Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Was Milton really "of the devil's party"?

John Milton, the 17th Century poet, wrote his two most celebrated works, ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Paradise Regained’, in the mid 1600s after he had become both blind and impoverished. Milton had written a vast amount of poetry before this period, but ‘Paradise Lost’ is Milton’s work that stands out the most. The poem, like ‘The Aeneid’, is comprised of 12 books, and was inspired by the likes of Homer, Dante and Virgil. Epic poetry was considered to be the highest form of the era, and for that reason Milton tried to imitate the great epic poets in the hope that his poem would be compared to the likes of ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’.

Milton, described by William Hayley as the “greatest English author”, based his epic on the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. He took the story of ‘The Fall’ and elaborated it, both expanding and elucidating its meaning. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s classic novel, holds a lot of comparisons with ‘Paradise Lost’, and indeed Frankenstein’s monster is depicted reading the book on his journeys. The epic has two narratives: one is of Satan; one is of Adam and Eve.

William Blake, the Romantic poet best known for his poem ‘The Tyger’, described Milton as being “of the devil’s party without knowing it”. Milton tells the reader in Book I that the purpose of his poem is to “justify the ways of God to men”. From this alone we can conclude that Milton was not actually “of the devil’s party” in that he was a Satanist, although that idea can, on occasion, come across in the poem. Inevitably this does pose the question of what Blake really meant by what he said.

We can immediately infer that Blake believed Milton’s description of the devil and Pandemonium to be so unbelievably vivid and authentic that it implied Milton had, in some way, experienced the devil. To the contemporary reader this may seem somewhat preposterous, but it was not uncommon for theists of the time to claim to have had experiences of both God and of Satan. Figures such as Giuseppe Tartini and Jonathon Moulton are rumoured to have had dealings with the devil during their lifetimes.

Milton seems to enter Satan’s mind and, to the somewhat superstitious and devoutly religious reader, seems as if he has conversed with Satan himself, ascertaining his true feelings and thoughts. Satan’s words, “Better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven”, can be interpreted by the reader as Milton’s own opinion. Blake, also an extremely inspired, creative poet, was truly amazed at Milton’s mind and the vividness of Satan’s narrative. Blake himself designed his very own mythology and world to work cohesively with the principles of Christianity, and in his prophetic books he describes characters such as “Urizen” and “Luvah”. Blake was an extremely devoted and ardent Christian, and it is also clear that he let the characters of the Bible (as well as those of his mind) come alive in his own world. Perhaps Blake was suggesting that the devil was in the room with Milton, influencing him as he dictated his epic. Blake’s imagination was so vivid that he conceivably envisaged Milton, in a state of blind obliviousness, dictating his poem to the devil himself. However, to the secular person this quotation simply serves to emphasise the intensity and vibrancy of John Milton’s writing.

When Milton portrays Satan he glamorises him in a way that is not seen when he is portraying God. Whether this is intentional or not will remain unknown, but Blake concluded that Milton wrote more “at liberty when of Devils and Hell”. In Milton’s masterpiece, Satan is such an effective and slick leader that it is hard not to be deceived by his evil trickery. C.S. Lewis compared creating an evil character to releasing the Mr Hyde in all of us – this is why, he says, Milton’s depiction of evil is more effective than his depiction of good. Despite the poem being described as Milton’s “defence of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil”, we do question Milton’s intentions in painting such a charming and appealing Satan.

Milton’s tempting devil suggests that Milton himself had tendencies to be tempted by the ideas of individuality that can be found in Hell (“One who brings a mind not to be changed by place or time”), and he clearly sees the advantages of Hell over Heaven. He understands that, because anybody is allowed to enter into Pandemonium, then in Hell “we may reign secure”, and not in fear of being thrown out by this almighty power that is God. Milton also sees the potential freedom that can be found in hell, saying that “He who is now sovereign can dispose and bid who shall be right” and “in my choice is worth ambition though in Hell”. Both quotations imply that in heaven there is a restriction on freedom, but that in Hell, all are equal and free to do as they please. We are not forced to “envy” Satan, as we are with God, and we are not restricted by traditional values of honour and virtue. Finally, it is possible that Milton saw Heaven as a continuation of life trying to please God and fulfil his expectations. The conclusion is obvious: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

Milton was not only attacking the ideals of Heaven and an eternity under “celestial light”, but he was attacking the Church. Another Romantic poet, Shelley, praised Milton for presenting the Devil “as a moral being far superior to his God”. Shelley is right; the promotion of liberty and non-conformism is surely a more moral act than repression and institutionalisation. Did Milton do this intentionally?

Milton is promoting quite radical ideas of freedom and individuality, and he clearly has issues with many aspects of organised religion – the hierarchy, the restrictions. Milton would perhaps rather spend eternity in Hell (where “at least we shall be free”), rather than spend eternity in a world of conformism.  Blake himself was liable to many of these beliefs, and himself was a non-conformist and a rather radical individual. He described himself as a ‘liberty boy’ and supported the French Revolution. His poetry often reflected his beliefs; for example William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’ was written to convey his radical social ideas, with Jesus as a saviour fighting against oppression and helping the poor. However the Church completely reinvented Blake’s poem, turning it into the hymn we know and love today, and obliterating its original message. Moreover, Blake’s poem “The Garden of Love” contains the provocative lines: “Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,/ and binding with briars, my joys and desires.” The poem depicts the Church taking over and restricting all that Blake loves; this idea of restriction is very similar to that of Milton; both loathed the constraints of organised religion and conformism. It is interesting that, notwithstanding their differences, Blake and Milton also had a lot in common when it came to how they portrayed religion through their art.

