Victorian Novels as People Museums

The Victorians have a history of loving different things from different cultures. Often these are things that they label as oddities and keep in places for the public or the wealthy to ogle at like the crystal palace. I propose that the Victorians were not just collecting items from other cultures but also people. More specifically, that the Victorians collected different people in their writing similarly to how they would collect different objects in their lives. I believe that two good examples of this are the books A Study in Scarlet and Daisy Miller. I believe that both of these book display odd aspects of, primarily, the American people to present to the reader to be fascinated over. In A Study in Scarlet the primary culprate explains to the reader that he had been enacting his revenge on the devout Mormon men that led to his lover’s death and that of her father. The novel focuses a great deal on the background of the victims and how the Mormon church functions in the way of their faith. While there are Mormons in England and there were Mormons in England then, based on their depiction and demonetization in A Study in Scarlet I would argue that they were treated as odd and strange. A similar treatment occurs in Daisy Miller. Throughout the novel Daisy Miller and her family are treated as odd and semi-wild. There are often commented on in ways that leave even the narrator perplexed and fascinated by them. Often characters find themselves confused with what class the Miller family belongs to, this being strange to most of Europe, and utterly fascinated with how oddly they all behave in comparison with how well they dress. As a matter of fact, the book is dedicated to focusing on how peculiar Daisy alone is. Daisy not only acts with a complete disregard of social expectations and manners, but also pursues what she desires in the way of her own sexuality and interests. These aspects of Daisy and the American Mormons are treated as so odd yet fascinating the writers of these books have dedicated a good portion of the book to explaining how odd these people are. In this sense, I believe that this was the writer’s way of presenting people as oddities to ogle over in writing. This, I believe, is not only done to fascinate the Victorian reader, but also to hold their attention and draw them into the story in a way that only an oddity could. 

Daisy Miller and her symbolism

Daisy Miller is written from the perspective of a young man named Winterborne and his experiences with a young girl named Daisy Miller while on a European excursion. Winterborne spends most of his depictions of Daisy discussing with himself and the reader the morality and social expectations or assumptions made about Daisy’s actions. Throughout the sort novel it is left up to the reader to debate whether or not Daisy herself was acting without regard for manners or social expectations intentionally or not. Regardless of whether or not she was acting intentionally or not the actions of Daisy Miller did make enough of an impact on Winterborne and the narrator that the novel is named after her. Within Victorian society, much like our own, there is an expected code of conduct that women and men are expected to live by in polite society. Women then were not to go out alone at night or be alone with a man they were not married to or related to while today it is socially acceptable for a woman to be alone with a man they are not married or related to. Daisy, throughout the novel, regularly makes choices and decisions that are directly against what is expected of a woman like herself, choosing to pursue her own whims and desires first as seen in her insistence on seeing the colosseum and the castle on the island at the beginning of the novel. Regardless of whether or not Daisy acted this way intentionally or not, Daisy’s actions and attitude had a lasting impression on the other people in her life. In having a character within the story that contradicts and ignores what is socially accepted of her while still maintaining her good name and money, shows to the readers that it is possible to maintain ones good name and still pursue sexual and social freedom. In representing the untamable woman within the novel, Daisy shows that women do not have to follow everything that is expected of them. Not only does Daisy show this, but her mother does as well. Mrs. Miller also shows and encourages women to pursue their interests and that they don’t have to do soley what they’re told in not trying to control or stop Daisy. By allowing Daisy to do what she wants without reprimand, Mrs. Miller condones Daisy’s actions and pursuits. Winterborne also plays a role in this but not in the same way that Mrs. Miller does. In not being able to convince Daisy to do what is expected of her and simply being the person who watches Daisy rather than someone who controls or marries her, Winterborne acts as a device that proves how little control men need to have over a woman’s life.  

Sherlock Holmes and the Mormon Church

Victorian novels are no stranger to the concept of oddities. In fact, as we discussed in class, it is widely known that the Victorians had an intense fascination with the strange and unusual. The writings of Conan Doyle, more specifically A Study in Scarlet, is no exception to this. A good portion of the story is devoted to explaining the background of the killer. While Holmes and Watson are not explicitly told this part of the story, we can assume that Watson does hear about it from somewhere based off the line “As to what occurred there, we cannot do better than quote the old hunter’s own account, as duly recorded in Dr Watson’s Journal, to which we are already under such obligations.” (110 Doyle). This shows that Watson, in the very least is aware of the situation and reasoning behind the killer’s vengeance. Doyel’s usage of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called the Church of Latter-day Saints or the Mormon Church) is similar to that of the way that the Victorians would treat objects from other cultures and areas of the world. Doyel’s portrayal of Mormons in A Study in Scarlet presents those of the Mormon faith as an oddity in comparison with the orthodoxy that the English Victorian society would be used to in their lives. The lifestyle of Mormons, while accurate to our modern-day depictions of cults and other strange faiths in America, is exaggerated and treated as something to both fear and be ogled over while still informing the consumer of the media of the lifestyle and concerns of those living in the faith. While the accuracy of this depiction is up for debate, it is a dramatic depiction none the less. The concept of the Mormon church as a faith that encourages polygamy and lives in Utah is a concept so polar to that of the Church of England and the Catholic faith in London that the mention of Mormons would both fascinate and shock the reader. Between the shock factor and the easy demonizable implementation of polygamy in their faith makes the Church of Latter-day Saints not only the perfect villain to spur on a dramatic and heart-renching plot, but also perfect to add just enough shock to keep the Victorian reader tied into the story. 

