative in the text includes prose, poetry, script and song. The text moves along well and Nightmare Abbey fits the bill perfectly for the novel as a mixed bag. However, there are numerous occasions where the text could pass as a play. There are stage directions, ‘(He rang the bell for his valet. Fatout entered)’ (Peacock, 2016, p16) and many people enter and exit, as though being directed on a stage. Notably, most of the action takes place when the characters are speaking to each other and whilst this is incredibly simple, it keeps in mind what Peacock’s aim was to bring back a conviviality of talking and friendship.  The satirical nature also links with the idea of a topsy turvey world in which the Romantics were living and the way Peacock deals with his critique of the Romantic project makes the novel an excellent medium in which to get his critique across. However, with the newly arriving paradigm of realism fast approaching, Nightmare Abbey doesn’t fulfil the criteria of a realist novel. Peacock wanted to critique the effects of modernity and realism in literature was still in its infancy.

In a letter to Shelley, Peacock told him, ‘I think it necessary to “make a stand” against the encroachments of black bile’ (Cochrane, 2009, p315). Peacock was against the melancholic brooding of Byronic literature and thought it was poisoning the reader’s minds. ‘I cannot consent to be auditor tantum of this systematical ‘poisoning’ of the ‘mind’ of the ‘Reading Public’’ (Cochran,2009, p315). Mr Flosky even defines black bile as, ‘Hatred- revenge- misanthropy- and quotations from the bible’ (Peacock, 2016, p17). Peacock was intent on moving away from the Byronic vision to a more positive outlook on life. He knew that the world of literature needed to move away from such dark and gloomy worlds and the ‘reading public’ would only read what it was fed. Indeed, Mr Flosky announces,

That part of the reading public which shuns the solid food of reason for the light diet of fiction, requires a perpetual adhibition of sauce piquante to the palate of its depraved imagination (Peacock, 2016, p22)

Although Peacock’s observations of the reading public are negative in that they do not have a mind of their own, his objective is certainly clear. Marilyn Butler states, ‘Already in the eighteenth century the literary artist…came to address itself not to a patron but to a public’ (Butler, 1981, p179). Peacock felt a sense of duty to the reading public, not only to move away towards a more positive outlook but also to bring about literature into libraries and make it more accessible to all.

The advancement of the later Romantics is shown in the concretisation of historical perspective in their work. This full sense of developed history is also shown in Nightmare Abbey. Peacock wrote Nightmare Abbey in 1818 during a revival of the Neoclassical style and which Marilyn Butler explains that, ‘One way of typifying this movement would be to point to its content, that is to its primitivism or historicism’ (Butler, 1981, p180). Peacock references many famous works throughout Nightmare Abbey including Dante, the Bible and Shakespeare, many of which are quoted or alluded to. In his “Four Ages of Poetry”, Peacock states that poets are, ‘…as yet the only historians and chroniclers of their time, and the sole depositories of all the knowledge of their age…’Peacock, 2015, p2). To fill a text with so many historical works illustrates not only the later Romantic awareness of mediaeval history and classical antiquity but also Peacock’s aim to move the Romantic project along. The age of modernity was in crisis and a look back to traditional styles was a way forward.

Nightmare Abbey was written in a response to the crisis of later Romanticism and Peacock wanted to move away from the doom and gloom of melancholic vision. A satirical novel with humour throughout, Peacock’s light-hearted text showed a different world, which had a more positive outlook. Peacock was also making a statement for the Romantics to stop taking themselves too seriously. Satire was a modern style and Peacock believed that this would bring forward a new optimism. He also advocated conviviality between friends, encouraged them to get together and talk about books and literature in general. As the only action in the text is the conversations between the friends, Peacock’s demonstration of this shows his intent quite clearly. When the Shelley circle move abroad, Peacock is quite put out by this and uses his friends in the text in the roman a clef style. This enables Peacock to mock their positions and elitist ways and show the readership a caricature of them. The overexaggerated versions of his peers gave Peacock free reign to capture their nuances and styles. Nightmare Abbey is also a critique of gothic fiction and any mention of the supernatural is treated with humour. Finally, Peacock filled his text with references to many historical works. This connection with the old traditions shows that to move the Romantic project forward, a look back to the old ways was required. 


