Blogging Assignment 1

Wuthering Hieghts by Emily Bronte

‘”What new phase of his character is this?’ exclaimed Mrs. Linton, in
amazement. ‘I’ve treated you infernally–and you’ll take your revenge!
How will you take it, ungrateful brute? How have I treated you
infernally?’

‘I seek no revenge on you,’ replied Heathcliff, less vehemently. ‘That’s
not the plan. The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn
against him; they crush those beneath them. You are welcome to torture
me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in
the same style, and refrain from insult as much as you are able. Having
levelled my palace, don’t erect a hovel and complacently admire your own
charity in giving me that for a home. If I imagined you really wished me
to marry Isabel, I’d cut my throat!’

‘Oh, the evil is that I am not  jealous, is it?’ cried Catherine. ‘Well,
I won’t repeat my offer of a wife: it is as bad as offering Satan a lost
soul. Your bliss lies, like his, in inflicting misery. You prove it.”

Note on the Text:

Though it is difficult to give an accurate representation of a novel in such a short space, I will attempt to contextualize this quote. Wuthering Heights is the story of a passionate, destructive, unrequited love between the two childhood companions Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan boy who was adopted by the Earnshaws but is treated cruelly. Catherine marries Edgar Linton, and after a mysterious disappearance, Heathcliff returns and ruthlessly pursues vengence against all who wronged him. In this scene, Heathcliff has recently returned and is expressing his desire for revenge to Catherine.

Wuthering Heights was published in 1846 and is Emily Bronte’s only full length work, other than a book of poems that was published posthumously. Although Emily and her sisters Charlotte and Anne were successful writers, they published their works under male pseudonyms. Wuthering Heights met with mixed reviews; some were transfixed and others were appalled by its vivid depictions of emotional, physical, and verbal cruelty and its extreme passion.  The portion I have quoted here is unedited, and taken from a paperback version of the novel published by scholastic.

This work is important to study as a transitional piece between romanticism and other periods of literature: although it is technically a Victorian novel; its gloomy, macabre setting and themes demonstrates a heavy gothic influence. It also exemplifies elements common to romanticism such as passionate emotion and dreamlike encounters with supernatural forces (in this case, ghosts). But most noticably, Heathcliff is a perfect manifestation of the Byronic hero as a sulky, ruthless yet passionate character. Feminist scholars may also be interested in its publication history and its reception.

Review: The Victorian Web

http://www.victorianweb.org/

It may seem like a digression to discuss a resource about the Victorian era in a class about Romanticism, but I think it may be worthwhile to examine the Romantic legacy in later writers, particularly those writers who fall somewhat between the two movements such as the Bronte sisters, to whom I will devote more attention in my other blogging assignment.

The Victorian Web was started by Brown University as a resource for courses in Victorian literature, but it is open to the public. The webmaster is George P. Landow, professor of English and Art History at Brown University. He and several editors organize and edit information contributed to the site by undergraduate and postgraduate students, and contribute information themselves. Anyone is allowed to use information from their site as long as it is properly cited, as the copyright is retained by its original writers.

The Victorian Web presents the Victorian period as a web of interrelated aspects of the period, such as history, philosophy, religion, science, authors, and economics. Among other things, each of these has its own link on the home page. Users can follow a series of links to get to more and more specific information about a certain aspect of the Victorian era to aid them in their research. In my opinion, this is the strongest aspect of the website, as it allows users to hone in on information they want while also being simultaneously exposed to related contexts that may be able to help them reach an interdisciplinary understanding of their intended works and authors. However, The site also has a search function for users who want to bypass this process. It also contains links to other resources, criticism ebooks, a limited selection of Victorian texts, and useful information about the website. The information presented within each section is concise and its sources are well documented.

One drawback to this site is that there is no visual differentiation between links and normal text, and sometimes there are items listed that are not links at all. And the massive amount of links must make the site difficult to maintain, and I found a few broken links while exploring the site.

Overall I think this is a very good resource. Its credibility is easy to establish and cite, and it is very useful for gathering a lot of different information from one place.

