From the Door-Step of Modernity to Post-Modern Malaise, Are We Witnessing the End?
“The British are one of the most creative and gifted peoples on earth. But we also know that the British are individualists, who do not respond to state direction and control. We like leadership, yes. But, above all, we like freedom.” -Margaret Thatcher
“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”-William Shakespeare
Decades of tearing down “what it means to be British” in the service of the multi-cultural agenda by the mainstream media, education system, and so-called globalist elites has generally obscured the true meaning of “British-ness,” with publications such as National Geographic, for example, advancing the bald-faced lie that Britannia was the province of Africans who have a greater claim to the land than its real native population does. The reason for this is very simple—to legitimize the replacement of native Britons with alien peoples to serve the “elites” caramel macchiatos, take care of their one probably adopted black baby, and clean their swank apartments on the cheap.
There are many other benefits, too, such as , and their exotic appeal and exquisite cuisine, as well as satisfying the liberal vagaries of what Charles Dickens characterized as in Bleak House; Mrs. Jellyby obsesses over her “Borrioboola-Gha venture” at the expense of her husband and their children (minus the eldest daughter, Caddy, who is essentially impressed into untold hours of answering letters and producing literature about the Borrioboola-Gha and comes to resent her mother and the cause). Mrs. Jellyby wants to settle poor Britons in Africa in order to support themselves as coffee growers alongside and co-mingling with the Africans; that this would badly damage the local economy via worker displacement and consequent large-scale unemployment, not to mention severe culture clash, is of course never considered. In an inversion of the Jellyby Syndrome, today’s mis-guided liberals want to do the exact same thing, but they aim instead to import Africa (and the Middle East) to Britain in much the same fashion, badly damaging the local economy via worker displacement and consequent large-scale unemployment, not to mention severe culture clash. There is something else, too, something very ugly and generally unspoken—the loathing of the “upper class” for the working class and poor. From then to now, class remains an intractable feature of British life. :
Class divisions are a permanent aspect of Englishness, despite the efforts of socialists to produce the classless society. Instead of eliminating the financial and social barriers to upward mobility through social justice and welfare, we have developed…a White British underclass that has the worst prospects of the young compared to any other demographic.
Class stratification has been a feature of life really since the dawn of sedentary societies, but the modern era in Britain saw wide-spread concern among many writers and thinkers for inequalities not only confined to class but gender as well. The immorality of slavery was also agonized over before its ultimate abolishment. Moll Flanders, written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1722, was written at a time of dramatic upheaval and change in England: Class conflicts and a widening gap between rich and poor; international expansion of the Empire and England’s emergence as a colonial power; the incorporation of Scotland and continued consolidation of control over Ireland; and a rise in the importance of the prime minister and parliament. Protestant dissenters and Catholics were largely excluded from public life with the 1673 Test Act. With the brief reign of the last Catholic monarch in British history James II (James VII in Scotland) from 1685 to his deposition in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution, Protestant suzerainty and a central and permanent role for Parliament would be firmly established, but not without continued tensions between Whigs (more liberal anti-king—merchants, dissenters, etc.) and Tories (support king—country clergy and landed gentry).
Moll Flanders is a heavily Christian text. It offers us an “anti-example”: Moll Flanders the character is not someone we would want to imitate—she is a cautionary tale of sorts. Moll Flanders is, according to John Skinner, an amalgam of numerous major authors who preceded Defoe: Burke, Goldsmith, Swift, Hume, etc. Moll is in many ways a proto-modern feminist: emotive and vain, she cycles through multiple husbands (one of whom is her brother) and has no maternal attachment to her children.
Most critics place the modern novel at Samuel Richardson’s 1740 offering, Pamela. The first novel is generally considered to be either Don Quixote (1615) by Miguel de Cervantes or Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), author unknown. Both texts are Spanish. Themes of literature before Richardson’s Pamela generally broke down into: Heroic or anti-heroic narratives of rogues or whores; accounts of travelers, pirates, or pilgrims; scandal chronicles; erotic or pathetic novellas; or novels of pious polemic (mostly saints’ lives).
Pamela and Evelina (1778) by Frances Burney are both novels spawned from an acute anxiety about a woman’s place in the intensely class-conscious England of the 18th century. Both texts present young women who are thrust into the machinations of the aristocracy, albeit for different reasons, and in order to survive must adapt and learn the often difficult rules of that class. Pamela’s and Evelina’s relationships with the aristocracy and society in general, particularly the male portion, were built on an understood code of conduct. This excerpt from a conduct book delineates the widely-accepted gender roles in English society in the 18th century:
You must first lay it down for a Foundation in general, That there is Inequality in the Sexes, and that for the better Oeconomy of the World, the Men, who were to be the Law-givers, had the larger share of Reason bestow’d upon them; by which means your Sex is the better prepar’d for the Compliance that is necessary for the better performance of those Duties which seem to be most properly assign’d to it.