Baulch, D. M. (2004) ‘The “Perpetual Exercise of an Interminable Quest”: The Biographia Literaria and the Kantian Revolution’ in Studies in Romanticism. [Online] Winter2004, Vol. 43 Issue 4, p557-581. [Available from http://rh5pp9fz2b.search.serialssolutions.com/?charset=utf-8&pages=557-581&atitle=The%20%EF%BF%BDPerpetual%20Exercise%20of%20an%20Interminable%20Quest%EF%BF%BD%3A%20%EF%BF%BDThe%20Biographia%20Literaria%EF%BF%BD%20and%20the%20Kantian%20Revolution&jtitle=Studies%20in%20Romanticism&title=Studies%20in%20Romanticism&issn=0039-3762&volume=43&issue=4&date=2004&aulast=Baulch&aufirst=David&au=Baulch%2CDavid%20M.] [Accessed 04/01/18]

Butler, M. (1981) Romantics Rebels & Reactionaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Cochrane, P. (2009) “Romanticism” and Byron. [Online] Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Available from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/detail.action?docID=1133133 [Accessed 27/12/17]

Kiely, R. (1973) The Romantic Novel in England. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

Peacock, T. L. (2015) “The Four Ages of Poetry” Handout given out in Later Romantic Writing November 2017 by Martin Jesinghausen

Peacock, T. L. (2016) Nightmare Abbey. Great Britain: Amazon

Wu, D. (2012) (Ed) Romanticism: An Anthology Fourth Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd


What does the later Romantic generation of writers add to the Romantic project?


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In what features of the writing studied so far could you see a development emerging from Early to Later Romanticism? Is it possible to talk of ‘maturing’ here, or is there a new fire and passion in the later writing that resembles the early Romantic experiments?

The later romantic writers offered a deeper investigation into the modern world and the mind. Poets such as Keats, Byron and Shelley emerged as self-assured young writers, keatsnightingale-tleager to change the world with their new modes of inspiration. Wordsworth and Coleridge had produced their work for the everyman. A pastoral simplicity and form, the early romantics had an appreciation of everything around them and made it beautiful. In William Hazlitt’s essay, ‘The Spirit of the Age’ he commends Wordsworth’s work as ‘… he can make the lifeblood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living colouring with which he paints his verse’ (Hazlitt, 2017). Although Hazlitt’s viewpoint is critical of Wordsworth styling, it is in fact how Wordsworth was appreciated by the common man. The development of style and nature can be seen in the later romantic writing through subject matter and poetic form. Poets such as Byron and Keats brought an altogether more sophisticated flavour. In Marilyn Butler’s book Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries she states that ‘…a new self-consciousness had entered literary discourse…’  (Butler, 1981, p143). The later romantic writers were making more inward reflections and exploring the inner psyche with a maturity that shows the development of their writing. Their styling was more philosophical with a true sense of history and as such contained classical references. Many writers moved onto the continent and this change of scenery showed a change of focus in their writing. The differences in style and form can be seen in Wordsworth’s We are Seven and Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale.


In Wordsworth’s poem We are Seven, the simplicity of form and accessibility brings an understanding and psychology of the innocence of a child as a new experimental form. Wordsworth showed the wonders of nature and his appreciation of them with a language for the common people. He states, ‘the child had a rustic woodland air’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p 380). The description of the child evokes an image of a simple country girl and her comparison with nature is in harmony with the pastoral setting. The gentle rhyme scheme gives the poem a simplistic nursery rhyme quality as Wordsworth constructs a conversation between an adult and a child about death. The child’s simple view is that her siblings, although dead in their graves, are still with her as death is not the end; ‘Their graves are green, they may be seen’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p381). The adult cannot accept this view and the reversal of roles is refreshing in the sense that Wordsworth gives a platform for the child to converse. Children were seen as mini adults but the reason and logic the child is showing, though childlike, shows a superiority over the adult. The realist approach that Wordsworth uses allows the reader to learn from the child and that the simple logic that the child insists upon, should be utilised by everyone. Although Wordsworth’s We are Seven breaks the boundaries of exploration into child psychology, the adult still does not accept the child’s viewpoint, ’Twas throwing words away, for still/ The little maid would have her will’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p382). Wordsworth demonstrates an irony in that the adult does not understand the child and although her logic is clear, a deeper exploration of it is not given.


