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December 23, 2010

Welcome to Scranton.

Writing about web page http://www.welcometoscranton.com/home

I have been meaning to write a note here for a week or two about a new book out by a friend and colleague from my local critique group, Greg Halpin. Halpin’s new book is titled Welcome to Scranton and it tells the story of a group of men, who having been friends at high school, meet up again as adults and rediscover what they always loved and hated about each other.

Now, British readers may not know that Scranton, Pennsylvania, is the setting for the American TV version of The Office. This suggests that Scranton is the equivalent of somewhere like Slough in the UK where the British version of The Office was set. Scranton, however, is more like one of the South Wales coal towns fallen on hard times. It has a rich and varied history.

In Welcome to Scranton, Halpin cleverly taps into Scranton’s notoriety as the ugly-lovely town in The Office, telling the story of cafe owner, Hank, and his motley crew of friends. See the website here: http://www.welcometoscranton.com/ Halpin has some amazing photos of Scranton on the website too: http://www.welcometoscranton.com/photos


November 03, 2010

Visit to the National Gallery of Art in DC: The Age of Innocence, Gesture and the Fan.

Follow-up to Screening Intimacy Panel at 'Writings of Intimacy in the 20th and 21st Centuries'. from The Midnight Heart

When I was in Washington D.C. last week, I visited the National Gallery of Art where they have a show on at the moment: From Impressionism to Modernism – The Chester Dale Collection . There were some very impressive paintings on display, but what particularly struck me was a series of paintings that featured women in sumptuous surroundings holding fans.

Only recently, I wrote up a blog entry on gesture and intimacy from a paper that I saw by the film academic Steven Peacock at the Writings of Intimacy conference . In his paper, Peacock talked about Scorsese’s film The Age of Innocence based on the book by Edith Wharton. Both the film and the book focus on the scandalous Countess Elena Olenska, whose separation from her husband causes ripples in 1870s upper-class New York society. Newland Archer is fascinated by the Countess Olenska, in spite of the fact that he is about to marry the innocent, pure, beautiful May Welland.

What Peacock talked about was how Scorsese uses gesture as a kind of power play between Elena Olenska and Newland Archer. Here is what I said about it in my previous blog entry:

Peacock analyzed the scene in the box at the opera in which Elena’s gestures are both declamatory and intimate. Elena extends her arm to Newland to be kissed, but her hand hangs there while he hesitates. They start to make smalltalk and in discussing her experience of the opera, Elena extends her fan over the spectators. When she does so, she is expressing her fondness for the place, yet it is also a gesture that claims dominion.

When I was looking at paintings in the Chester Dale collection, I remembered Peacock’s reading of The Age of Innocence. I was fascinated to note too that many of the paintings from around the time when The Age of Innocence was set (1870s) featured women with fans, and in each case the fan seems to signify something different,

The first painting was Madame Camus by Degas (1869-70):

Degas - Madame Camus (1870)

Here, the woman, who might be another Countess Olenska, is sat up in her seat in sumptuous surroundings. We see her thoughtful face in profile, and the fan in reaching out and up from the chair suggests intention. The scarlet colours of the background, her dress and the fan suggest love, sexuality, passion even. Altogether, the picture presents a vision of someone on the verge of doing something and the fan is almost leading her there.

Next was The Loge (1882) by American artist, Mary Cassatt.

Cassatt - The Loge (1882)

A loge is a small compartment, a box at the theatre or a separate forward section of a theatre mezzanine or balcony. In this exclusive space sit two young women, a decorous spectacle for the theatre-goers, and the scene is very reminiscent of The Age of Innocence. The two women, however, seem uncomfortable with the situation, and one is almost hidden behind her fan. These female figures resemble the good, true and innocent May Welland more than Countess Elena Olenska.

