19th Century Literature: Outdated or Timeless?

First and foremost, I’d like to make a quick note about the absence of last week’s post. When I started this blog, I resolved to publish every week. However, this required me to dedicate nearly all of my writing time to the blog, rather than focusing on fiction projects and certain academic applications as well. Of course, this wouldn’t be conducive to my overall writing goals, so I’ve decided to switch to a biweekly posting schedule. This will also give me more time to produce thoughtful, quality posts rather than churning out mediocre content simply to stick to a schedule.

So, with that being said, now for this week’s post. Earlier this week, my brother and I were discussing books published in the 19th century. We both agreed that it’s astounding we as a society still widely read books that were published over 200 years ago. What fascinates me most, however, is that the themes and wisdom present in 19th century literature, in my experience, are still entirely relevant today. What this tells me is that, though always transforming and evolving as the world around us changes, on a fundamental level, human beings stay the same. We still long for love and connection and success in life, among other things. Literature of all eras reflects humanity and therefore, will always be relevant to human beings.

One of the books my brother and I brought up was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818). This novel has always struck me as one that perfectly captures humanity’s universal desire for success, as well as connection and acceptance. In it, Dr. Victor Frankenstein brings an artificially constructed being to life by means of advanced scientific processes, fulfilling his life’s dream and long sought after professional goal. However, upon achieving this and seeing how horrifying the creature is that he’s created, he runs from it in fear. The monster then, hurt and confused by the rejection of his master, is thrust into an emotional turmoil, an isolation that leads to despair and ultimately fatal violence. This novel seems to stand as a warning against an unhealthy obsession with success and the possibly detrimental consequences that may arise from it.

In Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), Helen Graham, a young widow, challenges numerous societal gender norms and stereotypes. Choosing not to immediately remarry after her first tragic and abusive marriage, she makes her own living by selling original paintings in London and cares for her young son all on her own. She is such an independent and strange woman by the standards of her time that rumors circulate in her small town that she is a witch. Women even today can learn from Helen’s character. Her actions, revolutionary at the time of this book’s publication, may still inspire women to pursue their own success, to speak out against men when they are in the wrong, and to be independently sure of themselves, no matter what others may say about it.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) illustrates the harm of discriminating against others based on their life decisions or circumstances. Though now taking on different forms, this is still an issue particularly relevant today. In Jane Austen’s time, one way to push back against such discrimination was marriage between those of differing social and economic classes. In the novel, Mr. Darcy knows he is doing something socially unacceptable when he proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennett, a woman of lower class and with relatives of questionable character. Yet he can’t help falling in love with her, in spite of their union being frowned upon by many in society, including Darcy’s closest relatives. Further, when Mr. Bennett chooses to welcome his daughter Lydia and her new husband into his home right after their wedding, in spite of their scandalous relationship prior to the marriage, he is criticized by relatives and friends. What Austen is doing here strikes me as a lesson in familial love and acceptance, embracing our loved ones even when they do things we or society might not approve of, or wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. All of these are lessons that still apply today.

In Conclusion…

I believe, no matter the historical time period in which it is written, literature will always be timeless. It will always reflect humanity and illustrate the shared emotional experiences and desires that accompany being human. For that reason, humans may always find something in literature to which they can relate, even in literature published hundreds of years ago.

One thought on “19th Century Literature: Outdated or Timeless?

  1. This reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about lately with music…. Some of the stuff i grew up listening to is called timeless. Yet, guys I work with call it oldies..

    I’m guessing to determine the difference is the person. Who appreciates it and draws influence or inspiration from it…

    Personally, the old stuff is by far better than the new. And we need people to keep the old timeless… or we all become outdated?

    Liked by 1 person

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