The human and artistic concerns of both the Romantic and Victorian Ages are similar to our own concerns; the response to those concerns- given by poets, novelists, dramatists and artists- can help us live fuller, more meaningful and creative lives in our own times.
During my studies this semester, what has fascinated me the most about the art and literature of the Romantic and Victorian Ages, is its enduring popularity. It is this popularity, that I believe reveals a similarity between the concerns of the 19th Century and the concerns of the 21st Century. Artists such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Leo Tolstoy began to explore the facets of the human experience and the deep inner working of the individual. This introspective obsession characterised the 19th Century, posing the questions we continue to question and define ourselves by today; what is the purpose of my life on earth?
In an eruption to the fabric of 18th Century society, Romanticism became the antithesis of Classicism and the Enlightenment Period, challenging the dominant values and ideology which had preceded it. The Romantic Period questioned 18th-century rationalism, with its emphasis on reason and intellect, instead focusing on the inner-self; believing that emotion and imagination, were the most powerful elements in human nature.
In some ways, this personal reflection has never left us. Today more than ever, human nature is guided by emotion and the fulfillment of the inner-self. Adam Gopnik, in his article ‘Finding the Self in the Selfie’, discusses our modern obsession with taking ‘selfies’. While Gopnik agrees there is a narcissistic element in our selfie fixation, he goes on to analyse the selfie as being an expression of the passing ecstatic moment, a moment in which we are glad to find ourselves where we are and wanting to see how we looked while we were, briefly, pleased with ourselves (Gopnik, 2015). The ‘selfie’ is a self-exploration, of what and who you are. This concept is similar to the works of Jane Austen, who explores the deep inner workings of the heart through the contextual framework of her own experiences. Through her characters Austen reflects the inner-self and presents a heightened examination of human personality and our moods and mental potentialities. (You can read more on Jane Austen in my Best Critical blog post)
The 19th Century was also characterised by a return to nature, whereby artists such as William Wordsworth and Charles dickens reject the indurstrialisation and urbanisation of the era. Similarly, our instagram feeds are filled with travel ‘inspo’ as we seek out the aesthetically perfect shot, finding the best light in a room, and looking at a view with a new perspective. Romantic and Victorian artists inspire our creativity, teaching us to exalt in the beauty of nature and offering a new perspective. Early on, Wordsworth’s poetry, which contains so much vivid nature imagery, became associated with the Lake District; as a result, mass tourism in the Lake District has been sparked by his writing for hundreds of years (Rothman, 2015)
We live in a culture in which self-presentation and social nuance are topics of keen interest. Our idolisation of celebrities, our obsession with the wealthy and the hysteria of keeping ‘upgraded’ grows as the economic status of the majority of the population remains flat. In critical defiance of this social mania George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens, offer a different perspective, sharing a common exaltation of the working class. rejecting aristocracy and understanding the value of resilience, imagination and an honest living (An example of this can be seen in my Best Creative blog post). While close to the heart of the Romantic and Victorian ethos was the concept of the ‘hero’, this hero often attained freedom in defiance of society. Although it is difficult to remove ourselves form the perpetual social machine, the response of 19th Century artists in questioning high society allows us to understand our frivolous 21st century obsession for what it truly is, empowering us to live fuller more meaningful lives.
The 19th Century redefined the way in which we view ourselves and the world around us. Although artists created within the framework of their contextual experiences, their questions and values continue to find relevance in to the concerns of the 21st Century. Defying social construct, exploring the inner-self and rejecting materialism are movements which continue to influences the human experience. The response of Romantic and Victorian to the concerns of their era continue to influence the human experience, leading us to explore the inner-self, defy social construct and find meaning and value in our lives.
Gopnik, A. Finding the Self in a Selfie. The New Yorker, 2015
Lake District National Park. http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/visiting/localspecialities/famouswriters/wordsworth
Rothman, J. The Bizarre Complicated Formula for literary Fame. The New Yorker, 2015
Leo Tolstoy’s popular celebrity at his death in 1910 owed more to his political and ethical campaigning and his status as a visionary, reformer, moralist, and philosophical guru than to his talents as a writer of fiction. Vegetarian, pacifist, and enemy of private property, he was, over the last decades of his long life, a persistent critic of the Russian imperial regime and of the Russian Orthodox Church. He came to favour a primitive version of Christianity, rejecting the dogma of Orthodoxy (hence his excommunication by church authorities in 1901). Tolstoy was a vigorous supporter of the Russian poor and working class. He had launched welfare programs, including soup kitchens, and funded schools. In a gesture of solidarity with the underprivileged, he renounced his aristocratic title (“Count” Leo Tolstoy) and took to wearing the characteristic dress of the peasants.
