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Dorian and Constance seem to possess completely opposing morals Paper

Words: 3151, Paragraphs: 11, Pages: 11

Paper type: Essay, Subject: William Blake

Dorian and Constance seem to possess completely opposing morals, values and traits than that of true Englishman and woman. They both do not abide by societal norms that were maintained by the accepted British public during the Victorian era. Fin de si?cle Literature investigated the darkest openings of Victorian culture and the frequently exasperating secretive longings that remained hidden behind satisfactory figures in the community.

The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher are both novels that do not conform to narratives of Englishness as there is a sense of deviancy where the characters do not abide by society’s norms. Lord Henry is obviously depicted as the antithesis of English masculinity as the adverb ‘languidly’ [page 5] is used to describe the way in which he speaks. This denotes the idea that he is very relaxed and conveys himself in an un-enthusiastic manner. Also, it may suggest that he is very lethargic in the way that his body language represents him. An ideal Englishman should be disciplined, charitable, a man who guards his land and defends his empire. It was imperative that the narrative of Englishness was embedded and upheld throughout the Fin de si?cle as the empire; control and power is at stake. During the Battle of Khartoum in 1884, the British general needed supplies and troops, in this way, Queen Victoria sent many men to help so that the realm could strike back. However, Lord Henry seems to be opposing to these morals and values of quintessential Englishness. This is further reinforced by his ‘opium tainted cigarette’ [page 6] as Englishmen are typically seen not to be smoking; smoking is quite French and associated with foreignness. This has connotations of foreignness being applauded to a certain extent but then is also marked as deviant in English society. Additionally, the past participle ‘flung’ [page 16] is used to portray how Lord Henry manoeuvres his body; again, reinforcing the idea that he is completely abolishing the expected behaviour of a true Englishman. His ‘languorous eyes’ [page 20] symbolise the physicality of him being slow within his senses and the laziness associated with his character. It was established that Lord Henry does not posses the traits of an Englishman as he is not on guard as a true Englishman should be in preparation for battle.

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Constructions of gender are reinforced by narratives of Englishness as The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite explicit in terms of British imperialism. In the third chapter, Lord Henry visits his uncle Lord Femor who is described as a ‘rough mannered’ [page 28] old nobleman which implicates the idea that he differs from the qualities of ideal Englishness. It also implies that he is defying the norms of English society in Victorian Britain. Through the expression of Wilde’s critical and literary texts, he puts forward the idea that the English possess a preference for social authenticity chronicling the every-day propensities and habits of the working and middle class. As illustrated when Lord Henry is invited by Dorian to watch and enjoy Sibyl Vane’s performance of Romeo and Juliet. This is when Lord Henry makes the remark, ‘What an hour! It will be like having a meat-tea or reading an English novel’ [page 46]. This implies that English reading is treated and perceived as being a sort of instinctive and mechanical feeding. It is distinguished as a dull and tedious literary diet, comprising both of an unvaried standard of artistic esteem or a monotonous repetitive. This characterises genuine meat-teas and incites a restricted view of significant worth or reality. However, more than establishing a basic decision among life and craftsmanship, these writings additionally present two unique and nationalised models of novelistic portrayal. To be accurate and more unequivocally, the English newspaper is strapped and almost mirroring to the English novel’s structure in Lord Henry’s comment that ‘there is no literary public in England for anything except newspapers, primers, and encyclopedias’ [page 36]. Similar to the novel as a meat-tea, the novel as a newspaper is completely expended in an every-day routine or ritual and it authorises constrained originations of the genuine or characteristic self. Not exclusively does the newspaper envision that Sibyl’s body can be diminished to an objective logical conclusion, but it also suggests that this conclusion may consider Dorian responsible to a model of desire or longing that is both steady and heteronormative; thereby it may embroil him in her death.

In the Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, there is a domestic sanctum where everything was tranquil as it should be at home. As in the 17th Century, the British believed that if the home was right the nation is right and that everything should be idle of domesticity. They believed that if everything was healthy at home; everything would be peaceful and it would have a knock-on effect. However, when Whicher strips away the layers of disguise and deceit, what is revealed is a home that does not conform to any narrative of Englishness. In fact it is the absolute antithesis of that. It says that ‘English family life had changed’ [page 109] which informs us that this case disrupts narratives of Englishness. Furthermore, there is the idea that a women’s domestic sphere is with them being in the ‘home’ [page 109] where they were expected to carry out the household chores, please their husbands by addressing them in a polite manner and taking care of their children. The courts advised men against women being allowed to read freely as they as they could easily be corrupted and infected by literature if they were intrigued with studying the art of it. Therefore, it was the norm for women to be subservient and to make the home their main priority. Constance seems to be ‘considered very timid’ [page 107] which emphasises the fact that she is lacking in the morals and values of how an English woman should be. It also implies that she is deviant and does not follow the chronicle of Englishness as she behaves with confidence and is quite courageous. Constance had a fascination with the Madeline Smith case where a woman from a very respectable middle-class background, was also accused of murder. Although, her true intent may not have imitated what an English woman was anticipated to be like as she was sneakily malicious. Constance had a predilection for, and an ‘unusual interest in lurid crime’ [page 104]. This outlines the idea that the Madeline Smith murder trial was not an appropriate reading for a thirteen-year-old. It further reinforces the betrayal of sex and how such a thing was morally wrong for an English girl to do.