The more sophisticated style of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, intensifies the romantic project by giving the reader a more inward perspective. ‘That I might drink, and leave the word unseen/ And with thee fade away into the forest dim-‘ (Keats, 2012, p 1464). Although the links with nature remain in both poems, the Ode’s more sophisticated styling offers a more inward reflection. At eight stanzas long, the ode, whilst still connected to nature, is more of a lament of the poet’s life, ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/ My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk’ (Keats, 2012, p1464). Whilst listening to the nightingale sing, the poet suddenly becomes entranced. His heart aches as he listens to the bird’s melodious tune and is soothed by it. In a trancelike state, the poet experiences moods and feelings and becomes philosophical about life. In Leon Waldoff’s essay ‘Imagination and Growth in the Great Odes’, he argues that ‘His placement of the bird in the historical, the biblical and literary imagination…is an unexpected and beautifully effective act of internalisation…’ (Waldoff,1985, p 313). He argues that Keats is trying to preserve the inner feelings for which the bird now represents (Waldoff, 1985). This depth of inner realisation shows the maturity in Keats’s poetry. The bird becomes symbolic and his song immortal and this illustrates the superiority of his writing. The ode makes reference to Greek mythology, ‘Away! Away! For I will fly to thee,/ Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards/ But on the viewless wings of Poesy’ (Keats, 2012, p1465). The sophisticated nature in which he compares the classical world and poetry illustrates the more cultured styling and shows Keats belief that poetry transcends the classical world.


The early romantic poets created a gentle pastoral world and made their poetry accessible to all. With nature at the forefront, these writers illustrated that to understand nature was to understand life. They made the world beautiful and gave a platform for children to have a voice of their own. The later romantic writers showed a much more mature style in their writing. Their inward reflections and exploration of the mind showed a style developing and evolving in a way that eclipsed the writing of the early romantics. Keats styling showed moods and feelings that were not seen in Wordsworth’s early poetry. These moods reflected the inner poet and demonstrated how looking deeper inside the mind gave a more transcendental experience.



Butler, M. (1981) Romantics, Rebels & Reactionaries English Literature and its Background 1760-1830. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Hazlitt, W. (2017) ‘The Spirit of the Age- Mr Wordsworth’ (1826). Handout given in Later Romantic Writing 10/10/2017 by M. Jesinghausen

Waldoff, L. (1985) ‘Imagination and Growth in the Great Odes’ In: Wu, D. (1995) (Ed) Romanticism A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd

Wu, D. (2012) (Ed) Romanticism: An Anthology Fourth Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd

Tess of the D’urbervilles is concerned not with the modern city, but with life in the country. In what ways could the text be regarded as a ‘Modern Novel’, in spite of its rural setting?


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tessThe 19th Century was rich in women writers and characters. They introduced a woman’s perspective in literary writing which had never seen before. They also showed the role of women struggling in the face of social conflict, an imbalance of class prejudices followed by some sort of redemption. However, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, written in 1891, Thomas Hardy does not open the prospect of this kind of balance. The novel was a new form of writing, a literary form between individuality and the real world. When Hardy wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the novel was the ideal form to cater for the tragic tale of real life and to show how the world is being perceived. DH Lawrence stated, ‘The novel is the perfect medium for revealing to us the changing rainbow of our living relationships’ (Lawrence, 1979, p180-181). James Joyce blended myth and modern life in his novel Ulysses and Hardy also makes use of the idea of myth and mythology creating Tess as a tragic heroine. Robert Longbaum argues that ‘the characters’ total immersion in nature suggests pastoralism… with the obvious definition of pastoral as an idealising picture of country life implying its superiority to city life’ (Longbaum, 1995, p67). Hardy uses the countryside setting as a paradox for modern life. The industrial revolution took place between the 18th and 19th Centuries creating factories, mass production and new technologies in farming and other industries. Although the town and cities were experiencing the industrial revolution in full swing, the countryside had yet to experience these changes. Hardy argues that countryside is where you can standstill and contemplate the world and environment. He also rejects the city and modern life and argues that you can only ever gain a sense of what is happening in the world by being in the countryside. Hardy also questions religion, specifically Christian values and through the themes of nature and the psychology of the heroine, the text can be regarded as a ‘modern novel’.

