Writers and artists of the 19th Century were preoccupied with trying to solve the question “what is the purpose of life on earth?” As an inhabitant of the 21st Century how convincing did you find their answers?

William Wordsworth found the meaning of life in Nature. In his poetry, he speaks endlessly of all its beauties, inspiring to nature lovers of today. In contrast, whenever he mention the man-made world, all he can see is misery.

While spending time in nature is always beneficial, whether you are a harried student or a stressed-out worker, there has to be more to life than that. So his ideas on the purpose of life seem somewhat limited.

Charles Dickens was more for confronting the world. Rather than retreating into nature, he sets his novel Hard Times in a heavy industry town, looking at the lives of those affected by the Industrial Revolution. As a former child factory worker; Dickens had a lifelong compassion for the poor and underprivileged.

He saw people in their humanity, not as just facts and figures like Gradgrind does. He sees the purpose of life, for his characters, is when they realize this. His heroine Sissy Jupe, then Mr Sleary and the circus people already do, and teach Gradgrind this.

Now we shall look at that unconventional Victorian Oscar Wilde. He rejected the established mores of his society in plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest, then more so in his private life. Rather than any of the names homosexuals are still called, we shall use his own name for himself, antinomian = ‘A person who denies that moral laws apply to everyone.’ {Penguin Student Dictionary}

Perhaps this is why Victorian society eventually destroyed the flamboyant, witty, unconventional playwright. Wilde still has people questioning morality and the law, even those not flying rainbow flags. He saw the purpose of life more in being yourself, rather than what society wants.

Another writer who had to decide between society’s morals and her personal happiness was Marian Evans (ie George Eliot). Her choice was to be with the man she loved, lifting her skirts for a married man, or have a lonely life and be “still invited to dinner”. This made her antinomian also. Her career as a novelist was one result of this choice.

Not surprisingly her character Silas Marner is also a loner, as a result of his mistreatment before moving to Raveloe. He becomes a miser, loving only his gold. The events in this small town, especially finding his adopted daughter Eppie, bring him out of this state and in touch with humanity and his neighbours.

In this, Eliot’s opinion on the purpose of life is very similar to Dickens’ views. This forms the climax of their novels. So, in their opinion, the purpose of life is discovering your humanity and interacting with your fellow man.

So you can draw close to your neighbours, or you can do things your own way, either way facing the consequences of this choice, but hopefully finding fulfillment. This may make your life meaningful, but either way, it is inevitable that it will end someday.


One thought on “BLOG OF BLOGS

  1. This is an excellent Summative Entry Linda: well done. You cover many of the authors and ideas of the period and write well about their impact on thinking in our own times. Structurally I have a little difficulty finding my way around your ePortfolio, because for some reason when I click on your Nineteenth Century Link at the top of the page it only drops down “Best Creative”- I have to find all the other items (Summative/ Best Critical/ Peer Reviews) manually…

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