Wings of Wax and Feathers: The Myth of Icarus and Avian Symbolism

During my research for the annotated bibliography, I stumbled upon an article discussing the use of the Icarus myth in Romantic poetry. According to the abstract, the myth of Icarus is used as an archetype for the Romantic genius; and invokes the motifs of soaring, falling, birds, and wings; and portrays these themes  as supernatural phenomena to create a sense of the sublime. I thought that the subject matter of the poems in Thursday’s class, particularly “To a Sky-Lark” could stand to be examined in this fashion.

Here is a brief summary of the myth for those who are unfamiliar with it: In order to escape imprisonment, Daedalus, a skillful artisan, crafts wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus, so that they may fly over the sea and escape. Daedalus cautions Icarus to neither fly too high, for the sun would melt the wax, nor too low, for the sea foam would soak the feathers. However, the prideful Icarus flies too close to the sun and the wax melts, causing Icarus to fall into the sea and drown.

 In Percy Shelley’s poem “To a Sky-Lark”, one is immediately confronted with Icarian symbolism by the title of the poem, which is dedicated to a bird, and by the first stanza:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert-

That from Heaven or near it

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art”

 

In lines one and three, Shelly describes the sky lark in supernatural terms, referring to it as a “spirit” which is either “from heaven or near it”. And from lines two, four, and five we learn that the bird Shelly is referring to is in fact not a bird at all, and then Shelly makes an allusion to Milton, who is apparently the poetic genius that Shelly is revering in this poem. 

The second stanza refers to the myth as well in lines one and two: “Higher still and higher/ from the earth thou springest”. However, unlike Icarus, the poet does not fall to his death: “And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest”. The motif of soaring is also referred to later in the poem as a “scorner of the ground”. 

Throughout the poem, the sky lark continues to be described in supernatural terms, such as a sprite, or a dreamer of dreams that mortals cannot comprehend, and several of the poem’s stanzas are similes that attempt to describe it in different ways. This sort of beauty and awe that defies description contributes to the poem’s sense of sublimity. 

Of course, Shelley is not the only one to use these thematics, as we have seen in the poetry of Clare and even Byron when he mockingly refers to Southey as a flying fish flopping on the deck. Invoking this myth also outlived the Romantic movement as well: James Joyce uses the name Daedalus as the surname of the protagonist in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Don Juan vs Don Quixote

When reading Byron’s Don Juan, I was startled by many of the similarities it shares with another tale: Cervantes’ Don Quixote. 

These tales have many things in common, the most obvious being that they both take place in Spain. But the most significant similarity is that they are both mock-heroic epics. Mock-heroic is defined by Merriam Webster’s online dictionary as “ridiculing or burlesquing heroic style, character, or action”. In Don Juan, Juan is a satirical version of the older version of Don Juan; having been transformed by Byron from an active, powerful hero who delights in seducing women to a passive hero who is used by women (by his mother in particular). Don Quixote is a satirical portrait of the chivalrous romantic knight; mocking the chivalric romance stories that were popular in Cervantes’ day. Don Juan also mocks the literature of his day; but Byron even goes a step further than Cervantes by mocking his contemporaries directly, and had a particular sense of ire towards Southey, whom he referred to as a Tory and a “flying fish/ Gasping on the deck”. In terms of plot, the heroes of both stories spend their time travelling and getting into various hi-jinks.

So where do they differ? The biggest stylistic difference is that while Don Juan is written in verse, Don Quixote is written in prose. Also, the eras in which they were published were separated by a great deal of time: Part one Don Quixote was published in 1605 and part two was published in 1615 (published in english in 1612 and 1620, respectively); while the first two cantos of Don Juan were not published until 1819. So it is quite possible that Byron had read Don Quixote before writing Don Juan. The way women are treated by the protagonists differs also. Quixote goes about singing the praise of his idealized version of a woman whom he calls Lady Dulcinea, and at one point casts this image onto a barmaid he meets in his travels. In contrast, Juan is smitten with real women.

Although the ultimate fate of Juan is unknown, Quixote dies a sad and anticlimactic death at home after being tricked into casting aside his knighthood. Although it is difficult to project what kind of transformation Juan might have achieved after having only read one canto, it still makes me wonder what his fate might have been. Would he die defeated, dejected, and disenchanted like Don Quixote? Or would he be able to overcome adversity?

The End: Or is it?