Tess is a modern character in contrast to her setting in that she is in the middle of nature and modern life and both are coming at her from different angles. She is also naïve having had no guidance about the world from her parents. Yet when she is pushed into a corner, she stands her ground like a true heroine. When Alec questions her regarding why she came to Trantridge, as it wasn’t for her love of him, Tess replies, ‘My God! I could knock you out of the gig!’ (Hardy, 1998, p77). Hardy is showing that even though Tess is not worldly, she stands up for herself. It is Tess’s guilt though which propels her towards Alec after her family are without their means of support. She has a sense of duty to her family, to be the breadwinner and support them. This is a very modern view that she has taken on herself and Hardy shows Tess does not give this a second thought. She does not fit in with the society she lives in and has her own values. On the night in The Chase, Tess’s innocence and virginity are taken by Alec and Tess is ultimately damned by the society in which she lives as she is no longer seen as pure.  Indeed, ‘An immeasurable chasm was to divide our heroine’s personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother’s door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm’ (Hardy, 1998, p74). The result of Tess’s violation by Alec is a child she names Sorrow.  On her return home, she questions her mother, ‘How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger?’ (Hardy, 1998, p82). Tess then has to face the village and carries the shame that society bestows upon her. In true modern style though, Tess defies society and does not hide away once the baby is born. Ellen Rooney argues that Hardy aestheticizes Tess to make her ‘…intensely literary- symbolic, tragic, eloquent- in her flesh, her eyes, her voice, her face’ and that ‘…sexual experience is to a woman what literature (and looking at Tess) is to a man’ (Rooney, 1998, p476). This shows that Tess’s character is as complex as literature itself and Hardy’s modern approach to a female psyche is truly modernistic of the Victorian era.

Nature has a very important role to play in showing how modern Tess of the D’Urbervilles is. Hardy portrays nature as commenting actively on what is happening around Tess. When Tess’s mother suggests a local boy takes her father’s horse to market to deliver the beehives, Tess won’t hear of it, saying “‘Oh no- I wouldn’t have it for the world!’ declared Tess proudly. ‘And letting everybody know the reason- such a thing to be ashamed of.’” (Hardy, 1998, p29). Tess feels responsible for the family and takes on the role of the breadwinner. This showed Tess to be a modern character. Unfortunately, when she falls asleep in the cart the family’s horse is killed and she immediately blames herself. The order of nature is disrupted and all of nature mourns for it, ‘The atmosphere turned pale, the birds shook themselves in the hedges, arose, and twittered’ (Hardy,1998, p33). Tess has a real connection with nature; she represents it and in this particular passage, nature itself is connecting with Tess’s sorrow. This antagonism with the world of nature and social concerns stands out in that Tess is very close to nature. She is unspoilt and authentic as is nature and bears the burden of conflict with nature. Nature comes alive, it is a part of what is happening and is commenting actively. When Tess hears the dying pheasants:

Tess’s first thought was to put the still-living birds out of their torture… ‘Poor darlings – to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the presence of such misery as this!’ (Hardy, 1998, p279).

Tess is incredulous at the plight of the pheasants and puts their misery before her own. She is somebody who represents the voice of nature and her inner turmoil can be reflected in nature itself with this selfless act. This is a new approach to modern life. She is so close to nature and that is why she is such a modern character. Hardy has a new vision of the countryside. New technologies are coming into the farming industry which Tess is part of yet there is a battleground for modernity here as the old way is still seen as better than the new way. When Tess is working at Flintcomb-Ash Farm, she mans a thresher machine that the old men talked of ‘the past days when everything…was effected by hand labour, which, to their thinking, though slow, produced better results.’ (Hardy,1998, p326). Here Hardy is showing us that even though the industrialisation is on the horizon and marching its way towards the countryside, it was not necessarily the way forward for a modern way of life. These old men being living proof that this is the case.

