Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Middlemarch response

He Promises Nothing and Implies Everything: a Response to Ganz’s Article, "Binding the Will: George Eliot and the Practice of Promising"
Melissa Ganz, in her article, "Binding the Will: George Eliot and the Practice of Promising" analyses Eliot's use of promises and promise making in three of Eliot’s major works: Mill on the Floss (1860), Middlemarch (1871-1872), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Ganz chooses to interpret the events regarding Mr. Featherstone's will and Fred’s ultimate disappointment as Eliot’s commentary of undue expectations, and is therefore very critical of the Vincy family, specifically Fred and Mrs. Vincy. Yet, this assertion seems to go contrary to the argument Ganz sets up in her article, specifically the idea that Eliot believes that “one becomes bound by a promise whenever one knowingly excites another’s expectations concerning the existence of an obligations, even though one does not intend to be bound” (emphasis mine)(Ganz 566). A careful evaluation of Mr. Featherstone’s actions toward Fred will show that Mr. Featherstone did knowingly, and even deliberately, excite Fred and his family’s expectations. Understanding Mr. Featherstone’s actions in this light suggests that Eliot had a more complex motive behind this subplot than simply criticizing people for having unfounded expectations.
To make this point, it is necessary to refute Ganz’s claim that Fred should have realized that Mr. Featherstone never intended to leave him the land or any inheritance. Ganz bases this claim on the fact that Mr. Featherstone says: “I promise nothing” (Eliot 130). However, while Mr. Featherstone may never say the words, “I promise,” his actions certainly imply that he does intend to leave Fred an inheritance. The implied promise is, or should be socially and morally binding. Fred Vincy and his family’s expectations are therefore a result of Mr. Featherstone’s deliberate attempt to use implication as a form of manipulation.
The strongly suggestive nature of Mr. Featherstone’s actions can be seen early in the novel when Mr. Featherstone rebukes Fred for the rumor circulating that claims Fred has borrowed money based on his expectation of inheritance. Mr. Featherstone demands a written letter from Bulstrode to the effect that the banker does not believe Fred has done so. At first Fred refuses, but Mr. Featherstone repeatedly uses his will as a point of leverage, saying: “I can alter my will yet” (Eliot 113). What purpose does this statement have if not to imply that in its current state Mr. Featherstone’s will bequeaths an inheritance to Fred? Furthermore, Mr. Featherstone taunts Fred by saying, “You neither want a bit of land to make a squire of you instead of a starving parson, nor a lift of a hundred pounds…” (Eliot 114). The implication here is that if Fred wants either of these things, he must comply with Mr. Featherstone’s demands. As Fred does receive the small monetary gift directly after satisfying the old man’s demands, it is only logical that he would assume that he should also expect to inherit the land as well. These events clearly reveal that Mr. Featherstone’s actions not only excite Fred’s expectations, but that he did so knowingly and therefore, he should consider himself bound by to the promise he made to Fred.
The deliberate nature of the old gentleman’s raising and dashing of Fred Vincy’s expectations is made clear in chapter thirty-five. Mr. Standish interprets the presence of the first will as the intention that it be read and can therefore, also be interpreted as Featherstone’s intention to dangle an empty promise before Fred Vincy and his family. Mr. Featherstone may have had a change of heart regarding the second will, as evidenced by his desire that Mary Garth burn that particular document. However, that does not change the fact that Mr. Featherstone did, at least for a time, intend to taunt Fred and his family with the promised inheritance, only to snatch it away at the very last moment. This desire, however fleeting reveals the depths of Mr. Featherstone’s social depravity. He is cruel simply for the sake of being so and no amount of death bed remorse can change this fact.
Mr. Featherstone’s actions gave strong implications that he would leave Fred an inheritance, and he certainly knew that he was arousing expectations in Fred; in fact, the old man was counting on it. According to Ganz’s carefully laid out understanding of Eliot’s interpretation of promises, this implied promise is in fact binding. This understanding means that Fred and Mrs. Vincy’s assumptions, while not wise, are not completely unfounded. It shifts them from the position of transgressors to victims of Mr. Featherstone’s willful manipulation. This reveals that Ganz assertion that Vincy family’s dashed expectations are merely Eliot’s caution against having unfounded expectations is, at the very least, too superficial an evaluation. Eliot was using these expectations to set up Mr. Featherstone’s manipulative and socially dishonorable, if not immoral character. With this understanding, it becomes clear Eliot is instead suggesting that to hang hopes upon tacit agreements and implied promises is inadvisable, even foolish, because the immoral can so easily back out of them. However, while Fred and his mother are fools for counting on a man such as Mr. Feather stone, it is Mr. Featherstone’s himself who is cast in the most negative light because he fails to uphold the promises he made through implication.