Given that Blake’s views about religion show a remarkable consistency with Milton’s, his accusation that Milton is “of the devil’s party” is a curious one. Blake, in his poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, writes that “a system [the Church] was formed, which some took advantage of and enslav’d the vulgar… thus began Priesthood… And at length they pronounc’d that the Gods had order’d such things. Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.” Blake is not rejecting belief in God, but he is rejecting the institutionalisation of religion by the Church, and the repressive nature of authoritarianism. He also writes that both “Love and Hate are necessary” and that good and evil are both needed; he says: “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” Blake’s views are almost synonymous with those of Milton, and this makes the reader wonder why Blake said Milton was “of the devil’s party”.

Finally, as Milton was a republican, it is possible that Blake was referring to the political views expressed in ‘Paradise Lost’. In Book II, the fallen angels are depicted holding a Parliament in Pandemonium and “spouting republican sentiments” (Caroline Moore), whereas in Heaven, God is the absolute monarch describes as “Heaven’s perpetual King” – nobody even questions his right to rule. Is Milton again choosing Hell over Heaven? And is he, therefore, “of the devil’s party”?

There is, of course, a danger of reading too far into Blake’s words; perhaps, as aforementioned, he was simply praising Milton’s poetic skill. Milton, in the same quotation, says that “Milton was a true poet”. It is also possible that Blake saw himself as “of the devil’s party” since he rejected the repression of the Church; perhaps Blake saw Milton as, like him, an intellectual bastion of individuality and freedom of expression.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Augustinian Theodicy Essays

a.) Explain Augustine’s Theodicy.

St Augustine of Hippo was an early Christian theologian and a North African bishop; he outlined his justification for God (in the face of evil) in his work City of God, and in his theodicy he cites both Genesis 1 and the work of Plato, amongst other things.

Augustine’s theodicy was a response to the Problem of Evil; the Problem of Evil suggests that because we know there is evil in the world, God cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent – this is known as The Inconsistent Triad. The Problem of Evil states that if God was all-powerful he would be able to prevent suffering, and that if God was all-loving he would also want to prevent suffering; clearly, both cannot be true because we know that this world still cultivates and harbours evil. Epicurus (who framed the idea originally) explained the Problem of Evil in this way, and summed up by saying: “Then why call him God?” If he is not omnipotent or omnibenevolent then he is not the God of Classical Theism. J.L. Mackie and David Hume later developed the idea, and indeed David Hume described the Problem of Evil as the ‘Rock of Atheism’ because it is extremely hard to prove sufficiently wrong.

Augustine’s theodicy is based on The Privation of the Good and The Free Will Defence. He insisted that God was not the creator of evil, and that the world was created perfect; he cites Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.” Augustine claimed that God never intended for evil, but that it was caused by Adam and Eve through their wilful disobedience to God. The Fall (when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis 3, abusing their Free Will) is the reason for the unexplainable suffering in the world. The Privation of the Good states that God, who is perfect, created everything ‘ex nihilo’ (from nothing) and in harmony – and it was good. He states that evil only exists where things do not work in harmony with one another, which is caused by a lacking of goodness, and this is what is known as the Privation of the Good (‘privatio boni’); Augustine is adamant that “evil is not a substance” but that it is lack of goodness. This removes any blame from God, as it implies that God himself did not create evil.

The Privation of the Good links closely to what is known as The Aesthetic Defence, originally formulated by the Greek Philosopher Plato, who greatly influenced Augustine. Plato, in his work The Republic, explains his ‘Theory of the Forms’ using the allegory of the cave. Plato was a dualist, believing in both The World of Appearances (our world) and The World of the Forms. In his allegory he explains that what we see in our world are but shadows of the forms; he writes in Socratic dialogue: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.” Plato believed that we have a limited perspective and we see but reflections; Augustine draws from this idea, stating that only God, due to his omniscience, knows what is good and what is evil. He says that we, like the prisoners of the cave, have a limited perspective, and what may seem to us to be evil (e.g. a scorpion’s sting), may actually be good (i.e. for the scorpion to survive). In his Morals of the Manichaeans Augustine writes: “All these things… cannot be called evil: for all such things as far as they exist, must have their existence from the most high God, for as far as they exist they are good.” After converting from a dualist religion (Manichaeism) to Christianity (a monistic religion: “We believe in one God.” – Nicene Creed), it was important for Augustine to recognise that there is only one all-powerful being, and that there is no independent power of evil within creation, as God created everything.

Augustine’s theodicy also refers to the Free Will Defence; again, his views come from the story of The Fall. Augustine claimed that all evil is a result of the moral choices of humanity, rather than coming from God – this, again, removes the blame. Augustine writes: “I thought it better to believe that you had created no evil… rather than to believe that the nature of evil, as I understood it, came from you.” Augustine insisted that suffering only comes from humanity’s abuse of God’s gift of free will (e.g. Adam and Eve eating the fruit); free will is good because it allows us to have the same freedom as God, distinguishes between the good and the bad, and allows us to eventually achieve eudaimonia. Augustine explains that all humans are born with Original Sin (the first turning away from God); Original Sin comes from The Fall, and because we are all seminally present in Adam, we are born with it. It makes human beings inclined towards evil, and, as a punishment, gave us the innate tendency of concupiscence. Augustine thinks, therefore, that even though we have free will, most of humanity have been predestined to go to Hell.

