London Labour and the London Poor

Henry Mayhew tells the stories of two children in  “London Labour and the London Poor” and the harsh conditions they faced. In this he uses elements of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Enlightenment elements can be seen in the way that Mayhew relays the experiences of the children. He is very detailed and factual showing how they do not think the same way children normally do. On page 1110 he says, ‘I can’t read or write, but I knows how many pennies goes to a shilling, why twelve, of course, but I don’t know how many ha’pence there is, though there’s two to a penny.” All throughout her narration, the girl talks about money and working and she knows them very well but she does not know what a park is. Mayhew highlights this non-childlike knowledge that she has through the sort of mechanical telling of her story. He shows this again with the boy, by including the explanation of the sweeper’s system.

Mayhew also uses elements of Romanticism by using emotional appeal. He shows how poor these children are when the girl says, ‘I don’t have no dinner,’ (1110). She only gets two meals a day and meat only on Sundays. As for the sweepers, they buy a shovel with all their money to shovel snow during the winter. The boy says, ‘It’s awful cold, and gives us chilblains on our feet: but we don’t mind it when we’re working, for we soon gets hot then,’ (1113). These sort of things, as well as their home life and the abuse they suffered, draws on the readers sentimental side and is an element of Romanticism.


A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman seems to be both an Enlightenment and a Romantic argument. Just like the French feminist Valentine de Saint-Point (Manifeste de la femme futuriste, 1912) who answered to a misogynistic author, Wollstonecraft quickly responds to Milton’s Paradise Lost to tell him her thoughts about the conditions of women. Thus, the reflection Wollstonecraft is giving us is both based upon her feelings and her reason.

On one hand, she shows the features of the Enlightenment by basing her on reason and on the role of women in the society, that is to say considered as inferior to men. This is, for her, caused by education since men and women aren’t taught the same things, p.292 “I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heat (…) are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness”, p.293 “Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female excellence”. She clearly shows her feminism and tries to make understand people that this, the different educations given, is not normal. Even if she said that she did this not in a good way, her reflection is presented as something organized and logical. We can see that what she says is made with reason p.288 “arguments conclusive”, the repetition of the word “reason/reasoning” p.293, “because intellect will always govern” same page, “facts”, “I reason” p.298. She also often uses “useless/useful”, consequence of the industriousness. Religion takes a huge place too in this book since there is always a reference to God by saying “Providence”, “God”etc. She ends her chapter 2 talking about Him.

On the other hand, there is also a few features of Romanticism, such as the repetition of “nature/natural” in almost every page which is one of the main characteristics of Romanticism, and “mixing with society” p.297. Her arguments are combined with reason and feelings p.296 “led by their senses”, “the emotions” p.303, “feeling, experience” p.303, “sublime” p.301,303, “love”,”passion” and “desire” are also used to express what she thinks about the woman trying to be perfect for her husband, and describes the feelings as something natural since “To endeavor to reason love out of the world, would be to out Quixote Cervantes” that is to say something impossible. That’s why she tries to make understand women not to be this way anymore (1st paragraph). By basing herself on reasoning, she in fact is responding to something she lived, a direct experience. P.297 we can see a mixture of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism “confidently assert that they (women) have been drawn out of their sphere by false refinement, and not by an endeavor to acquire masculine qualities…it may be impossible to convince them that the illegitimate power, which they obtain, by degrading themselves, is a curse, and that they must return to nature and equality”. Here she clearly says that the education they had is no good, and to find a good place is society they must be heard and connected to Nature.

As a conclusion, we can say that Wollstonecraft combines arguments based on characteristics of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism.



Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree

After reading “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” I find that it contrasts the Enlightenment sensibility mostly in regards to privacy, self-reflection, and nature. In the poem the man flees from society feeling neglected and tries to embrace his solitude in nature. Yet he cannot forget his time and he has been changed by it and by his pride. The poem suggests that having privacy and inward reflection is healing, “True dignity abides with him alone/ Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,”  unlike the Enlightenment ideal that the way to happiness is through industriousness and working for the public good. This can also be seen in the beginning of the poem where the “Traveller” is beckoned to come and clear his mind, “if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves/ That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind.” Another significant contrast is view of harmony with nature being a source of wisdom. In the Enlightenment reason and religion are sources of wisdom but in the poem harmony with nature brings about “inward thought” and “true knowledge” which leads to love.

Nature in “Lines Left upon a seat in a Yew-tree”

“Lines Left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” by William Wordsworth is in all honesty, the embodiment of the Romantic writing period. Its intentional use of nature imagery is an essential difference between Romanticism and Enlightenment.Romanticism was, in fact the reaction to the Enlightenment and its standards. Romanticism tended to be more critical of the imperialistic attitude of those who wrote during the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was more focused on how one should master nature, and how one should not discuss emotion, feeling, or even desire. In short, the Enlightenment lacked pleasure, and in all honesty, excitement. An example of writing during the Enlightenment would be the novel Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe seems to do everything with a purpose. In one instance, Crusoe is communicating to the reader everything that he has done, and for what purpose it has been done. He says “and so when I found I was pretty safe as to beasts of prey, I worked sideways, to the right hand, into the rock; and then, turning to the right again, worked quite out…” (Defoe). Crusoe is building a shelter, for the purpose of staying away from anything that could harm him, either animals or weather conditions. Crusoe is actively being a sensible character, and is actively conquering nature. Crusoe moves with a purpose, and there is nothing more important than that purpose. Curse proves that he is the strongest, the most intelligent, and superior being in his shipwrecked society. But “Lines Left upon a seat in a Yew-Tree” is quite the contrast to Crusoe’s active sensibility.

In “Lines Left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” nature is such an essential part of the poem. This tree that the traveler must sit on with the narrator is “far from human dwelling” (ll 2). It’s very desolate and confusing for the reader, and it is hard to tell what is real and what isn’t. The storyteller then goes on to say “Yet, if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves/ that break against the shore, shall lull thy mind by one soft impulse saved from vacancy” (lines  5-7). This storyteller is communicating the impact that nature is having on him, rather than the impact he is having on nature. This directly contrasts with what Defoe communicates in Robinson Crusoe because the narrator is actively admitting that he is allowing nature to control him. Nature is making the narrator feel soothed, and is ultimately admitting that nature has the ability to have control over him. In some of the final words of the poem, it is said that “The man/  whose eye is ever on himself/ doth look on one/ the least of nature’s works / one who might move the wise man to that score which wisdom holds” (ll 51-4). Here again, Wordsworth circles back to the idea that nature, may in fact, be in control over humanity. He specifically uses the phrase “the least of nature’s works” to further this explanation. In conclusion, the main difference between the enlightenment writing and the Romantic writing is that those during the enlightenment aimed to conquer nature, while those during the romantic time period aimed to embrace nature and give up control to nature.


Commentary on “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” contrasting the Enlightenment’s ideals

In William Woodsworth’s “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree,”a narrator warns a traveler of a time when man and nature coexisted by telling the story of a man who lived under a yew tree. In the story, the Yew tree provides shelter for the man and in return, the man covers the ground with mossy sod and cultivates the area, “Who he was / That piled these stones, and with the mossy sod / First covered o’er, and taught this aged tree, / Now wild, to bend its arms in circling shade” (8-11). This shows a harmony between man and nature. This Romantic notion contrasts an ideal of The Enlightenment that man has to master nature. Additionally the man, described as having a pure heart in the narrator’s story, ventures into the city where he is immediately tainted by the world. The world symbolizes a big, industrious city and conveys that cities have turned into dark places that ruin the morale of aspiring young people. The man then lives out his life in loneliness under the Yew tree wishing for the warmth of other’s charity, “The world, and man himsef, appeared a scene / Of kindred loveliness: then he would sigh / With mournful joy, to think that others felt / What he must never feel” (37-39). The narrator finally urges the traveler to be humble and know that man is not greater than other living things, which contrasts an idea of The Enlightenment that man’s inventions outweigh the intricacy and beauty of nature.