By using what is effectively an outsider’s perspective (Evelina’s true origins notwithstanding), the two novelists are able to take a critical stance and explore the role of women in their society. The novels deal with an interesting phenomenon revolving around the gender of their protagonists: the fact that these characters are women is both their greatest asset and their greatest liability in the rigid social constructs of 18th century England.
As with any work that has an element of social criticism, there must be an inferred common ground from which to bridge the gap between said criticism and the reader’s expectations. Writing in 1945, Lord David Cecil said,
“By nature, women are observers of those minutiae of manners in which the subtler social distinctions reveal themselves.”
The readers’ expectations would have been of a woman who would be sensitive to potentially complex societal expectations, and thus Evelina and Pamela would be acceptable protagonists to 18th century readers. Through use of a stereotype, both authors could transform it to serve their purposes while at the same time keeping an element of what the readership would have recognized as realism. In so doing, despite the fact that the works may be fictitious, they remain grounded in what readers would have recognized as the real world as they recognized it. From there, an exploration of the role of what it means to be a woman could be achieved. As Susan Staves writes,
“[The critic] Hazlitt was undoubtedly right to feel that contemporary women were likely to be sensitive to social decorum because of the restraints on their own behavior, and right to say that the difficulties in which Fanny Burney involves her heroines are ‘Female Difficulties.’”
Pamela is a servant girl, and though any servant would have been at the mercy of their master during this time period, there was an added dimension to this with the female servants because in some instances they were also subjected to the sexual wiles of their masters. When Pamela passes into the service of Mr. B, it is immediately clear that he has designs on knowing her carnally. He goes through a tremendous amount of effort to attempt to “know” Pamela, both sexually and mentally, through her letters. Likewise, Evelina finds herself wholly at the mercy of her surroundings, subjected to myriad means of both control and exploitation stemming from in part her femininity, but perhaps most overtly her position in the social order. Staves writes:
We may notice immediately that Evelina's anxiety is partly provoked by physical violence and threats of violence… she is trapped alone with Sir Clement Willoughby in his coach. She tries to withdraw her hand from him, ‘but in vain, for he actually grasped it between both his, without any regard to my resistance’ (p. 86)… Sir Clement pursues Evelina throughout the novel, seizing her another time in Mrs. Beaumont's garden until she is released by Lord Orville. Shortly thereafter he tears the forged letter out of her hand, ripping it into ‘a thousand pieces’ and catching hold of her gown to prevent her escape.
Physical threats and violence against Evelina are just the manifestations of society’s expectations on her. Author Fanny Burney’s use of these scenes is to underscore in blatant fashion the stranglehold that society held on its women. Compounding this is the fact that Evelina is seemingly (until later in the novel) an interloper in the aristocracy, something quite unnatural in what was effectively a caste system. Class-consciousness is incredibly important in both works, and out of this consciousness the readers would see the expectations also placed on the female protagonists. For Staves:
It must be acknowledged that Richardson's heroines suffer at least as much physical violence as Evelina does. In Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison alike there is much pushing and shoving back and forth between the heroines and the men who would seduce them: Pamela and Clarissa are virtually imprisoned, Clarissa is raped, and Harriet Byron is abducted.
When Mr. B desires to read Pamela’s letters, he wants to invade her private space and essentially rob her of the only voice that she has. Likewise, his desire to consummate a sexual relationship is an assertion of his dominance, and if Pamela were to be impregnated he could easily disown her and turn her loose into abject poverty. Seemingly, he holds exclusive power over her fate. Yet conversely, this is not exactly so. Despite the fact that Pamela is essentially at the mercy of Mr. B in no small part because of her gender, it is also a significant bargaining chip in regards to power relations. Mr. B is forced to feminize himself in an attempt to have sexual intercourse with Pamela, and yet here he fails. He is constantly lowering himself and she is seeing herself rise, until they meet in the middle, and she may even surpass him. Her power over him is her sexuality, and it is a dual-edged sword.
This combustibility of sexuality and gender is a thread that weaves its way through both texts. For every example, there is a counter-example of the ways in which society had designs on keeping women subordinate, particularly in regards to their sexuality. Judith Newton writes:
But being on display, which is necessary to secure a husband and to fulfill one's destiny, is only pleasant when one is regarded as fascinating treasure. Unfortunately, the logic of a woman's situation, a logic which Burney intuitively grasps, dictates that she may also be regarded as overstocked merchandise or, worse, as prey. One critic, at least, has noticed that “London was then a scene of predatory enterprise upon women of all classes,” and indeed the most striking aspect of Evelina's experience is that it is essentially the experience of assault.