Augustine is keen to emphasize the fact that our wills are free, and that as rational beings we have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. He writes: “A man possesses the happy life when his will, an intermediate good, clings to the changeless good… but when it turns away from the changeless good, common to all, and turns towards the good of its own, or to an external or lower good, then the will sins.” In this way, Augustine’s theodicy is often known as a ‘soul-deciding’ theodicy. This means that, according to Augustine, humans have the choice to turn to God through free will, or indeed to turn away from him. Augustine himself described The Fall as a ‘felix culpa’ (a happy fault) in that it allows humanity to achieve salvation from Jesus, and be reconciled with God. Augustine writes: “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” This quotation is a theodicy in itself: the good that comes from evil outweighs the evil itself (i.e. the good of salvation outweighs the sins of The Fall). Augustine also discussed the free will of the angels; he wrote that the angels who turned away from God (i.e. the lost Archangel Lucifer) cause Natural Evil (i.e. floods and earthquakes) by bringing disharmony into creation. Therefore Augustine’s theodicy explains both Moral Evil and Natural Evil by blaming the abuse of free will. Hence it is called the Free Will Defence.

Overall, Augustine concludes that Free Will, despite causing evil, is a source of greater good. God simply gave humanity the choice to create evil, rather than creating evil himself; he is therefore removed of blame. Augustine has shown that the evil in the world is only a lack of good, and that it was not created by God, but rather caused by The Fall and the abuse of humanity’s (and indeed that of the angels) free will. Evil is simply a possibility of man’s actions.


b.) ‘Augustine’s explanations for evil are not convincing,’ Discuss.

The Augustinian theodicy, presented in his work City of God, does not sufficiently justify God in the face of evil.

John Hick, English philosopher and theologian, argued that God, because of his omniscience (another important characteristic of the Theistic god), would have created the world in the knowledge of The Fall’s inevitability. He would have also known of the future problems with the human race and the faults of Free Will; Hick argues, therefore, that the Theistic God is either not omniscient or is responsible for evil. This, therefore, proves that God is still to blame for evil, and so Augustine’s theodicy is weak.

However, many Theists would argue that Free Will is a gift from God, and that evil is simply a by-product of this gift. Alvin Platinga, an American philosopher, supported this claim by saying that the benefits of free choice outweigh the suffering and evil in the world. Christians would also claim that an act would not be good if there was no such thing as evil; for example, Jesus’ miracles of Mark’s Gospel would not be spectacular if they were every day occurrences.

This poses a problem: if God is omnipotent, why could he not give us free will without any by-product of evil? Although it may seem irrational to the human mind, God, as an omnipotent being, would be able to give humanity free will, but with the result that we always do good; thus, there would be no evil. J.L. Mackie questioned why our autonomy had to cause evil. He wrote: “there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but would always do right.” This therefore proves God not to be omnipotent, and therefore Augustine’s theodicy does not explain evil.

Another obvious flaw in the Augustinian theodicy is its contradictory nature; F.D.E Schleiermacher argued that to say that the world is perfect is logically false. He claimed that because we know that there is evil and suffering in the world, the world cannot be perfect, nor can it have been made perfect, as it states in Genesis 1 (“and he saw that it was good”) and in Augustine’s theodicy. He also argued that God is just as much to blame for creating a Privation of Good than for creating evil. The illogicality of the argument proves Augustine’s theodicy to be weak.

However, Augustine’s Theodicy is particularly strong to Theists not only because it sticks to the scriptures, but because it removes all blame from God. By claiming that evil is not a substance, Augustine was able to support both the creation story and God’s omnibenevolence. Brian Davies supported this, saying that evil is “the gap between what there is and what there ought to be”. The fact that it sticks to the story of Genesis 1 and 2 also makes the theodicy more appealing for theists.

However, every modern scientist would argue against this; one major flaw of the theodicy is that it contradicts the Big Bang, now the accepted explanation for our universe. The Augustinian Theodicy relies on a completely literal interpretation of Genesis; the story of The Fall (with Adam and Eve being the first two humans) also contradicts Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (On the Origin of Species), which proved that Homo sapiens evolved from monkeys. Therefore, Augustine’s explanations for evil are not convincing.

One of the supposed benefits of free will is that it allows God to distinguish between the good and the bad; many philosophers therefore question whether a loving God would send a large number of people (Augustine believed that, because of our innate tendency to sin, the majority of people would go to Hell) to live in suffering, pain and anguish for eternity. This does not resemble the caring, omnibenevolent Theist God – surely God ought to save everyone. This suggests an evil God, and therefore defeats Augustine’s explanations for evil.

However, many Christians would argue that it is up to us to be good; thus Augustine’s theodicy is known as a soul-deciding theodicy. Augustine wrote that we have the choice to turn to God by using our autonomy, and it is our responsibility to do this; he also argues that free will is a chance for reconciliation with God. We are, therefore, responsible for our own fates.

John Calvin argued against this; he said that it is impossible for us to have true autonomy if God is an omniscient being. Psalm 139 tells: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book…” which suggests predestination. He said that God’s omniscience suggests that the future is predestined, and he questioned whether it was possible for humanity to be autonomous and predestined – surely this is contradictory. This claim immediately destroys Augustine’s theodicy because if we do not have free will then God is still to blame for evil, and if we aren’t predestined, then God is not omniscient. This defeats the Classical God of Theism, and therefore Augustine’s theodicy does not adequately explain evil.

Overall, the high number of discrepancies in Augustine’s Theodicy prove it to be fruitless in its explanations for evil; for instance, Augustine doesn’t explain why God did not prevent the angels’ from causing natural evil, nor does he explain the necessity of extreme suffering. The Augustinian Theodicy, therefore, is not an adequate response to the Problem of Evil.

How Important is Setting in 'Wuthering Heights'?

