[Adapted from George P. Landow, Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought (1980). Follow for full text.]
A third form of the satiric grotesque appears in the invented fables Carlyle and Ruskin employ, which may be as grandiose as the entire story of Diogenes Teufelsdröckh or as brief as Ruskin's Goddess-of-Getting-On or his parody of the armaments race in "Traffic" (1864). Like much of what is most characteristic in the writings of Ruskin and Carlyle, such satiric fables and emblems represent an effect of scriptural typology, of course, and not that mode of symbolism itself. As many of their works demonstrate, the Victorian sage defines himself by his superior ability to make interpretations — interpretations, readings, of all kinds of things, events, and people.
Trained in techniques of Bible reading that encouraged them to take everything in the scriptures, even the most trivial detail, as bearing the impress of God, they became accustomed to finding such meanings outside the Bible as well, and this habit of mind was in complete accord with Evangelical rules of interpretation that found types reaching fulfillment in the life of the individual worshipper. What Ruskin, Carlyle, and so many other Victorians acquired from years of meditating upon the Bible was a habit of mind, an assurance that everything possessed significant meaning if only one knew how to discover it. The scriptures released their many truths once the reader understood that Christ hovered beneath the literal facts and events of the Old Testament. Even after Ruskin and Carlyle (and many other of their contemporaries) abandoned the faith which shaped these basic attitudes towards the world of man and nature, these attitudes remained. Typology, which taught so many Victorians how to interpret biblical events and those of contemporary life, often persisted after a belief in Christianity disappeared from the lives of many men and women.
The Sage's Techniques
- Reading the Fire Writing on the Wall
- Victorian Sages and the Homiletic Tradition
- Discovered Grotesques (1): The Amphibious Pope
- Discovered Grotesques (2): The Seven-Foot Hat
- The Meaning of the World in the Meaning of a Word: Definitions from Carlyle to Suleri
Last modified 1996