March 05, 2012

Mary Shelley's 'The Last Man': things to think about

Some questions to consider while reading The Last Man:

Why should the theme of 'the last survivor of humankind' be so popular at the beginning of the 19thc?

Why do 19thc readers find such solitary figures (cf. the Wandering Jew and the Ancient Mariner) so fascinating?

How might the prophetic feel of the novel novel encapsulate contemporary anxities?

Do politics and philosophy meet successfully here?

Why would apocalyptic visions such as this be entertaining, then and now?

How far does humanity deserve its fate?

What levels of human agency does Shelley allow?


Contemporary representations:

February 20, 2012

The Antiquary and the Ancient Scottish Ballad Tradition

Writing about web page

Sir Walter Scott's The Antiquary is littered with rhymes, tracts, proverbs and ancient English and Scottish ballads-- making up a rich tapestry of intertextuality and oral history. The Scottish ballad tradition was first noted in the early seventeenth century. and by the eighteenth century (as Anglicization took hold), a keen interest in these ballads had developed, leading to the translation and publication of several well-known ballads, such as The Elfin Knight (c.1610):

MY plaid awa, my plaid awa,
And ore the hill and far awa,
And far awa to Norrowa,
My plaid shall not be blown awa.

1 The elphin knight sits on yon hill,
Ba, ba, ba, lilli ba
He blaws his horn both lewd and shril.
The wind hath blown my plaid awa

2 He blowes it east, he blowes it west,
He blowes it where he lyketh best.

3 'I wish that horn were in my kist,
Yea, and the knight in my armes two.'

4 She had no sooner these words said,
When that the knight came to her bed.

5 'Thou art over young a maid,' quoth he,
'Married with me thou il wouldst be.'

6 'I have a sister younger than I,
And she was married yesterday.

7 'Married with me if thou wouldst be,
A courtesie thou must do to me.

8 'For thou must shape a sark to me,
Without any cut or heme,' quoth he.

9 'Thou must shape it knife-and-sheerlesse,
And also sue it needle-threedlesse.'

10 'If that piece of courtesie I do to thee,
Another thou must do to me.

11 'I have an aiker of good ley-land,
Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand.

12 'For thou must eare it with thy horn,
So thou must sow it with thy corn. Visit for more songs.

13 'And bigg a cart of stone and lyme,
Robin Redbreast he must trail it hame.

14 'Thou must barn it in a mouse-hell,
And thrash it into thy shoes sell.

15 'And thou must winnow it in thy looff,
And also seek it in thy glove.

16 'For thou must bring it over the sea,
And thou must bring it dry home to me.

17 'When thou hast gotten thy turns well done,
Then come to me and get thy sark then.'

18 'I'l not quite my plaid for my life;
It haps my seven bairns and my wife.'
The wind shall not blow my plaid awa

19 'My maidenhead I'1 then keep still,
Let the elphin knight do what he will.'
The wind's not blown my plaid awa

Sir Walter Scott was himself a keen antiquary, collecting tracts and ballads (as well as books, coins and other artifacts) from early childhood, remarking in 1810 that: 'This little collection of Stall tracts and ballads was formed by me, when a boy, from the baskets of the travelling pedlars. Until put into its present decent binding it had such charms for the servants that it was repeatedly, and with difficulty, recovered from their clutches. It contains most of the pieces that were popular about thirty years since, and, I dare say, many that could not now be procured for any price'. In The Antiquary, these are rewritten, altered, adapted-- spoken and mimicked by many different characters at contrasting moments throughout the text, linking the sequence of events and also defeating class and social boundaries.

January 30, 2012

Edmund Burke, 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'

Writing about web page

Charlotte Smith's Desmond is, amongst many things, a response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, written in 1790. In this, he argued for gradual reform, rather than revolution. He believed that the French Revolution would end catastrophically, because it was underpinned by something that was abstract and therefore insecure-- the Enlightenment.

As outlined by Vincent B. Leitch et al., Burke inveighed against unfettered democracy and dangerous appeals to the universal "rights of man" as he defended tradition, monarchy, and a hereditary aristocracy: 'He resisted abstract speculation and (as he defined then) systems and schemes for social and political change that ignored the long history and organic interrelatedness of sociopolitical life, culture and institutions. Society, for Burke, means a "partnership" between "those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born." It is dangerously wrong to interfere with this partnership, however alluring the ideals invoked as justification.'

