19TH Century Literature, Summative Entry

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.


Eliot, Tolstoy, Dickens, Wordsworth, Austen


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



Tolstoy and the Working Class

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.


Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, 1908

Peer Review 6


Hi Joey,
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.

George Eliot’s Silas Marner: Resources

In ordinary lives Eliot perceived human nature’s “deep pathos, its sublime mysteries.”
Illustration by PIERRE MORNET

Contextual Resources:

  • 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.

  • http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/02/14/middlemarch-and-me
    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.’”

  • http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/authors/eliot/index.html
    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:

Refresh your memory:


Peer Review 5


Hi Annabelle,
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.

Matthew Arnold ‘The Scholar Gypsy”

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.

Children recreating identical images of nature Source




Peer Review 4


Hi Daniel,
Congratulations on your blog post this week. You have presented very thoughtful links between your quotes and the broad themes of Hard Times. However, I would love to see you make a statement here! Offer your opinion and support it with your evidence as this is your platform to express yourself. Also, I believe your quote about Sissy tells us a lot about Dickens’ depiction of children as being virtuous and imaginative. This could be another angle you could read into. Otherwise, you have created a very well written critical blog post which I thoroughly enjoyed reading!

Art and Literature



In any cultural period, there is a seamless connection between art all of the arts. In exploring art we may find many literary connections, as the themes and techniques of artists can expand our understanding of literature and its context.

This week we explored the 19th Century rooms of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
In the Victorian Hall, I was most intrigued by the wall displaying Victorian women. This collaboration by the Art Gallery gave the impression of a complex narrative. The positioning of these artworks allowed the viewer to gain a deeper understanding of Victorian society, comparing the values and attitudes towards women, the core values of the era and the differences between social classes. Women were presented as Femme Fatals, with a strength and paradoxical decline, questioning the nature of womanhood and femininity.

Sir Edward John Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon


The following video also contains interesting links between art and literature in the Romantic Era of the 19th Century:


Charles Dickens; Hard times with Mr Thleary

Creative task: Write a song, sung by Mr. Thleary, about how he thinks people should lead their lives.

Mr. Thleary is a man who has a great understanding of his position in life. While considering himself as part of the poor and down-trodden he remains positive and imparts great wisdom and sentimentality. Thleary presents the truth as he sees it and never censors his passion and emotion. Believing all his comrades to be noble and beautiful, especially his horses.

Look at me deary, my nameths Mr Thleary,
And I feel I mutht put in my word.
Though your tearths wont sthop flowing, I wont be a going
You’ve lostht a great fortune I’ve heard.

Be not athamed, though you’ve nothing to your name
Becauthe all of uth people on earth,
Can get cut up rough, but juthst grab the sthtirrup;
You’ll find what you really are worth.

So graspth on the reignths,
Let life, shake her maneths.
Make the betht of it; not the wurtht!
Do the withe thing, do the kind thing too,
youll thee life ith a blessthing not a curthse!

Now justh look at me, Im no Angel breed,
But both thides of my banner, may be equally theen.
If you know your own mind, then heavenths be aligned;
Who knowths where good fortune may lead

So graspth on the reignths,
Let life, shake her maneths.
Make the betht of it; not the wurtht!
Do the withe thing, do the kind thing too,
youll thee life ith a blessthing not a curthse!

‘At the circus Molier, Paris’  by J. Delton, 1910



Peer Review 3


Hi Alana,
I really enjoyed how you related to your personal experiences in challenging the blog topic. Similar to the previous comment, you do need to be wary of your grammar. Also the use of the word ‘whilst’ could be simplified. Overall this blog post really got me questioning how the intended audience of Jane Austen really reacted to Emma! There might even be literary reviews available to us from this period, which might be a really interesting avenue to research! Also, remember to add in supporting evidence or material (eg images and links).