“At the back of the shop I had a permanent exhibition of older prints, for the window always reflected the news of the time, and it seemed to me that the drawings had value even if the events they described had passed. Thus, behind a curtain in the rear, I had old Hogarths, Gillrays, Bunburys and other artists, and I charged a penny for admission to view. I filled the walls with humorous prints, floor to ceiling, like a parody of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and I often heard guffaws from behind the curtain.”
In Death and Mr. Pickwick, there are several remarks of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. One is from an autobiographical note by an “anonymous” print-shop proprietor/ress as quoted above. Interestingly, he/she also describes the fashionable beaus at the print-shop window performing mischievous stuff in the book. Contrasted with a penny per admission to the rear of the print-shop, visitors were obliged to well pay out catalogue of one shilling each as admission price to the Royal Exhibition, as mentioned in Life in London, narrated by Pierce Egan and illustrated by Cruikshanks. The catalogue of the first exhibition being held on 21st April, 1760 (before the founding of Royal Academy of Arts in 1768) was sixpence each but only for the interested party concerned if they wanted to cough up the money voluntarily. The annual exhibition of the Royal Academy was held initially at Pall Mall, then located its residence to Somerset House in 1780 and Burlington House in the late 1860s till today for visitors to cast casual glances on others’ talent or observe pictures at close quarters.
With respect to the founding of the Royal Academy of Arts, apart from George III as the significant contributor, I am always fascinated in the history of the Foundling Hospital, and found that the charitable entity, which operated in 1740, was not in the least oblivious in its significance as well as its governor, William Hogarth, the marvelous painter, who presented the portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (the sole parent of the Hospital) and his other drawings at this philanthropic institution. It was indeed a win-win situation for both the hundreds of patron artists and the Hospital in achieving a boost of fame and reputation, because as being the first proper art exhibition open to the public, it always gravitated a big number of spectators as a fashionable stamping ground.
I put some pictures depicting the royal art exhibition.They say much better as to the vast popularity of the event than I can express in words.
A year ago, we were introduced to an educated rogue named Thomas Hawkins from The Devil in the Marshalsea. Despite being born into a parsonage in Suffolk and graduated from Oxford majoring in theology, Thomas Hawkins was reckless in action, indulged himself in debauchery and accumulated insurmountable debts among the London filth. The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins is yet again another adventurous novel centering the voyage of the eponymous protagonist after his liberation from the excruciating Marshalsea Prison. Bearing in mind, readers who had read the previous episode would be constantly reminded of a letter written by mystified Samuel Fleet (Thomas’s inmate in the Marshalsea (Belle Isle in the Hell of Epitome) on how eccentric in character and miraculous Thomas Hawkins is surviving in the Georgian London while devouring the juicy content of the sequel –
“Given that he is not a Lunatick (so far as I can tell), here follows my Conclusions, after Three Days of Close Study:
(i) He is a man of Instinct more than Reason;
(ii) He is drawn to trouble;
(iii) He believes – at heart – that God will Protect him.
An Unfortunate Recipe for Disaster…A man of true Faith in this City is like a Naked Man running into Battle, believing himself fully Armed. Diverting and alarming in Equal measure.”
The Peculiar Smell of London…
Through the ramblings of Thomas Hawkins, we are led through every street and location dwelt by the depraved and privileged in the 1828 London. It is a city saturated with corruption and wilful misconducts; some of which include printshops and molly-houses along Russell Street and Fleet Street; St Giles for the luscious strumpets and mutilating snakesmen, not without mentioning the dangerous cockpits full of women warriors and bawdy audience (on a side-note, Antonia Hodgson has written an article on Cock-fighting and Animal Cruelty of the 18th century in relation to her latest novel). To strike a balance between the daunting walks of life, we also get to visit St James’s Palace where George II, seductive Henrietta Howard, Queen Caroline and other royal courtiers reside in, and overhear plans made by John Gonson as the Chairman of the Society for the Reformation of Manners (flourishing during the 1820s-1830s). However, at the end of the day, it is the unreliable good and bad, rags and riches all converge together to pull off an unmistakably brilliant theatrical performance with each of its own darkest secrets.
