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Victorian Lit Labor Issues the Key ConcernA2 Outline Answer

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Victorian Lit

Labor Issues

The key concern is with the ethics, rights, and politics of labor and especially with working conditions in factories.

Dawn of Industrial Age

Modernized capitalist system, division of labor

"The Song of the Shirt," Thomas Hood: comments on textile mills and especially on their effect on the women that work in them. From the very first verse, Hood makes known his political stance. "In poverty, hunger, and dirt, / And still with a voice of dolorous pitch / She sang the 'Song of the Shirt.'" There is a clear literalism in Hood's approach to discussing labor issues, and how they impact the poor and disenfranchised.

Although less literal, in its approach, Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" likewise critiques the gendered labor of textile factories. Part II of the poem begins, "There she weaves by night and day / A magic web with colours gay. / She has heard a whisper say, / A curse is on her if she stay / To look down to Camelot." There is no potential for upward social mobility for the poor in the Victorian social system, which is highly stratified and immutable.

In considerable contrast to Hood and Tennyson, John Ruskin postulates that labor can have redeeming qualities in The Nature of Gothic. The most notable feature of Ruskin's work is its ironic convergence with Marxism, even as Ruskin seems dangerously oblivious to the systematic disenfranchisement of workers in the capitalist system.

Writing as a Victorian contemporary, Marx also would have noted the importance of taking pride in one's work and evolving the artisan spirit as a means of empowering workers. The problem is that systems like those covered by Tennyson and Hood preclude worker engagement with their labor and instead create the capitalist system in which labor is devalued by the owners of the means of production.

2. On Progress

Thesis: Social, political, technological, and normative progress are depicted in contradictory ways, with some types of progress viewed fearfully and others embraced passionately.

In "A Crisis in My Mental History," John Stuart Mill explains his theories on ethical progress as a function of utilitarian values that usurped religious ones.

Like many Victorian thinkers, Mill believed that progress was characterized by a shift towards extreme rationality and a move away from religiosity.

Mill's progress is more of a personal one than a political one.

Discovering poetry, Mill feels liberated. "I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence."

Carlyle takes a different stance on the theme of progress in "Past and Present," in which the author describes the regression into an almost feudalistic social state with the advent of capitalist style divisions of labor in the factory system model.

Technological progress promises to alleviate the suffering of the poor, but does not do so, and in many cases exacerbates such suffering and draws attention to income disparities.

Disconnection from society and anomie are the prevailing pessimistic observations of writers like Carlyle.

Likewise, Newman comments on various Victorian conundrums related to progress, including the progress toward a more strictly secular society as well as the progress toward a primarily capitalistic one. Progress is a double-edged sword in the Victorian world. It is rooted in the temporal, and yet there can be no real markers of whether progress begets positive change on a trajectory of improvement, or simply spiraling around the same social ills.

3. Sexuality and the Erotic

Thesis: Victorian authors explore the tension between emerging liberal social norms and the fears of the reprisals of such liberation, and the tension is often released as intense eroticism.

Thesis II: Poetry is an ideal medium for exploring eroticism, as it allows for nuance, innuendo, and euphemism.

Ironic, contradictory.

In "Andrea del Sarto," for example, Browning uses overtly sexual imagery. "My serpentining beauty, rounds on rounds! / -- How could you ever prick those perfect ears, / Even to put the pearl there!" The lover aims to possess the object of his desire, rendering her immortal through the act of artistic representation.

In "The Defense of Guenevere," Morris builds on the Arthurian legends to describe forbidden love between the title character and Lancelot. Using the Arthurian legend allows the poet to explore the overarching theme of the tension between desire and social convention: the crux of the Victorian romantic aesthetic. Like Browning, Morris's diction is overtly erotic and sensual.

In "Anactoria," Swinburne likewise alludes to classical literature but instead of Britain, takes the reader to Greece and Sapho's lesbian eroticism. The theme of Swinburne's poem is the confluence of love, eroticism, and pain. References to "blood" and "beasts," add a certain gothic dimension to the poem as well.

5. Conformity and shame

Thesis: Whether, and how, to conform to social norms was a preoccupation of the Victorian era due to its simultaneous embrace of personal freedom and rule of law. Stigma and shaming were central motifs in Victorian literature and thought.

Gender norms were among the most difficult to break.

In Meredith's poem "Modern Love," the narrator muses on the outmoded social institution of marriage. As society becomes more secular, and marriage remains entrenched in religious institutions and their values, what commitments do men and women have to one another if they no longer feel love for one another? The couple depicted in the poem experience "regret," and feel that their lives have been wasted. Yet they are afraid to break free from the shackles of the norms that bind them

Augusta Webster goes a step farther in challenging gender roles and norms in "A Castaway." Women are constricted by their relationships, barely able to acquire an identity of their own making as they are defined by their roles and their "half a dozen dainty names."

In Stevenson's Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the consequences of nonconformity are meted out with hyperbole and deep warning. Hyde represents primal instinct and what would happen if a human being were not bound by social convention and rules. Yet Stevenson also suggests that repression of instinct may be as disastrous as conformity.

6. The Role of Art

Thesis: The function of art, and not just its form, shifted radically in the Victorian era because it became more populist and therefore more accessible, more personal, and more transformative in nature.

In "The Palace of Art," Tennyson explores the spiritual import of aesthetics. The heavenly abode described in the poem is characterized by its being filled with art that has the unique ability to uplift the spirit and enable its transcendence away from the confines of religiosity. Art becomes religion.

In Browning's "My Last Duchess," the narrator interacts with the painting in a way that becomes a relatively common trope in Victorian literature. Almost Gothic in its spooky tone, the first few lines show how art takes on a personal, spiritual, and ghostly dimension: "That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive." Art can be the means by which to transcend death and achieve immortality

In his conclusion to "The Renaissance," Walter Pater assumes an equally if not more esoteric approach to the function of art on the psyche. Art is referred to as a "gift," with the power to evoke feelings of "ecstasy" in the viewer. Art also becomes a participatory experience with both social and psychological effects.

7. Domesticity and Motherhood

Thesis: Idealized domesticity and the cult of motherhood are singularly Victorian, even though they are culminations of concepts more deeply rooted in all patriarchal societies.

Although female writers during the Victorian era do the consummate job of critiquing their roles and the conflicts inherent within them, male writers may do an equally good job of elucidating the idealization of domesticity.

In Oliver Twist, the home, headed by a loving, nurturing woman, becomes a place of sanctuary that contrasts sharply with the harsh patriarchal institutions Oliver encounters. Thus, mothering and matrilineality are potent symbols.

In her poetry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning explores the problems inherent in the cult of domesticity, even when it seems like she may be glorifying it.

In "Aurora Leigh," Browning raises a theme that would become a common thread throughout the Victorian canon: that of the woman writer and the male opposition to the woman writer. Females writing represent subversion and empowerment, which is why the narrator's beau is threatened by her poetry.

Interestingly, Tennyson assumes a balanced approach to domestic politics in "In Memoriam," in which the poet explores the effects of domesticity on both genders.

8. On Solitude

Thesis: Solitude is both requisite for peace, and a particular burden of the human spirit.

In "Mariana," Tennyson explores the intensity of solitude and its connection with depression, social isolation, abandonment, and even the experience of death.

Solitude therefore takes on an existential meaning.

In "Sartor Resartus," Carlyle explores multiple dimensions of solitude, even invoking the power of Eastern religions by mentioning the Dalai Lama, in order to show that solitude is not necessarily the type of experience like Mariana's depression.

Carlyle… [END OF PREVIEW]

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