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.