Under the Gaslight: The Character of Laura Courtland
Under the Gaslight does indeed "acknowledge 'luck' or 'chance' or 'fate,' but it reinforces the importance of individual character at the same time that it suggests that integrity is not an absolute stay against the vicissitudes of circumstance" (159). This idea is mainly supported through the character of Laura Courtland--a symbol of both sides of the nature versus nurture debate.
Laura was born into a prominent, upper class family, the Courtlands. Her mother, Mary, in particular is a kind and generous woman who instinctively knows when she has "a duty to perform" and acts on it (164). Laura seems to have inherited this determined and honorable manner. She has higher standards than the society she lives in. Regarding love, she realizes that true love is about loving what is on the inside and is not based on looks, class, or wealth. She says, "How happy must those women be who are poor and friendless, and plain, when some true heart comes and says 'I wish to marry you!''' (165). Laura is, as the saying goes, "from good stock."
Yet is not just from Laura's parentage that she acquires such a dignified character. From the age of six, she was raised by both the Godly and the good. She lived in "a country clergyman's [home] for instruction" (164), moral instruction no doubt, and in the Courtland home, raised by the aforementioned Mary Courtland. Their instruction later serves her well as she faces difficult times. Laura displays her strength of character, her honesty, and her dignity even when high society looks down upon her. She works, takes care of herself, and bears no hard feelings. Instead, she feels that "it is natural, everything will find its level. I sprang from poverty, and I return to it" (170).
As an infant, Laura is taken from her home and raised by a dishonest, thieving woman, Old Judas, who put her own daughter,...