Tag Archives: 19th Century Literature

The meaning of life

Writers and artists in the 19th Century were preoccupied with trying to solve the question “what is the purpose of life on earth?” As an inhabitant of the 21st century how convincing did you find their answers?

Men through the ages have been looking at the question “What is the meaning of Life?”

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”
― Robert Louis StevensonFamiliar Studies of Men and Books

“The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful”. – Albert Einstein

“You were made by God, and for God and until you understand that, life will never make sense”… Rick Warren.

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity”. – Leo Tolstoy

From the Mid 18th century people were no longer content with bowing to the aristocracy. People all over the world were rebelling against authority with violence and destruction.

The writers of the Romantic Period, and later in the Victorian Age were also rebellious. The difference being they took the adage “The pen is mightier than the sword” to heart and wrote what they thought. For the romantics, rebellion took the form of returning to nature. Wordsworth found beauty and nature to be liberating. He implored Samuel Coleridge and others to leave their books and return to nature for the lessons of life. William and Dorothy Wordsworth along with Samuel Coleridge became the first hippies. They sought redemption from a society that was becoming industrialised and a society where capitalism was more important than people’s lives.

The scholar Gypsy by Matthew Arnold was written after a 17th century tale of an Oxford scholar breaking free from the rigors of learning in college, to learn life’s lessons from the gypsies. he gained his redemption, his freedom.

Victorian writers sought more to bring to light the atrocities being committed in the name of industrialisation and the almighty dollar. They wrote to bring the truth to those who would listen. With each of his books, Dickens exposed the truths about child labour, poverty, and the inequality of the classes with the hope that his readers would be as equally appalled as he, and protest to bring about change.

In Silas Marner, Georg Eliott questioned the hypocrisy of the church and hierarchy. She showed that gold was the most important thing in Silas’ life after being betrayed by friends and fellow church goers. But Silas was not beyond redemption from his obsession with gold. When given a girl to raise, he exchanged the metal gold for the gold curls on Eppie’s head. When the aristocracy came to “rescue the girl from poverty”, the girl showed that love and loyalty were more important than money.

Oscar Wilde also wrote about the idiocy of the class system and showed that the relationships and issues important to the elite were not important at all, considering there were poor people rotting in the poor house and children in the workhouse.

Even in children’s literature there was rebellion happening amongst the writers as they sought for a better life for the children they were writing for and about. Popular nursery rhymes and songs are thought to tell the story  of the plague

“Ring a ring of roses,

A pocketful of posies,

A tishoo, a tishoo,

We all fall down.”

 

Waterbabies, written by Reverend Charles Kingsley, was about a boy named Tom who was a chimney-sweep. Tom fell from a chimney into the bedroom of an upper-class girl and realised how dirty (both physically and morally) he was and drowned while trying to wash the filth from his body. He wanted to be worthy of the squeaky clean girl whose bedroom he had fallen into. The story sought to address the problems of the poor, class differences, child labour and Christian redemption.

The rebellion and redemption was not limited by the borders of Britain. On the other side of Europe, Leon Tolstoy wrote that one thing is in common to all men; that is we die. It makes no difference whether poor or rich, our lives must come to an end. Tolstoy pointed out in ‘The death of Ivan Ilyich’, that life is about much more than making money and a position for yourself in society. Ilyich had the opportunity to reflect on his life and discover where he went wrong. It was too late for him to fix it, but he does apologise for his life and the mess he made of it for himself, his children and his wife. In Master and Man, Tolstoy also talks of the class system within Russia. It was the rushing to make money that lead to the death of the dishonest church warden, Vasili Andreevich, while the clear thinking peasant Nikita survived by being patient and accepting his lot. Nikita was redeemed of death and his debt to Andreevich.

The Romantic and Victorian era writers had one common theme, Redemption. Redemption from a society which valued the making of money more than the value of human life. The value of all human life, and equality of social status of all was the meaning of life to the writers of the 19th Century.

As an inhabitant of the 21st Century, I can state that the lessons of life that the writers of the 19th century were trying to tell were indeed important lessons, and still are. Perhaps more so. But I don’t think we have learnt those lessons. We are still discriminating against different people in society. Asylum seekers are treated appallingly here in Australia and elsewhere in the world. Women are not treated equally around the world by not only the Muslims, but are treated as an underclass in the western world as well. As long as there are churches who will not let women preach from their pulpits, and as long as  a woman’s pay is not equivalent to a mans in the same position, then we cant say we have got it right. We cant claim to have the answers to all the worlds problems when archaic laws prevent two adults who love each other from getting married. As long as there is one child in slavery, one person going hungry, one person who dies of an illness that is curable elsewhere in the world, we need to work harder.