Isolation and the Fight Against Nature: The Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Period in Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein

Both of the passages depict narrators who are isolated from society and struggle against nature as a result of this isolation. In the case of Robinson Crusoe, the isolation is not sought after but rather forced upon him. As a rational product of the Enlightenment, his immediate recourse in his lonely state is to try to carve something resembling civilization out of the landscape. Not only does he work to make his cave into a safe refuge from beasts, he also “made… a door,” and determined that a chair and table were “such necessary things as I found I most wanted.” Helpless to save himself from isolation or escape nature, Crusoe imposes the presence of man and civilization as well as he can.

In the case of Frankenstein, the isolation is unnatural because it is self-imposed. Frankenstein is clearly aware that this isolation is bad for his health; he states that his “person had become emancipated with confinement.” However, he still chose to work in the “solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments.” As in the case of Crusoe, the isolation from civilization, accomplished even though he lives in a city, allows him to pursue “nature to her hiding places” and impose the presence of human ingenuity and science where it was never meant to be imposed.

Herein lies the crucial difference between both passages interpretation of the relationship between man and civilization. Crusoe is upheld as a calm, rational man whose imposition of civilization on nature during his isolation is crucial for his survival. However, in keeping with the Romantic love of nature and distrust of the meddling of man and science, Frankenstein’s actions have dire consequences. He creates a monster who can have no peace either among man or nature, a monster who calls himself “wretched, helpless , and alone.” The monster lives in a hovel, not only isolated from men and civilization, but also disconnected from nature, God, and even Satan, who at least had “his companions, fellow-devils,” whereas the monster is only “solitary and detested.” For the Romantics, no good can come of man’s struggle to dominate and subdue nature. All of his efforts are destined to backfire and turn monstrous.

Emotion/Conquering Nature in Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe

     Both Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus rely heavily on emotion to characterize the narrators. In Crusoe, the narrator approaches his desperate situation systematically, with calm, detail-oriented reason. Crusoe wants to survive, but intead of despairing at the fact that he is stranded, shelterless, on an island, he sets himself to the task of creating a habitat without so much as an exclamation point. Once his cave is complete, he assembles “such necessary things as I found I most wanted, particularly a chair and a table” (Defoe). His calculating approach to life sharply contrasts with the narratves of both Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, for where Crusoe describes his actions just as they were accomplished, quantitative to a fault, the very first sentence of Dr. Frankenstein’s narration reads, “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onward…in the first enthusiasm of success” (Shelley 692). Surely in establishing a structure solid and permanent enough to warrant a table and chairs, Crusoe had earned the right to feel proud of himself–perhaps even a little happy. However, his life, even after disaster, remains constant and methodic.

     That inflexible method flies in the face of nature, just as Frankenstein and his monster offend the natural order; Dr. Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe share a disregard for nature, coupled by a will to conquer the natural world. Frankenstein represents the Enlightenment’s approach to life, embodying the goal to become the master of nature–he “pursued nature to her hiding places”–which caused him to “[lose] all soul or sensation” (Shelley 692). Similarly,Crusoe operates mechanically, soullessly, and, valuing reason above all things, believes every man can “master…every mechanic art” (Defoe). Although Frankenstein is more emotional about the shared goal, the idea of defeating nature is constant. Frankenstein’s monster, however, recognizes his incongruity with the natural world and, lacking a will to live in such an abominable fashion, exclaims (unlike Crusoe), “‘Hateful day when I received life!…Cursed creator!…Satan has his companions…but I am solitary and detested'” (Shelley 693). Everything about the monster is unnatural–his solitude, his hideousness, his very existence–and, after Romantic ideals, refuses to exist outside of what is natural.