Copy Right Amanda Anderson 2010. Please do not use my writing without my permission.

Monday, January 25, 2010

FAQ: Close Readings

Q: I’m supposed to do a close reading for my literature class! What does this mean and how do I do one?
A: A close reading (sometimes called explication) is an analysis of a work of literature, either in its entirety (usually in the case of a short poem) or a short passage of a longer work, which emphasizes the specific elements and relationships of that work of literature. A truly close reading can be considerably longer than the piece it examines because it discusses each component part of the text in great detail.

This practice can be a very a helpful too for your literature class because it will help you to gain insight of the text by examining how the text is structured and what literary devices (allusion, imagery, ect) the author uses to create the text.

Steps to a Close Reading:

1. Annotate the text you wish to explicate.
2. Analyze the patterns you’ve seen in the text. Pay particular attention to things like repetition, contradiction, similarities.
3. Ask questions about the text. Particularly ask “how” and “why.”

Ok, so what does it mean to annotate the text? It means reading the text carefully and marking, either by highlighting or underlining or writing in the margin, (or if you cannot, or will not, deface a book, using sticky notes) to indicate key words and phrases. There’s no set rule for identifying such words and phrases, but see what stands out to you as the reader. Other things to consider: figurative language, diction, content, structure, style, characterization, tone, assessment, context, theme. Don’t forget to include a thesis which should be an assertion about the meaning or function of the text you are examining. For close readings, it can be easier to develop your thesis after you have considered the elements previously mentioned.

Here’s a sample passage from Henry James’s “The Turn of The Screw.”
To set up this passage, it’s necessary to note that the governess who narrates this passage is convinced that she sees the ghost of her predecessor, Miss Jessel. She believes that her young charge, Flora can see her and is desperate to prove it to the old house keeper, Mrs. Grose.

I quailed even though my certitude that she thoroughly saw was never greater than at that instant, and in the immediate need to defend myself I called it passionately to witness. "She's there, you little unhappy thing -- there, there, there, and you see her as well as you see me!" I had said shortly before to Mrs. Grose that she was not at these times a child, but an old, old woman, and that description of her could not have been more strikingly confirmed than in the way in which, for all answer to this, she simply showed me, without a concession, an admission, of her eyes, a countenance of deeper and deeper, of indeed suddenly quite fixed, reprobation. I was by this time -- if I can put the whole thing at all together -- more appalled at what I may properly call her manner than at anything else, though it was simultaneously with this that I became aware of having Mrs. Grose also, and very formidably, to reckon with. My elder companion, the next moment, at any rate, blotted out everything but her own flushed face and her loud, shocked protest, a burst of high disapproval. "What a dreadful turn, to be sure, miss! Where on earth do you see anything?"
I could only grasp her more quickly yet, for even while she spoke the hideous plain presence stood undimmed and undaunted. It had already lasted a minute, and it lasted while I continued, seizing my colleague, quite thrusting her at it and presenting her to it, to insist with my pointing hand. "You don't see her exactly as we see? -- you mean to say you don't now -- now? She's as big as a blazing fire! Only look, dearest woman, look -- -- !" She looked, even as I did, and gave me, with her deep groan of negation, repulsion, compassion -- the mixture with her pity of her relief at her exemption -- a sense, touching to me even then, that she would have backed me up if she could. I might well have needed that, for with this hard blow of the proof that her eyes were hopelessly sealed I felt my own situation horribly crumble, I felt -- I saw -- my livid predecessor press, from her position, on my defeat, and I was conscious, more than all, of what I should have from this instant to deal with in the astounding little attitude of Flora. Into this attitude Mrs. Grose immediately and violently entered, breaking, even while there pierced through my sense of ruin a prodigious private triumph, into breathless reassurance.
"She isn't there, little lady, and nobody's there and you never see nothing, my sweet! How can poor Miss Jessel -- when poor Miss Jessel's dead and buried? We know, don't we, love?" -- and she appealed, blundering in, to the child. "It's all a mere mistake and a worry and a joke -- and we'll go home as fast as we can!"
Our companion, on this, had responded with a strange, quick primness of propriety, and they were again, with Mrs. Grose on her feet, united, as it were, in pained opposition to me. Flora continued to fix me with her small mask of reprobation, and even at that minute I prayed God to forgive me for seeming to see that, as she stood there holding tight to our friend's dress, her incomparable childish beauty had suddenly failed, had quite vanished. I've said it already -- she was literally, she was hideously, hard; she had turned common and almost ugly. "I don't know what you mean. I see nobody. I see nothing. I neverhave. I think you're cruel. I don't like you!" Then, after this deliverance, which might have been that of a vulgarly pert little girl in the street, she hugged Mrs. Grose more closely and buried in her skirts the dreadful little face. In this position she produced an almost furious wail. "Take me away, take me away -- oh, take me away from her!"