“I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do claim I can ask the right questions”. Dave McGettigan. (you can quote me).

But we all know the true answer….

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The Turella Journals

I realised that I had not really done a creative entry for my 19th Century Literature blog, so I thought I would attempt a modern day Journal entry in the style of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal.

Enjoy

Dave

 

15th May 2016

The nights are getting chilly in this cottage on the hill. The cool evenings however are soon forgotten as I feel the warm sun on my face as I venture out of doors. I decide to turn left on the path through Turella Reserve today and head down towards the Cooks River.

Walking down the new bike path to critique the new Turrella Reserve pedestrian bridge!

Photo credit: Earlwoodfarm.com

The section of the river I am trekking to today is a little more than a trickle. A weir has been built below the foot bridge to allow the hatchling fish to start life in calmer waters before heading downstream and out to sea; sometimes ending up on the hook of a young angler before reaching deep waters.

It’s not a long walk by any means, but there is much to see and hear, and sometimes I can make a short ten minute walk last over 2 hours as I stop to sketch or take some photographs of the flora and fauna of the area.

The birdlife is quite alive during the day. One can always see some Magpies and Rosellas loitering around the playground, with its seating, barbeque and unguarded garbage bins. They fight for food scraps with the native Ibis, while the kookaburras get ready to sing at the first sign of a cloud. As I wander down the gentle green hill, I spy a Dusky Moorhen and some Cormorants near the reed covered lake.

Photocredit: Flickrhivemind

With the weather getting cooler, a lot of the smaller birds have flown north to seek warmer air currents.

On the rolling hill, I spy a few people walking or playing with their dogs. The dogs are not disturbed by the birds, nor are the birds upset by the four legged intruders. Labradors and German Shepherds are too busy fetching balls or Frisbees thrown by their owners. They are easily distracted however by some interesting smells, or noises in the nearby bushland.

On a rocky outcrop I come across a bearded dragon sunning himself. He sits with his head raised majestically, as if trying to smell the sun. I see no wallabies today, although they are not an uncommon visitor to Turella reserve. I do hear some rustling in the bushland, however not seeing anything, I would be speculating to try to identify the noisemakers. At night I have spied ringtail and brushtail possums, foxes, rabbits, and thousands of Grey headed flying foxes can be heard screaming overhead on dusk, and on their return at about 5am each morning.

Photo credit: saveourtrees.wordpress.com

 

Flora present on the grasslands is limited to dandelions I’m afraid, however some flowering paperbark trees and small eucalypts are present around the play area. In the bush to my right on the way down the hill, there are a great variety of banksia bushes as well as Sydney Redgum and Turpentine trees.

I walk to the bridge over the trickling brook and look into the deep green of the water. The tide is down revealing some of the moss covered bricks placed along the banks by convicts in the early days of the colony.

Photo credit: Daily Telegraph

Nearby I hear a train coming into the station, and the sound of cars on the other side of the hill. But right now, I listen only to the wind through the trees and the occasional sound of birds among the trees. I am so blessed to be living so close to bushland in the midst of a busy city.

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It happens to us all

One thing is common to all men, that is death. It may be a cliche but from the moment we draw our first breathe, we begin to die. What a fatalistic way of looking at things. If we have the realisation from the beginning that we have a purpose in life, then we would strive to seek it and then achieve it. or would we. Would we forsake all else and strive toward the purpose in which our lives were destined?

“You were made by God, and for God and until you understand that, life will never make sense”… Rick Warren.

Picture credit: Pushkin House 2014

I have just finished reading ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ by Leon Tolstoy. I hated the story, I loved the story. My conflict arises because it described the death of a man suffering from (I speculate) cancer. My own father died of cancer some years ago. I knew it was a long illness for him and at times a very painful distressing time for him. Tolstoy seems to have an intimate knowledge of the thoughts and pains of a dying person.

