This illustration, titled Surreptitious Correspondence, appeared in a November 1862 issue of the London Society magazine. This was a Victorian era monthly magazine intended for entertainment purposes and included “miscellaneous articles, short fiction… and serialized novels”. (Quote from wikipedia.) The image was illustrated by Matthew James Lawless and engraved by Walter Barker. The publication date of 1862 is about halfway through the Victorian period.
The depiction is of a woman, seemingly of a higher class judging by her clothes, reading a letter in the forest. The title leads us to believe she is reading the letter in secret and chose a place of nature to do so. This connects with society’s belief that women are more in tune with, and fit more appropriately, in nature than men. Reading was also considered a women’s activity in the Victorian era, so anyone coming upon the young lady in the illustration wouldn’t think much of her reading, even if she was reading something in confidence.
The Victorian era made reading materials affordable even for lower classes and the London Society seems to be a magazine meant mainly for women. Many of the contributors to the magazine were female as were the illustrators and publishers. Women taking a role in society that consisted of more than raising a family and keeping a household became more acceptable, and connects back to this photo. The woman is out in nature enjoying her free time rather than attending to her responsibilities.
Literacy in the Victorian era spread among the classes and, clearly, to women. This time period gave way to life as we know it now.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a novel based heavily on Victor’s fascination with and inclination for science or, as it is called within the novel, natural philosophy. This is defined in a footnote as the study of nature, which connects to Gilpin’s idea of beauty as found in nature itself. He says, “We pursue her from hill to dale, and hunt after those various beauties, with which she everywhere abounds.” The ideals of nature or beauty and science feature prominently in Frankenstein and give evidence to Gilpin’s claim that beauty is not derived from the scientifical.
Very early on, Victor Frankenstein entertains the idea of reanimating a dead body in hopes that he can create a new race on earth for which civilization would owe him endless gratitude and awe, both for his genius at having the ability to create life and the beauty of the creation itself. However, during the process of putting together the Creature, Victor admits to becoming so engrossed in his vision that he ignores the beauty surrounding him: “Winter, spring, and summer, passed away during my labours; but I did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves–sights which before always yielded me supreme delight, so deeply was I engrossed in my occupation.” In addition to ignoring the beauty around him, Victor denounces beauty altogether after the Creature lives. He says, “…now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
Being so caught up in the science of his creation, Victor forgot that some things aren’t meant to exist in nature. He proves Gilpin’s assertion, “what a trifling circumstance sometimes forms the limit between beauty and deformity.” Victor thought he was doing the world a favor and soon realizes it was a great disservice, especially after the Creature murders Victor’s young brother and several others. In this case, science might have beget a creation, but that creation did not turn out beautiful, either in appearance or action.
My name is Stephanie. I was born and raised in Rhode Island. So I’ve come a long way! I have my dream part-time job working at Barnes and Noble, where all my bookworm fantasies both come to life in being around so much literature and are crushed by dealing with the harsh realities of retail. I like being up in the middle of the night and love going to midnight premieres for scary movies. (Or any movie, really.) I share a birthday with the one and only William Shakespeare, who is my greatest writing inspiration.