Compare How Dickens Gaskell And Hardy Use Their Texts To Criticise Aspects Of Victorian Society
The Victorian Era was a period of great change in many areas of life; for example: The Industrial Revolution. There were many problems in society. Famous authors in this patriarchal society were well-known for being social commentators that serialised their works through newspapers. Charles Dickens wrote “Hard Times” which is full of criticisms on pollution, monotony and lack of creativity. Similarly, “Mary Barton” is a novel that was written by Elizabeth Gaskell criticising the poor conditions in which those of the lower class lived in. Finally, Thomas Hardy wrote “Hard Times” which reveals the powerlessness of women and other aspects of the society at that time.
In the novel “Hard Times” Dickens blatantly and deliberately criticises the impact that industrialisation was having on Victorian society. Industrialisation was the process of development industry was taking in cities and moved employment away from the countryside. This was the start of pollution, overcrowding and the rise of the middle class.
One part of Industrialisation he criticises is pollution. By creating the fictional “Coketown” Dickens puts forward his criticism by using this pun. As coal was the fuel being burned, and coke is a form of coal, “Coketown” is a pun to show the dependence the town had on coal. As coke/coal was being used as the main fuel, the fumes and effect it had on the surroundings would be blackening; for example the chimneys that the smoky fumes rose up in would be covered in thick black soot. Dickens also suggests that the town is black with the smoke from burning, instead of a clear blue sky with pretty clouds; thick smog would be overhanging. Another pun he uses is “The M’Choakumchild School”. It is a pun because pollution would be affecting the children, ‘choak’-ing them. He uses similes to illustrate his opinions: “but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage”. He insults the town by calling it a savage. A savage is very primitive and behind-the-times, this is ironic as the whole point of Industrialisation was to improve life and produce more money. He also insults industry because savages are merciless and uncivilised and that is what he believed industry to be. Dickens restates the point that the majority of people thought extremely highly of the importance that money making was to them. Dickens says: “purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest.” This shows clearly that creating profit was of high importance. “Coketown” is described as being “nothing…but what was severely workful”; Severity is another point relating to the loss of imagination and creativity- once more repeated to emphasise the suggestion.
Another aspect of industrialisation that Dickens criticises is the extreme lack of creativity. The “The M’Choakumchild School” not only criticises pollution but also the reality that the school is “all fact”, no imagination. As well as the fumes, smoke and smog choking the child, the school is ‘choak’-ing the children of their individuality. He reiterates this point that everything is fact by repeating it over and over again: “the school of design was all fact”. The whole point of a school of design is creativity and imagination, to say that is “all fact” is quite insulting, it is also quite exaggerated, and thus Dickens makes use of hyperbole.
When he is describing the terrible happenings, he describes them as animals but strange, unusual, even unnatural, animals. For example: “…out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever…” The metaphorical snakes never end. Another is: “…the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.” Dickens is insinuating the monotony of the piston is madness. This is usage of similes that somehow is a perverse use of a natural thing- a disembodied elephant’s head.
Lastly he criticises the monotony of life. There are several points he makes about the monotony of Victorian life. Firstly, there are the “large streets, all very like one another” and the many “small streets still more like one another”. It is quite disturbing that large streets are alike to small streets. But there is more that is disturbing, buildings we would assume to be diverse in outside appearance, are described to be very similar. Dickens states that “the jail might have been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town hall might have been either, or both, or anything else”. For starters, jails are usually barred, cut-off, bleak and generally recognised for the extreme security measures. Infirmaries are hospitals, these are clean, welcoming and maybe painted a nice colour. Town halls on the other hand are a stately, majestic building where important meetings are held, superior to many other buildings in a town or city. To say that the town hall looks even remotely like these two buildings is quite scary; this would be unnerving for the residents. The repetition in this is effective and will leave a firm imprint of Dickens’s meaning in the reader’s mind. Another monotonous aspect in “Coketown” is the lives the citizens have: They are all “equally like one another”, they all go “in and out at the same hours”, all making the “same sound upon the same pavements” to do the “same work”. This repetition projects images of similar looking people leaving their houses, going to work, and returning home simultaneously. The constant repeated phrases create a rhythm and emphasis over the nature of life in Coketown.