I watched my father deteriorate from a strong capable man to one who aged way beyond his years; before his time. He was too young to die. Unlike Ivan Ilyich, my father achieved. It was not just his professional life in which he excelled. He was the loved father of four boys, grandfather to many before he passed. He was adored by many and liked by all. My father had a professional life that made all the boys in my class envious. He was able to take us on many flights in helicopters and planes in his capacity of an Aeronautical Engineer. He strove to make life good for my mother and his family. He achieved that goal. When he retired early due to illness, he decided to pass on his knowledge to assist schoolkids in learning about the theory and practicality of flight. He went to the high school of the town in which he retired and offered to assist the kids to build a real aeroplane. One that could be registered and flown. He achieved that goal.

It was also in his retirement that he learnt the beauty of wood. In the Australian bush, some trees developed a pimple like growth on their trunk. These are called Burls. They are distinguished by the inner pattern of not rings, but more like squiggles throughout the wood. My father learned to make all manner of things from wood, from pens to coasters and bowls to much larger projects.

Picture Credit: Cliff Baker, West Virginia Woodturners Association

But I saw him waste away. He gave up smoking in an attempt of maybe extending his time on Earth, but in the last few months, I noticed that he took it up again. Like Ivan he had resigned himself to death as being inevitable.

Ivan Ilyich strove to achieve position in society. He strove to accumulate ‘things’. he did so not just for his own benefit, but for the benefit of his family. Perhaps for his own benefit as well, because if he found favour with his wife, he could then be relieved of her whining.

This book not only made me look at my own mortality and the futility of accumulating things, but to reassure myself that my purpose for life is now on track. In hindsight, I can see that in the past my actions and inaction, my own need for wealth and seeking favour from society ( as Ilyich attempted to do when setting up his house in Petersburg) had caused hurt to others. My goal in life now is to not accumulate wealth but to share beauty with those unable to see it for themselves. I do that with my art, photography and writing on a semi professional level, and by volunteering for social justice causes and organisations to assist those less fortunate than myself.

I was not able to be there in the last days for my father. This is something that has grieved me as I look at the past with regret. Ivan Ilyich also looked at his life with regret. I hope that at my death, I can look back on my life, not with regret, but with a small amount of humble pride.

There are 3 Victorian novels that I have looked at so far in my studies of 19th Century Fiction. Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Silas Marner by George Eliot and The death of Ivan Ilyich by Leon Tolstoy. The three main characters all have the same need, redemption, although not all three saw that need.

Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times needed to be redeemed from his rigidity. “All men must be amused”, Mr Sleary pointed out, and for Gradgrind, a shock or two were needed to make him sway from his path.

Picture Credit:Charled Reinhart, found on http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/reinhart/ht2.html

 

George Eliot wrote that Silas Marner had a need for redemption. While some see the book as pointing out his need of a religious redemption, it was his obsession with gold and the accumulation of it that he needed to be redeemed from. That redemption came in the form of his sweet foster child Eppie. The Gold metal had been exchanged for the Golden curls upon her head. She tore from him his depression over loss, and gave him a new purpose in life, that being to care for Eppie. Interesting to note that when his metal gold was restored to him, his golden haired child was being claimed by another. The child would not be torn from his grasp as his gold coins had been, and justice prevailed when he could  his child chose to remain with him rather than be tempted by the lure of gold. Eppie had become more important to him than the lifeless metal.

Photo is a still from the movie made in 1985

Leon Tolstoy portrayed Ivan Ilyich as a man in need of redemption from life. Life for him had been a painful existence; before, and after his injury which led to his eventual death. Life in the presence of his wife was mundane at best. He did his utmost to spend as little time as possible with her. I believe he loved his children although he saw many of them die before he. His remaining daughter unfortunately was becoming a younger version of his wife, with her need for being prim and proper, whereas his son truly had compassion for his father. It was his son who cried as his father drew his last breath. To everyone else, his dying, or taking his time doing so, was a mere inconvenience. At the very beginning of the book we see that upon his death, his colleagues were looking at the question of who was to fill his position, which bought with it a hefty salary. Ilich becomes aware of his need for redemption when he was in the greatest pain. He wanted relief from the pain, relief from his wife and others. He saw himself a burden to others and to a man who was mostly independent and solitary this was devastating. Ivan Ilich wanted to be free of it all.

I was fond and grateful to the young servant Gerasim, who patiently cared for his master at the sunset of life. Gerasim could be compared to the palliative care people who cared for my father in his last days.

It happens to all of us, death. It happens to all of us, the realisation of the need for redemption. With the 3 characters in our books, redemption came at different times. Gradgrind was saved. Silas Marner found his redemption in time to make a difference to his future. Unfortunately Ivan Ilich discovered his need too late. I implore you, to seek redemption while it can be found, before its too late.