This passage from James’s “Turn of the Screw” is integral to understanding and recognizing the issue of perception and vision as one of the major motifs of the story. To begin with, James’s emphasis on seeing and looking must be acknowledged. The narrator is desperate to have Mrs. Grose or Flora admit to seeing the specter of Miss Jessel. In order to emphasize the theme of seeing and looking, James uses the verb “see” twelve times (counting its past tense, “saw”) and the verb “look”, the action which enables seeing twice. He also references eyes, the organs we use to see. The emphasis in this short passage harkens to James’s purpose in the text as a whole: he is questioning our ideas and assumptions of perception.
Additionally, within this section is the issue of how the characters perceive each other. The narrator associates Flora’s behavior with a mask, indicating that the face or persona she is presenting is not the true one. However, the narrator also realizes that the way she perceives Flora-- hard, common and ugly-- may not be quite accurate. Consider how the narrator realizes that she is only “seeming to see” Flora in this light. Also note the narrator’s use of the word “literally.” We tend to use this word to mean “taken in the literal sense” but it can also mean “an exact and faithful representation.” Now, consider James’s reputation as a realist. Also, the word literally, makes the reader aware they are reading a work of literature. It then invokes, within the reader, an awareness of the artificiality of presenting a character. No matter how faithfully a character is presented, no author can present “the real thing.” Also, if you are aware of James’s larger body of work, you’ll know that James did not necessarily think that the “real thing” was preferable in art. (See his short story titled “The Real Thing”). This term then, has several layers of meaning both in the narrator’s description of Flora and in James’s construction of the text.
In exploring how the character’s perceive each other one should also consider the names used or not used within this passage. Flora’s name is derivative of the Greek goddess of springtime and flowers. The common understanding of her name clearly situates Flora in a natural setting, such as at the lake. It also seems contradictory to how the governess sees Flora—hard and ugly. One could, however make the argument that she is common as flowers, in general, are common.
As, the narrator, the governess, is never named. The absence of the name offers the narrator anonymity but also suggests that she is perhaps unwilling to stake her reputation on this account by clearly identifying herself within it. Because the reader remains unaware of the narrator’s name or identity, the reader’s perception of the narrator is clouded. In some ways, she seems less real than her predecessor, Miss Jessel.
This close reading reveals that the microcosm, or small section we’re examining, is representative of the macrocosm, or the text in its entirety. One can see through an analysis of this text that the author is asking the reader to consider if one perception against reality. This issue is at the root of the poor governess’s desperation to have someone else admit to seeing the vision of Miss Jessel.

Work Cited

Harvard University | Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). Web. 25 Jan. 2010. .

James, Henry. The Turn of The Screw and Other Short Novels (Signet Classics). New York: Signet Classics, 2007. Print.

Patten, Janice E. "Close Reading." Home Page of The Literary Link, Dr. Janice Patten. Web. 25 Jan. 2010. .

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Short Answer: In what ways might Byron be termed a “conservative” as a poet?

Short Question (Aprox 1-2 pages double spaced in length)
In what ways might Byron be termed a “conservative” as a poet?