The impassioned happenings of Emily Bronte’s classic novel fittingly take place in the desolate and miserable landscape of the Yorkshire Moors. Emily Bronte’s surroundings clearly had a gravitational effect on her literature; she grew up in the small and somewhat isolated village of Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, and later moved to Haworth, a village surrounded by moorlands far and wide. In fact, she is supposed to have based the locations of her renowned novel on landmarks in the local area; Ponden Hall is reputedly Thrushcross Grange, and Top Withens is alledgedly the setting for Wuthering Heights.

“Fiction depends for its life on place.” American author Eudora Welty said, “Place is the crossroads of circumstance;” Bronte would almost certainly have agreed. The setting for her book Wuthering Heights plays a vital role in the progression of the novel; typical of Gothic literature, the isolation and harshness of the landscape adds to the foreboding and ominous atmosphere prominent in the book. The wild and primitive backdrop to the tale can be not only pitiless  (“I had half a mind to spend it by my study fire, instead of wading through heath and mud to Wuthering Heights”), but it can also act as a sanctuary. Heathcliff and Catherine retreat to the rugged moors to escape Hindley’s cruelty, and in this way the two grow close.

The idea of isolation is vital in a Gothic novel; the second half of Austen’s Northanger Abbey takes place in an old and secluded abbey; Thornfield Hall (of Jane Eyre) is all the more ominous because of its solitude and emptiness – not only does this accentuate Jane’s sense of entrapment, but it also reflects Rochester’s mood upon her arrival; many readers claim that the scariest parts of Frankenstein are those set in the French Alps – the landscape only serves to emphasize Frankenstein’s helplessness. Another example is found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Count Dracula traps Jonathan Harker in his gloomy castle, and he is unable to leave, not only due to his fear of Dracula, but also because of his fear of the wilderness of Transylvania. This is a key theme in all Gothic literature: the sense of isolation and helplessness, and this mood is created not only by the story, but also by the setting. Nelly and Cathy fall victim to this sense of helplessness when Heathcliff, Bronte’s Byronic hero, keeps them captive at Wuthering Heights. Thus, Bronte is clearly making use of the desolate landscape.

Wuthering Heights is a gloomy old farmhouse open to the wrath of the wind, as suggested by its name. The name of the manor is actually “descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed to stormy weather.” It is particularly isolated in that it is on top of a hill and surrounded by moorland; the nearest house, Thrushcross Grange, is four miles away, and the route is so precarious that numerous characters get lost when walking between the two. In fact, it is so isolated that Mr Lockwood exclaims in the novel: “I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society,” and describes Wuthering Heights as the “perfect misanthropist’s home”. The house itself is devoid of anything homely: no “glittering pans”, no roasting on the fire. A number of harsh words are used to describe the house; for instance, the words “narrow”, “strong”, “jutted” and “defended” are all used when referring to the farmhouse, and the front of the house yields “a quantity of grotesque carving”. The house’s gloomy atmosphere makes Cathy’s imprisonment all the more scary. Emily Bronte makes use of Pathetic Fallacy in that we first see the house during a storm (upon Lockwood’s arrival), and so it seems all the more ominous and forbidding.

Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, is luxury; Bronte describes is as “a splendid place carpeted with crimson”, and she puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that Thrushcross Grange, unlike Wuthering Heights, has “light”. This is not simply a reference amount of light in the house, but is a metaphor for the more inviting, more pleasant atmosphere found at the Grange, whereas it is always dark and gloomy at the Heights. The Grange is owned by the wealthier and socially higher Linton family, and indeed at one point Heathcliff and Catherine venture across the moors to spy on the illustrious Lintons.

The contrast between the two residences is obvious in their inhabitants; for example, the wild location of Wuthering Heights seems to promote passion and wildness in its inhabitants, whereas the Grange seems to promote more Orthodox attitudes of genteelness and respectability. For example, after Catherine and Heathcliff are caught spying at the Grange, and Catherine is nursed back to health by the Lintons after a dog bite, she returns a changed girl. She is polite and courteous, and laughs at Heathcliff for his uncleanliness. The fact that numerous people get lost while travelling between the two houses emphasizes their difference; although it is only a distance of a few miles, it is also the difference of two social classes. Heathcliff particularly is keen to break this social barrier, and indeed he marries Isabella Linton in order to inherit the estate.

Numerous authors use this technique, making their setting have an influence on their characters’ behaviours. For instance, in William Golding’s dystopian novel Lord of the Flies, the wild landscape into which the children are planted has a huge impact on their behaviour and their actions. They first arrive on the island as polite and respectable pupils, but grow to become murderous brutes. The island changes them, just as the moors change Catherine.

There is a huge difference between the relationship Catherine has with Heathcliff, and the relationship she has with Edgar Linton of the Grange. With Heathcliff she is passionate and wild, roaming the moors with her mysterious Byronic hero, whereas with the Lintons she is intent on conforming to social norms. She finds a sister and friend in Isabella, something she lacked in her childhood, and finds a sense of security that Heathcliff was unable to offer. Wuthering Heights is considered one of the greatest love stories ever written because it is still relevant today; at Thrushcross Grange Catherine is urged to conform, be a lady, marry for money and give up childhood delights, whereas at Wuthering Heights she can experience true joy and spontaneity. But where will she be truly happy? She tells Nelly that she will marry Edgar not because she loves him, but rather for security, and she insists that she could never marry Heathcliff, who is only a poorly bred gypsy from Liverpool. Wuthering Heights is, as well as being a love story, a tale of freedom versus constraint.

The setting of Wuthering Heights is vital; the Yorkshire Moors lend themselves to the supernatural aspects of a Gothic novel (Catherine’s appearance at Lockwood’s window), they create a sense of horror, act as a sanctuary, and the two houses (the Heights and the Grange) represent the choice that presents many lovers – whether love is more important than stability and money. Bronte herself was clearly very troubled by this question, and indeed marriage was a subject that constantly occupied young girl’s minds in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Her setting allows her to emphasize this contrast, and the wild moors act as a barrier, differentiating the two even more.