The texts reveal this seeming paradox by showing their sexuality as a sort of commodity. If we are to think about female sexuality in this respect, it becomes something that can be traded and bargained with or for, and, just as in any economy, exploitation and equalization both occur from possession of certain goods. We can view the eventual marriage of Mr. B and Pamela Andrews as equalization, an eventual victory on the part of the female by forcing a level playing field by use of her feminine qualities. Adding to this is the fact that not only is Pamela’s voice written by a man, but her voice is the only representation of the actions of the novel that we have. As the critic Margaret Doody says, “The effect of the novel depends upon Pamela.”
Indeed, though it may seem that Pamela is beholden to Mr. B and the expectations of her in 18th century society, in the end the fact that she is a woman, even if her origins were quite poor, results in her rise in status to the aristocracy. If we were to consider Pamela to be an instructive text, then Pamela’s embodiment and use of her gender are great examples for how to behave as a woman in the 18th century without succumbing to the exploitative nature of a rigidly class-based society. Quoting Doody:
But Pamela too has a (feminine) power of analysis, and she writes down what she thinks, learning more about [Mr. B] as she goes on. She captures Mr. B in words, even more thoroughly than he captures her in his Lincolnshire house—this is a shock to him, as if a specimen of rock should turn and analyse the geologist.
That Mr. B is so surprised at this power that Pamela has over him is indicative of his reductive view of women; the notion that they could wield any sort of power, especially a servant over a master, was absurd. Yet here in plain text we see Pamela using her gender and sexuality to gain not only equality, but power over Mr. B. The “women without agency” trope of modern feminism, as though empowerment only arrived with bra-burning, once again reflects the historical and intellectual ignorance of a navel-gazing age in thrall to its own rickety ideology. There is to be sure a critique for the excessively-rigid expectations for women in this era, but surely the solution is not to detonate tradition. Moll Flanders serves as a cautionary tale in this regard.
In the world of Evelina, approximately forty years after Pamela, not too much seems to have changed in regards to societal expectations, but once again a modern feminist’s views of these seemingly exploitative relationships is built on sand. There is an undermining factor where though Evelina’s gender might seem to put her at a disadvantage in regards to the ways in which she will be treated and viewed by society, the paradox is that she inverts the supposed exploitation to eventually equalize relations. If we are to view marriage as an equalizer then the protagonists have achieved the level playing field, though the ways in which the marriages occurred were quite different.
In Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), there are interesting ramifications in regards to the Marchioness; if she is indeed “royalty,” what is Nell? The Marchioness is the illegitimate spawn of Sally Brass and Quilp; her parentage is obscured in the final draft, but still alluded to, so if Dickens felt that this would diminish the Marchioness’ impact and put the focus on Nell he was wrong, for although it seems many people were emotionally overcome with Nell’s death, we do have that ultimate salvation of the Marchioness, who is not a 2-D emblem of innocence; we have references to her cunning, in particular…this is not a trait that Victorians would have associated with someone possessing high virtue. Indeed, men like Fagin and Quilp are cunning. There is the irony of Quilp’s death at the hands of his own progeny. In The Old Curiosity Shop, we still have the Horacian satire of earlier Dickens, but some darker elements are introduced and will be continued in Bleak House (1853) to an even greater extent.
What is Dickens trying to say in regards to the Marchioness’ cunning versus that of Fagin, for example? If as some critics have alleged there are anti-Semitic undertones of a characterization as cunning, why then do we have a girl whose primary skill is said to be cunning as the true object of salvation in the text? Nell dies and seems to grow weaker as the Marchioness becomes fuller. The vampirism of the Marchioness seems to suggest unease with the corrupting influence of the imposter. These concerns are echoed in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897); Dracula, an archetype of the Wandering Jew, invades Britain, bringing soil from the dark hinterlands in a literal invasion of the nation, buying up real estate and “colonizing” with the soil-filled coffins in the basements of these properties, as well as targeting young British women and penetrating them, defiling them and sucking the lifeblood from their veins.
Douglas Murray has pointed out that the on-going un-willingness to confront the grooming gangs in modern Britain is no small part because it is almost exactly a stereotypical enactment of the deep-seated fears of the Other explored in Dracula and other texts. Simply because we have of late been sheltered from barbarism from abroad does not, however, mean that it ceased to exist. In our present state of ennui and we simply stopped being vigilant. We developed cultural amnesia liberally imbibed the platitudes of One World-ism. That the victims of the grooming gangs are the British equivalent of “white trash” explains their disposability in the eyes of the new aristocracy. They are collateral damage in the service of “diversity.”