Finally is another painting by Mary Cassatt, Miss Mary Ellison (1880):

Cassatt- Miss Mary Ellison (1880)

The title suggests that this portrait must have been a commissioned work, yet strangely the figure is picture of dejection. Staring into the distance, she is lost in her own thoughts, and the way that she holds the fan seems mechanical, as though she is merely going through the motions of proper manners and delicacy. There is also something very vulnerable about the figure, since reflected in the mirror behind her is the back of her head and her shoulders.

In each of these paintings, the fan works differently to suggest passion, shyness and dejection. It would be interesting to know whether Wharton or Scorsese were aware of paintings like these and to what extent they might have contributed to their renderings of The Age of Innocence.


October 12, 2010

Screening Intimacy Panel at 'Writings of Intimacy in the 20th and 21st Centuries'.

Writing about web page http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/ea/events/Writings%20of%20Intimacy.html

Screening Intimacy: Papers from Peacock, Reed and Schaller.

Steven Peacock’s paper focussed on how within the big architecture of film, scenes of intimacy could emerge. He looked at two great films; The Age of Innocence (dir. Scorsese) and The Insider (dir. Mann), and he argued that the narratives of the films were presented in a way that made them extensive and intimate. For The Insider, Peacock analyzed the first meeting between the producer Lowell Bergman and the insider on US tobacco, Jeffrey Wigland, and he discovered a tension between intimate spaces of enclosure and dangerous spaces of openness. Particularly interesting was Peacock’s discussion of The Age of Innocence, in which Newland Archer is to marry May Welland but instead develops an attraction to the disgraced family member, Elena Olenska. Peacock analyzed the scene in the box at the opera in which Elena’s gestures are both declamatory and intimate. Elena extends her arm to Newland to be kissed, but her hand hangs there while he hesitates. They start to make smalltalk and in discussing her experience of the opera, Elena extends her fan over the spectators. When she does so, she is expressing her fondness for the place, yet it is also a gesture that claims dominion. In detailing the precarious relationships of Elena, Newland and May, Scorsese focuses on gestures that are both intimate and public.

Clare Reed from University of Reading gave an entertaining paper on representations of lesbians on TV. The paper was titled ‘The Kisses of Her Mouth: The Invisible Intimate Lesbian in Friends and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. Reed argued convincingly that lesbian kissing is absent these programmes, or if it is present it is exploitative playing on men’s sexual fantasies. There are lesbian characters in Friends: the lesbian couple Carol and Susan who are made safe by the fact that they are mothers (Ross is the father).Carol and Susan are financially secure and professional and they do not conform to the butch-femme dynamic of some lesbian relationships. Reed analyzed the episode, ‘The One Without the Ski Trip’, which shows Carol taking a hair (pubic?) out her mouth, but nothing more graphic is shown. She also looked at ‘The One with Rachel’s Big Kiss’, which features an exploitative kiss between Rachel and an ex-college friend. In Buffy, Willow and Tara are the sole gay couple; they are not ‘visually obvious’ lesbians and they are aesthetically similar. Reed analyzed the episode ‘New Moon Rising’, where the lesbian kiss between Willow and Tara is hidden when they blow out a candle. ‘Touched’, too, shows Willow and Tara in bed but nothing intimate is shown. Reed highlights that the women are only seen in a sexual way in ‘Restless’ when Zander has an erotic dream about them. Overall, Reed seemed to suggest that TV representations of lesbians are still not very progressive. It is interesting to note, however, that she only looked at American TV and in particular at programmes which had their hayday in the nineties. It would be interesting to consider whether British TV of this period has any more progressive representations of lesbians (e.g. Queer as Folk?). It might be interesting too to consider American TV of the noughties which features lesbians, and I am thinking particularly of characters like Keema Greggs in The Wire. I am not so sure about Reed’s demand for visually obvious lesbians on TV, e.g. butch and femme identities. Perhaps the idea of a ‘visually obvious’ lesbian needs questioning – do butch and femme stereotypes need to be subverted too? – but I am with Reed in condemning the striking avoidance of honest, genuine scenes of lesbian intimacy.

