When one comes across the name Elizabeth Gaskell, one may readily associate the name with Dickens as one of the Victorian social issue writers of that...moreWhen one comes across the name Elizabeth Gaskell, one may readily associate the name with Dickens as one of the Victorian social issue writers of that age. Gaskell’s novel, Ruth, can easily be placed into that category, considering its main theme of the fallen woman and her attempts to survive in a society that scorns her position and that of her illegitimate child. However, rather than using the fallen woman theme to its full advantage, i.e. through a realistic depiction of her heroine’s survival, Gaskell seemingly compromises realism for idealism to perhaps assuage the sensibilities of the novel’s Victorian audience. The resultant overtly religious tone of a “just” penance for such a sin is detrimental to the novel’s underlying message of survival.
As well, one can argue that Gaskell’s portrayal of Ruth lacks depth. Even though Ruth is the titular heroine, for the most part she remains a background figure, self-conscious and penitent for past wrongs; and yet she is strangely secretive about certain subjects that she should have outwardly confronted from the start. Ruth’s failure to recognize the need to divulge the full truth—namely those secret meetings—to her benefactors, which in turn could have helped her situation, hurts the pious reformer image Gaskell tries to depict, and thus could in part account for the strange turn of events at the novel’s close. As written—though I don’t think this was intentional—, the reader is open to question Bellingham’s role as Ruth’s seducer and antagonist—are these really “just” categorizations for him? Through these possible readings, Ruth does not fit the “pure woman” image Thomas Hardy later faithfully portrays in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
For a novel of its time, Gaskell’s subject can be considered daring, but it lacks the vision and depth one typically associates with Gaskell’s later works. Overall, Ruth is a novel that doesn’t show Gaskell in her best form.(less)
Hamsun penned an interesting take on the tragic muse tale. However it’s not the story itself that really captures the reader, but how Hamsun digresses...moreHamsun penned an interesting take on the tragic muse tale. However it’s not the story itself that really captures the reader, but how Hamsun digresses from it, through Johannes’ inner musings and the poems and stories that Johannes is writing throughout. It is these sections that transform the basic tale, making it indeed something truly special. There are so many layers of meaning that the reader can extrapolate from these sections...psychological vs. social commentaries on one’s sense of place and how this in turn affects the identity of oneself and others’ perceptions of that identity. How these sections are able to demonstrate Johannes’ inner turmoil are wonderfully achieved.
That said, unfortunately I don’t think Hamsun succeeded in writing a convincing love story, or at least, this translation doesn’t really portray a passion that is equally felt by the two doomed lovers. Throughout the story Johannes is haunted by his feelings...a curse he can’t be rid of, no matter what he does. Victoria is his inspiration and his muse, without her in his constant thoughts, he wouldn’t be able to write. In essence, Johannes lives and breathes her. Victoria’s feelings on the other hand, are not so readily apparent. Despite the span of years in which the story takes place, Victoria never seems to grow or change. She very much reminds me of a child who has too many toys...doesn’t know which one she wants to play with, only understanding that she wants them all to be close at hand, ready to be played with. Every move Victoria makes in regards to Johannes seem to be little tests of assurance. Is he still within her grasp? Whenever Victoria is near, Johannes becomes her little puppet. These sections of the text are embarrassing to read, since he essentially fails to recognize his situation. There’s a childlike selfishness attached to Victoria’s every move, and when the reader does come to the final proof of her affections towards Johannes, there can be multiple readings—both good and bad—of what’s said and left unsaid. Heathcliff and Cathy they are not—the love between Victoria and Johannes simply fails to transcend all boundaries.(less)
Halfway through my Balzac novelettes, my mind, immersed in the depressing realism of 19th century Parisian life, needed a momentary break. Alcott’s Th...moreHalfway through my Balzac novelettes, my mind, immersed in the depressing realism of 19th century Parisian life, needed a momentary break. Alcott’s The Inheritance was the perfect answer. Essentially, The Inheritance is sugar and spice and everything nice. Some sections are so sugary sweet that they are almost painful to read:
As they went though the park, Lord Percy stooped and lifted from the ground a handkerchief her name was on, and ’twas wet with tears. He laid it unseen in his breast, and none ever knew how tenderly ’twas cherished as the only relic of a love that never died.
Yet the little girl in me thinks moments such as this are really cute. Had I read this when I ten or eleven, I would have loved this novel. In truth, it is a fun story where hidden identities have a chance to be revealed, and goodness and true love can prevail over “evil” intent—though nothing that happens in this novel can really be categorized as an event truly evil. Actually, the villains in this story rather made me smile.
As the output of a seventeen year old writer, The Inheritance is a fun story. Yes, it is easy to notice various faults in execution, especially her overuse of coincidence to drive the plot. But overall, I found these faults easy to forgive. (less)
Helen is the kind of novel where one should not focus on plot. In truth, the plot is very silly; but what redeems this novel is Edgeworth’s character...moreHelen is the kind of novel where one should not focus on plot. In truth, the plot is very silly; but what redeems this novel is Edgeworth’s character studies—the social and emotional impact on deception and concealment. It is truly amazing how something so insignificant and trivial—school girl deceptions and concealment—can be blown out of proportion, on the brink of becoming a social nightmare for all involved. This is the most interesting part of the novel, and I can easily understand why authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell would develop this theme in their own subsequent works.
I will give Edgeworth credit for creating a balanced work in regards to both plot and character. No one is left unscathed in this story. The characters are perfectly matched. Each character is guilty in some way or another, whether it be the cause of some deception or due to the maintenance of some unworthy principle or belief. Other characters are guilty of making hasty decisions without fully considering the consequences of their choices. By the novel’s end, it is impossible for any of the characters to say that they were more right or just in their deeds and actions over another. There is no sacrificial offering to be made; each understands that they were equally at fault. I admire Edgeworth for doing this. (less)