When Tess realises her baby is dying, her first instinct is that the child needs to be baptized. Her father reacts vehemently to Tess’s request for the parson, saying ‘no parson shall come inside his door…prying into his affairs…when, by her shame, it had become more necessary than ever to hide them’ (Hardy,1998, p93). Tess then takes it upon herself to baptize the infant to ensure its holy passage to the Almighty exclaiming, ‘O merciful God…have pity on my poor child’. (Hardy,1998, p93).  When it becomes clear that the parson will not undertake a Christian burial, Tess defies the church and decides to bury the child anyway in a forgotten corner of the graveyard and makes a cross from wood and string. This empathy with death was another modern view and Tess’s defiance shows how she isn’t controlled by the Catholic church and the modern approach of burying the child herself shows that she did not fear God or any other human beings. Hardy also shows here the connection with the modern world when Tess puts some flowers in a jar of ‘Keelwell’s Marmalade’ (Hardy, 1998, p97). The jar is a leading motif for nature versus capitalism. We can see that industrialisation and the city are never too far away but Hardy’s use of that particular jar in an act of such purity is mocking the modern world. Tess’s thoughts are to keep the flowers alive yet it shows the imbalance between the modern world and nature. Hardy is also criticising the logic of religion, which in itself was a modern view point. He also shows that the church is man-made and does not give you any sort of solace. Hardy also portrays Alec and Angel as good and evil, not only in the symbolic use of Angel’s name and Alec’s evil behaviour but as representatives of Christian values. Indeed, when Tess tells Angel of her past after they marry, she says ‘Forgive me as you are forgiven! I forgive you, Angel.’ (Hardy, 1998, p228). Angel has no Christian forgiveness in him for Tess and banishes her from him. Hardy is questioning religion and showing the reader through Christian ethics, neither man can save Tess. Tess is beyond good and evil, which are the central pillars of religion yet Hardy is suggesting that Tess’s denouncement of the church and leanings to paganism are the way forward. When Tess and Angel arrive at Stonehenge, it as though the balance of her disrupted life is restored as Tess lies on one of the slabs as if on an alter as a sacrificial lamb. She knows then that her time is ending soon and she has made peace with it. This denouement culminates with Hardy’s argument that going back to the beginning, to the point where everything began, is to be in control of modern life.

Written in 1891, Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles was a thoroughly modern novel set in a true rural setting. At the time of realism, the novel was able to diversify new ideas and modern approaches. The simple setting of the countryside shows the reader where the truly modern life should be lived. Being at one with nature and the countryside, Hardy is portraying rural life as going back to a more simpler time; back to the beginning when life was easier. Hardy shows Tess to be a courageous woman under significant duress through society, nature and religion. She has a thoroughly modern approach in that she stands up for herself, defies the teachings of the Church and connects with nature in such way that she becomes one with it. The leanings towards Paganism also shows this disconnection with Christianity and how Hardy moved away from traditionalist views to a more modern outlook. Tess of the D’Urbervilles was an extremely radical novel because of these points compared to previous novels written around the same time and this radicalism coupled with the birth of realism show Tess of the D’Urbervilles to be a true modern novel.


Hardy, T. (1998). Tess of the D’Urbervilles. London, England: Penguin Group.

Langbaum, R. (1995). Thomas Hardy in Our Time. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press Ltd

Lawrence, D. H. (1979). ‘Morality and the Novel’. In: A Selection from Phoenix (pp175- 181) London: Penguin

Rooney, E. (1998). ‘Tess and the Subject of Sexual Violence: Reading, Rape, Seduction’. In: Riquelme, J.P. (ed). Tess of the D’Urbervilles- Thomas Hardy.  Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press Ltd.


Click here for my web page Cathy the writer

What a Year!


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It might sound strange calling a blog post “What a Year” in the middle of June but my academic year has recently drawn to a close. Today I received the results of all my hard work, tears, often shouted “I can’t do this” and head-stuck-in-a-book weekends. I passed. Not only did I pass but I averaged a 1st for my first year at university doing my English degree. I’m completely over the moon ecstatic and somewhat amazed at myself.cartoon books

A year ago, I was counting down the weeks until I started uni. Nervous about whether I would: –

  1. Understand what the lectures said or whether they did actually speak in a foreign language that everyone else would understand except me.
  2. Be able to read all the books on the course and understand them!
  3. Fit in. This was a biggie for me. Being a “mature” student, the worry was that I would be in a classroom full of young people who would look at me like an uncool old fart!