The duplicitous nature of the middle-class in the 1840s is explicitly evident throughout the suspicions of Mr Whicher as in chapter eight it says ‘a murder like this could reveal what had been unfolding within the shuttered middle-class house’ [page 110]. This implies that just like Grovener square, in the picture of Dorian Gray, this fa?ade of propriety had been ripped away. It highlights the fact that the exterior of the home is just a fa?ade and a means of disguise for what is really contained within. As explored by Ann Radcliffe, in The Mysteries of Udolpho where the castles are symbolising this fa?ade or propriety as there is a labyrinth of corridors within, which is full of hostility. Radcliffe’s impression of the conventions is replicated with the city of London as London is a place of menace and hidden violence. Similarly, one’s true intentions are never shown or expressed on the outside unless they have been exposed as discovered by Dr. Jekyll when he turned into the animalistic Mr. Hyde trading classes to do so. Additionally, it reads ‘perhaps privacy was a source of sin’ [page 110] indicating that everything was not as it seemed on the outside and that deep down in all there is a sense of deviancy as well as a suppression of evil habits. This may be symbolic of the treacherous and malevolent mindset Constance owns as similar to this, Dorian lives in Grovener square where everything looks beautiful from the outside, however, on the interior, all is horror and nefarious events that occur with startling regularity. Such behaviour was not expected of someone from the upper class and therefore, Constance opposes the conventions of English femininity.

In Dorian Gray, there is a concealed nature of duplicity present in the city of London. This is due to the division of the West and East End. As Sir Thomas refers to the East End as being ‘a very important problem’ (page 34). Therefore, implying that the East end is a sight of deviancy and a gothic space that has to be managed and contained. It also signifies that perhaps, London is a place that has transformed into a treacherous site and the threat of escapism through drugs is apparent. As discussed by Andrew Smith who writes about the Urban Gothic in his book which remarks upon the Gothic discourse which challenged the dominant ideas of this same period. Furthermore, Oscar Wilde’s demonstration of the ‘evil looking houses’ (chapter 7) in London denotes an extensive disease-ridden nation. This is contradictory to the imagery in William Blake’s hymn ‘Jerusalem’ which epitomises everything that is precious and English. On the other hand, the West is more of a respectable and reputable place. However, Grosvenor square, where Dorian resides is a place that looks extremely pleasing from the exterior but inside it contains horror and criminality. Similarly, the village of Summerscale is divided on the boundary of two counties split down the middle immediately implying that there is an ambiguity on its location already. Roadhill house is located where the upper-class people live as it is a traditional English village and even though the picturesque implies that there is much beauty on the outskirts of it all; it is established that there is this fa?ade of propriety that belies a hidden sinister interior.

The central premise is that in the nineteenth century, the British public were frightened of the intelligence community and therefore, they detested Whicher for his findings. Whicher goes to Constance’s school to get information from her friends which underlines his advanced detective skills, similar to how inspector Bucket does in Bleak House. They both go into public houses to carry out their investigations and gather information where class is not a barrier to them getting to the truth. This is why the British community did not like them as they did not adhere to previous deferential class conventions at all as it is mentioned that ‘the people of England have the greatest objection to anything like a spy system’ [page 263]. This underpins how the public are against Whicher because they thought he was a detective who was reaching beyond his station. It indicates how they would rather believe Constance than him; they could not bring themselves to believe that Constance could be the culprit. They simply cannot process that somebody from the middle class can be capable of such an abomination. This reinforces the idea of deceitfulness as Constance is described of possessing ‘a gift for invisibility’ [page 288]. This compounds her cunning nature and how she only reveals what she wants people to see. It also emphasises her ability to lurk in the shadows as she appears to conceal herself as she wants. Furthermore, Constance wears a ‘veil’ [page 227] highlighting her acts of concealment as she does not want her true self to be revealed. Similar to Christina Rossetti’s Winter: my secret as she wears a ‘heavy black veil’ to stop winter peeking at her. This shows how a form of disguise is being used as a means of suppression so that their true selves are not betrayed. Perhaps it denotes the idea that Constance is deceitful as she conceals when she desires and reveals when she wants people to believe her. This relatively links with Caesare Lombroso’s theory of Physiognomy which is about the study of reading faces and when Constance decides to wear a ‘veil’, realistically, she is using it as a form of disguise, a barrier against her facial expressions conveying her true intentions.