The final paper on this panel was by Karen Schaller of UEA and it was on Elizabeth Bowen’s short story, ‘Dead Mabelle’. Schaller put forward an argument that Bowen writes this story in a language of the cinema that works with gaze, lighting, camerawork. Written in 1927, the story tells how Williams falls in love with a dead film star, and it describes the process of watching her films until he comes to her last. Mabelle’s films are not enduring art – her film reels are later melted down for patent leather. She is, however, a femme fatale whose excess of presence represents a lack. My notes on this paper are not absolutely complete, but Schaller’s analysis of how the cinema and the short story ‘accelerate together’ was especially fascinating.


March 15, 2010

Franco Moretti’s Trees

Follow-up to Franco Moretti's Maps from The Midnight Heart

In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretto distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:

Graphs,
Maps,
• and Trees.

Trees

Darwin

Darwin’s tree was more than just a diagram. Moretti describes Darwin’s kind of mapping as creating ‘morphological diagrams, where history is systematically correlated with form’ (69). Playing on evolutionary theory, Moretti suggests that ‘divergence pervades the history of life, defining its morphospace – its space-of-forms’ (70). But the question is, how does this work for literature?

Moretti begins to consider this question by focussing on British detective fiction, where divergence was dictated by ‘the literary market’ and its ‘ruthless competition – hinging on form’ (72). British detective fiction developed through the sophisticated presentation of clues in the narrative and Moretti explores which strategies worked and which were unsuccessful. What he discovers is that the ruthless market makes ‘writers branch out in every direction’, sometimes forcing them ‘into all sorts of crazy blind alleys’ (77). Consequently, ‘divergence becomes indeed, as Darwin had seen, inseparable from extinction’ (77). If there is divergence, there must also be convergence, but Moretti is keen to note that ‘Convergence […] only arises _on the basis of previous divergence, and its power tends in fact to be directly proportional to the distance between the original branches (bicycles and internal combustion engines)’ (80).

Having explored the evolution of a particular genre, Moretti turns to mapping a specific literary technique: free indirect style. Moretti suggests that free indirect style has a ‘composite nature’ which ‘made it “click” with that other strange formation which is the process of modern socialization: by leaving the individual voice a certain amount of freedom, while permeating it with the impersonal stance of the narrator. And the result was the genesis of an unprecedented “third voice”, intermediate and almost neutral in tone between character and narrator: the composed, slightly resigned voice of the well-socialized individual, of which Austen’s heroines – these young women who speak of themselves, in the third person, as if from the outside – are such stunning examples’ (82).

Moretti maps various branches and streams of free indirect speech in international fiction, such as British and Irish modernism and Latin American dictator novels. Moretti notices though that one convergence that was not possible is that of free indirect speech with dialogism. Interestingly, in response to this fact, Moretti comments that ‘Culture is not the realm of ubiquitous “hybridity”: it, too, has barriers, its impossible limits’ (85).

Overall, in mapping British detective fiction, or the use of free indirect style in international literature, what Moretti is suggesting is a different way for academics to analyze the novel. Ultimately, he asks us to ‘Take a form, follow it from space to space, and study the reasons for its transformation’ (90).

Further Reading

Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.


Franco Moretti's Maps

Follow-up to Franco Moretti's Graphs from The Midnight Heart

In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretti distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:

Graphs,
• Maps,
• and Trees.

Maps

Three Mile Cross

In this section, Moretti focuses on Mary Mitford’s Our Village (1824-1832) which is based on a town in Berkshire called Three Mile Cross. Moretti makes a map of volume one of Our Village and shows that geographically the town is in the centre of a concentric pattern of events which spiral out into the surrounding countryside. The narrative space of the book circles around the village always returning to the centre.

Moretti explains that the first time he discovered this shape was in mapping Our Village and he had never encountered it before. In thinking about the concentric pattern of Our Village, Moretti suggests that the space reflects ‘the older, “centred” viewpoint of an unenclosed village’ (39).