Ok. So sometimes it did feel like they were talking a foreign language and sometimes I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about but that was ok. The lecturers were always happy to explain or go through anything whether after class or in their appointment times, which in all honesty they were always pushing to get us to come and see them! Biscuits were usually offered and a nice chat so I have taken them up on this a couple of times.

I did manage to read all of the books throughout the year although I didn’t understand some of them but that was ok too. Everybody has their own take on a book, whether you like it, hate it or simply don’t get it, you’re never going to like everything you read. That’s just a matter of taste and preference. The books were always interesting though and at times a little bit weird, (I’m thinking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead).

Well I wasn’t the only “old person”. There was quite a large number of mature students and the class was a real mix of ages. Everyone was really friendly and I have got to know some lovely people. We have quite the group of older students who meet up in the library for coffee and a chat, whether it’s about assignments, kids or the specials coming out in Aldi. God, we’re so rock and roll!

I was nervous last year before I started. I suppose you could call it fear of the unknown. Apart from a short course with the Open University a few years back, it had been 26 years since I was in education and that’s a bloody long time! I cannot begin to explain though how glad I am that I attended an Open Day last summer and was blown away by what Staffs Uni said to me. It didn’t matter that I had no A-levels. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t fresh out of college. I had life experience and a willingness to learn and that’s what mattered. My life seemed to open up at that point and I haven’t looked back since. There have been talks from past graduates about their career paths, trips to the theatre, a weekend away in Yorkshire to see the Bronte parsonage and so many more highlights.


So, for anyone out there thinking about starting university or going back to education, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Don’t be nervous. Yes, it’s life changing but in such a good way and the people you meet and the experiences you have along the way make it all worthwhile.


A Critical Review of Three Wordsworth Poems


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The Romantics believed in making everything beautiful. Everyday themes such as nature, death, poverty and childhood were taken very carefully into consideration and with a simple language were made for the everyman. They also had an appreciation of everything around them and wanted to beautify what they saw and put a sheen on everyday things. The beauty

Back to Nature

and use of simple language meant that the lyrical ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge were for everyone to understand. In Edmund Burke’s essay on the Sublime and the Beautiful, he states ‘the passion caused by the great and sublime in nature…is astonishment…that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror’, (Burke, section 1, 2017). The poetry of the Romantics was enriched by using the themes of poverty, death and childhood in a way that shocked the reader into some sort of cathartic state. During the period of the 17th and 18th Centuries, the Enlightenment movement, known as a time for reason and rationality, stood in the way of the Romantics who thought that the Enlightenment period was selective and short-sighted. However, the Romantics focused on every aspect of life. Wordsworth wanted to show society’s failings and how there was a need for change. As modernists, the Romantics had a true awareness of living in the now and commenting on social change for the good and bad.

In 1789, the French Revolution made a big impact on the Romantics. The middle classes killed off the aristocracy and saw the feudal system come to an end. This can also be seen in the poem The Female Vagrant, where Wordsworth focuses on vagrancy and the beginnings of industrialisation. The poem starts in the first person and has a rhyme scheme of ABAB, rhyming couplets at the end of each stanza and is written in iambic pentameter. Wordsworth tells the story of the young women’s life from small child to desolate vagrant in the form of a story. It has a breathless quality and encapsulates the imagination of the reader to a subject that was often ignored. The start of the poem shows how idyllic her life was, ‘Light was my sleep; my days in transport roll’d:/ With thoughtless joy I stretch’d along the shore’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p32). These two lines show the beauty in her surroundings and the lightness and simplicity of her life. As commercialism begins to roll in, the woman’s life is shattered when her father does not sell to the new landowner. Wordsworth is illustrating the change in society and encourages the reader to question it and sympathise with a plight that was happening in all parts of the countryside. Using punctuation designed to enrich the reader’s sympathies, we see the woman losing her home, ‘I could not pray:-̶̶-through tears that fell in showers,/ Glimmer’d our dear-loved home, alas! No longer ours!’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p33). This is designed to evoke sympathy in the reader and to understand what was happening to people’s lives. In Patrick Campbell’s Critical Perspectives, he states that the poem:

stresses the ‘sensational’ nature of the subject. For the ballad burns with social indignation both against grasping ‘townee’ landlords out of harmony with their human and natural surroundings, trying to ride roughshod over rural values with ‘proffered gold’ (Campbell, 1991, p107).