Crime, Confession, Repentance, Death, Salvation…
Rewse had allowed dozens of curious souls to tramp past my cell. They’d peered in through the grate, eager to see the gentleman as beast, trapped in his cage. They gossiped about me as if I could not hear or understand them. If I turned away it must be out of shame. If I held their gaze, they swore they saw the devil in my eyes. If I covered my face, or paced about the cell, or stared gloomily at the cold stone floor, then I must be in despair at my guilt, and the wretched state of my soul. Not one of them thought I looked innocent.
Apart from running into twists and turns and observing the voyeuristic lives of the rakes and riches, we peek into the interior of the Newgate Prison and the fatal route to the Tyburn Tree. As the title suggests, the Confession does have a lot to say about what Thomas Hawkins has embroiled himself into: a Crime. The Newgate prisoners who are to be executed would compose confessions or hire a ghost writer based on lucrative purposes of decent burials as well as averting the fates to be met in the hands of the anatomists. On a humorous note, through the origins from a respectable family, Tom gets an offer from Daniel Defoe, whom also believes Tom’s innocence, to write about a picaresque story about him (Daniel Defoe is a member of the Society for the Reformation of Manners) that is as colourful as Jack Sheppard’s.
Crocheting a fictitious story out of real names and locations, there are quite a lot of historical backgrounds I have learned in relation to that era. Mischievously I need to be thankful to the animated bed scenes existing throughout the Novel because it is an interesting way of probing into the Georgian costumes for both men and women. For example, in the case of women, I cotton on the notions of the garments like stomacher, back, front, and outside petticoats, as well as fichu and mantua gowns etc. Here is the link which shows you how to dress in the 18th century way!
Overall, The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins is a plot-driven story that continues seamlessly from The Devil in the Marshalsea, which satisfies my curiosity in historical knowledge as well as entertainment. On a thematic note, both also have brought out an issue concerning questions of exterior religious devotion against inner morality. My next move would be to read some picaresque novels by Henry Fielding and Daniel Defoe.
“Women are every where in this deplorable state; for, in order to preserve their innocence, as ignorance is courteously termed, truth is hidden from them, and they are made to assume an artificial character before their faculties have acquired any strength. Taught from their infancy, that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. Men have various employments and pursuits which engage their attention, and give a character to the opening mind; but women, confined to one, and having their thoughts constantly directed to the most insignificant part of themselves, seldom extend their views beyond the triumph of the hour. But was their understanding once emancipated from the slavery to which the pride and sensuality of man and their short sighted desire, like that of dominion in tyrants, of present sway, has subjected them, we should probably read of their weaknesses with surprise.” (Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797)
I am awakened by the rich details and vast spectrum of topics covered in Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis– a robust catapult of knowledge enrichment. During the reading, I had come across an interesting conversation between Joseph Severn and Robert Seymour at the gates of Hoxton House, discussing passion for portraitures and anecdotes of Mrs. Siddons, a famous Georgian tragedian. After a while, the name of “Anne Siggs” came alive on the paper,
But when I am in the drawing office at Vaughan’s, every morning there is a tall, ugly beggar-woman on crutches who passes by in the street. You always hear her, scraping the ground and calling for alms, and if you look out the window, there she is. Everyone in the area knows her – she is called Anne Siggs. But she has two unusual qualities. First, she is spotlessly clean, which is mystifying. Second, she tells everyone her sister is Mrs. Siddons, and that the actress refuses to acknowledge her own flesh and blood.
