Let there be Light: Finding Beauty in Sophia’s I am the Best! Letters

In Hartly House, Phebe Gibbes gives the reader a view of India from the eyes of an English teenager named Sophia. Sophia is writing to her friend Arabella and many of the letters remind me of high school style one-upmanship. She is constantly rubbing her friends nose in the sights shes seeing, and the fact that she is traveling the world while poor Arabella is stuck at home in England. Furthermore, she is constantly talking about how wonderful and beautiful she is (usually in relation to some man admiring her) and whining about her love life. So, when Sophia uses allusions to the classics within her letters (in the form of references, quotes, and poetry) one could be forgiven for simply thinking it is just another way for Sophia to make her “friend” feel more inferior by throwing her education in her face, yet these references aren’t just thrown in there. There is obviously some reason for the author adding them (because Sophia is spoiled and pretentious enough without them). These allusions tie this work to the classics, which was a common enough thing for literature of this time, and I imagine part of the reason these poems and quotes are worked into Hartly House, is to make the book more credible, and to give a nod to other works as other authors did. There is something else I noticed about the quotes, though, that I found interesting. Many of the quotes and references have to do with light.

In her second letter Sophia writes, “I cannot, like Mr. Apollo, lay aside my rays, that your optics shall be enabled to contemplate, however brilliant, the dazzling objects I gradually open to your view,” (Gibbes, 7). First of all, Apollo is the god of poetry and I think one could stretch that to all fiction writing, also Apollo is considered the god of light. This is probably because he is associated with Helios (the titan of the sun). The line in the letter itself is also all about light, “rays,” “brilliant,” and “dazzling,” all give this impression of sunlight. This is not the only reference to the classics that is connected to light. Granted Sophia may be using this imagery to connect to the climate of India which is completely different than England… But of course Sophia isn’t real, and so I think that Phebe Gibbes was trying to use these works to remind the reader that there is beauty here even if at first glance all we see is a spoiled rich kid bragging to her “friend.”

-Katie Oswald


4 thoughts on “Let there be Light: Finding Beauty in Sophia’s I am the Best! Letters

  1. Interesting points, but the argument could be made stronger by placing more emphasis on the rich symbolism of light: the idea of glitz or materialism, fashion, tropical climate, the biblical image of creation, and, of course, En”lighten”ment reason.


  2. I liked the points you made her and your focus on Sophia’s character. I think overall your analysis was interesting and well-informed. To go further, I would add or more so, follow the ideas you glazed over towards the end. The theme of beauty in Sophia hadn’t occurred to me and I think it would be really interesting for you to further explore that idea!

    Thank you for your blog!


  3. So it is clear that the main point of this post is correlating the use of the word “light” to Sophia, the “spoiled rich kid” visiting India from England. You could strengthen your argument easily by adding a bit more detail on the use of light throughout the letters. Using one letter as a source doesn’t seem like as good a support as multiple different letters being used as a reference.

    Extra Credit 1/25/2


  4. I think the most original part of this post was its focus on the symbolism found in light and how that relates to the letters. I think as an improvement I would like to see more about the original intent of the author – was the dazzling light just embellishment? How do we know?


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