The Character of Miss Bates in Jane Austen's "Emma"

Miss Bates, the pitied yet somewhat popular spinster of Austen’s Emma, is undeniably a comic character. Along with Mr Woodhouse and Mrs Elton, Miss Bates provides the reader with a diversion from the more sombre matters of the novel, and is almost certainly intended to be, in part, a figure of fun. Her never-ending garrulous chatter and tendency to be besotted by gossip mark her as one of Austen’s many amusing characters. However, can that be her only function in the “flawless” novel? Austen is certainly not one to waste words, let alone waste characters, and so it is indubitable that Miss Bates was not created simply for comic value, but rather to qualify and accentuate the characteristics of the heroine, and to aid the story in its progression. Like a Shakespearean fool, Miss Bates is intended to not only make the reader laugh, but also to develop the plot.

A character’s speech is often what indicates their intelligence or comic value in an Austen novel. Persuasion’s Anne Elliot and Sense and Sensibility’s Elinor Dashwood both speak in very clear and full sentences, whereas the speech of Miss Bates or Northanger Abbey’s Mrs Allen is much more broken up and imprecise, and this is one of Austen’s famous tricks. For example Miss Bates, after hearing about Mr Elton’s engagement, addresses Mr Knightley in very fragmented sentences:

     “‘…For it is not five minutes since I received Mrs Cole’s note – no, it cannot be more than five – or at least ten – for I had to get my bonnet and spencer on, just ready to come out – I was only gone out to speak to Patty again about the pork – Jane was standing in the passage – were not you, Jane?’”

These broken up phrases suggest that Miss Bates is one of the less intelligent characters of the novel, and this again makes her more of a comic figure. Miss Bates’s garrulity is clearly displayed again in Chapter One of Volume Two, when Emma and Harriet visit Mrs and Miss Bates. Upon Emma’s enquiry about Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates proceeds to talk about her niece for over three pages, giving Emma only the occasional sentence before she continues to ramble on. Furthermore, in Volume Three Austen writes, comically: “Miss Bates was out, which accounted for the previous tranquillity.” The reader is amused by Miss Bates, who is oblivious to the fact that she might be boring people, and whose chatter seems endless. The reader also feels some sympathy for Emma, who loathes visiting Miss Bates, an excursion she sees as a “waste of time”. We, like Emma, feel overwhelmed by Miss Bates, who is dramatized by Austen’s hyperbolic writing, and although we are averse to Emma’s selfish characteristics, we still experience some sympathy for her. All of this is supported by the narrator’s description of Miss Bates as “a great talker upon little matters… full of trivial communications and gossip.”

However, there are a number of telling clues that suggest that Miss Bates is not only a figure of fun. It is rather peculiar that Miss Bates should be invited to almost every social event held in Highbury, the isolated town in which Emma takes place. She is described by the narrator as part of a “second set”, and yet she is constantly invited to Hartfield and other social gatherings, such as the Coles’ party. The reader infers from this that Austen did not have Miss Bates invited simply as a comic character, but rather as a moral compass. The reader also notices that, while Mrs Elton, another comic character, is being constantly criticised by the narrator, Miss Bates escapes this bad treatment. For example, Austen opens Chapter Four of Volume Two with:

     “Nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of.”

Not only does this suggest their bad opinion of Mr Elton for so rapidly finding a wife in Bath, but it also indicates their distaste for Mrs Elton. Through Emma’s own thoughts, which we sympathise with, Mrs Elton is depicted as an insolent and vulgar woman, with few merits other than her wealth. Austen writes: “Emma could have wished Mrs Elton elsewhere.” Miss Bates, on the other hand, is depicted as a lovely woman whose only true downfall is her position in society. Austen tells the reader that she “loved everybody” and that she was “a woman whom no one named without good-will”. Clearly she is described with such a positive approach so that the reader compares her with Emma as a bastion of morality and good-will. In this way, Miss Bates could certainly be labelled a moral compass, as she reveals Emma’s less commendable attitudes. This contrast between the two is particularly clear in Chapter One of Volume Two, when Emma visits Mrs and Miss Bates. While Emma is loathe to make the visit, and sees it as “very disagreeable”, Miss Bates is described as welcoming her guests “most cordially and even gratefully”, and overpowering them “with care and kindness”. Miss Bates’s accolade of virtue paints an even worse picture of Emma. Moreover, Austen’s employment of the word ‘grateful’ serves to accentuate Emma’s ungratefulness for Miss Bates’s kindness. Miss Bates is also a moral compass for Emma in that the two characters are almost polar opposites. For example, Emma Woodhouse is “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home…”, whereas Miss Bates is “neither young, handsome, rich, nor married”, and with “no intellectual superiority”. The Bateses are describes as living in “a very small way”, and this only serves to emphasise their position in the lower class. Where Emma lacks good intention and selflessness, Miss Bates lacks money and intelligence – Austen is not only using Miss Bates’s admirable qualities to point out Emma’s faults, but she is also saying a lot about the society in which she herself lived. Austen encourages the reader to ask the question: would Emma be so loved in Highbury if she herself were of the “second rate”? Would she, like Miss Bates, be invited to all of Highbury’s social gatherings if her wealth and situation were not considered?

