These Truths Are Not Self-Evident: Victorian Denial and Internal Bargaining

For this blog post, I will be analyzing Walter Hartright’s statement about Victorian preference for truth and examining what it means in the greater context of the novel. He says, “When an English jury has to choose between a plain fact on the surface and a long explanation under the surface, it always takes the fact…” (442). This is striking for two reasons. The first is that this quote speaks to the characters’ continual refusal to state the truth, while vehemently claiming untruths as the reality. Second, when put into a Victorian Historical context, I think this statement speaks to the lack of support in the English legal system for women, especially married ones. The law rules almost every case in favor of the richest, most male option because it makes sense or seems true to the jury and Victorian society as a whole.

The Woman in White has a set of characters that reflect this quote from Hartright. They deny reality with their words and actions, which is simpler for them despite the complications of lying. This is because Victorian culture has created a set of acceptable realities that its inhabitants mold their narratives to fit. Mr. Fairlie claims to be “one of the most easy-tempered creatures that ever lived,” after refusing to actively help Laura and expressing irritation at Marion’s severe illness. His lack of self-awareness allows him to live with himself despite his complete lack of humanity. Percival’s entire premise as a baronet is based in lie, but this is not revealed until the third epoch, and even then is not explicitly stated. Laura marries Sir Glyde despite being in love with Walter, and I think this is largely because breaking off and working through her feelings seems too complicated. In addition, she does it to preserve her and her family’s reputation as Victorian ideals dictate.

Characters in this novel refuse to acknowledge obvious truths and avoid honesty, which, as we discussed Wednesday, leads to much of the mystery and danger in the plot. Walter’s statement about a jury’s desire to leap to an obvious conclusion also applies to the other characters in the novel. Mr. Fairlie, for example, wants everything to be explained to him as simply as possible. He wants this expedient delivery not so as to understand the situation better, but so as to avoid facing anything that makes him uncomfortable. Laura expresses little desire to find out the details of her inheritance agreement, despite its effect on her life. Marion, Laura, and other characters choose to ignore the suspicions they have about Fosco and Glyde because admitting something nefarious about these men society defines as superior would challenge every tenet of their cultural ideology.

In this quote, Hartright expresses his belief that people want the simple truth, but this is proved false, or at least incomplete. Instead of the truth, characters want to avoid any realities that are difficult to accept or that challenge their concept of morality and social norms. They will accept any explanation, no matter how implausible or complicated, provided it preserves their understanding of the world. the “simple” part of these explanations is that they exclude all contradictory evidence in order to maintain believability. A good way to achieve this is by avoiding all mention of sex, emotion, or other related topics. If these are not discussed, they cannot interfere with one’s worldview, but as we read in Cohen, they still exist. I think that, based on the actions of characters in this novel, Victorians avoided so many topics in order to maintain a kind of internal plausible deniability.

One thought on “These Truths Are Not Self-Evident: Victorian Denial and Internal Bargaining”

  1. on behalf of flemingg:

    “I comment on this post in regards to the remarks about Cohen. While Cohen argued that coded language of sex can incite sexual discourse in a more appropriate way, and I agree with your analysis, I wanted to bring up Michael Foucault’s piece “The History of Sexuality”. In this piece he has The Repressive Hypothesis: embedded in this hypothesis is the argument that in the 18th and 19th century, literature moved from discussing the married couple to focusing on sexualities or conditions that did not fit this union. I believe the psychosis or break from reality/truth you notice in the novel is simply a way of coding the “marriage plot” we discussed in class and these breaks from reality are to incite discourse relating to situations and sexualities that complicate the traditional, socially approved concept of heterosexual union. ”

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