This unusual attributes seemed to be all the more intriguing; I wanted to gain more information on this eccentric but scrupulous beggar. She was mentioned in many sources, including The Streets of London: Anecdotes of Their More Celebrated Residents; and Vagabondiana, or Anecdotes of Mendicant Wanderers through the Streets of London, both by John Thomas Smith (1766–1833), an English painter, engraver and antiquarian (inspiration of Henry Mayhew’s later works).
Anne Siggs was born in May (year unknown) into a respectable family, whose father Moses Siggs was an industrious breeches-maker in Dorking, Surrey. However, an accident befallen on him resulting in deformity and early death. Anne Siggs was the second eldest. Moses’s expertise in astrology once portended his daughter would constantly encounter “a variety of wretchedness”. Death of Moses Siggs left the family in destitution; Anne was received into several families until she was around 20 years of age. She resided in various areas in London, by Swallow Street for thirty years; Upper John Street and Golden Square around the Piccadilly. Rheumatism begrudged her to get up at nine and wandered around till two. In her life she had been “knocked down, pinched, horsewhipped” and incurred all sorts of maltreatment, which enfeebled her senses and ended up using crutches. Unable to be a seamstress and striped off her personalty, Anne received life allowances from churchwarden due to her religious devotion (she was purported to have written few religious writing in life). Before her indisposition she was measured five feet seven, as tall as her father. Living at the back garret, not only her clothes but apartment was remarkably clean. Anne Siggs was often visited by doves and magpies at home, and kept an owl by herself.
Mrs. Salmon Waxwork had exhibited a wax figure of Anne Siggs in 1812 on 17 Fleet Street (Prince Henry’s Room) at the door entrance in alternated turns, but not as popular as Mother Shipton, that the hidden treadle at the step would all in a sudden “incensed” Mother Shipton to kick and snap patrons with her broom!
It might seem preposterous to include the criticism by Graham’s Lady’s Magazine (1848) here, nonetheless interesting to get it emblazoned into the heart of readers’ as the prelude in reading Wuthering Heights – it is often interpreted as a maddening and depressing novel it can get. “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery.” Wuthering Heights, the first and also the last novelby Emily Brontë, published a year before her death of consumption at the age of 30, is categorized as Gothic literature branched off from Romanticism. It is typical to possess a satanic hero lurking around with his fatally fallible character, contriving schemes and darkness materials that expose retributions of deep treachery and violence. It is complete with an ancestral home, high moorland landscape and climatic wilderness as the atmospheric backdrop; the story streams, whispers, and howls along with gale, rain, frost, hail and snow – this is a work in want of emulation! Another suffocating and tantalizing element must be the intricate plots and characters – the names and conflict between two families (though not so tough like vendetta), could be as convoluted as Armadale by Wilkie Collins (calling a bingo with four Allan Armadales in a row!)
The most enthralling and unsettling element of Wuthering Heights, to me, is the limitless undying love, however well-intentioned and tormenting (Linton), maddening (Catherine), and vengeful or distorted (Heathcliff) it might be, it is beautiful, irrational, unwrought as well as passionate and descriptive. As a Gothic romance, never have I come across a novel which dissects love on so many levels to make it so rich, so transcendent and immortal that “time” in which is not potent but to be consisting of garden-like facades and properties. One aspect of love touches the notions of Dreams – to Nelly Dean, one of the main narrators of the story, she says that superstitions of dreams often are adhered to dreadful presentiments of fearful catastrophe – but the lingering dream that Catherine Earnshaw conveys could be the concept of her past life, not only be seen as a premonition. Her transformation from vexation to saddening revelation of confession of love conjures up a profound feeling to readers,
“The heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth, and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights.”
From interpretation of dreams, Catherine then dwells into the destined and doomed love reminiscent of Dream of the Red Chamber by CAO Xueqin (Chinese author of the 18th century) – the unity and mutual existence of mankind which stretches beyond you. Although love surrounded by the mortal life of trivialities makes it finite, wandering and tormenting, it is complementary to demonstrate love on a more tangible aspect.