Isolation and exile in Great Espectaitions

I will be discussing the ending scene of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and how the different themes within the ending attribute to the biblical story of the fall of man. To fully encapsulate the various similarities between the biblical story and that told by Dickens, you first have to start at the beginning. In the beginning of Great Expectations, Pip and Estella are portrayed as the young and innocent individuals. This mirrors the beginning of the story of the fall of man where pure and perfect Adam and Eve live in the garden of Eden together. The story of the fall of man continues on to have the two, Adam and Eve, tempted by the snake with the promise of knowledge only to end up as impure beings and to be exiled from the perfect garden that they were created in. I believe that in Great Expectations, Magwitch is representative of the snake who tempts Pip into helping him only to give him his wealth in the end. This wealth then in turn leads to his fall in morality and overall treatment of others making him the impure man. His exile from the garden can be represented by the ending in that it ends with him and Estella alone in the graveyard together. The fog in this scene is used to further represent the isolation of the two from the rest of the world and Pips statement about never seeing a future without Estella mirrors the story of man in which Adam and Eve are left to find their way through a new world with only each other for company. This, I believe, represents how they alone are left to carry the burden of their mistakes and the choices they have made through their lives. While Joe’s wife may have met her “divine justice” in receiving a major head injury that left her unable to continue to abuse Pip and Joe, Pip and Estella are forced to be alone with each other till the end. 

Hindley and Frances

I chose to close read page sixty-five. In this passage Hindley uses denial to cope with the impending death of his beloved wife Frances. Throughout this page, Nelly speaks with both Hindley and Frances about their perspectives on the future state of things. While Hindley is both in denial about Frances’ fate, he is simultaneously inconsolable over the loss of Frances before she has even died. In contrary to this, Frances laughs at Hindley’s heart going as far as to state that she almost laughed at him for crying. In this passage, the reader is shown a side of Hindley that they had not been shown before. In this particular passage, the reader is shown in great emotion just how deeply Hindley’s love and devotion to his wife goes. This aspect of Hindley not only adds another layer to all of Hindley’s relationships but also shows the human side of Hindley and the other characters in the midst of a novel full of the suppernatural. 

Willful ignorance and stagnation

For my analysis I primarily focused on the line “I’ll do my best, and yo see now, if better times don’t come after Parliament knows all.” found in the first paragraph on page 89 of Mary Barton. While this line alone does not give the reader very much information, when read with the understanding of the information around it, the line stands out like blood on the page. The line itself is a statement of hope in regards to a most likely, unobtainable future. The line hinges a possible path to the better future on the idea that one day Parliament will know all of the struggles and suffering of the working class and, in knowing, will choose to make life better for them. This line is said by John Barton at the end of a meeting that was held in his home. Prior to stating this line, three men including John Barton spoke on the current state of the working class. The first man spoke of the way that the implementation of heavy machinery has harmed the working conditions and, as a result, the overall life experience of the poor working class. He primarily speaks of how the working class are expected to work far longer hours than they were before. He brings to light how, during the industrial revolution, with the increase of machinery and the normalization of a factory, the amount of work went up while the amount of pay stayed the same and with the newly developed machinery, the poor were more likely to dismember themselves and otherwise injure themselves.  

The second man spoke of a rich man who wore two shirts when most other people in the surrounding community could barely afford the one shirt. He even brings up how the weaver and seamstress of the rich man could not afford to be well dressed. This man discusses how the average man could barely afford to live while the upper class was continuing to profit off the labor of those same poor working class people. This issue that the second speaker boldly brings to light is something that was utterly devastating for the poor people of the time. John Barton, the third speaker, recaps the previously discussed topics in a somewhat detached way. He also regularly says that he believes that if only parliament knew what was happening they would not stand for the way that the poor working class people were living. This hope however, completely ignores the words of the second man who speaks on how the wealthier man knew how the poor were living and did nothing. This approach to the situation paints the gruesome life and suffering of the poor as one of hope and potential for better. The fact that John Barton had to have ignored the words of the second speaker in order to have this hope, paints the living conditions of the working class as one that would require ignoring key aspects of their life just to have hope in a better future.