One of my modules this year is all about Victorian literature- we’re about to do ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, which for me will be the 4th time studying it. First time reading it I hated it- I got bogged down in all the talk of aestheticism and art and beauty and didn’t like it but by the third time I was more familiar with the terminology and was actually enjoying the story for itself. Anyways, in my seminars, we’ve been reading some really dense criticism which when I’m tired just goes right over my head:
just personally I don’t really get my tutor’s teaching style. It seems to work for everyone else, and don’t get me wrong, he’s a really clever guy; it just seems like he doesn’t want to share that cleverness with me. Anyways, even when I’m exhausted and feeling like I can’t remember how to speak English let alone handle critical essays, I still love how beautiful the language can be. We were looking at Walter Pater’s conclusion to ‘The Renaissance’, where he talks about what he thinks of reality, and one quote in particular struck me:
‘Experience, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us…every one of those impressions is the impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world’
The last part in particular I liked. Not even necessarily agreeing with its meaning, just because it’s weirdly satisfying to see this point expressed so succinctly.
We had to do a module on Romanticism last year. To begin with I hated Romanticism; I found the stuff we were studying to be kind of boring (although I did like ‘I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud’)- bad for an English student to say I know, but it’s true. It all just seemed pretentious; everybody wandering around, filled with angst for no apparent reason, having strong feelings about nature and then dying at the end. ‘Sorrows of Young Werther’ in particular- what was he doing for the whole book? All he seemed to do was cry endlessly about everything (including the weather) and again, died at the end. Just wasn’t my sort of thing. But even being a module I didn’t particularly like, it still strikes me how beautiful the English language can be. I know ‘Frankenstein’ isn’t strictly part of Romanticism, yet Shelley was influenced by the Romantic movement; meaning Frankenstein himself also felt very strongly about things. Although to be fair he was allowed to be angsty, being responsible for the creation of a whole other life form and everything. On one of his angsty walks he comes to the ‘summit of Montanvert’- the quote goes:
‘it…filled me with a sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy. The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect of solemnizing my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life’
Which I think is beautiful. It is an eloquent way of expressing the wordless relief that can be felt by the character to see the unbearable torment they’d been suffering projected outside of themselves in the wildness of nature. Plus something about the hugeness of nature is oddly soothing, reducing problems to ‘passing cares of life’ even as it makes you feel small yourself.
In conclusion to this ramble, reading is goooooooood.