“Yet, when I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind,

nothing was gained under the sun” Ecclesiastes 2: 11

Dave

 

 

 

 

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Good for nothing hippies?

If the Wordsworths and Coleridge and co were to live during the 1960’s they would have been called good for nothing hippies.
They sought to leave organised industrial society, throwing away books, and relying on nature to be their teachers.
They grew their own food, were not opposed to getting high and lived in a sort of Utopian commune.
The hippies of the 60’s thought they were unique. The hippies thought that they were the first to think that “love is all you need”. Had they indeed picked up the books in the university library, they would have discovered that it was done before….130 years before.

I think the answer my friend is not blowing in the wind but is in balancing work and play. To admit that yes, one needs to work in order to earn enough money for play time; but not be governed by work so much as you are a slave to it.

One must follow interests and embrace the arts as much as one would like but at the same time, contribute to the society that allows one to follow ones dreams.

How many written works during the 60’s were just thrown out as drug induced ravings?

I would love to gather hippy writings in one place to see if we can find wisdom and genius in it as was found in the works of Wordsworth and others of the romantic period.

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Facts. Hard Times,Gradgrind and The Wall

“In this life, we want nothing but Facts,sir, nothing but Facts”. (5)

“Girl Number 20, unable to define a horse” (7)

Sissy could of course defined a horse, but it would not have been in the terms that Gradgrind would have liked to hear. She would have said that they are magnificient creatures with shiny coats that have a loving streak and could be encouraged (not trained), to performed tasks when they so loved their master.

But Gradgrind, who I would think had no real reason to be in the classroom, and the aptly named M’Choakumchild wanted only facts in this chapter of Hard Times entitled ‘Murdering the Innocents’. Mr M’Chakumchild would strangle every bit of creativity and playfulness out of every pupil in this utilitarian world.

When Sissy Jupe told Gradgrind that her father “belongs to the horseriding, ” she was in fact talking about the trick riding of horses in a circus, for the entertainment of people. Gradgrind was adamant that he must have a more nobler, more useful profession, that of a “veterinary surgeon, a farrier and a horsebreaker”. Imagination and playfulness killed (or at least stunned), mission accomplished.

In this extended version of the filmclip of The Wall, by Pink Floyd, we see the master admonishing the boy in the class for reading poetry. Again the arts, imagination, and playfulness are killed.

The education of children was purely for the results.Little has changed. Education is not for the growing of the mind or extending the imagination, but for the testing of the mind and comparing it to others who were taught the same thing. Children are taught to compete. Who can remember the lessons taught, be compliant to the rules given and tow the line the best? It is really not for the betterment of the pupils but for the advancement of the teachers. The teachers and schools can show how well they do their jobs, and therefore compete with the funding of the almighty dollar. Think NAPLAN (for international readers, please google it).

Teachers, mentors, parents and others need to produce innovative thinkers of our children. To just be thinking along the same lines will not cut it in a world that is dying, in a world where things always need to be done better. We need to teach children to think more for themselves, to explore, to use their imagination.

I hope that in the future we might encourage children to ask why, and when they do, we will not answer with the classic “Because I said so”.

Dave

 

 

 

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NSW Art Gallery Visit

For my 19th Century Literature class, our Professor, Michael Griffith, took  us of a tour of The Art Gallery of NSW to look at art in the 19th Century. It is interesting to see how the art of the period reflects the literature, or visa versa. In fact it seems all of the arts are in cahoots with each other, because if we look at the music of the period, we can see the temperament reflected in the melodies written at the time as well.

“Edward Elgar and Charles Villiers Stanford as quintessential English composers of the Victorian era, (Think ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ although Elgar wasn’t responsible for someone else putting words to his “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1”.) If you want “dark” and weighty, go for Elgar’s Symphony no. 2 – a superb work that doesn’t get heard enough. For “Romanticism” I’d suggest Brahms or Dvorak, any works. Or Smetana’s ‘Moldau'” from Richard Peter Maddox, Emeritus Professor of Music, UNE.

(Richard)Peter and I are good friends and we often discuss music through the ages.

Describe the impact on you of ONE of the paintings viewed on our tour- talk about how it has opened up your understanding of the key issues in the period we are studying!

