Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse presents three different sections, spanning a decade, each told in a different way. The second section, “Time Passes”, although rather short, makes its way through ten years including World War I, whereas “The Window” covers only an evening or so. While the “The Window” addresses time as relative to one’s thoughts, emotions, and consciousness, “Time Passes” is told from the perspective that time is independent from human life. That is to say that the hours, days, and years that make up time will continue to pass by at the same rate that they always have.
Throughout the passage, Woolf personifies inanimate objects such as the draft that sweeps through the house during the time when the family is away. She describes the drafts as “smoothly brushing the walls, they passed on musingly as if asking the red and yellow roses on the wall-paper whether they would fade, and questioning (gently, for there was time at their disposal) the torn letters in the waste-paper basket, the flowers, the books, all of which were now open to them and asking, “Were they allies? Were they enemies? How long would they endure?” (126). She also touches on the isolation and confusion which WWI wrought. A sense of personal and national identity was lost during the war, especially in England. Similarly, Woolf posits how the objects in the house have lost their identity because the people who give there lives meaning are gone. Woolf elaborate continually through the section on how time infects all things such as “some faded skirts and coats in wardrobes- those alone kept the human shape and in the emptiness indicated how once they were filled and animated” (129). She also hints at the emptiness of the post-war world as all of the material items of the millions of young men lost to the war remain and how they are the only reminders of their lives. While “Time Passes” puts a large emphasis on the role of time in nature and in aging the house, it gives very little consideration to the Ramsays and their friends. References to them are given in brackets, such as “[Prue Ramsay, leaning on her father’s arm, was given in marriage. What, people said, could have been more fitting? And, they added, how beautiful she looked!]” Human life is more or less an afterthought in the grand scheme of life. Time continues to push forward, thrusting humanity along with it, regardless of whether or not people are ready for it. People and things may fade, but time marches on.
T.S. Eliot’s fragmented poem “The Waste Land” epitomizes the modernist era and post-World War I England. World War I tore down barriers like social divisions and Victorian idealism, but also changed the physical appearance of Europe. The poem exhibits this deconstruction as constant shifts in location and narration. Another result was the generation of young men lost to the war, which is often referred to as ‘the lost generation’ and the poem’s name itself, “The Waste Land,” is meant to symbolize the desolation and disillusionment felt by many upon the war’s end. Additionally, Eliot’s use of fragmentation makes the poem that much more difficult to interpret due to the perpetual allusions and shifts; the difficulty mirrors the hardship of living in post-WWI Europe and incredible magnitude of the death toll.
Eliot employs fragmentation to remark on Europe’s existential crisis and it’s need to find an identity. Each fragment hints at one of the work’s underscored themes including death, despair, and disillusionment. At the very start of the poem, he hints at the ‘the lost generation,’ or the generation of young men who died during the war when commenting how “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land” (2298). April during the month of spring symbolizes renewal, but as many nations’ young men have perished, re-cultivating their populations is a sad and difficult task. National identities had been shaken up a great deal due to the dissolution of dynasties and the creation of new ones. Upon the war’s end, Europe appeared as “a heap of broken images, where “you know only a heap of broken images, where the sun beats” (2298-2299). The war saw the destruction of four great European empires: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian. A form of renewal and resolution is described in the last section of the poem when after a period of drought, “a damp gust [brings] rain” (2309). This scene signifies England and the other European nations attempting to survey the damage the war has wrought and come to terms with the desolation, so that they can rebuild and renew their lost culture and populations.
James Joyce’s “Eveline” and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” both share a gloomy tone and address the similar theme of isolation. Eveline experiences many of the same emotions as rider on the metro would. While Eveline yearns to “explore another life with Frank” (2223), she is struck by feelings of melancholy for her old family life. Someone waiting at the metro station is likely traveling somewhere, which is usually an exciting affair, yet he or she cannot seem to find any joy in the activity. These sensations set the vapid scene of each piece. The “petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound) is representative of this notion of fading happiness as people, like all things in life, are eventually lost.
Both characters are disconnected from the world in which they live. The metro would likely be buzzing with a multitude of people and subways, but it still very easy to feel alone. The bustling people look more like an “apparition” (Pound). They are all so isolated from one another that all the metro-goers seem more like ghosts. Eveline is in a similar state of limbo as she dreams of her future and reminisces about her past. She remembers happier times when “the children of the avenue used to play together in that field” (2222) and wishes to return to her past. Joyce is hinting at one of the prevailing themes of modernity: alienation. Similarly, the advent of advanced technology, such as the subway system, evokes sadness and a longing for a simpler time.