One cannot judge Emma’s virtue without discussing the infamous Box Hill outing, as it is the pre-eminent example of Emma’s flaws. Austen writes: “Emma could not resist.” Not only does this suggest Emma’s occasional lack of sense, in that she cannot hold her tongue even when she knows she ought to, but it also tells us about Emma’s true character. Austen’s phrase indicates that Emma would often be tempted to say such things, but that in order to hold Higbury’s respect and good opinion, she kept quiet. It implies that Emma’s seemingly good nature is only a façade, and that it is kept up for social reasons rather than moral one. This idea is supported by Emma’s remorsefulness after the incident. Emma shows no true concern for Miss Bates’s feelings until Mr Knightley shows his; only then does she regret what she said, not on account of upsetting Miss Bates, but because it has lowered Mr Knightley’s opinion of her. Although the narrator (talking in Emma’s voice) writes: “How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates!” she also writes: “How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued!” and this reveals Emma’s true feelings. She has little concern for Miss Bates’s feelings, and is only worried about her own circumstances; in this way, Miss Bates can be seen as a moral compass, revealing Emma’s characteristics as egotistical and self-concerned.

Emma’s harsh words are seen as particularly cruel because they are directed at Miss Bates, who is depicted as one of the most kind-hearted characters in the novel. Mr Knightley, who is said to often express Austen’s feelings, chastises Emma for being so unpleasant to a woman of Miss Bates’s situation:

     “‘Were she a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance… Were she your equal in situation – but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor…’”

Emma’s ridiculing of Miss Bates is depicted as extremely cruel, not only because of Miss Bates’s good nature, but also because it was said so openly. Mr Knightley is particularly angry at Emma for saying it in front of Miss Bates’s niece, and indeed in front of the majority of Highbury, “‘many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided’” by Emma’s treatment of Miss Bates. This emphasises Emma’s lack of compassion and concern for those who are in a worse position than herself.

Mr Knightley is seen as one of the most, if not the most admirable characters of the novel. He is more often than not in the right, and is one of the only characters to ever find fault in the heroine. He is described as “a sensible man”, and Austen writes: “Mr Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them.” Mr Knightley’s high regard and reverence of Miss Bates, and indeed others in her position, not only supports his kind-hearted nature, but it also contrasts him with Emma, who has less concern for Miss Bates. For example, both Mrs Weston and Mr Knightley offer to ferry Miss Bates, Mrs Bates and Miss Fairfax around in their carriages; unsurprisingly, Emma did not offer her assistance. Furthermore, through his caring, protective and sympathetic response to Miss Bates at Box Hill, Emma and Mr Knightley’s characters are even more polarised. This is backed up by the constant theme of Mr Knightley being like an elder brother to Emma, teaching her morals and principles. For example, Emma says to Mr Knightley: “‘I was very often influenced rightly by you… I am very sure you did me good.’” Knightley reminisces about Emma as a child, and this reinforces his role as a moral teacher. His role is so set in stone that Emma finds it impossible to call him anything but ‘Mr Knightley’. Overall, Mr Knightley’s attitudes towards Miss Bates signal Emma’s moral tendencies to be selfish and egotistical; Miss Bates, acting as a moral compass, presents opportunities for Emma to show her character, and thus allows Mr Knightley to set her straight.

Not only does Miss Bates set a shining moral example of courtesy and kindness for Emma to follow, but she also presents numerous opportunities for Emma to be uncaring and selfish, thus revealing her true personality to the reader. In this way, Miss Bates can be seen as the moral compass of Austen’s Emma. It is certainly true that Miss Bates was intended to be a comic figure, and that the reader finds her eternal chattering extremely amusing, but her role as a moral compass is indubitably more significant in the progression of the novel. Without a character like Miss Bates, it is possible that many of Miss Woodhouse’s flaws would be overlooked and forgotten.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Is Emma Woodhouse a Likeable Figure?

Emma Woodhouse is the heroine of Jane Austen’s widely recognised novel Emma. She is a rather isolated twenty year-old girl, described in the first line of the novel as “handsome, clever, and rich”, living in the small and somewhat dull society of Highbury, Surrey.

Emma is undeniably the centre of attention. She is the youngest, the prettiest and arguably (at least compared to the likes of Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse) one of the cleverest characters of the novel. She has, from an early age, been “mistress” of her father’s house, doing “just what she liked”. Austen seems keen to highlight early on that this is one of Emma’s flaws: she has had “rather too much her own way”. She is presented as supercilious by Austen’s placing of her name as the first words in the novel, and indeed it is the only Austen novel to be named after the heroine. On the other hand, Anne Elliot of Persuasion is utterly overlooked, and indeed is one of Austen’s most likeable heroines – her only real fault is her susceptibility to persuasion from characters like Lady Russell. Emma’s egocentricity and arrogance could, perhaps, have been caused by her mother’s death, and possibly by Highbury’s high regard for her opinions. For example, Mr Knightley explains to Emma that everybody in Highbury is “entirely guided” by Emma’s treatment of people. For this reason it is hard to hold Emma entirely accountable. It is the fault of her “indulgent” father and Miss Taylor, her governess, that she had too liberal a reign, and Austen suggests that although Emma is extremely arrogant, she cannot be held liable. Philip Larkin would use this to illustrate his famous and controversial line: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” Emma has had her ego so inflated by her father’s constant praise that Emma even begins to look down on him. In fact, when they are alone together she is described as being in “intellectual solitude”, and although this may be true, to quote Septimus Hodge from Stoppard’s Arcadia: “You must not be cleverer than your elders. It is not polite.” Perhaps what Stoppard meant was that, even if one is cleverer, they ought not to believe it, as Emma does. And so we are confronted with a dilemma – ought we to blame Emma?

