Novel post-1749

March 4, 2012 | | Leave a Comment

Since no one took up the novel after 1749 I thought it would be good to include it. One such novel is The Romance of the Forest, published by Anne Radcliffe in 1791. It was a Gothic novel that included mystery, deception and even more advanced formal realism. It purports that affect is subordinate to reason and is heavily influenced by the powers of nature and the sublime. One important function of this novel is that it shows something cannot be both sublime and beautiful at once. Beauty calms us while the sublime frightens us because we cannot understand it and it causes feelings of terror.

Formatting Issues

February 5, 2012 | | Leave a Comment

I struggled to properly cite the ancient satires of Horace and Juvenal. The collections don’t really have titles other than Satires so I just had to work it into the body of the paragraph itself by first introducing the work by name and then parenthesizing the book, satire, page and line where it’s found.

I could not think of a second formatting issue that caused major problems for me other than equal spacing between the dots in the ellipses, which Professor Walkden pointed out for me to fix.

Secrecy and the Reader

November 16, 2011 | | Leave a Comment

One aspect of gossip discussed in the D.A. Miller article, which we have briefly mentioned in class but never fully expounded upon is the relationship of the secrecy to the reader. In his discussion of David Copperfield, Miller goes back and forth in his ideas of secrecy bringing up example after example and describing them.

Finally, on page 205 he almost takes a step back. “Even when a character’s subjectivity may be successfully concealed from other characters, for us, readers of the novel, the secret is always out.” Where does this come from? It’s important that Miller then accurately lists off the character names and chosen defining traits to give a context for this new idea. We already are aware of the secret flowing through the novelistic pipeline.

He then applies some ideas to the real life secret, which needs to be guarded both as a secret and the fact that you have knowledge of such a secret, or as he calls it, “conceal the knowledge of the knowledge.”

This confuses me in terms of the nature of the secret itself. How much of the joy of having secret information is having it versus people knowing you have it?

Note on my Prospectus

November 9, 2011 | | Leave a Comment

I was walking one night with my buddy and classmate Saadya Gellens and we were chatting about the usual things. As the conversation shifted to classwork and other school-related jibjab, we came upon our looming prospectuses. In the process of that conversation, I decided I wanted to write about comedy. With Tim Dorsey’s hilarious, and in my opinion groundbreaking, works in mind, and Steve Martin’s autobiography as a non-fictional backup, I formulated a rough sketch of what I would like to write about for the culmination of my college writing career.

My interest in the art of effectively using comedic writing began in high school the first time I understood one of Shakespeare’s jokes in Hamlet about Mother Nature and her “country matters,” to which I alluded in my prospectus. All my time here I have been trained to write about serious topics and canonical genius, but never once did I see a class offered on the lighter matters, an opportunity that I definitely would’ve jumped on.

While writing up my prospectus I tried to make it clear that I wanted to delve into many levels and instances of comedy and how they may relate to one another and propel the work they are embodied in forward. Originally I didn’t know how I could turn this into a coherent and academic paper, but now I feel more confident that I am pursuing a legitimate and useful topic. I found many scholarly articles on comedy as it appears in both drama and literature and would like to use them both to effectively convey my message.

Finally, I would like to learn more about research methods in general. Now, I just go to JSTOR and type in some key words, but I was wondering if there were better, more substantial, more methodical ways to find out what type of articles to look for, how best to see if an article has the information you are looking for, and where the crux of the article lies without having to pore through loads of minutia irrelevant to my topic.

As a sort of continuation to what I wrote about last week, I would like to point to a few instances where we watch a scene unfold, but we do not immediately know from whom we are receiving this information. The differing narration styles throughout the novel brought questions of verisimilitude to my mind.

Every so often during a block of text within a paragraph explaining emotions, circumstances, etc. there appears a quotation, and we do not know from whom. The quotation however is always written in the same, third person style:

The example here is in chapter 34 (in my version, Bantam. 1981) and concerns a dinner party with the newly married Eltons. After we learn that Emma would rather Harriet not be there, suddenly a quote appears and we do not who has made this statement. What we do know is that it cannot be anyone at the scene due to the style of writing:

“She would rather not be in his company more than she could help. She was not yet quite able to see him and his charming happy wife together, without feeling uncomfortable. If Miss Woodhouse would not be displeased, she would rather stay at home.” (Austen 266)

Who is this ghost narrator and how does it necessarily relate to the narration we are accustomed to throughout the book? I was constantly assaulted by these types of questions as some other fine distinctions came to my notice. Sometimes the narrator chooses to explain someone’s countenance as fact, like someone was sad. But with Emma this observation comes thirdhand: “She thought he was often looking at her.”

So we get a real view into Emma’s perceptions of things as if she keyed off the narrator to what she was feeling, but with anyone else we just have to assume the narrator is observing the scene as it plays out.

So far in the novel, I was drawn to how Austen utilizes point of view and who is speaking as we really only learn of events as they are explained by other characters. Emma specifically can be subject to this kind of scrutiny as she is constantly discussing happenings of other characters.

She involves herself in this gossip so much that she seems to neglect what is going on in her own life. When Mr. Elton confesses his love for her she is utterly shocked because she has spent so much time looking into the welfare of her bland friend Harriet that she has failed to see the telltale signs of his affection, which are obvious to the reader.

Even when Mr. Elton seizes the moment in the carriage, Emma is nowhere to be found. She is so taken aback by his proposal that she doesn’t even realize what she is hearing at first. In this sense, he acts as her foil.

This is not the only time Emma is seen as aloof and frankly unaware of what is really going on around her. Elton on the other hand is fully conscience of his surroundings. He is amiable and constantly sought after as a dinner guest.