Charles Darwin’s theories regarding evolution and natural selection permeate through Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Our Society at Cranford” and take the shape of unique social mores in the town. One such instance of this is the fact that “all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women” (1432). The women appear to exist at the very top of the food chain in the rural town of Cranford; they are also the fittest individuals as the female population outnumbers the males by a significant amount. Female dominance stunts the ability of the male population to ‘reproduce’ and grow in size. While Darwin’s natural selection “depends on the success of both sexes,” (1280) we can still for comparison’s sake label each sex as its own species in Cranford. Additionally, every organism must fulfill a specific niche and in their environment and “the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient” (1432-1433) to cater to the tasks of gardening, gossip, and keeping their help in order. Feminine characteristics are more suited to these duties, therefore females are naturally selected for and the male population is depleted because the aforementioned niche is best suited for habitat of Cranford. Upon thinking about Cranford from Darwin’s perspective, I realized how large a role social Darwinism plays in this society. Just as science is highly structured, so are the women of Cranford.
Also, similar to Darwin’s theory of evolution is Cranford’s isolation from the outside world, much like the Galapagos Islands. Many of Cranford’s inhabitants are aged and so many specified “rules and regulations” (1433) have accrued within the town, which would not be found outside. Even “their dress is very independent of fashion” (1433) and it is unlikely that a similar form of dress would be found elsewhere, unless another town exhibited the same form of isolation as Cranford. Cranford’s resident are very traditional and do not wish to accept any form of change, although the Industrial Revolution is occurring during their time. Instead of adapting to the new environment of the new world order, their niche is becoming more and more specialized, much like an endangered species in the Amazon rainforest.
In Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach and Culture and Anarchy, he brings to light central themes of modernity in the Victorian era, including industrialization, strict class divisions, and ardent capitalism, while arguing for ways to counteract them in order to lead more virtuous lives. The post-Enlightenment period of the second half of the nineteenth was wrought with this idea of being self-aware of the current, progressive time, while also feeling somewhat detached. Dover Beach epitomizes modernity in that it uses the ocean to symbolize the pre-modern world with “its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (1562) and contrasts it with the uncertain, modern world. This new world is “swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight” as the people of the time do not understand, nor can they keep up with it. With the advent of science, there is less sacredness present in life and in culture. However, exciting the new world may seem with all its technological advances and urbanization of the cities, it “[lies] before us like a land of dreams” (1562) because it is only a dream. Righteousness and the common good have been lost.
The Industrial Revolution was highly responsible for the Victorian era’s “bondage to machinery…[and] proneness to value machinery as an end to itself” (1597). Arnold holds this obsession with machines responsible for a loss of morals and the ever present alienation found during his time. He finds himself at odds with his current predicament and finds himself yearning for the enchanting, old days, where there a desire to “leave the world better and happier than we found it” (1596). Along with industrialization yields capitalism; this has the effect of causing class warfare among the aristocracy, middle, and working classes. Technology is not inherently evil, but it can make people evil. When there is so much materialism and superficiality in society, it is easy to forget that society is strong only when everyone is accounted for. Arnold claims that the current state of things is detrimental to society, as people are not concerned with the welfare of the masses.
Upon comparison of two visual representations of William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, a prominent difference in the meaning of the text can be ascertained due to the polar opposite tones that each assumes based off of the colors used; the Morgan 1790 edition representing a bleak, but somewhat pleasant scene, while the 1794 Fitzwilliam Museum version is grim and severely intense. This antithesis mirrors the typical connotations of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ and epitomizes Blake’s primary purpose in composing the piece which is to satirize commonly held misconceptions regarding good and evil. Instead he proposes that one needs to live without inhibitions in order to obtain his or her highest self and be a person of great vitality.