Against Burke, the French Revolution was defended by several important British radicals, besides Smith. Most notable of these was Thomas Paine, who, in 1791, published The Rights of Man, and also Mary Wollstonecraft, who reacted quickly and aggressively in 1790 with her Vindication of the Rights of Man, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by His Reflections on the Revolution in France. Both attacked hereditary privilege and Wollstonecraft went further, attacking the very rhetoric that Burke employed.


Leitch, Vincent B. (gen. ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York; London: W.W Norton Company, 2001), p.537

January 16, 2012

Edmund Burke's 'A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful'

Writing about web page

Edmund Burke's 'Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful' (1757), suggests that 'terror is in all cases [...] the ruling principle of the sublime', an emotional and violent sensation. 'The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature', he argues, 'is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.' His philosophy developed, but differed, from John Dennis (1657-1734) and Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), who had employed the sublime to express an appreciation of the awe of nature;a contrast of horror and harmony.

Professor George P. Landlow goes on to explain that: 'In addition to the emphasis which he places on terror, Burke is important because he explained the opposition of beauty and sublimity by a physiological theory. He made the opposition of pleasure and pain the source of the two aesthetic categories, deriving beauty from pleasure and sublimity from pain. According to Burke, the pleasure of beauty has a relaxing effect on the fibers of the body, whereas sublimity, in contrast, tightens these fibers. Thus, by using the authority of his ingenious theory, he could oppose the beautiful and sublime: "The ideas of the sublime and the beautiful stand on foundations so different, that it is hard, I had almost said impossible, to think of reconciling them in the same subject, without considerably lessening the effect of the one or the other upon the passions'' [113-114]. Burke's use of this physiological theory of beauty and sublimity makes him the first English writer to offer a purely aesthetic explanation of these effects; that is, Burke was the first to explain beauty and sublimity purely in terms of the process of perception and its effect upon the perceiver.'

January 09, 2012

Ann Radcliffe 'On the Supernatural in Poetry'

Writing about web page

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), one of the pioneers of the Gothic genre, was the first to distinguish between "terror" and "horror", in her essay On the Supernatural in Poetry. In her view "terror and Horror are so far opposite that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life [leading to the sublime]; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them [...] neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreader evil".

The full article, which will be of great use this term, can be viewed by clicking on the link above.

December 05, 2011

Romantic Period Novel— Termly Review

The first term of the RPN module has explored four fascinating texts and a variety of themes and ideas.

In weeks 2 and 3 we read Frances Burney’s Evelina and examined the ways in which Evelina is (or is not) a heroine of sensibility; her unusual relationship with Mr Villars and Mme Duval; the institution of marriage.We asked: What is Lord Orville’s character? Is he Evelina’s saviour? Who preys on Evelina? We further examined the reception of Evelina in the eighteenth century and the conduct literature from which Burney draws or critiques.

In weeks 4 and 5 we discussed the representation of family and sensibility in Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline and the ways in which Smith complicates gender. We questioned whether Emmeline is a heroine (distinguished for her courage) or a protagonist (simply playing the chief part), whether she is perfect or idealised, and if sensibility is a hindrance in Emmeline.

In weeks 6 and 7 we read Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, beginning with the author’s advertisement, asking why she might want to distance herself from contemporary understandings of the novel. We wondered: what is the moral of the story? Is it easy to discern? We then examined in some detail the character of the narrator, the representation of masculine figures and the theme of race.

Emma concluded the first term. We went back to Scott’s definition of Romance and Novel (marvellous and uncommon vs. ordinary and modern) and explored the ways in which Emma might be seen to turn the narrative into a Romance by fantasizing and misreading. In groups, we analysed the theme of rank, by studying the descriptions of each home (Hartfield, Donwell Abbey, Randall’s, the Bates’ flat, the vicarage) and asking what it might suggest about the character(s) that live in them.