Elizabeth Gaskell wrote “Mary Barton” which also describes Victorian life. She describes “Berry Street” and a certain family and house situated there. She criticises the poor portion of Victorian life and their living conditions. Being a vicar’s wife, she knew a great deal about the poor and their circumstances, as she paid frequent visits to them.
After mentioning Berry Street for the first time, the first description states “It was unpaved”. An unpaved street suggests lack of money, lack of money spent on it. This first statement suggesting this is the main point and most obvious one. Gaskell goes on to say that through the middle of the street “a gutter forced its way”. There is no hygienic sewage disposal or pipes to carry the waste away; Berry Street has a gutter. By saying, “forced”, the gutter is personified; this shows how difficult it was to find a way around the sewage in the streets. Gaskell composes a very polite method to explain the seriousness of the unhygienic situation to readers: “Never was the old Edinburgh cry of ‘Gardez l’eau!’ more necessary than in this street”. In other words, it is loosely translated as ‘watch out for the water!’ There were “pools”, too as the street was “abounded” with them; these pools were described as “stagnating”. Stagnating (basically moulding) as “household slops of every description” were “tossed” into the revolting gutter. These pools were overflowing as they contained too much “slop”. ‘Stagnating’ is repeated again, but as a different part of speech: ‘the stagnant, filthy moisture of the street oozed up’. This repetition shows the quantity of filth in our modern terms- raw sewerage.
After being introducing Berry Street, Gaskell describes a specific house and family residing there. The Davenport family live in a small, grimy cellar, which is described in great depth and detail. It is a “dark”, dingy cellar, not at all pleasant. “The window-panes…were broken and stuffed with rags.” The family obviously were feeling the cold and the ragged cloth stuffed inside the panes were to keep the little heat in; they had a fireplace but it was “empty”, indicating, once again, lack of wealth or wood to light a fire to heat their home, confirming the symbolism of the cold, sadness and penniless lives they led. “Even at midday” there was “dusky light” and the room was smothered with “thick darkness”, suggesting the Davenport family has insufficient funds to purchase some form of light- candles for example. Temperature and light in their house were not the only problems: It is a cellar very much, similar to the street, in great need of hygiene. Smells that Elisabeth Gaskell experienced were described as being “so foetid as almost to knock the two men down.” she clearly is declaring the cellar of a foul smell so foul, in fact, that is powerful enough to upset two full-grown men. This obvious use of a simile reveals the great stench that is found in the Davenport cellar. This criticises the state of hygiene the poor were enduring. The over-crowding, claustrophobic feeling Gaskell experienced was dreadful. She saw “three or four children rolling on the damp, nay wet brick floor” and this is a clear image to visualize. This obviously criticises the number of children that Victorian citizens had; but also slates the condition in which the children were living in, there was also “filthy moisture of the street” “ooz”-ing up. Ooze is envisaged as a thick, messy substance this adds to the filthy factors of their living conditions. This is such an unpleasant picture to even think about. This is what Gaskell wanted, to raise awareness and draw attention to the awful situation the poor were living in.
The Son’s Veto is an awfully tragic short story written by Thomas Hardy in 1891. It features the tale of Sophy who becomes an invalid and marries her employer Mr Twycott. Confined indoors, she is at the hands of men for all her miserable life, not able to make any decisions herself. Hardy criticises certain aspects in Victorian life, including how powerless women were, life in the cities and the extreme social divide between classes.
Through his main character Sophy, Hardy criticises is the powerlessness of women. This powerlessness is shown at the beginning of the story. Mr Twycott has just been ill and Sophy wants to go out with Randolph to the park. “On this day however, he had seemed well enough to justify her accompanying her son Randolph to the concert.” Firstly, it seems Mr Twycott has to be ‘well’ enough to allow Sophy to go out. Secondly, he has to ‘justify’ his wife taking their son out to a concert in the park. This shows explicitly how tethered down women were and their lack of freedom, which this criticises.