Tolstoy rejected the institutions of society; the church, marriage, militarism, law and aristocracy. Criticising the flaws of the ruling class, believing them to be an irrational, inefficient and unjust autocracy, out of touch with a deeply divided society. This small group of the wealthy elite discriminated against an overwhelming mass of impoverished agricultural peasants and an increasing industrial working class. Tolstoy saw value in the working class, finding a quiet power in their resilience, the simplicity of values and a purity of heart. In Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’, it is only a young servant, who, imbued with the virtues Tolstoy celebrates in the peasantry, can look the processes of dying in the eye and care for his master with true humanity; he deals unashamedly with excrement and allows the dying man to lie in the one position in which he can find some comfort; with his legs raised, resting on Gerasim’s shoulders.
Congratulations on a very successful Blog post! Your insights into the life of Tolstoy gave me a greater understanding of Tolstoy’s perspective and your writing was a joy to read. What an interesting man with such strong convictions. I think this essence of Tolstoy is truly reflected in “The Death of Ivan Ilych” and “Master and Man” which I believe you linked to perfectly in relation to Tolstoy’s views regarding the social context of Russia. It might be interesting to explore this further, giving examples where you believe Tolstoy’s personal life directly influenced his writing, or perhaps where he mirrored Russian society. Perhaps adding a few links, or providing evidence to support your information would elevate this post, but overall, I found this very well written and hard to fault. Well done.
With my supervisor unwell I took on a greater leadership role in the classroom this week. Engaging students and managing behaviour became a focus for me, and we created short lessons to keep their attention going. My supervisor made sure that the lessons had students moving around the classroom to maintain interest, for example, for autonomous learning student sat at their tables and when listening to teachers instruction students sat on the floor changing the position of the teacher to ensure an attentive class. To engage students and cater for the needs of diverse learners I used a range of teaching strategies. Incorporating, verbal, visual, multimedia and analytical stimuli to my lesson. I felt most successful when reading a story book out loud to the class. Here I really focused on my tone and rhythm; lowering my voice and slowing the pace of the reading built interest, and restless students quietened as the became intrigued, many students leaning forward or sat up on their knees engaged and eager to listen.
What was unsuccessful however was keeping control of the class during independent learning. I saw that the arrangement of students should have been changed to avoid chatting and distraction. Any students placed at the back of the class near the door were less focused on their work. In future, I would rearrange the furniture to remove that difficult learning area. Also, the tables are filled with containers of pencils and rubbers. While they are useful and needed, the can also become toys and distractions for students. Often I found I had to stop myself from taking the objects straight out of their hands, instead, I directed them to make the right decision which didn’t go quite as planned and next time I would like to be more firm.
This week instead of my usual Year 2 class who were away on an excursion, I worked with Kindergarten. This was a very interesting change as I could identify a large shift in the learning and teaching strategies implemented by my supervisor in comparison to the older students. The younger students required more organisation and constant behavioural conditioning with more immediate consequences. For example, when I saw a group of boys fighting in the playground I immediately stepped in and told them to pick up papers for two minutes. My supervisor and I watched them begin to pick up papers as I had instructed, then the consequence quickly disintegrated and the students began playing again. My supervisor laughed and said “they barely know where they are or what day it is let alone how long 2 minutes is” and we agreed that because the consequence of their behaviour was immediate and they initially began performing the punishment as requested that any further punishment would be misunderstood.
The school seems to have a fairly relaxed ‘no touching’ policy, however, I wanted to make sure that I was not breaching any code of conduct. This became particularly difficult with kindergarten as they often grabbed at my clothing, searched for your hand to hold, asked for hugs or hugged you and asked for help blowing their nose etc. My supervisor talked about sensory learning, identifying one student that had been abandoned by their family and often changes foster homes, suggesting that at such a young age some people believe that this could be a way to build relationships with students and teachers.
Throughout the day we also switched between multiple classes of students in the same year group, repeating the same lesson with each. This allowed me to see the differences in successful learning and identify the issues that may be contributing to these differences. Often, classes with students that presented a higher rate of behavioural disorders seemed to affect the ability of the entire class, and had less success in acheiving learner outcomes.