The poem then becomes a social commentary on the effects of capitalism marching forth and destroying everything that gets in its path. Wordsworth’s journalistic style in this poem emphasises this effect to catch the reader’s attention and show the true consequences for the people in the countryside. In line 89, Wordsworth refers to the end of the cotton cottage industry, ‘The empty loom, cold hearth, and silent wheel’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p34). This was another example of the poverty that was to come to those who were producing cotton in the ‘old way’ and were pushed out by the factories and mass production. The discourse used from lines 109 to 145 is designed to shock the reader, as the woman experiences, ‘disease, famine, agony and fear,’ (Wordsworth, 2103, p35). The full extent of the horrors experienced by those who were homeless are laid bare and Wordsworth does not want to shy away from them. In line 189, the woman cannot bring herself to beg, saying ‘Nor to the beggar’s language could I frame my tongue’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p37). In the final stanza, the woman can tell no more of her story as the sheer weight of her desperation becomes unbearable, ‘Oh! Tell me whither ̶  for no earthly friend/ Have I. ̶ She ceased and weeping turned away,’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p39). Throughout the poem, Wordsworth does not let the reader feel anything other than sympathy for the woman. None of what happens to her is her fault and in this way the challenge of aesthetically enriching the poem by representing poverty is done with great consideration.

Wordsworth stated that the ideas behind his poems were, ‘…to choose incidents and situations from common life and to relate or to describe them throughout…in a selection of language really used by men’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p96-97). This can clearly be seen in the poem Simon Lee. At the end of the 18th Century, the feudal system came to an end. Simon Lee had worked for a wealthy landowner of a country estate, who had since died and left no one remaining thus putting Simon Lee and his wife into extreme poverty. Wordsworth is showing the effect of the end of the feudal system and the poor were now adrift with the new structures in society. The poem has an ABAB rhyme scheme and is made up of 13 stanzas with differing metrical feet in the fourth and eighth line of each stanza. It also has a nursery rhyme style so at the time it was written, would have made it easy for people to read. The poems begins with, ‘In the sweet shore of Cardigan,/ Not far from pleasant Ivor Hall’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p44) and this gives the reader a soft and gentle introduction to the whereabouts of Simon Lee. Wordsworth is setting the scene to entice the reader in before telling the tale of his misfortune. In lines 15 and 16, the reader is told that although Simon Lee has lost an eye through his hunting feats for his lord and master, his cheeks are rosy and he appears happy with his lot. The shorter sentences in stanza’s four and five, ‘He has no son, he has no child/ And he is lean and he is sick’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p45) evokes pity with Simon Lee and his situation.  The switch to first person narrator in stanza nine is where we see a call to the reader for their sympathies. The use of ‘O reader!…O gentle reader!’ in lines 73 and 75 is like a cry out to the reader for their understanding. Wordsworth enriches the poem by turning to the reader in this journalistic way and commenting actively on it. This was also a way of experimenting with the challenge of representing poverty. Poverty is something we can all see but generally tend to ignore. In the last three stanzas of the poem, the narrator steps in to help Simon Lee cut down a tree. The language used is gentle and evokes emotion in the way that when he is helped by the much younger man, he cannot express his gratitude enough, ‘The tears into his eyes were brought,/ And thanks and praises seemed to run’. (Wordsworth, 2013, p47). This brings a ‘happy ending’ to the poem but by making a powerful statement. Wordsworth became conscious of the environment and as such poverty became something that was not just political but something he wanted to change. It became a rallying cry for social change. This is a realistic ballad and Wordsworth made it beautiful by capturing the heart of the reader in a way that would have brought hope to the poor.

