As it’s been a while since the last new post was uploaded, this will serve as both a notice of the renewal of efforts on our part and an explanation of our absence. Though put simply, there isn’t one. That is to say, there isn’t a simple, acceptable justification for not putting enough effort into writing more posts. Rather, there are contrasting activities that got in the way; that we let them interrupt our thoughts of blogwork is our own fault. We are now, by way of recompense, making a concerted effort to get more posts up and for our posts to have better material in them. Or at least, some interesting variance in them.
University is at a temporary end for me; term has ended, my essays have long since been handed in and all that’s left is a little revision for an exam in the middle of this month. Edwardian literature, shouldn’t pose much of an issue. Edwardian culture is just Victorian culture taken an obvious and inevitable step forwards and the popular (and by implication unpopular) literatures at the time reflect that perfectly. With that in mind and our pledge to variance, how about I write a post on Edwardian literature? It will help me get my ideas straight and might make for an intriguing look into exam preparation and a period that produced some fantastic, lasting pieces of writing that still hold fields and fjords worth of respect now. Not that I hold in reverence what the popular mass honours in modern times, nor what it chooses to busy itself with on a day-to-day basis but something has to be said for a work that is still referenced in all forms of media, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The best way to get a grasp on these works and the minds that produced them, as I have already hinted, is to look at the Victorian era. A time of great movement and contemplation, set between the lofty, refined heights of the renaissance and the gritty rebellion against conformity of early 20th century modernism, the Victorians were a people in motion. In all aspects. Political and social reform rounded every corner hand in hand: Women demanded their voices heard, as did men, as did everyone but the richest aristocracy and even they had their place in the tumultuous re-evaluation of everything and anything that best characterises these times. Vague perhaps, but then, this is an introduction of themes not an indictment of an entire era of a country’s history. I’ll hone down this process and focus on just one area, by way of starting off, and perhaps I’ll do more as the situation permits it. Let’s start with revolutionary science.
In 1859, Darwin published On origin of species, which presented ideas that had been in development for some time, particularly by himself and Alfred Russel Wallace, pertaining to the theories of evolution driven by natural selection, the interrelations between all forms of life and especially, how humans fit into this new order of thinking. Contrary to the monumental arrogance of human kind, thinking ourselves blessed and hallowed, placed here for the purpose of consuming just as animals, plants and materials that we convert into commodities are placed here for the purpose of being consumed, these theories purport that we are just a species as any other, driven to where we are by natural selection, rising above the challenge to survive like everything that is alive. Millennia of thoughts, theories and mindsets based on our separation from the world’s other forms of life spawned millennia of literature, you can imagine the effect of an upheaval of such a fundamental piece of how we categorise the world and how we find our place in it.
As these theories became more understood and widespread, naturally, they became viable for more than just scientific criticism, they became the basis for indirect literary criticism. By the Edwardian era (starting in 1901), they were becoming more accepted and began to crystallise in people’s minds as something that’s going to stay.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (published 1886, thus, late Victorian/early Edwardian) is a great example of humanity struggling greatly to come to terms with its relation to animalia. If you’re not familiar with it, you probably are but don’t know it. The mad scientist inventing a potion, of sorts, that when drunk, transforms him into a hairy, disfigured abomination who invariably gets into all manner of trouble due to his reckless violence and free expression of his basest desires. That’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in a nutshell. The story very much takes a back seat; it basically revolves around the slowly hinted and foreshadowed discovery of the truth about the eponymous Dr Jekyll. The depth of the piece is in the subject matter. The horror isn’t that this potion of his changes him into some kind of monster; it doesn’t create, it uninhibits. His rough, base, animalistic sexual desires are opened up for expression, his anger at the world and his desire for domination is released in a dangerous sociopathy and violent outbursts. The striking thing, though, is his great remorse for everything he does while under effects of Mr Hyde. Also, the fact that he keeps taking the potion of his own will, there is nothing making him do it but himself. He isn’t being controlled by an external force; rather, he is struggling with the desires at the centre of himself and he finds that as he becomes Mr Hyde more regularly, he begins transforming against his will and starts using his potion as a means of turning back.
Disgusted by himself at the thrills and pleasures he receives from Mr Hyde’s unchecked violence and horrified to find that he is unable to prevent the process from escalating further, Dr Jekyll writes a farewell note explaining the truth of how he revelled in the moral freedom and lack of conscience of his inner self. Victorian morality and humanity under attack by a twisted kind of moral relativism. Our perception of the traits that best exemplify animals are found hidden deep within ourselves; perhaps not too worrying for modern day ‘realists’ but set among a people that thinks itself superior even to other people (with regards to imperialism) let alone to animalistic passions, this concept is a hungry wolf set among fat, tasty chickens.
This is the constant movement and realignment of values that I said was at the heart of the Victorian and thus Edwardian mindset. Don’t become bolstered by this and start thinking that our contemporary minds deal any better with being challenged – for that simply isn’t true – we simply no longer find this exact concept threatening. Gay sportspeople/marriage, national/racial pride, underage sex, all of these horrify people of the day; it’s important to get a perspective on these things before we go around thinking we’re anything other than what we are and that is, 21st century Victorians with cheaper clothes.