Other texts that engage with the village as the centre of human society also show a concentric pattern like the one in Our Village. Moretti points us to Walter Christaller’s study Central Places in Southern Germany , where the centre is the target settlement which provides the most specialized services and trading. Around this target settlement grows a ‘market region’ and it is encircled by smaller versions of the largest, central town. Moretti maps this concentration of services and trade in Our Village too, noting that the characters have to make more and more journeys to urban centres to access their specialised services and shops.

Like John Galt’s Annals of the Parish (1821), Our Village represents simple, everyday life occasionally punctuated by surprises and remarkable events emerging from the urban centres. This contact with the urban and the national becomes more sinister though in Berthold Auerbach’s Black Village Stories (1843-1853), where outside interference in village life becomes oppressive and regulatory. Moretti concludes: ‘In their animosity towards national centralization, village stories diverge sharply from the provincial novels with which they are often confused, and are if anything, much closer to regional novels’ (52).

Out of these debates on these village stories, Moretti begins to think that his maps are not so much geographical, as they are diagrammatic. These diagrams map the object of the characters’ desires in some instances. For example, Moretti analyzed the Parisian novel and found that the young male protagonists all lived on the opposite side of the Seine to their lovers. The diagrams, however, can also map forces. Moretti explains that this involves ‘[d]educing from the form of an object the forces that have been at work; this is the most elegant definition ever of what literary sociology should be’ (57). Consequently, Moretti finds that in the Our Village stories from in and around 1828, the map of narrative space becomes less concentric, and Moretti suggests that this change is due to historical unrest at the time reflected in the 1830 Peasant Uprisings. The narrative space of the British novel can no longer be concentric, because such village idylls were being killed by industrialization. According to Moretti, Elizabeth Gaskell’s portrayal of rural life in Cranford (began serialization in 1851) ‘is Madame Tussaud’s idea of a village story’ (63).

While these insights may not be exactly new, it is fascinating to look at literature with Moretti’s approach and what is offered here is certainly a fascinating view of international writing and the space of narrative. The comparison of Mitford with Christaller, Galt and Auerbach is very convincing, and the chapter on ‘Maps’ does offer a new mode of reading literature through the ‘matrix of relations’ that makes up the social fabric of the novel (54).

Further Reading

Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.


March 12, 2010

Franco Moretti's Graphs

In his recent study, Graphs, Maps, Trees Franco Moretti takes his analytical models ‘from three disciplines with which literary studies have had little or no interaction: graphs from quantitative history, maps from geography, and trees from evolutionary history’ (2007: 1-2). Moretti distances himself from academics that look to ‘French and German metaphysics’ and he commends instead the methodologies of ‘the natural and social sciences’ (2). I am going to discuss his findings in three blog entries:

• Graphs,
Maps ,
• and Trees.

Graphs

The first section of Franco Moretti’s study Graphs, Maps, Trees is of course on graphs and it poses some interesting ideas about how critics formulate literary history. What Moretti plots on his graphs is the rise and fall of the novel in various cultures from Britain to Nigeria. From these graphs, he discovers ‘[a]n antipathy between politics and the novel’ (12), and he quotes Michael Denning who tells us that in times of radicalism ‘writers have usually chosen shorter and more public forms [to express the zeitgeist], writing plays, poems, journalism and short stories’ (Denning qtd. Moretti 2007: 11).

Moretti

(Source: http://olivreiro.com.br/home/)

In mapping novelistic trends, Moretti wants to discover whether there are any patterns that emerge from approaching literature with such a broad, comparative scope. For example, he wonders whether the fall of novel reading in Japan has any relation to the decline of the novel in Britain or elsewhere. Is there some kind of historical pattern emerging? Between Braudel’s notion of longee durée and isolated events in literary history, Moretti poses ‘the – unstable – border country between them’: this is the cycle which is both repetitive and temporary (14).