Keeping the students focused and engaged was often difficult, with group work being hard to acheive. Discussing this issue with other staff members they agreed that autonomous learning creates a feeling of personal success, allowing studentd to make their own decisions.
- This video provides a particularly casual and easy to understand overview of the life of George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), and the ways in which it links to Silas Marner. I found this source to be useful in noting key contextual themes, from which I could begin my own investigative research.
This Article from the New Yorker provides a personal and opinionated account of George Eliot’s life, with some reflection on a number of her novels, including Silas Marner. Skip the first 9 paragraphs in which the author describes her love of ‘Middlemarch’…the first time she picked up the book.. etc etc. After this lengthy dedication, however, you will find the meaty information with interesting arguments both for and against Eliot’s writing.
“In ordinary lives, Eliot perceived human nature’s ‘deep pathos, its sublime mysteries.’”
The Victorian Web is an academic website which simplifies a network of complex connections linked to Eliot’s Work. The site compacts key elements of influence into a useful map, which, when clicked on, will lead you to pages of brief points and references.
Silas Marner Resources:
An interesting perspective as Professor John Mullan explores how George Eliot draws on fairytale elements in her self-described ‘realistic treatment’ of a pre-industrial weaver and his work.
David Constantine provides a brief review of Silas Marner, with an overview of the plot and key themes
An opinionated and thoughtful podcast from the BBC. Melvyn Bragg and guests Rosemary Ashton from University College London, Dinah Birch from Liverpool University and Valentine Cunningham from Oxford University discuss Eliot’s novel Silas Marner; focusing on Eliot’s moral view and deep social convictions.
This could be a great teaching resource, but also an excellent study tool for visual learners
Refresh your memory:
Here you can watch the 1985 film adaptation ‘Silas Marner: The Weaver of Ravenloe’ by Giles Foster on youtube.
A very well thought out critical response to Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Scholar Gypsy”. I was very intrigued by the duplicity of both the character and the scene, I believe you had a great grasp of this concept and offered an interesting perspective. However, you need to work on sentence structure and the flow of your writing. Some sentences seemed a little overworked or superfluous, for example, “face value is not the true essence of the deeper meaning”. Lines such as this could be further simplified to strengthen the persuasiveness of your opinion.
Creative Task: You are the scholar gypsy. Explain to your friends why you have decided to run away from conventional education.
Here you and I sit, in perfect rows, at perfect tables set straight and facing forward. All of us submissive to the clock, this room and to the will of this teacher. Each student is as much divided in thought and ideas as if we lived in different worlds. But here we are, bound together in silent formality, constricting our intelligence and creativity into the shape designated by a 2-hour exam. An exorbitant cost it is that we pay to stare down at this stark white sheet of paper, trying to turn it into something someone else wishes it to be. Our feverish efforts turning us sick and doubtful, all in an attempt to produce advantages for a future career in the world. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though I can ill afford not to. There was nothing I could write for you which might expand the soul, liberalise the mind or dignify the character that could be contained by time or instruction. So instead, I must write you this farewell letter, because I can see that some rows in front of me, you are just as restless as I am, fidgeting at your empty white paper. This is the time to free the spirit from an institution which masquerades as a salutary influence. Instead, we must bring colour to the page and listen with enchanted ears to the song that lingers at the open exit. Because I can feel a warm breeze pulling from the doorway, and I intend to follow it.
Today in class I discussed with my supervisor about how she assesses success and learning in the classroom. In her practice, she lists the criteria that needs to be met in each lesson, however, every student has individual learning strengths and weaknesses and we discussed the difficulty of making sure everyone was learning and developing at a similar pace.
In todays art activity, I took small groups of students outside throughout the day to create unique marbled paintings that we would later cut into round shapes. The activity was simple with only 5 colours being used. Here, the biggest challenge was organisation and coordination; making sure students didn’t mix the brushes with different colours to avoid spoiling the activity for groups after, and of course, keeping paint off everyone’s clothes. Meeting these criteria became quite difficult for a student diagnosed with Autism. The student was aided by a student support officer, who mostly controlled behaviour and assisted in the student’s activities. Immediately I could see that this student had greater difficulty following instruction, matching the brushes with the correct colour and had a slower reaction time.
Seeing the learning differences between students made me question how I would assess my own class and ensure that every student would be getting equal value from a lesson.