Furthermore, after the death of Mr Twycott, Sophy sees an old friend from her childhood (Sam). She accompanies him on one of his night-shift journeys, and ponders on how morally right it was to be with him. “She knew there had been nothing really wrong in the journey, but supposed it to be conventionally very wrong indeed.” In that time, married women were usually chaperoned because their husbands wanted to them keep their virtuous loyalty. The Victorians wanted to be incredibly morally correct and for a widow to be seen alone with another man would be scandalous and dangerous for her reputation. Hardy’s exposure of her thoughts criticises her lack of free will and the fact that she even wonders about what others would think of her and therefore how bound by the patriarchal society women were.
Similarly, this powerlessness is shown at the very end of the story, when Sophy has died seemingly from a broken heart: ‘from the railway-station a funeral procession was seen approaching: it passed his door and went out of the town towards the village of Gaymead.’ Randolph , her son, is responsible for her extreme sadness and depression because he is in charge of her life and refuses to allow her to join Sam in holy matrimony (which is what the two have set their hearts on doing) unfortunately this results in poor Sophy dying of heart-break. Ironically, she was in Mr Twycott’s employment (serving an ill, bed-ridden man) when she became crippled and then she is confined inside as a result. In addition Sophy is not only physically confined and restricted; she is completely powerless over her own decisions because her son dominates her life. This clearly shows the fact that Sophy was controlled by men for her whole life and thus, had no power. This ‘wrong’ decision of Randolph’s highlights both his selfishness and the extreme power he had over her. Hardy expresses his disagreement and this shows that women should have had more power in their life, and over their choices in decisions that had to be made, that men shouldn’t control them for all their lives, as it can lead to disastrous consequence
Another illustration of this is when Sophy is thoroughly frustrated with her desolate life and situation: “‘why mayn’t I say to Sam that I’ll marry him? Why mayn’t I?’ she would murmur plaintively to herself when nobody was near”. Sophy is so desperate she has started muttering to herself, gibbering on about her hopeless situation. This is a sign that she is breaking down, maybe even losing her mind. Lastly, she is asking rhetorical questions, as it is clear ‘nobody was near’ and this clarifies no one could answer.
The abuse of religion by religious men is displayed and criticised when Randolph pushes Sophy (against her will) to swear not to marry Sam Hobson. “ Finally taking her before a little cross and altar he had erected in his bedroom for his private devotions, there bade her kneel, and swear that she would not wed Samuel Hobson without his consent. ‘I owe this to my father!’ he said”. The seriousness of this situation is shown when Randolph uses Sam’s full, formal name, as an alternative to ‘Sam’ which is used in the rest of the story. Randolph abuses religion by making Sophy swear in front of a ‘little cross and altar’ in his bedroom for his own benefit or advantage. In that time, religion was important; so Sophy would not dare go against a vow she makes in front of God’s eyes, no matter how desperate she would become. We know this as she doesn’t go and marry him; she keeps her word, which results in her death of a broken heart. This is wrong because she should have been able to marry the man who she love in her life and consequently, live a long and happy life.
Another aspect of Victorian society that is criticised is the industrialised cities and city life. After Sophy is first told by her son not to marry Sam, she falls into a state of desperation and depression. She wastes her life away and becomes ill. “Thus she lived on in the city, and wasted hours in braiding her beautiful hair, till her once apple cheeks waned to pink of the very faintest.”