This book in general deals with characters of varying levels of intelligence, awareness and ability to understand the situations they are in. While in the above scenario, Emma is the oblivious one, her father is really the typical space cadet with almost no attachment to the real world, as Emma describes to us. He fails to notice the significance of Elton’s goodbye from which Emma is omitted entirely.

He is far from a sagacious patriarchal character whom anyone can turn to for advice or knowledge, rather he is almost allergic to vivacity.

Keep Your Distance

October 3, 2011 | | Leave a Comment

A Journal of the Plague Year is written mostly from an objective standpoint in the sense that the author rarely appears as a physical part of the story. While most are dying, he reports on this with anecdotes and other interpretations of figures but as an observer as opposed to a participant, as it were.

There are, however, a few times when he appears and it’s those times that I really got a sense of how the plague affected day-to-day operations for individuals. The story of the poor waterman with whom H.F. interacts at the shore illustrates the dire straits that everyone was living in, including those wealthy enough to be locked up on their boats, and, by extension, those in their houses in the country.

The plague essentially cut all normal ties between fellow men since they were so nervous to be in contact with one another. The way that man interacted with his family and the people he brought supplies to, and even the conversation he had with H.F. are all examples of disparity and fractures within the society at large and even the family at home.

Going on the theme that Saadya mentioned in his own blog and I’m sure many have thought of while reading this text, we can see that the similarities between the plague and gossip have here an even deeper relationship. Gossip causes people to separate and lose trust in one another, just as in the deepest throes of the plague people were nervous to have contact with anyone at all.

H.F. reflects on those that appeared healthy at the outset but would suddenly die in the streets, on doorsteps and even an hour or two after they came home. He says, “these were the dangerous people; these were the people of whom the well people ought to have been afraid; but then, on the other side, it was impossible to know them.”

Lady Windermere’s Fan is such a concise construction because Oscar Wilde has successfully realized her in a position of both victim and aggressor in such a short time span. Lady Windermere appears to me as the most fitful of characters, swaying sporadically, and somewhat enthusiastically, between feelings of love and hate for Mrs. Erlynne.

This instability of Lady Windermere is magnified by the fact that she always seems to be the only one without knowledge of what is happening behind the scenes. It seems just about everyone privileged with some information except her. This constant struggle for her to find out what’s going on almost limits Lady Windermere’s character, resulting in such a short and sweet play.

On that note, Wilde was able to so concisely construct the play by withholding from his readers the true satisfaction of seeing through three classic theatrical plot devices, as explained by Morse Peckham in a critical article entitled “What Did Lady Windermere Learn?” Peckham goes through the three devices, which he calls The Long-Lost Child pattern, the Meeting of the Rival Women and the Discovery Scene, all of which are quickly identified, but none of which are followed through to the end, rather they just sort of hang there almost as an unfinished thought waiting to be fulfilled. As Peckham says, “Wilde has put it [the play] together by not completing traditional patterns” (12).

In Act IV we can fully understand why Peckham says that Lady Windermere has learned nothing, as her character has manifested only because she was in a high-pressure society in a very insulated environment; e.g. the characters are few and narrow and the play is approximately one day long. In the play’s conclusion, her ideals remain the same. She even states throughout the play that she has neither brains nor wit.

I would like to propose though, that Wilde chooses not to fulfill these three plot devices because he is using them to lead up to fulfilling a fourth plot device, which I can attempt to amend to Peckham’s first three. This I’ll call the Helpless Female Victim. We know the terribly precarious and ironic position that both Lady and Lord Windermere are in by Act IV, but by not fulfilling the Discovery Scene, she becomes unable to ever attain knowledge; her chance to be in the loop is lost. Had Mrs. Erlynne revealed her secret, she would finally be privy to information and may be considered equal to everyone else.

Lady Windermere thus never becomes a knowledgeable character and has not learned anything, not just because of her ignorance, but because Wilde needed this element of ignorance to teach the audience the lesson of not judging too hastily, among others.

Since she is in the dark about her own life, she will never be removed from the position of victim. She is almost like a sacrifice that needs to be made in order for us to learn the greater lesson, one which she and her husband split evenly.

Although Iago’s jealousy of Cassio only came about as a direct result of Othello, he must nevertheless exact his revenge on the two of them in order to satisfy his craving to get even. Iago is a spiteful man, unhappy with his lot and, needless to say, ready to spread the bitterness that he feels. His extreme cunning is marked throughout the play by scholars and commentators as he progresses his plan step by step.

What I noticed, though, is how the audience is able to follow his plan right from its inception. He does an excellent job of setting everything up just so — until it all comes crashing down at the end. I want to point out that his language cues the audience to listen and follow along with his diabolical plan to bring down almost the entire cast of characters.

In Act II Scene I, Iago in an aside to the audience states, “He takes her by the palm; ay, well said whisper: as little a web as this will ensnare as great a fly as Cassio” (ll. 167-169). He wants to use this smallest gesture of amicability between Cassio and Desdemona to plant in Othello’s mind that the two are illicit lovers. However, his plan is unrefined, a mere outline of a broader scheme.

In essence, right now Iago is but a spider patiently waiting for his prey, but he, like the spider, cannot leave the web to proactively seek it. He can only hope his web will prove a faithful trap.

Later in the play, his plan evolves — and the language follows suit. In Act II Scene III Iago again refers to a catching device only this time he has become a hunter. He has ingeniously put himself in a position where he is controlling the very moves of everyone involved, and thus he proclaims in a soliloquy, “So I will turn her virtue into pitch, / And out of her own goodness make the net / That shall enmesh ’em all” (ll. 351- 353).

This slight change in language from passive to active, submissive to aggressive, is a brilliant display of language showing the slight but crucial shift in Iago’s tone and mind. The trap is set, his plan is in full motion. No one can stop it until it plays itself all the way to the end.

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