Prior to this class, my knowledge of the Victorian Era is minimal. My conceptions of this complex era are based off of the iconic Queen Victoria. Just being familiar with Queen Victoria, I have noticed some prominent themes in Our Mutual Friend that coincide with the British empire, during the Victorian era.
• Battle of the Classes
—-> During any time period, members of society constantly want to move up on the social/wealth ladder. The characters in this book are no different. Here we have the Veneerings – a married couple striving to prove and increase their importance. How do they do this? By hosting lavish parties in their new London home and inviting people they barely know. But, their guest list does include well educated people. Enter Mortiner Lightwood – a lawyer. By inviting this lawyer are they truly wanting to hang out with a friend? Or, do they wish to show his educated self off to their friends?
—-> Now, enter the Hexam family. Here, we have a family struggling to make ends meet. The Gaffer is robbing dead bodies just for the money. Obviously, this man is not climbing up the social/ wealth ladder with this occupation. However, he is proving the point that men of this era are willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill financial needs. I mean, how much lower do you get after robbing dead bodies? But, even through this man’s disgusting habit, Lizzie sees a need for Charley to get ahead in life. The only way for Charley to start “climbing that ladder” is to get an education.
While delving into this battle of the classes, the word education kept popping up. So, it is apparent that education is also an important part of this era. In order to climb up the social/wealth ladder, one must be educated. The Veneerings and friends are living the good life, because of their success. Their success stems from their education. Then, you have the uneducated servants feeding the wealthy. Lastly, you have Lizzie observing the educated, successful, life of many and wanting her brother to be able to achieve that. But, possibly she only wanted Charley to receive an education, so he could educate her. A slight bit of sexism enters my list of themes here. Between Lizzie not having the option to be educated and Bella only striving to be a rich wife, where are the opportunities for women?
The only person who ruins my theory of Victorian era people striving to climb to social ladder is Gaffer Hexam. Why does he not want his son to go get an education? His attitude confuses me at this point and I guess I will just make him the exception to my rule.
I hope to learn more about this era and piece together these characters with the themes I am creating.