In contrast to many of Austen’s other heroines, Emma seems immune to the perils of romantic attraction. Unlike Marianne Dashwood (of Sense and Sensibility), Emma tells herself throughout the novel that she will never marry, and she believes herself to be far above any male suitor. To support this, Emma says that she “must see somebody very superior to any one I have yet seen, to be tempted…” Emma is also unable to understand the relationship between Harriet and Robert Martin, and considers marriage to be only a method of raising one’s own status in society. It is true that we admire Emma’s lack of sensibility, and it is Austen’s method of distancing her from other heroines, who are depicted as simple (or “silly” in Mr Knightley’s words), with love and marriage their only attention. However, this is not always seen as an attribute: Emma is depicted as a girl without a heart, and therefore her motive is rarely one of compassion, but rather one of selfish gain. For example, Emma advises Harriet to reject Robert Martin not on account of Harriet’s opinion of him, but rather of raising herself in situation, and indeed becoming a gentlemen’s wife. She is blind to Harriet’s love, and struggles to comprehend why two people would want to marry for love, rather than for money or to better themselves. Emma believes that love ‘is not her nature’, and the reader can infer that she sees herself as above the petty ideals of love and romance, and for this reason we dislike her. However, the reader discovers later on that this was all a façade of Emma’s complicated character. She eventually marries Mr Knightley, with whom she has been deeply in love, much against her own will. She realises that she has been wrong about her opinions of love, romance and marriage. The reader therefore warms to Emma for changing her mind.

Emma could be described as the apotheosis of sense; she is held in direct contrast to Marianne Dashwood, and arguably, Emma has more sense than Elinor herself, who is one of English literature’s most sensible heroines. Austen describes Emma as “clever”, and indeed Mrs Weston, in a conversation with Mr Knightley, says that “where Emma errs once, she is in the right a hundred times”. And so in Highbury’s eyes, Emma can do no wrong; the reader agrees with this at first, and Emma is seen as an extremely intelligent and rational girl. And yet the reader still questions whether intelligence is an admirable characteristic for a heroine; for example in Mansfield Park Fanny’s adversary is an extremely clever woman, implying that intelligence is not necessarily a virtue.

However, it becomes more clear that Emma is not as sensible as Highbury esteem her to be; Knightley, who is referred to by Austen as a “sensible man”, and has been labelled the ‘voice of reason’ in the novel, is able to see fault in Emma. He constantly chastises her for her behaviour, and Emma’s actions, when closely inspected by Austen through Knightley, seem to have been made less through sense but rather through selfishness. Mr Knightley admits that Emma is a girl of sense, but says that Emma misapplies it with horrific consequences, and indeed Emma is described as “abusing her reason”. For example he believes that Emma’s relationship with Harriet is a “very foolish intimacy”, and that Emma’s irrational, selfish actions will have a devastating effect on Harriet’s life. The reader, although they are able to sympathise with Emma for making mistakes, dislikes her for habitually thinking herself immune to fault.

Furthermore, Emma is often depicted by Austen as a girl who acts without considering the consequences. For example when, at the Box Hill Picnic, Emma crudely insults Miss Bates. Mr Knightley is horrified at Emma at saying such a horrible thing, and reminds her that Miss Bates is a “poor” woman who “has sunk from the comforts she was born to”. Emma, to the reader’s satisfaction, greatly regrets what she said to Miss Bates, and indeed Austen exclaims: “How could she have been so brutal…” Although the reader has a natural aversion from the heroine for her ruthless comment, they still sympathise with Emma: it is clear that she is ashamed of herself, and that she was not thinking when she said it; this is yet another example of when Emma’s ignorance and rashness cause her fault. But then another factor comes into play: it seems that Emma only regrets making her comment because it has deterred Mr Knightley, and this is clearly a selfish reason. She does not care about Miss Bates’ feelings, but more about her own.
Austen may have intended for Emma to be a particularly dislikeable heroine, but I certainly do not think she succeeded. It is very easy to dislike any character in a novel, and indeed the reader feels a certain loathing of Mrs Elton, amongst others, but it is often very hard to be completely averse to the protagonist of a novel. The reader spends so much time exploring the protagonist’s feelings and emotions that very often they take their side. Emma is a very likeable character who, because of her innocent youth and naivety, causes a lot of trouble. But can one really be disliked because they make naïve mistakes? Although Emma is clearly a very intelligent girl, she is still young, and doesn’t necessarily make the right decisions. She rarely thinks about the consequences, and this can be blamed on her selfishness. A significant flaw in Emma’s character is her self-centred approach to almost every situation. She thinks too much about herself and we find that even when Emma is repenting it is for selfish reasons. However, the society of Highbury (bar Mr Knightley) can in part be held accountable for Emma’s egocentric approach – their constant approval feeds her the opinion that she is infallible. This outcome is almost inevitable in an intelligent girl living in a small, insignificant society. And so, the overall opinion of Emma is that she never means to directly cause people harm, but through her inevitably selfish actions, harm is often the outcome. Austen displays this by, rather than naming her novel something along the lines of Arrogance and Greediness, naming the novel Emma, showing her main fault to be her self-obsession, as she is the centre of everything. Nonetheless, despite her selfishness, Emma is still a likeable character.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

How Does Austen Present Emma Woodhouse at the Opening of the Novel?

As with all of Jane Austen’s novels, one can learn a lot about the themes and qualities of the plot (or indeed certain characters) in the first chapter, so it is necessary to pay particular attention to the opening of every novel. Jane Austen opens her highly-celebrated novel, Emma, with the famous sentence: ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence.’. At first glance, Austen is praising Emma for all of her attributes, and it seems that Emma could have no possible reason for discomfort.