Dickens projected fears of living beyond financial means through the grandfather in The Old Curiosity Shop; he also begins to probe the dark depths of addiction. Bleak House is an even further extension of the novelistic impulses of Dickens—here we are going to see him giving free reign to his Horacian attacks on institutions, but they are going to shift from that gentle satire into much darker territory. The name even suggests that you are going to enter an infinitely less cheerful universe than you’ve been inhabiting; indeed this is an extension of The Old Curiosity Shop, where yes, we have the Marchioness escaping to a better life, ultimately reforming much of her behavior and regaining an innocence as such, in fact gaining an identity and a life, which she in turn empowers Swiveller with, but we have the death of a child and a betrayal.
Regarding the Jarndyce case in Bleak House: jaundice is “–noun
a state of feeling in which views are prejudiced or judgment is distorted, as by envy or resentment.
–verb (used with object)
- to distort or prejudice, as by envy or resentment: His social position jaundiced his view of things.
I find the choice of this word in description of the case to be extremely telling for many reasons, not least of which is the foreshadowing of Dickens’s decision to go on an all-out attack on institutions whereas before he always seemed to either choose the Horacian satire or to be conflicted as to where he truly stood (such as organized religion). His jaundiced view of the British judicial system colors the ways in which this text will function. At the seat of all of the bad weather right in chapter one sits the High Court of Chancery. Jaundice is a condition and Dickens is saying that the judicial system in England is sickly, yellowy, choked with those “bile pigments”—we see bile a lot in Dickens…England seems to be wallowing in it in Bleak House. Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce is the system cannibalizing itself, wrapped up in matters that are barely comprehensible to anyone, and the person with the most information about the case can’t put the pieces together—he’s also probably insane and named Krook. Bleak House is rife with the sickly imagery, a society choking on bile, rotting from the inside, contracted…is there a cure?
Chaos and darkness—a shroud over London; unclear, difficult to see, the fog as an allegory both for the case and for the seemingly convoluted nature of the plot, but we know this is Dickens’s most deliberate work to date as he finds himself as a novelist—rain at Chesney Wold, London is death, urban environments are suffocating. The countryside is pastoral in his other works, but in this one we see the dark side of the country as well. Bleak House itself is possibly home to a ghost and is the scene of a tragic suicide. In this industrial England there is the suffocating fog of London, grime, death, poverty, corruption, sickness and illness, mud, smoke, filth, offal, detritus. The system is flawed, spewing bile and muck, London as an allegory for the whole of the English judiciary. Such a critique is as relevant today as ever.
After its first attempted suicide in the form of the Great War, the whole of Europe was reeling, and Britain was not excepted. D.H. Lawrence’s St. Mawr (1925) bears all of the stylistic hall-marks of modernism and it bears the scars of modernity, too. In this look at post-war Britain (“even on this country-side the dead hand of war lay like a corpse decomposing”), as stated by the introduction to the work, this was Lawrence’s “account of the modern world of death.” One of the most prevalent themes in the text, as the introduction goes on to say, are “images of a primeval and somehow still accessible life.” St. Mawr is, of course, a symbol of the raw, animalistic urges that exist in man, and is representative of the Moderns’ desire to dig into the primal, basic urges of humanity.
There are countless examples in the text where the characters, particularly Lou and to a lesser extent her mother, muse on the docility of man and how these animalistic urges seem to have been cultivated away. The only overt mentions of sexuality (besides the lack of it between Lou and Rico) deal with the horse, St. Mawr, in both his mystique and physical power and force, grounded in observations about his body; there almost seems to be an undercurrent of bestiality in the text. This of course explains Lou’s fascination with the sheer power and unmistakable wildness of St. Mawr, who is by the same token “high born.” He is, perhaps, a symbol of nobility of days now gone, raw and brutal but with a certain dignity and “blue blood” coursing through his veins.
Mrs. Witt and Lou address what they believe to be the feminization of the English men; when Flora says, “I think this is the best age there ever was for a girl to have a good time in,” there is an awareness of the characters of existing in a new, distinct age, one in which the strictures of tradition had been obliterated. For Flora and what have become known as “flappers,” this meant freedom to carouse and consort; more broadly, it meant the death of the old order. After Flora states, “These days are the best ever, especially for girls…And anyhow, they're our own days, so I don't jolly well see the use in crying them down," she references H.G. Wells’s The Outline of History as evidence that women had, until the present era, always been stuck under the thumb of old, boring men. The push and pull between modern civilization and humans’ id-based desires are played out in the psyches of many of the major characters (Rico with his anger, Lou with her existential musings on the animal in man, Mrs. Witt on looking for a Pan that has not fallen in a man, harkening back millennia in the process). Flora is entirely given to the excesses of the day, exulting in this new-found “freedom.”
What speaks volumes, however, is the poignant image of Lou on the Devil’s Chair, when she wishes aloud that she were dead:
“All these millions of ancestors have used up all the life. We’re not really alive, in the sense that they were alive.”