“The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and all who have loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity”

-Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Since we just finished reading a novel by Jane Austen, I thought it would be appropriate to include a quote from her about the endings of novels. The above quote from Northanger Abbey is a statement elucidating a drawback to the written word as a medium for storytelling; that a reader can always tell how close they are to the ending of a novel by looking at the number of remaining pages. So perhaps it was that that contributed to my anxiety reading the last part of the novel; of seeing pages dwindle without any clear progression towards resolution. And perhaps that explains my subsequent skepticism when the entire course of the novel was suddenly changed and neatly resolved by one fortuitous instance of eavesdropping. But to be fair, Austen never got the chance to edit Persuasion, and she did employ an element that (according to David Lodge) is a characteristic of modern fiction: an open ending.

Persuasion concludes with this: “Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in Captain Wentworth’s affection. His profession was all that could ever make her tenderness less; the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine. She gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.”

In The Art of Fiction David Lodge also states that Victorian publishers put pressure on writers to produce happy endings; and even though Austen isn’t a Victorian writer, the proximity of the publication of her works to the beginning of the Victorian era are close enough to reasonably suspect that Austen was under similar pressure. So to end Persuasion in that manner displays ambition on her part.

The purpose of leaving a novel open ended is to display a more authentic vision of reality which leaves the reader “with the sense of life going on into an uncertain future” (Lodge). Although such a concept is admirable, I thought that its use in Persuasion defeated the entirety of its plot. It was already mentioned in class that if Wentworth goes off to war again, they will be in almost the same situation as when the novel started. Not only that, but their situation would be worse than before: now they will be separated fully knowing the affection they feel for each other. And it would be unlikely that Wentworth would take her on the ship with him since earlier in the novel, he declared that he would never take a woman aboard. Since this hypothetical situation is now more tense and dramatic than the one Persuasion is based on, it almost seems like it would have been the better one to write about. And if such a situation is merely an implication that never happens, then why imply a more dramatic, nonexistent alternative that merely undercuts the whole novel?

But as I said earlier, Austen never finished editing Persuasion, so perhaps my disappointment with the novel is unjustified.

Jane Austen and Free Indirect Speech

When talking about free indirect speech, it is necessary to first define what free indirect speech is. According to David Lodge, free indirect speech: “Renders thought as reported speech (in the third person, past tense) but keeps to the kind of vocabulary that is appropriate to the character, and deletes some of the tags, like ‘she thought,’ ‘she wondered,’ ‘she asked herself’ etc. that a more formal narrative style would require. This gives the illusion of intimate access to a character’s mind, but without totally surrendering authorial participation in the discourse”.

Here is an excellent example of free indirect speech in Persuasion: “She knew herself to be of the first utility to the child; and what was it to her, if Frederick Wentworth were only half a mile distant, making himself agreeable to others!”

Austen was one of the first authors to write in this narrative style, rather than drawing on the tradition of another narrative style. Although this is owing largely to the fact that the novel was a fairly new form in that time, it implies that she had a specific reason for writing in this manner. In the specific context of Persuasion, what is the advantage of using free indirect speech, what effect does it have on the characters and how does it effect the reader?

Jane Austen’s novels are notable for having plots that are simplistic but that make up for them in the intricacy of their character development. The above quote from Persuasion reveals Anne’s motivation, and on several different levels. It reveals the contradictory nature of her thoughts; in that she believes that Wentworth means nothing to her, yet her need to ask that question implies that he does, and that her thinking this is her attempt of self-assurance. Not only does the reader gain an understanding of the complexity of Anne’s motivations in an ordinary sense, but the tone and the emotion behind her thoughts can give the reader a more implicit understanding of the character’s thoughts as well. Such a nuanced understanding of a character’s psyche can generate empathy for the character within the reader; which is especially important to the protagonist of any story and motivates the reader to continue reading.

But free indirect speech has its limitations. The narrator (at least in the the case of Persuasion) is not an omniscient figure, and there are points in the novel where the protagonist’s perspective cannot offer sufficient insight into the motivations of another character, so a shift from the mind of one character to another is necessary; such as the shift between Anne’s thoughts and Wentworth’s.

