The Wheel of Fortune

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Dickens’s fascination with the possibilities of fortune (both in terms of worldly wealth and the future) with human freedom and with ethics can be seen throughout his works. One way in which he could organise his ideas about the confusion of these concepts was through the Wheel of Fortune. The Wheel of Fortune was equally a literary and a visual image, used by writers and artists to build on concepts of time, money, power and morality. Because of this, a person named Marcus Stone was therefore able to exploit the inheritance of visual images of Fortune’s Wheel to hold a dialogue with Dickens’s text about its constructions of wealth, power and moral action. It was during the Middle Ages that the Wheel of Fortune was developed as a full-fledged image. It was usually four different type of human figures that were often attached to the wheel. These types were labelled, “regnabo” (I will rule, or will be in power), “regno” (I am in power), “regnavi” (I have been in power), and “sum sine regno” (I am without power). The Wheel of Fortune illustrated ones history as forceful, cyclic and tragic. The fall from power and prosperity was, to the medieval mind, unpreventable. The movement of the wheel, governed by Fortuna’s hand, would progress, without thinking towards it, regardless of what humans might try to do. Fortuna, however, was not completely unstoppable. She only had power when, by pursuing her “gifts” of worldly wealth and power, an individual submitted him/herself to the wheel. The path taken to avoid Fortuna’s power was through the pursuit of the “summum bonum” (the highest moral good). Under this status, Fortuna had no power over one’s fate. During the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Fortuna’s image was gradually more conflated with that of Occasio, another goddess who represented the idea of opportunity (usually the opportunity for profit). Human action now became the force behind the “dynamic passage” of time. By understanding our present day fully, and using wealth + resources wisely when the opportunity arose, people could take control of both their wealth and their future. The Fortuna/Occasio image was adopted by the up-comming merchant classes, who saw in it, a symbol of their own rise to richness and power, and an approval of the newfound importance of business and trade. Throughout the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, these two tropes of the unavoidable movement of the wheel, and the figure of Fortuna/Occasio who was open to human control and action, existed side by side, surrounded in literary and artistic verbal expression about power, morality, wealth, trade, and history. Therefore, Fortuna and her wheel became involved in current discourses about the new economic capitalism. The idea that history followed a pattern, such as the Wheel of Fortune, which could be recognised and traced through the ages, was popular with the Victorians. They were fascinated with time of both, the new geological time and the private time of memory and biography. Victorian discourse however, built its own models of the passage of history and the changing conditions of human life. Cyclic models, similar to Fortuna’s Wheel, were used by several organized plans of historical movement in the nineteenth century. Saint-Simon, for example, read history as an alternation between ages of combination and ages of investigation. Auguste Comte adjusted this model of historical movement in his cycle of “organic”, “metaphysical” and “positive” stages. More importantly, considering Fortuna’s traditional links with discourses about wealth, Victorian economists worked with a model of development which was recurring (Adam Smith’s boom-and-bust cycle, and Thomas Malthus’s predictions about population growth and decline). The Wheel of Fortune itself was not really favoured by the Victorians. At mid-century, the model of historical movement was preferred by the growth of middle...
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