Allie’s Page (Characteristics)

Characteristics of Victorian Realism

Notes from Representation and Revelation: Victorian Realism from Carlyle to Yeats by John P. McGowan

  • many writers strive to identify reality as something sort of elusive, as something that exists prior to human thought or speech, and therefore, it is literature’s responsibility to accurately interpret and represent that reality
  • this attempt at reality displays anxieties, desires, and achievements of the Victorian period
  • “…the Victorians still felt confident that they could make use of the strengths of empiricism and romanticism while rejecting the excesses of each” (McGowan 2).
  • still a slight focus aimed at nature, but now the question is how can the mind know/understand nature when the two are distinct, separate entities?
  • representational theories vs revelation theories: representational = concerned with what separates the mind and the world; revelation = interested in immediate knowledge of what is real, either through perception or intuition
  • the concept of the word “idea” as meaning 2 separate things: perceptual vs linguistic representation in Victorian discussions
  • influence of Lockean ideas – words function as representatives
  • representation considers how the mind knows reality, but by its very nature, can produce problems of its own
  • Rossetti–possibilty that art, as a product of the mind, is completely disconnected from reality; assumes we live in a world of representatives–while artist will present a surface, he will also be searching for some kind of significance beyond the physicality of that surface
  • Dickens–reality = what is immediately available to the senses; memory = a kind of seeing; narrative is a “written memory” that will record the discoveries of looking back; Great Expectations focuses on a kind of aggression implied by representing the world according to a particular person’s vision of it (selfish vision, and the uneasiness that can come along with that)

Notes from The Serious Pleasures of Suspense by Caroline Levine

  • suspenseful narrative = stimulus to active speculation
  • importance of suspending judgment as both a Victorian reader and writer
  • suspense in Great Expectations: Pip being refused the knowledge of who his benefactor is
  • overall in Victorian fiction, when a secret finally emerges and the suspense is broken, things often turn out to be entirely different from our suspicions and our guesswork
  • concept of putting aside one’s intellectual habits and presumptions–“Realism came to mean the suspending of assumptions and belief, and narrative suspense emerged as the realistic strategy par excellence” (Levine 3).
  • Jane Eyre–“decorous play of identity” = pleasurable for the reader–“The veil suggests but does not tell, provoking desire” (67).
  • with mysteries in fiction comes speculation from readers, and in that process, we impose our own preconceived ideas and desires on this fictional world that we’re exposed to–comes back to that notion of suspending judgment, but this demonstrates how difficult that can be–this internal struggle is actually what often makes Victorian fiction so pleasurable and thought-provoking
  • Dickens–Jaggers = perfect example of “plotted ‘snare'”; the very idea/theme of expectations in the novel describes the experience of suspense; “Pip, refusing to suspend judgment, sees the world as a reflection of his own hopes and expectations”
  • considering the idea of competing endings for Great Expectations: suspenseful plotting