This clearly demonstrates that Sophy has nothing to do in the city but waste her life away. London is clearly not the place suited for an invalid. She does nothing but plait her “beautiful hair”. Also “her once apple cheeks waned” the only thing that has changed is her moving to the city; it is almost that the city has drained or sucked all the life out of her. It is ironic how her cheeks were firstly ‘apple’ and then are ‘pink’ and the metaphorical red of her cheeks resembles her obvious health and happiness in the countryside, whereas the fact the city has faded the colour shows how Sophy has been negatively affected by the city. This is because apples usually grow in the countryside and as she cannot make any decisions regarding her own life, for example getting re-married. Therefore the city is resembled as a horrible thing that sort of ‘sucks’ the health and life out of the main character- Sophy.
City life is also criticised when Sophy and Mr Twycott move to London when their new house is described. “Abandoning their pretty country home with trees and shrubs and glebe for a narrow dusty house in a long straight street and their fine peal of bells for the wretchedest one tongued clangour that ever tortured mortal ears.” Firstly, these two places are juxtaposed to emphasise the contrast. These two very different places are described differently. The “Pretty country home” description is lengthy using the connective “and”, which expands the description, which is alike to its surroundings; whereas the “narrow dusty home” is described to be enclosed in a “straight street” and smaller in length. The city residence is described as a ‘house’ not a welcoming, friendly ‘home’. This small, seemingly insignificant difference certainly gives each place a mood. Their home in Gaymead is also ‘pretty’. Their home was beautiful with lots of scenery and nature surrounding it and they left it for a ‘narrow’, ‘dusty’ house with awful bell tolling! Hardy uses lots of descriptive adjectives to emphasise the contrast. Then, the bells are juxtaposed too: “…fine peal of bells for the wretchedest one tongued clangour that ever tortured mortal ears”. There is a generous array (“fine peal”) of harmonically arranged bells compared to one measly bell that makes a painful sound to ‘mortal ears’. Hardy also uses personification to exaggerate how awful the bells are because they can’t literally torture people’s ears.
Another major criticism of Victorian life that Hardy expresses within this story is the social separation betwixt classes. A key quote that portrays his criticism is “It was long before he would reply, and when he did it was to say sternly from within: ‘I am ashamed of you! It will ruin me! A miserable boor! A churl! A clown! It will degrade me in the eyes of all the gentlemen of England.” This is when Sophy asks Randolph if he consents to her marrying Sam. Firstly Randolph uses hyperbole, because not every gentleman in England will hear about his mother marrying a country farmer and furthermore, not half of them will even care about his family’s history. So it won’t ruin him in the least, a few people may find out, but he won’t be ruined. The churl and clown, in reference to Sam, are being said harshly, with a cruel ‘c’ sound. There is power of three being used to reinforce the names he is calling Sam- all relying around his lower status and class in a derogatory manner. When he says what he will become (boor, churl and clown). Exclamation marks enhance his anger and insulting words. It isn’t really himself he is insulting, it’s his mother- Sophy. He is saying because she is a lower class woman and wishes to marry someone from her previous, lower class, which will lower his rank and status and ‘degrade’ him and his reputation. Randolph’s anger demonstrates the anxiety and strain that he and many others alike, went through when people didn’t obey social rules and Hardy is being critical of a society that is bound by this division. This criticism can be also found when Sophy becomes upset with Randolph correcting her grammar. “Her great grief in this relation was that her only child, on whose education no expense had been and would be spared, was old enough to perceive these deficiencies in his mother, and not only to see them but to feel irritated at their existence”. Sophy is upset by the fact that she and her husband had she spent so much time and money on his important education yet he still is impudent and notices, then points out her “deficiencies” not only this, but he is “irritated at their existence”. Therefore there is a division in class between mother and son, created by the education she had given him.
In conclusion: I think all of the three texts conveyed criticisms about aspects of Victorian life clearly. Although each of these is eloquently written and interesting to read, deciding which one conveyed criticisms best can be easily judged form this essay. Hardy’s “The Son’s Veto” is a subtle criticizer, Gaskell’s “Mary Barton” was more descriptive and “Hard Times” is definitely more direct and deliberate about the obvious points, weaknesses and dangers of Victorian society. Therefore this is the most effective of all the three stories/extracts.