The pervading theme of doubleness is upheld throughout both the novels as presented by Constance and Dorian. Oscar Wilde uses this as a technique to link his characters and ideas. While the theme of doubleness appears in numerous parts of the novel, the most evident and most critical presence of it is the parallel between the fundamental character, Dorian and his self-portrait. This bond among Dorian and his image is critical to the comprehension and understanding of the novel. Dorian and his self-portrait are as it were of one character acting as two. However, Dorian is reminded of his fatal choice of going from ‘Prince Charming’ to being called ‘devil’s bargain’. This highlights the grotesque mess he has made of his life and reinforces the idea of this fa?ade of propriety as he was just living a beautiful lie when in reality he was planted on the evil side. This is comparable to Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The oval portrait’ in 1842 where the model that is being painted becomes paler, smaller and weaker; it is almost as if the person in the painting is sapping the life out of the individual. Similarly, Constance is infected with darkness and deceit as she is portrayed as a two-faced character. Her appearance also gradually deteriorates just like Dorian. She is described to be a ‘very wicked young woman’ [page 242] which indicates that she is of cunning nature and has iniquitous characteristics. Also, in the shapeshifters chapter, Constance is seen to be dressed as a boy which is quite bizarre and infers that there is this idea of doubleness as she does not want people to see her inner and true self; she is simply acting to be someone who she is not. Alternatively, I believe that she does this because she does not conform to the ideals of English femininity and therefore, she is using her disguise as a defense mechanism.

Women in Victorian Britain played a pivotal role in the English society as they were expected to be very feminine in the way that they carried themselves and yet they were the driving force and the model for good within the home and thus within society. In Whicher the second Mrs. Kent worked full time as a tutor and servant before having married her boss. Once she became Mrs. Kent, she employed three young ladies who were in their 20s as full-time hirelings where one was a cook, another was a housemaid and the third was a nursemaid. Furthermore, Mrs. Kent hired a fourteen-year-old young girl to come in and help the nursemaid on a daily basis and a charwoman to deal with the heaviest cleaning. This implies that even in the 19th century, women were expected to manage the home and yet be subservient individuals and these are all expected societal norms that Constance does not conform to. She has total disregard of her English identity and femininity as she does not conform to the codes of behaviour. She does not possess ‘ladylike accomplishments’ because of the way she ‘decapitates’ young Saville’s body. Her malformed way of thinking and irregular actions emphasise that she defies the qualities of English femininity. It is almost as if she is in such defiance of the expected societal behaviours of Englishness that even her appearance begins to deteriorate and does not conform to the ideals. She is described by the British public as ‘dull and heavy’ [page 249] which connotes the idea that this refined middle-class look that she once had has now vanished; almost as if she does not comply in any way. Perhaps, Constance is the antithesis of English femininity as a whole. The gender and working-class economic wellbeing presents her as degenerate, misleading with all out negligence of her English personality. Her appearance opposes the sensitive female picture made by Victorian culture. Constance appears to have the attributes of the ‘New women’ who is depicted by Sally Ledger as ‘Mannish’. This aggravates an adjustment in sexual orientation elements which Constance shows, promoting her introduction as the ‘other’ and practically defiant as this new perfect isolated society.

Through the disruption of expected societal standards Wilde epitomises the Fin De Si?cle as he portrays keeping up an exterior of respectability and similarity would guarantee a decent social standing. From the counterbalance Dorian’s activities are the absolute opposites of English goals. WB Yeats alluded to this period as ‘the tragic generation’ intensifying lost second thoughts which Wilde bit by bit interlaces into the character of Dorian prompting the production of a cutting-edge beast. Besides, Wilde unpretentiously transgresses the traditions of Englishness through Lord Henry’s appearance. His frill of a ‘tasselled ebony cane’ [page 11] enlightens his clothing as a seal of riches and opulence going about as an accidental token yet camouflage to a character loaded with underhanded, deceitful qualities. Victorian culture was incredibly class centric; the high society trusted that they were the authentic and refined residents while the lower classes were uncouth in every sense. Max Nordau’s hypothesis of degeneration finishes up ‘New aesthetic tendencies are symptoms of moral decline.’ Wilde utilises this plan to light up diffraction in the public arena from the romanticised ‘English’. The tale contains multitudinous references to a ‘yellow book’ [page 100] which is Joris-Karl Huysmans’ ‘? Rebours'(1884) This French production was a wealth of motivation and direction to Dorian inspiring indecent activity. The shading ‘yellow’ [page 100] mixes pictures of ailment and contamination lighting up the corruption of English ethics. Amid the Victorian time ‘Outsiders’ were viewed as degenerate and misleading, the significance of maintaining English qualities and continuation of an unadulterated English blood line were viewed as focal. In The Fin de si?cle, Smith contends that this was a period of basic discussion especially the reconfiguration of manliness. The meaning of maleness is of extraordinary significance, there was a dread that maleness had been disintegrated by the beginning of advancement.

Conclusion

In both the novels, everything which epitomises Englishness is not upheld as there is a sense of neglect and defiance as the characters do not comply with the British society’s standards. In the Fin de si?cle, discussion and debate were focal emphasising the significance in enlightening imperfections in the class structure which was the spine of Victorian culture. However, their intentions behind the enormous acts committed by them vary; Constance displays a total debased and insidious separation from her intolerable wrongdoing, though Dorian’s lethal conduct can be advocated as an attack of rage and fierceness. Amid the Victorian period murders were seen as normal as it was such a reoccurring incident yet it was very surprising and convincing that individuals from the upper-class could take part in such an unethical and freak action ascribed just to the lower-common labourers who were synonymous for criminal practices.

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