Gorge Gordon, the 6th Baron Byron, is an extremely difficult figure to separate from his poetry because his contemporaries often conflated the author with his fictional characters (Greenblatt 608).Lord Byron led a flamboyant and socially scandalous life—for one thing, he reportedly had an affair with his half-sister. Also, the content of his poetry can be seen as scandalous and immoral. A prime example of this would be Byron’s mock-epic Don Juan with it rampant sexual content and its unreliable narrator. As such, it is hard to imagine his poetry as conservative. However, if one considers the fact that Byron’s poetry does owe a considerable debt to the satirists of the 18th century then one might cede that Byron’s poetry can be seen conservative in form, if not in content. Alexander Pope’s Horatian poems greatly influenced Byron’s work, particularly Don Juan, therefore it will be most fruitful to examine how Byron’s major satire of moral folly (a scandalous poem in content) is actually quite conservative in form.
Martin Maner in “Pope, Byron and the Satric Persona” examines the relationship between these two poets and their use of satiric persona. Maner points out that Byron’s literary disguise is but a variant of the traditional, naïve satiric persona, particularly as developed in Pope’s Horatian poems (564-565). However, Byron uses this naïve persona as a solution to the prudishness of his contemporaries. This naïve persona allows Byron to deal in the scandalous issues of sexuality and romantic affairs in Don Juan while seeming to deploring them.
As Maner notes, it is true that readers argue that there are no values presented in Don Juan; that both the title character and the narrator lack morality. However, these readers are overlooking the satirist’s devise of holing up a model of virtue for us to admire and see through it (565). This technique is integral to Byron’s construction of Don Juan. Consider the opening lines:
I want a hero: an uncommon want,
When every year and moth sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
The age discovers he is not the true one:
In these opening lines, Byron establishes the persona of the narrator who is unable to hold on to one static idea of a hero. As such, the narrator, seemingly innocent, plays with our conception of a hero. However, his naivety allows him to comment on the social norms that produce and refute heroes. What Byron is doing is offering his reader a model to admire, but at the same time, expecting them to see through the guise (Maner 565). Thus, by adopting this traditional satiric tool, Byron is able to delve into moral ambiguities. Therefore, it can be concluded that Byron’s conservativism lies in his adoption of traditional literary devices, such as persona, rather than in his choice of content.

Copy right Amanda Anderson 2010. Please do not use my writing without permission.

Work Cited

Maner, Martin. "Pope, Byron and the Satric Persona." Studies in English Literature 20.4 (1980): 557-73. JSTOR. Web. 24 Jan. 2010.

Greenblatt, Stephen (ed)."George Gordon, Lord Byron." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume D The Romantic Period. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. 607-11. Print.

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron AKA Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Although technically Bryon falls into the period known as the Romantic era, much of his work is actually more closely related to the satiric tradition of Alexander Pope and John Dryden. In fact, he drew upon Alexander Pope’s Horatian satires and Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy in developing his style for his epic survey of modern folly, Don Juan.
However, even though he drew from old-fashioned texts, Byron was still a product of his age. As such, he was increasingly skeptical of the established belief system, particularly in the ideas expressed by the intellectuals of the day. In much of his poetry, he too explored the internal dramas of the individual mind. However, he approached the development of personality quite differently than say, Wordsworth, whose auto-biographical poetry revealed his psychological development.
Perhaps then, it is best to call Byron an arch-Romantic because he gave to the age the Bryonic hero, a model that his contemporaries could both admire and pity. First found in the opening Canto of Childe Harold, this figure will appear in Byron’s later works in various forms. The Byronic hero is an idealized, but flawed character. He is both mysterious and pessimistic. He possesses great talent, superior passion, and distains society and social institutions. He has little or no respect for rank or privilege. Within the Byronic hero is the memory of some guilt or crime, often nameless, which drives him to his inevitable doom. He is attractive to others because of their terror of his obliviousness to ordinary concerns or values. The Byronic hero is a non-political rebel is infused with erotic overtones. The Byronic hero has been imitated in various forms and has its ancestry in Milton’s work.
Examples of literary descendants of the Byronic hero:
Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights
Captin Ahab in Moby-Dick
Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre

Contemporaries of Byron often equated the author with his literary progeny and read his works as autobiographical. However, his letters show that his characters inherited only propensity for depression. In fact, his own temperament could be seen as the opposite of his characters.