However, when examined we immediately see Austen’s real opinion of Emma, and so our own views of Emma’s qualities are strongly influenced. Austen’s emphatic placement of ‘Emma Woodhouse’ as the first two words of her novel immediately suggests to the reader that the heroine is rather self-obsessed and selfish. This is the only Austen novel to start with the name of the protagonist, and indeed her popular novel Pride and Prejudice does not introduce Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine, until Chapter Three. Furthermore Austen’s tricolon (‘handsome, clever, and rich’) tells us a lot about Emma’s personality. She is vain, which we can discern from the emphatic placement of ‘handsome’, and she is also perhaps rather crafty, suggested by Austen’s employment of the word ‘clever’. It is very possible that Austen is being ironic by praising Emma so highly, and maybe Emma’s life isn’t as comfortable as it may appear to be, and Austen hopes to accentuate this.

The second warning light is, undoubtedly, Jane Austen’s use of the telling word ‘seemed’. Austen is immediately questioning Emma’s ‘happy disposition’, and therefore the reader feels that she is not the model heroine that she is described as. We must keep in mind that Austen was writing in a time of typical romantic novels with standard heroines, and that Austen’s writings were, in many ways, satires of these common tales. Despite being described as the typical heroine, perhaps Emma Woodhouse is nothing of the sort. The author is hinting that Emma has some less admirable qualities, and in this way she is qualifying our view of Emma.

The next paragraph highlights and suggests a number of Emma’s flaws. Austen seems intent on emphasizing Emma’s freedom and indulgence, and she achieves this by referring to Mr Woodhouse, a rather silly and trivial character, as ‘indulgent’, and she also says that Emma was ‘mistress of his house’. This implies that she has had all the authority she could want, again leading the reader to the conclusion that she is rather bigheaded. It is clear that Emma has had too liberal a reign, and is spoilt, by Austen’s use of the phrases ‘doing just what she liked’ and also ‘directed chiefly by her own’. Emma is clearly very independent, particularly for somebody who is not yet 21 years old.

Austen’s authorial and omniscient voice overpowers the entirety of the fourth paragraph, and we begin to directly see Austen’s opinion. She begins emphatically by writing ‘The real evils of Emma’s situation…’ and then Emma’s over-indulgence is suggested again by the phrase ‘the power of having rather too much her own way’. This is, in many ways, particularly ironic: Emma’s only problems are that she is over-indulged, rather than, for example, being too poor or particularly ugly. Our opinion of Emma as being self-obsessed is also then supported and backed up by Austen’s phrase ‘a disposition to think a little too well of herself’. This entire paragraph highlights everything that was suggested earlier on, and Austen then goes on to tell us of Emma’s ignorance to her flaws. The fact that ‘the danger’ remains ‘unperceived’ again suggests Emma’s self-obsession: she cannot come to grips or even acknowledge her flaws, which Austen, very obviously to the reader, has endowed her with. This is rather telling, and Austen’s use of the words ‘at present’ suggest that all of this will become rather significant later on in the book. It is also noteworthy simply because on the first page we already know more about the protagonist than she knows about herself. Again, the phrase ‘they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her’ supports Emma’s ignorance and vanity, and presents her as rather care-free.

The next paragraph begins emphatically with the cautioning words ‘Sorrow came’ and these make the reader suddenly feel particularly interested. We then discover that this is Austen speaking from Emma’s point of view – the fact that Miss Taylor has married is, selfishly, seen as a ‘grief’ to Emma, and is a ‘sorrow’. Emma is also described as ‘mournful’, and Austen’s employment of the word ‘lost’ is clearly significant, particularly as the last word of the paragraph: she is presenting Emma as completely egocentric. The marriage of her friend, which should be considered a joyful and happy event, is seen as a loss, and again the reader sees Emma as self-obsessed and greedy. When we read on, we see that Emma is being even more selfish – even though this ‘event had every promise of happiness for her friend’ Emma still feels hard done by and forlorn. Emma is unable to face her life without her governess, and is left in ‘want of Miss Taylor’. Despite appreciating her isolation, we see that she is also unable to be happy for other people, emphasizing her selfishness.

In the next few paragraphs we see a slightly different view of Emma – still arrogant, but perhaps more intelligent, and also particularly isolated. Emma is ‘in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude’. Although presenting Emma as arrogant (as she acknowledges her superior intelligence), we also see Emma as rather intelligent, particularly in contrast with her father, Mr Woodhouse. Two paragraphs on, Austen writes that Highbury ‘afforded her no equals’. This is clearly from Emma’s perspective, and she is thus presented as arrogant once again.

The following paragraphs see the introduction of Mr Knightley, a ‘sensible man’, and this phrase immediately makes the reader respect his opinion. Austen then explains that he is ‘one of the few people who could see faults in Emma’. This implies that, although Emma is highly respected, she has a number of flaws that are only apparent to those of good sense and who regard her objectively, such as Mr Knightley. This is particularly significant because it immediately follows a very trivial conversation between Mr Woodhouse and Emma, showing his triviality and weakness of intellect – he is constantly besotted by petty concerns. This contrast of intelligence is accentuated by Mr Woodhouse’s constant praise of Emma, and his inability to see faults in her – unlike Mr Knightley. Mr Knightley is the only character capable of lowering Emma’s self esteem, and of getting Emma to doubt her assumptions.

To summarise, Austen takes a lot of time to paint a picture of Emma and her qualities, but then uses several devices, such as irony, to undermine the impression that Emma is the perfect heroine. Austen’s use of certain words such as ‘seemed’ or ‘lost’ indirectly suggests a huge amount about Emma’s personality. The reader thinks Emma to be quite a typical heroine: smart, pretty and rich, but also rather self-obsessed, arrogant and perhaps over-indulged. Austen is very intent on exhibiting her protagonist thus in the first few pages of her book.