“What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world would have been Heathcliff’s miseries and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”
This love, however, contributes to indisposition and sickness in Catherine and later on ends up with hallucination and illusion. She perceives of Ellen Dean as a witch who tries to separate herself from Heathcliff. On the other hand, death of Catherine embitters Heathcliff’s mind, longing to witness her apparition beyond the grave with his vehemence and paroxysm. “And I pray one prayer – I repeat it till my tongue stiffens – Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!” Near to the end of the story, love and suffering mingles with supernatural notions of “ghoul” and “vampire” with past life, birth, illness, death stretching beyond the grave. Love is dissected and hurled with the hardship of pain, anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction.
Linton Heathcliff – self-absorbed moroseness of a confined invalid – “I felt disgusted at the little wretch’s composure, since he was no longer in terror for himself. The anguish he had exhibited on the moor subsided as soon as ever he entered Wuthering Heights; so I guessed he had been menaced with an awful visitation of wrath if he failed in decoying us there; and, that accomplished, he had no further immediate fears.”
On the other hand, although all characters might be unlikable on an equal footing, readers have the empathy and connection to be sympathetic towards them. They are misers and weaklings on the inside, just like Heathcliff that perceives of Hareton, “I can sympathise with all his feelings, having felt them myself”. Each character is miserable in its self-degradation and over-indulgence, more or less attributable to the notion of carefulness and kindness confined only for themselves. They dispense with “extra-animal” qualities of human virtue by the harmful influences of upbringing, as we can see, maternal and paternal love is not infiltrating in the abode of Wuthering Heights. With this result the house is invaded with a stultifying aura and a sense of “Hell in Epitome” seasoned with Hindley the profligate and alcoholic, sanctimonious Joseph, revengeful Heathcliff, brutish Hareton, and self-piteous Linton Heathcliff. However, I find Catherine Earnshaw and the young Cathy are exceptions of being embroiled themselves with an over-indulgence of selflessness of their own accord, not haughtiness, which somewhat lead to their own destruction, though I’m not sure about that. It is also the antithesis between duty-humanity and pity-charity, in which the elements also echo that of the Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë profusely.
“The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them. You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style, and refrain from insult as much as you are able.”
In Heathcliff’s case, his uncontrollable paroxysms of passion of love and insults which consumed with himself towards Catherine lead to his vengeful actions filled with tyrannical attributes and wild wickedness. Apart from substitution to the loss of love, his revenge is also product of his persisting emotions and best representation regarding extremity of survival under the roof of Wuthering Heights, as an aloof outsider, which wrought such cruel madness in him. Through this revenge, we also delve into the reality of the disadvantaged and injustice during the time (1771 – 1803), for instance, slave trade, cruelty to animals, servants’ roles, inferiority of women’s status it implies in relation to confinement, and estate tail, which are all evidently taken for granted of the time before the implementation of Married Women’s Property Act.
“Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.” – Samuel Johnson
All in all, there are so many ideas and notions conjectured from Wuthering Heights. It is a powerful and thought-provoking novel, which entails religious, psychological and philosophical references with a close look of human nature – it also links to the Universe, Nature, and mortal pursuits in life. The stubbornness in mankind will eventually culminate in a notion of void and emptiness, which is somehow formulaic and lead to the route of realization and enlightenment. It is the unity of emotions with nature. Wuthering Heights is also about the self-discovery and spiritual struggles found in one and each of the characters. It is a delicate examination of love as realistic and serious as earth, purgatory and hell but also descriptive, sepulchral, ethereal, emotional and irrational, found in mortal ground (Hareton and Cathy) and eternity (Heathcliff and Catherine). Volume 2, Chapter 19 is phenomenal in rounding up the theme, so fantastical! To get you into the brooding mood, you can also read some poems by Emily Brontë.
By the way I can’t overlook a reviewer who says Wuthering Heights creates readers and the second half of the novel mirrors the first part of the story. Nicely told!