In conclusion, and to answer the questions previously posed, the advantage of using free indirect speech lies in the effect it has on the characters and the reader. This style effectively mimics the process of thought in content, tone, and deliverance; and it is in this understanding that creates, within the reader, empathy for the characters (but mostly the protagonist) of the novel.

Fate of the Book Series: Preservers

As the title of this post indicates, this installment of the Fate of the Book series consisted of a panel of those in favor of the continued production, use, and preservation of physical books. The conversation was very interesting; for those who were unable to attend Thursday; I highly recommend attending its second showing on Friday; information about it can be found on the college of liberal art’s web page.

Although the theme of preserving and transforming seemed to imply that there was a debate between the two (as I had assumed); the panelists weren’t necessarily anti e-book, but they merely favored physical books for varying reasons.

One thing that was stressed continually throughout the talk was the physical relationship between the reader and the book. Not only from the aesthetic perspective of the feel of the pages, the smell, and things of that nature; but also in relation to the way that the reader intakes information. They pointed out that when reading a physical book, it is easier to find something in previous pages due to a reader’s memory of approximately where in the text that information was and what side of the page it was on. This is even more important in scholarly readings where finding such information could be crucial.

Another thing that was mentioned was that books should be preserved as an object of culture. Books have, especially in premodern times, been a very influential part of the culture; and preserving books (especially originals) has the potential to offer a nuanced understanding to a historical period that might not be possible through a straightforward study of history. In addition, preserving things like Coleridge’s letters are important for issues involving issues of authenticity, literary criticism, and of course, simple pleasure.

One of the panelists mentioned that books are a tactile art akin to architecture and should be preserved as such. The modern books that we are accustomed to carrying around might not seem like art, but if you think about much older books with elaborate illustrations and calligraphic print you can see the validity of this statement.

One thing that was mentioned in passing but not discussed in great detail (and I now regret not asking a question about it) was books being a form of active entertainment and other forms of media as passive entertainment. Although it is not directly relevant to the book/e-book situation, it did make me think about the effects of the way we take in information. How will the prevalence of passive entertainment such as television, video games, and web browsing effect our thinking in the long term? And how might that change be reflected in our academia and the way we pass information to future generations? Is the ease and availability with which we can access information always a good thing?

But I digress. The things I mentioned above were of course not the only things that were mentioned, but the ones I thought were particularly interesting and relevant. And again, I highly recommend attending it on Friday if you haven’t been yet.

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It’s no secret that Byronic heroes are quite popular in modern culture, the first and most obvious one being at the top of the page. Byronic heroes have remained popular ever since Byron’s day; and Byron’s attribution of this archetype to himself gave him overnight celebrity status. However, this phenomenon raises some questions. If these characters have a tendency to be antisocial and iconoclastic, then it would seem paradoxical that this character type has such enduring success, and that these characters are revered by large portions of society. So why are these characters so popular?

It may be because these characters are most able to exert their will and thus appeal to power fantasies within the reader. This agency possessed by Byronic heroes is somewhat similar to Nietzsche’s concept of will to power, so from that Nietzschean perspective it would make sense that these people would be admired by those who are less able to exert their own wills. After all, who wouldn’t want to take down villains like Batman, bring utter ruin to their enemies like Heathcliff, or be able to summon spirits for no other reason than being lonely? However, this becomes problematic in Manfred. Although Manfred possesses great power, he doesn’t use it to exert his will in any way, and Manfred himself is a self-destructive individual. But at the same time, he refuses to deny his own will when he refuses several times to submit to the spirits or the abbot.

Another (and the most simple) explanation is that controversial characters inspire gossip. Byron himself can attest to this, seeing as how he is often referred to as the first celebrity. Byron was surrounded by gossip about his love affairs and a possible incestuous relationship with his half-sister; which he deliberately fueled in Manfred by naming the absent female lover after an incestuous god, and inserting the line “The Lady Astarte, his-“. Gossip helps to fuel the readers imagination; and thus keep discussions going and the characters alive in the public imagination.

Another explanation is that people relate to Byronic heroes in the broader sense of being representative of human struggle. They represent that Promethean aspect of human experience that states that human progress and human striving comes at a great cost. They are able to achieve great things, but they can only do so at a great cost; this holds true for Manfred, Heathcliff, and Batman.