Moretti likens cycles to genres, because both are ‘temporary structures’ and both have a limited ‘life-cycle’: ‘Instead of changing all the time and a little at a time, then, the system stands still for decades, and is “punctuated” by brief bursts of invention: forms change once, rapidly, across the board, and then repeat themselves for two-three decades’ (18). Thinking about why such cycles occur, Moretti suggests that, though evolution of genres is specific to the time (e.g. in eighteenth century Britian ‘amorous epistolary fiction being ill-equipped to capture the traumas of the revolutionary years’), it is ‘too much of a coincidence’ when a number of genres ‘disappear together from the literary field, and then another group and so on’ (20). Moretti believes the cause to be generational: ‘[W]hen an entire generic system vanishes at once, the likeliest explanation is that its readers vanished at once’ (20).

I find Moretti’s argument very interesting, but I do have some questions. For example, it is true that ‘amorous epistolary fiction’ declined during revolutionary years in eighteenth century Britain, but one might argue that it was reinvented in the novels of the nineteenth century in writers like Wilkie Collins (especially The Woman in White). So is it false to separate genres out in this way? Might not the Sensation novel be just another reinvention of the amorous epistolary novel? (This links to what Moretti writes about in the section on ‘Trees’ which I discuss later.)

I also have questions about Moretti’s discussion of cycles in relation to gender. Discussing the work of April Alliston, Moretti suggests that the ‘Great Gender Shift’ in the mid 1700s is merely part of an oscillating pattern: ‘[I]n all likelihood they are all observing the same comet that keeps crossing and recrossing the sky: the same literary cycle, where gender and genre are probably in synchrony with each other – a generation of military novels, nautical tales, and historical novels á la Scott attracting male writers, one of domestic, provincial and sensation novels attracting women writers, and so on’ (27). I find this statement to be rather worrying, because it seems to assume that women would be attracted to ‘domestic’ stories and it could be used as a very easy explanation for gender bias, when in fact many women writing subversive and powerful fiction did have problems when they tried to publish it. I don’t think that Moretti necessarily means to excuse the sidelining of women in literary history, but I think that this statement could use a qualification.

Overall though, I am sympathetic to Moretti’s ideas about ‘graphs’ and I like the idea of the cycle as the ‘hidden thread of history’ (26). The comparative approach is also very useful as Moretti demands ‘a theory, not so much of “the” novel, but of a whole family of novelistic forms’(30).

Further Reading

Benzon, William (2006) ‘Signposts for a Naturalistic Criticism’ Entelechy. Access online at HTTP: (accessed 12 March 2010).
Moretti, Franco (2007) Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London and New York: Verso.


May 04, 2007

'Writing' by Toby Litt

THE POETRY REVIEW ESSAY
Poetry Review, vol. 93, no. 3, pp. 42-48

Litt suggests that the public still think that writers are Romantics, ‘still muse-haunted sensitives, victims of the descending, perhaps bestowed world’ (p. 42). (Why is Litt so hostile to the stereotyped Romantic? This is reminiscent of Carr’s comments about modernist attitudes in From My Guy to Sci-Fi where the ‘mincing Meredith’ et al are reviled by the masculinity of modernist movement.)

Litt thinks that other art-forms have shrugged off Romantic stereotypes:

[C]lassical music had Serialism, sculpture Duchamp, painting Warhol. Literature, however, despite the resolutely anti-Romantic efforts of the Dadaists, William Burroughs and the Oulipo movement, has yet to convince the public, or I would say, itself that it derives from anything other than Inspiration.

Litt suggests that the dominance of a Romantic account of composition is due to writer’s ‘desktop’ experience. Writers use the idea of being inspired for their own purposes whether that be to gain solitude or behave badly. Litt believes that writers lie to themselves.

Litt moves on to describe how cinema has portrayed the writing process. He cites Adaptation and The Shining as the best portrayals of inspiration. He mentions Dorothy Parker and The Vicious Circle as a bad example of a portrayal of inspiration, with its picturing of a waste paper basket filling up with paper.