The painting that had the most impact on my, and with which I could relate both ‘Hard Times’ by Dickens and ‘Silas Marner’ by Elliot, was ‘The Widower’ by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes.

Fildes grew up an orphan and was adopted by his grandmother who was a social reformer of the time. After Art school, he shared the concerns of his grandmother and went to work for the Graphic magazine. It was while there that Dickens saw Fildes work and was so impressed that Fildes actually went on to be illustrator for the Charles Dickens book ‘Mystery of Edwin Drood’.

Fildes had a real connection to the working class people of this era. He liked to paint the working class people of his time as a way to highlighting the problems in his world.

‘The Widower’ connected me with Silas Marner in the way that here is a single man, advanced in age, trying his best to care for children. Silas Marner also cared for “his daughter” as well as he could. The Girl in Silas had also been left motherless.

silas marner

Motherless

Motherless looks to be a template for the widower, with the same man and child in both pictures.

I am only part way through ‘Hard Times’ and while I can see elements of Hard Times in the painting, especially where Stephen Blackpool and his beloved Rachael are caring for Stephen’s poor wife.

Stephen Blackpool and Rachael

Fildes became a very well known and wealthy artist, painting portraits of Society’s finest including Royalty from England and Europe. He was knighted for his work in 1906, but never forgot the working class.When commissioned by the Tate gallery in 1890 to paint a picture, he recalled  the death of his first son to tuberculosis in 1877 and painted ‘The Doctor’ as a response to his grief.

The Doctor

Fildes died in 1918.

 

Many thanks to artmagick

http://www.artmagick.com/pictures/artist.aspx?artist=samuel-luke-fildes

and Google images for the pictures.

 

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Peer Review The Importance of Having Style: The Most Hilarious Tragedy of the Age

https://barefootfairy42.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/the-importance-of-having-style/comment-page-1/#comment-51

Oh I do like the picture that you have chosen to include, that being of men with the faces, as masked removed to show blankness underneath. Its true to the text and sentiment behind it. Men and Women of that age were hiding their true selves behind the masks, but when they pulled them away, they found that they are indeed nothing of substance.
“According to Wilde, style holds the highest importance in the Victorian society”. I should think that it is not according to Wilde, but that the play is a parody of what society itself believes. But I can see that you mean, according to the text…
” I had much trouble choosing just one scene to right about” be careful about your use of words. it should be write about, not right about.
overall a wonderful blog though.
Dave

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Literatures’ influence on life.

It occurs to me that literature in itself is not just a reflection of life as we know it, but a shaper of thoughts and feelings. Literature inspires people to be greater, to try harder. Literature can shape behaviour and thought.

The 19th Century Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, said in his essay ‘A Defence of Poetry” in 1820, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” He claimed that poets and their words could shape a nation’s and even the world’s thoughts and feelings oabout issues and laws. Perhaps this is why Churchill, in WWI supported the poem of Rupert Brooke entitled ‘The Soldier’.
IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, 5
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less 10
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Copied from http://www.bartleby.com/103/149.html

This poem is a call for young men to fight for England in WWI. The poem was shared from the pulpits of churches and published in newspapers of the time, and was the inspiration behind so many young men going to war, and even losing their lives for patriotism.

We then as writers, whether that be a poet, novelist, or journalist can influence peoples lived for good, or in fact for evil.

The Stephen King book ‘Rage’ which he wrote under the nom de plume of Richard Bachman was said to be responsible for a school hostage situation, and the shooting of a prayer group in a high school. In the book, a high school student shoots his teacher and takes his classmates hostage. When he heard of these killings, Stephen King asked that the book not be reprinted.

‘Catcher in the Rye’ is said to be the inspiration of the killing of John Lennon, amongst others. The shooter, Mark David Chapman, considered his crime as Chapter 27, the next chapter of the Salinger classic.

Words in the Salman Rushdie book, ‘Satanic Verses’, so enraged those of the Islamic faith that a Fatwa was ordered, that is, that the leaders of the religion ordered his murder by any Muslim that saw him. It was a worldwide fatwa so Rushdie was not safe anywhere.

Words from all different authors have influenced life for good. The Bible encourages people to change their lives for good every day. Arguably many atrocities have also been caused by the misinterpretation of the words within.

Writers need to be cautious with words. We need to be aware of the influence it can have over people, and indeed nations. Let’s try to keep the writing real, but also use words to encourage and influence for the common good rather than harm.

 

Dave

 

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