Among Blake’s colored plates with images, nearly every one has an altered interpretation due to the stark differences in color choice and painting style. A distinct difference appears on plate 4 of each edition, where an individual appears to be coming out of flames and is reaching out to someone else. The Morgan edition’s depiction of this scene borders on cheerfulness due to the bright and pastel colors, while the Fitzwilliam edition, with it’s harsh reds and oranges, shows a Satanic character reaching out the flames causing a mood shift to wickedness (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.04&java=n,http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.04&java=n). Although, Blake describes energy as the work of the Devil, it is also “delight” (191), but upon pictorial analysis one can see that the plate from the Fitzwilliam edition does not emulate this quality. A statement is being made here in regards to what Hell truly represents, as opposed to the perception surrounding it. The Morgan version promotes a more welcoming version of Hell, where mankind need not fear that obeying one’s desires will result in “God…torment[ing] Man in Eternity” (190). Another example is given by panel 14, which portrays two bodies, one hovering over the other, while they are both engulfed in flames (http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.c.illbk.14&java=no,http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=mhh.e.illbk.14&java=no). It is representative of the notion that people cannot have a full understanding of the world when we narrow our perspectives “thro’ narrow chinks of [our] cavern” (196). This proverb symbolizes how the reasons behind why Hell is seen as evil has lead to a misunderstanding of how to live life. The Morgan image shows this through a somber, somewhat beautiful use of yellow and pink flames, while the Fitzwilliam edition depicts the hovering individual as a cloaked, demented, deep red and black figure. Again, the Morgan depiction is more open-minded than the latter one, once again changing the meaning of Hell in the Fitzwilliam edition to a place where one will be punished for seeing the world through a different light.
Wordsworth’s “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey” captures the philosophy of the picturesque by explaining how his appreciation of nature has grown as he has matured, but continues to fill him with that same sense of awe. The picturesque is somewhat an intermediate between the sublime and the beautiful; the former exacts pleasure from pain on a grand scale, while the latter is pleasure from merely admiring something that pleases the senses. Rather, something picturesque is one which invokes beauty and character from unevenness and imperfection. Upon revisiting the Banks of the Wye after several years, Wordsworth is able to fully appreciate its grandness on both a spiritual and emotional level.
As a simple boy, Wordsworth explored the scene at the River Wye like someone “flying from something that he dreads” (72), as nature embodied everything he loved in the world. Upon his return, his experienced eyes are able to see once again, all of its distinct features and how they “disturb the wild green landscape” (14-15). The images from the Wye and the emotions stirred in his soul due to them give him a sense of hope during times of loneliness and despair. The details and impurities abound at the River Wye give it a spirit in Wordsworth’s mind and it remains to him a place of tranquility for his mind to rest from the stress of the world. A number of years have passed since his last visit, however, and he can now appreciate nature on a higher level and “not as in the hour of thoughtless youth” (90-91). His connection with nature has intensified and become more picturesque in the process as nature is now his lifeblood and has reenergized his life in a way nothing has before. The picturesque is therefore, Wordsworth’s newfound feeling of beauty that reflects the detail and complexity of nature. In the poem, this mirrors how he has aged and become more weathered by the world.
The passages from Shelley’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe both present similar overarching themes, such as humanity, but differ in their perspective of this idea. Each novel also addresses the awareness of one’s humanity, with Frankenstein’s creature having studied his “accursed origin”, while Crusoe states how “making the most rational judgment of things” results in fulfillment of one’s goals. Both pieces mirror ideals from the Enlightenment period, one of which includes mastery of nature. Shelley’s Frankenstein comments on how if he is successful, then he can “renew life where death” (692) has taken over. Similarly, Defoe’s Crusoe commits himself to construct “such necessary things as I found most wanted” from what natural resources he has available to him. Additionally, both men appear to be inventors, but through different means; Crusoe builds because he must in order to survive, but Frankenstein does so out of a pure desire to create a “new species” which had previously never existed.
Contrasting elements between the two works include differing perspectives on the value of life. Crusoe “smiled to [him]self” upon seeing money which he had no use for, but still found that he could appreciate it because life only has the meaning one gives to it. Whereas Frankenstein’s creature believes that his life is devoid of any significance as he has no relationship with his “cursed creator” or any other sort of companion. Also, even though Frankenstein’s creature and Crusoe are alone in the world, their attitudes differ a great deal. The monster believes his “solitary and detested” existence is reason for self-pity because he can not connect with another single soul. Crusoe, however, revels in his isolation and does not see it as an excuse to abandon the “few comforts [he has] in the world.” Our humanity and sense of self are warped by our perspective.