In the 18th Century, children were commonly regarded as little more than mini-adults or savages. Yet the discovery of ‘the child’ by the Romantics showed how we can learn from children. When attitudes began to change towards children, they were seen as impressionable uninformed beings requiring protection and attention. The Romantics idolised children and believed that the child was the real poet. In Johan Huizinga’s book Homo Ludens, the importance of play in culture and in particularly in poetry are described as, ‘To understand poetry we must be capable of donning the child’s soul like a magic cloak and of forsaking man’s wisdom for the child’s.’ (Huizinga, 2016, p119). Huizinga’s philosophy and the idea of becoming the child resonates with the Romantic’s way of thinking and exploring the simplicity of childhood. In the poem We are Seven, Wordsworth represents childhood very simply. With an ABAB rhyme scheme and made up of quatrains save for the last stanza, the poem is very musical and nursery rhyme like which enriches the reader’s awareness of childhood, as it mirrors the child’s thinking. The simple tone of the poem is in stark comparison to the idea of death which is discussed by the man and the child. In line 4, the narrator asks: ‘What should it know of death?’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p49) clearly defining the child as simple and unaware but as the poem continues, it is the child’s simple logic and understanding of an afterlife which is endearing to the reader. The description of the child in the second and third stanzas capture her innocence and bring her to life. In lines 11 and 12, she is described as ‘Her eyes were fair, and very fair,/ ̶ Her beauty made me glad.’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p49). The language used here shows how the child is not overcome by sadness; her eyes are bright and alive and this affects the man talking to her. It is enriched by the pause put in before the second line, showing the narrator considering her face and the innocence he finds there.  The conversation that follows between the man and child regarding the whereabouts of her siblings is simple in language and form. The short sentences show this and the questioning by the man is simple and childlike. When the child says that two of her siblings are dead, line 47 is rich in simplistic rhyme befitting the child, ‘Their graves are green, they may be seen.’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p50). The poem shows how the child’s view of death illustrates that death is not really the end. The child is not angry with God for taking her siblings, showing a belief in the afterlife and that she will see them again. Indeed, she states in line 52, ‘Till God released her from her pain,/’ (Wordsworth, 2013, p50). She is almost grateful to God for her sister’s demise and does not blame Him for it. Wordsworth also uses nature in the poem to enrich our experience, setting the scene in a cottage by a church-yard. Children understand nature for what it is so the child is unaffected by living next to a church-yard and playing around the grave stones. This resonates with her beliefs about death and using the countryside setting enriches the reader’s experience.  The final stanza is made up of five lines and not four as the preceding stanzas are. The child is convinced and will not concede defeat to the man’s superiority that her siblings are gone. Wordsworth’s use of five lines here is used to demonstrate the tenacity of the child’s belief. This shows us that to go back to an innocent way of thinking can teach us more about life as it is unsullied by the trappings of adulthood.

As modernists, the Romantics had a true awareness of living in the now. Their poems reflected the social change and a need for social justice. The challenges of representing the themes of death, poverty and childhood in poetry are aesthetically enriched by the language, form and underlying message. Wordsworth shows that the new way of thinking was something he could express for everyone. In Simon Lee and The Female Vagrant, Wordsworth highlights the fall-out from commercialism and the end of the feudal system, the way this affected people’s lives and challenges society to stand up and take notice. The style both are written in, reflect the then social climate and enrich the reader’s experience. In We Are Seven, the theme of childhood is portrayed in very simplistic tones to reflect the child in question. Although the poem is nursery rhyme like, the reader becomes aware that the child’s logic, whilst simplistic in nature, is more powerful than the man talking to her, as she is more open minded and does not require a logical explanation as the man does.


Burke, E. (2017). Extracts from A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757). Handout given on 3rd March 2017 by M. Jesinghausen

Campbell, P. (1991). Wordsworth and Coleridge Lyrical Ballads Critical Perspectives. Hampshire: Macmillan Education Ltd

Huizinga, J. (2016). Homo Ludens- A study of the Play Element in Culture. Ohio: Angelico Press

Wordsworth, W. & Coleridge, S. (2013). Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1802. Oxford: Oxford University PressLink to my website