Litt states: ‘The history of writing is in many departments, that of a descent.’ He mentions The Moronic Inferno by Martin Amis which traces a descent of subject. Amis’ assertion that the protagonists of literature have descended from gods to kings to generals to fabulous lovers (all superhuman) to ordinary people is useful to Litt, because he can compare this with the descent in inspiration: ‘from God plain-and-simple to the God-inspired poet to the thing-inspired poet (Nature, Woman, Beauty), to the self inspired poet, all the way to the non-existent poet’.

Litt is concerned by the argument that if Milton had not existed Paradise Lost would still have existed. He argues that writers are capable of having an engaged relationship with the zeitgeist – a two way relationship.

Litt criticises Graham Swift’s likening of the writing process to wiping the dust off an inscrption or gravestone. Litt thinks that writers lie to avoid what he calls ‘the Great Terror’ i.e. the blank page. He quotes Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Philosophy of Composition’, which suggests that the true processes of writing are a dirty secret and that bad must come before good. He states: ‘writing is rewriting’ and suggests that each cancellation is an act of self-cancellation.

How do bad writers become good? Alexander Pope knew the answer: “I believe that no one qualification is so likely to make a good writer, as the power of rejecting his own thoughts, and it must be this (if anything) that can give me the chance to be one.” […]’

Accordinf to Litt, each small erasure teaches the writer something about language.

And so all writers write their way out of the primeval sludge and stodge of bad words with which they all began, by crossing their bad selves out. […] Writing, to define it, is a continuous process of self-criticism motivated by aesthetic self-disgust, self hate. Hate powers. Hate is the motor force.

According to Litt’s argument, all writers are on their way to greatness, but some are slower than others. To Litt, writers are ideas, or at least the idea that some day they may be a writer.

Litt now moves on to the idea of the writer as a performed self. He uses the analogy of writing-as-jazz.

The genius of improvisation is dependent upon hours of practice; the eight bars of God-kissing couldn’t exist without the woodshed. Charlie Parker didn’t play bum notes. He had good and bad nights, sessions, but he never failed to be Parker. To write, really to write, is equivalent to having achieved an unmistakable tone on the piano- like Art Tatum, like Thelonius Monk – the piano, an instrument that any fool can get chopsticks out of.

Litt thinks that the question to be asked is not “where does your inspiration come from?” but “how did you come to own these words?”. The public’s view of inspiration suggests that writing must be beyond a single person. Inspiration is a good explanation otherwise the poet must have cheated or had help.

Litt suggests that Romanticism allows the writer to be free to concentrate on the written rather than the writing. They can be absent from their own process.

I don’t believe, though, that the great writers of the past were ever faux-naif – not about their workings, nor their work, nor their world. (I don’t mean Heaney, Larkin, Carver, Frost, Hemmingway, Lawrence, Hardy, Dickens; I mean Beckett, Celan, Joyce, Rilke, Proust, James, Browning, Flaubert.) They did what they did at a point of necessary awareness and hence difficulty.


Notes from the 16th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf

I have typed up my notes from a few papers that I saw at the conference.

Carol Dell’ Amico, California State University
‘The bounds of sympathy: Mrs Dalloway and Mcewan’s Saturday

Dell’ Amico defines Mrs Dalloway and Saturday as flâneur novels and using Glissant’s The Poetics of Relation describes these books as ‘texts of errantries. The protagonists are global wanders that consolidate their root identity through wandering. Thus Joyce’s Ulysses becomes a novel of Irish independence. There are relational root identities: groups, polarities etc. The flâneur leaves home in order to find selfhood.

Dell’ Amico discusses the ironic shipping out of English identity in Mrs Dalloway and points out that it relies on many stereotypes of English life: different classes and ethnicities. A relation is set up between the self and other selves, nations and other nations.

