About half past 11pm, just returning from a nice evening at the pub with a couple long-time friends and as I lay in bed convincing myself squeezing in 650 pages of Jane Eyre in the next hour or so will be a walk in the park, I find myself wondering about the evolution of literary themes in the past few centuries.
Whether you preferrably lean towards Shakespeare, or maybe towards Marlowe instead, the Elizabethan era seems to be one of jest, uprisings against normativity, ridiculing of the passive stereotype. Challenging religion, sexuality, conventional aspirations and the goodness of Mankind – for witnesses of the rebirth, the Renaissance, it all makes sense, I suppose. Rediscovering the world. Or simply discovering it, perhaps. Admitting that we’ve not always had an omniscient knowledge and comprehension of the universe, that our thinking must evolve for us to grow.
But I wonder then how one leaps from this time of social enlightenment and intellectual rebellion to the relative passivity of the Victorian era. Much as the Elizabethans inked their parchments with dreams of fulfilling amusement and grandeur, so did the Victorians bring the readers back to a cynical and miserable world corrupted by social aspirations. Pip’s great expectations are merely a catalyst for a more brutal downfall. The wishes of a poor girl abused by her family and finally finding hope and premature confirmation in the eyes of a Mr. Rochester are but sinful delusion.
And yet in parallel to the tragic accounts found in the works of Dickens and Brontë, you find the exhilerating thrill of Conan Doyle’s pen; the passion and colors of Browning’s heart; of Rossetti’s mind. The magical fantasies of Carroll.
It would then appear that the remnants of the Renaissance are nothing less than a genial disenchantment on one side, and, on the other, an opposing resurging of imagination, of creativity, a new pushing of the literary barriers.
But perhaps the two aren’t so opposed after all, but rather complement and explain each other. Perhaps the miserable and corrupt world of Great Expectations and Jane Eyre is the reason for the vividity of the Goblin Market, for the love in Browning’s soul. One needs to picture this life to distract oneself from the cruel emptiness of other’s hearts, of other’s aspirations. One needs to delve into a world of mysteries and thrill to forget for an instant the greyness beyond the window; beyond the looking glass.