A Student Response to ENGL 353

I never thought I would have learned so much more than literature of the Victorian era in this semester’s Later Victorian Period English block. I could relate personally to many of the themes we have discussed in class such as the ache of modernism, the notion of Victorian aestheticism, and the corruption of youth through influence. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a good example of the ache of modernism because Hardy not only explicitly uses this term throughout the novel, but also reflects the meaning of the term in several encounters. One such encounter is when the steam thresher is described and seemingly dominates over the landscape. The Picture of Dorian Gray represents the later Victorian notions of aestheticism and as such, depicts the disjunction between visual and spiritual character.  Fitting hand in hand with aestheticism, Dorian Gray also has a strong representation of the power of influence on youth. When I contrasted some of these scenarios with my own life, I came to the realization that these same issues and dilemmas that the Victorian’s experienced are present today as well.

To start off on a somewhat comic note, my own experience of the ache of modernism was during a visit to McDonalds. Normally I use the drive-thru or walk directly to the cashier, but this time there was a third option. There was an automated order screen with a built in debt machine. As me and my friends studied this new machine and wondered how we could order a burger with extra patties, other customers were pouring into the restaurant. The first group of customers went beside us to the other machine, and I could over hear them wondering the same things as we just were. The ache of modernism only became apparent when the next several groups of customers that came in went directly to the cashier uttering remarks like “what the hell is that? I’m good, I’ll order from the person instead” and “wow I guess people really go out of their way to avoid real human interaction”. Me and my friends were all caught up with figuring out what this new machine could do but never realized that the machines were competing for the cashier’s job, or that we chose a machine’s help over a human’s. So in a way, like the steam thresher from Tess, the automated order screen is a technology that has the potential to dominate the landscape (of fast food) and replace old fashioned human occupations that will complicate adjusting to modernity.

Oscar Wilde’s representation of Dorian sheds light on the independent nature of spirituality in relation to physical appearance. The power of his influence resides within his beauty, but the nature of his influence is corrupting because of his soul. My own experience is almost the opposite of Dorian’s. When I was in grade seven, my homeroom teacher had it out for me although I was a decent student with good intentions. My appearance was skateresque with a heavy metal influence; I was 5’10 when I was twelve years old and had shoulder length hair, I wore tight black jeans and band t-shirts. From the bottom of my soul, all that existed to me was playing hockey, listening to music and building hobby miniatures, so it is safe to assert I was only a rebel on the outside. Grade seven was hell. All of my friends from hockey or elementary went to different schools or were older than me so for the most part I would sit by myself and doodle when we had free time. At first it seemed not so bad, made a couple friends and became familiar with the new school, but then for whatever reason I became a target. Every time the classroom started getting noisy, my teacher would kick me out of class or scold me. The class would be silent right away, but not because I was the only one talking, but because I was the only one who wasn’t talking and they were shocked. One day I had enough and I told my mom and the next day we had a meeting with the teacher and principal. After finding out how I felt, she apologized claiming “I figured that since you look rebellious and are so big that the others followed your example”. In conclusion, not only was I unaware that my visual influence had such an impact on others but I also was unaware that my spiritual essence and visual appearance did not match up, and The Picture of Dorian Gray put those events into perspective for me. It made me aware of the nature of perception; nobody sees everything with the same eyes or soul, all one can do is try to strive for good nature and hope others join in.

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