In Saturday, the central character of Henry Perowne is rather like Clarissa Dalloway, while his double in the piece – the working class Baxter – becomes a Septimus Smith type figure. In this book, the relationship between self and nation are problematised: how should one respond to other nations? Mcewan describes Perowne walking through a fish market and imagining the howls of anguish that would be heard if fish could express their suffering. Here is the question of moral sympathy and how to extend it to fish, foxes and Jihadists?

Interestingly, both books present reactions to a world crisis: the Armenian crisis in Clarissa Dalloway’s case and the attack on the World Trade Centre in that of Henry Perwone.
Dell’Amico heer brings in the example of when Clarissa Dalloway thinks of (what now is known to be) the Armenian genocide. Can Clarissa care about more than the local and personal?

And people would say, ‘Clarissa Dalloway is spoilt’. She cared much more for her roses than for the Armenians. Hunted out of existence, maimed, frozen, the victims of cruelty and injustice (she had heard Richard say so over and over again) – no she couldn’t feel nothing for the Albanians, or was it the Armenians? But she loved her roses (didn’t that help the Armenians?) – the only flowers she could bear to see cut.

Here Dell’ Amico brings in Saul Bellow’s Herzog and its notions of suffering. She notes the courtroom scene in which Moses watches the abusers and the abused and is overwhelmed with empathy for their distress. Are there limits to one’s ability to eradicate suffering? Becoming a sponge for suffering certainly results in paralysis and madness in this novel.

Why are the characters at the centre of Mrs Dalloway and Saturday bearers of limited sympathy? Is because as in Herzog , to feel unbounded sympathy is untenable? In spite of their limits, Clarissa Dalloway and Henry Perowne are open to be being touched, to being sympathetic yet this remains within the limits of the local and personal. This however is a way of reforming the world even if it is in a local, personal sense.

Jocelyn Slovak
‘Ethel Smyth: Insider or Outsider’

This paper focuses on Dame Ethyl Smyth – composer, musician and suffragist – whom Woolf regarded in an ambivalent manner. I found this paper interesting in relation to my own, because Slovak presents an account by Woolf about Smyth that admires how Smyth ‘loses self-consciousness completely’. As I argue in my paper, to be unconscious of the scrutiny of others is a state much desired by Woolf. Interestingly, Woolf also stated that she loathed egotism and this is the source of her ambivalence about Smyth.

Sophie Blanch, University of Sussex
‘Woolf, writing, wit: pushing back the boundaries of the serious’

Blanch writes this paper to bring out the playfulness and pleasure in Woolf that is often ignored. Humour can be an inflammatory device that performs transformations. Humour is dangerous and laughter is a refusal.

Woolf thought that to have one’s character as a mouthpiece for one’s views would create a distortion and cause weakness. One should be an artist rather than a performer, a butterfly rather than a gadfly. However, many comic techniques performed transformational gender play.

Blanch gives a number of examples. Rose Macauley’s Dangerous Ages in which humour and dislocation coexists in a middle aged lady’s perception of ‘twinkling irony’. In Elizabeth Bowen’s short story, ‘Daffodils’, a spinster school teacher fears being laughed at and The Heat of the Day considers women laughing at other women. Blanch concludes that there is a doubleness between the comic and the serious here that allows the writers to damn certain kinds of behaviour obliquely.

Blanch concludes by noting Woolf’s reaction to Laycock’s study of humour, Frenzied Fictions. In a study (essay or book?), ‘Loud Laughter’ (1918), Woolf admires the tangled rubbish of the music hall because it has something to do with human nature. She also admires the wit of Stern, Swift and Dorothy Osbourne.

My notes run out here, but I was rather interested in this paper in relation to my own work, because I think that farce is an important part of Mrs Dalloway and Jean Rhys’ Good Morning Midnight . The authors encourage identification with the heroine via a stream of consciousness, yet then that heroine is deflated. Perhaps I need to bring out this farcical element in writing on these books.


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