Whatever the cause may be, Byron’s tradition lives on in our favorite brooding heroes of modern times.

Marx and the Chimney-sweeps

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One of the core tenants of Marxist theory is that history is a never ending struggle between antagonistic economic classes, and that contemporary reality is the latest instance of that struggle. It is an anti-humanist philosophy that states, in the words of Marx:

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness”

Nowhere is this more apparent than the plight of Blake’s chimney sweeps.

From the very beginning it is obvious that the chimney sweep’s existence is entirely driven by his socio-economic circumstances since, as the footnotes of the poem indicate, the lack of a means of subsistence was his reason for becoming a chimney sweeper in the first place. But what is more interesting is the role of ideology, and the interplay of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic tendencies between the two versions of the poem.

Ideology in the Marxist sense is “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence”. According to Marxist theory, ideology springs from the institutions through which individuals are socialized. In the case of the chimney sweeps, the main institution at work is the church. The ideology that is being sold to the boys here is that one should accept their earthly hardships as a trial, and an insignificant prelude to the rewards of an eternal afterlife. This in effect blinds the boys to the reality of their situation and makes them feel fulfilled by placing them in the social role of humble christian servant.

Hegemony is defined as “The domination of a set of beliefs and values through consent rather than through coercive power”. The differences between the two versions of this poem reflect an issue that received much debate between Marxist scholars: to what extent individuals can resist ideology, and how hegemonic and counter-hegemonic tendencies work within literature and within society. The “innocence” version of the poem casts chimney sweeps who have completely internalized christian ideology. On the other hand, the “experience” version of the poem casts a completely counter-hegemonic chimney sweep who bitterly criticizes his situation and brilliantly elucidates the hypocrisy of those who use their Christianity to speak of a situation that they cannot understand.

Given the vastness of Marxist criticism and the applicability of these two poems to its ideals, this subject would be a good topic for a paper but is difficult to completely explain in a blog post.

The poetess as a lyricist

In Tuesday’s class we listened to some moving ballads by several different bards, and it got me thinking about the relationship between poetry and song. But in Thursday’s class, the musical element was conspicuously absent, and this piqued my curiosity even further.

In our modern understanding of music, a song is essentially a lyric poem that is set to music, which is why in colloquial speech we refer to the words of songs as “lyrics”. The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms gives this as the definition of “lyric”:

“In the modern sense, any fairly short poem expressing the personal mood, feeling, or meditation of a single speaker (who may sometimes be an invented character, not the poet). In ancient Greece, a lyric was a song for accompaniment on the lyre, and could be a choral lyric sung by a group, such as a dirge or hymn; the modern sense, current since the Renaissance, often suggests a song-like quality in the poems to which it refers. Lyric poetry is the most extensive category of verse, especially after the decline- since the 19th century in the west- of the other principal kinds: narrative and dramatic verse. Lyrics may be composed in almost any meter and on almost every subject, although the most usual emotions presented are those of love and grief. Among the common lyric forms are the sonnet, ode, elegy, haiku, and the more personal kinds of hymn. Lyricism is the emotional or song-like quality, the lyrical property, of lyric poetry. A writer of lyric poems may be called a lyric poet, a lyricist, or a lyrist. In another sense, the lyrics of a popular song or other musical composition are the words as opposed to the music; these may not always be lyrical in the poetic sense (e.g. in a narrative song like a ballad). 

Given this definition of lyric poetry, the poetess then seems to be the very essence of a lyric poet.

Even though the Oxford Dictionary of Literary terms doesn’t exclude the Bards from being musicians in this sense, it would seem that the idea of Poetess is much closer to our ideals of music today, given the myriad of love/heartbreak songs that make up the largest portion of the body modern music. 

Sappho and Phaon is a good example of lyric poetry; it has a high emotional content (and also happens to have love as its subject matter), and the rhyme scheme that each of its sonnets has could have a very rhythmic quality if set to the right music. I personally think that on this basis, Sappho and Phaon could make a very good song. 

Or perhaps Sappho and Phaon has already been set to music and I wasn’t aware of it?

If that is the case, or if you [the reader], have studied music before and have some sort of unique insight on this, please let me know by commenting.