Noted characteristics of Byron’s writing style include speed, vehemence, and in his not-satiric poems, melodrama. The speed can be attributed to his clarity of both perception and phrase, which express the vigorous positivism of his mind. There is a relative scarcity of concrete, partial detail, which results in a boldness and of motion quite unlike the imagery used in Keats’s poetry.

There is an extensive use of clichés and stock phrases in Byron’s works. For example: Yet well thy soul hath brooked the turning tide” (The last phrase was clichéd even at that time. It is suggested that in order to get the full effect of each poem, the poem is to be read as quickly as possible. This rapidity implies a reliance on extreme emotion. In Byron’s works, one is dealing with poetry that carries all of the moods to an extreme pitch. The reader is confronted with theatrical or over-the-top emotions. In Byron’s works, emotion is to be enjoyed and even relished for its own sake. Byron’s poetry is known for its strength and masculinity.

Byron achieved great popularity and success during his life time. He was considered, through much of the 19th century to be the very epitome of literary Romanticism and he was rated as one of the greatest English poets. In fact, one French critic wrote of him as “the greatest and most English of these artists [the romantic poets]; he is so great and so English that from him alone we shall learn more truths of his country and of his age than from all the rest together.” His influence upon his contemporaries was great and varied. He influenced poets and novelists (Balzac and Stendhal in France, Pushkin and Dostoyevsky in Russia, and Melville in America). He also affected painters like Delacroix, and even composers like Beethoven.

However, despite his widespread popularity and influence, his literary status was challenged by Victorian critics who saw Byron as immoral and his aristocratic values classed with the values of the middle-class. Of Byron’s contemporaries, only Shelley openly thought highly of him.

Work Cited

"George Gordon, Lord Byron." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume D The Romantic Period. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. 607-11. Print.

American Literature: The Puritans

Puritans believed in the main doctrines of Calvinism:
1. Natural depravity: All men are born in original sin and can do nothing to save themselves.
2. Unconditional election: God, in his absolute sovereignty, saves some and damns others as he pleases.
3. Predestination: God knows from the beginning who has been elected.
4. Irresistible grace: Man cannot earn this saving grace, nor can he refuse it. The step-by-step process of realizing and accepting grace, and the sense of rebirth resulting from it, was called regeneration or sanctification.

They also believed:
1. God continuously directs the affairs of men. For example, a successful businessman suggests one who is favored by God.
2. The Bible was the guide for all every area of their lives. As such, the Puritan government (a theocracy) was modeled on the covenant between God and man in the Old Testament. This meant that persecution of nonbelievers was justified by scriptural example.
3. In this culture the purposes of literature were utilitarian. Religion was foremost, and all things were made to serve a religious purpose.
4. The genres favored by Puritan writers demonstrate their preference for the useful: Sermons, theological treatises, dialogues, debates, biographies, and histories were most popular, for they served a didactic purpose. Poetry also had a useful purpose, so some poets arose. Short stories, novels, and plays were not developed in this culture because these genres were not deemed useful or didactic.
5. Subject matter was dictated by the importance of religion in their lives and culture. The most important religious topic was a person’s spiritual journey.
6. Puritans wrote about those outside of their theocracy (Quakers, Anglicans, Seekers, Dutchmen, Indians, ect) to denounce them. Thus, while their work is biased, there is more of it than might be expected.
7. Writing style was also influenced by religion. Puritan writing is filled with Biblical allusions, imagery, and figures of speech. Plain writing was generally preferred (in contrast to the florid styles associated with “popish” writers.)

Work Cited

Callow, James T., and Robert J. Reilly. "Puritans and Non Puritans in New England." Guide to American Literature from Its Beginnings Through Walt Whitman (Barnes & Noble Outline Series; Cos 165). New York: HarperCollins, 1986. 5-22. Print.


The purpose of this blog is to help students of literature study for literature exams and courses. I am posting my notes and questions and answers to benefit others who are also studying literature. Please do not use my writing, work cited, or pictures without giving credit. Here's an example of how to cite this blog:
Anderson, Amanda. "Literature Study Guide." Web log post. 24 Jan. 210. Web. 24 Jan. 2010.