With each new text we have referred to genre, form and reception and the themes of market, nation and sensibility. We have contrasted the Novel with Romance, realism with fantasy, and explored burgeoning notions of modernity alongside extracts from key texts by authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Hester Chapone, Henry MacKenzie, Anna Letitia Barbauld.  

November 21, 2011

Chawton House Library: Biography of Maria Edgeworth

Writing about web page

Click on the link above for Susan Manly's brief biography of Maria Edgeworth, in which she discusses the relationship Edgeworth had with her father and the influence he had on her writing, as well as Edgeworth's description of Belinda as a 'Moral Tale'.

Chawton House Library houses a unique collection of books focusing on women's writing in English from 1600 to 1830 and is set in the home and working estate of Jane Austen's brother Edward Austen Knight.

 Maria Edgeworth

November 14, 2011

The truth about women: Maria Edgeworth's 'Helen'

Writing about web page

John Mullen reads Maria Edgeworth's Helen, and considers eighteenth century society.

November 13, 2011

Assessment 1 2011–2012

Below you will find a series of questions, from which you should choose one and write a 5000-word essay discussing and analyzing your chosen text(s). For each question you should choose 1-2 novels on which to base your answer. Your answer should eschew plot summary and biography in favour of analysis; the questions below offer you starting points from which you should develop your own particular argument. In other words, do not attempt to cover all possible answers to any of the questions, but rather focus on an aspect of the question that you can persuasively and eloquently investigate in the allotted space. Remember to include an explicit thesis statement and to construct your argument logically. Secondary criticism should always be subordinated to your own interpretations; you do not need to prove anyone wrong but you do need to prove yourself right – or at least persuade your readers that you have made a plausible case.

Your essay should conform to the Departmental standards as laid out in the Undergraduate Student Handbook. Please note that mechanical and structural errors are liable to incur penalties. The essay is due by 12pm on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Late essays will incur a penalty of 5% per day. All requests for extensions need to be made to the Director for Undergraduate Studies (Dr. Daniel Katz) and not to your tutor. Finally, please note that pressures of work and computer problems are not accepted as reasons for an extension (see the Handbook).

1. ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like’ (Jane Austen/Austen-Leigh, 1870). Consider the representation of male and female characters that might be considered realistic rather than likeable. 

2. Discuss the representation of the working class.

3. ‘The hidden passions burn fiercer by being suppressed’ (Thomas Trotter, 1807). Discuss the relationship between desire, repression, and danger.

4. ‘[A] romance is incapable of exemplifying a moral truth’ (S. T. Coleridge, 1797). Discuss the relationship between romance and morality.

5. Discuss the relationship between class and desire in any two novels.

6. Are marriage and independence mutually exclusive? Why or why not?

7. How do the authors use the following—time and place—to structure their narratives?

8. Open topic: you may devise your own topic in consultation with your tutor by no later than Week 10.

October 31, 2011

Female Passion: Mary Wollstonecraft's 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman'

Mary Wollstonecraft’s complicated position on female passion is often also reflected in the novels we have been reading.

She thinks that not only the eye sees her virtuous efforts from whom all her comfort now must flow, and whose approbation is life; but her imagination, a little abstracted and exalted by grief, dwells on the fond hope that the eyes which her trembling hand closed, may still see how she subdues every wayward passion to fulfil the double duty of being the father as well as the mother of her children. Raised to heroism by misfortunes, she represses the first faint dawning of a natural inclination, before it ripens into love, and in the bloom of life forgets her sex – forgets the pleasure of awakening passion, which might again have been inspired and returned. (Rights of Woman, p.164)

In her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft imagines an ideal widow, proudly turning her back on marital happiness and sexual pleasure in order to devote herself to her childrens' welfare. It is one of many passages that have troubled feminist scholars. Cora Kaplan, for example, has argued that the Rights of Woman ‘expresses a violent antagonism to the sexual’ and ‘exaggerates the importance of the sensual in the everyday life of women’, betraying ‘the most profound anxiety about the rupturing force of female sexuality'.[1] Scholars like Kaplan are often disappointed in the Rights of Woman, and consider this rejection of female passion to be the greatest failure in Wollstonecraft’s “feminism”.

Mary Poovey, however, understands the Rights of Woman (and the Rights of Man) as ‘the endless referral of sexual gratification […] to escape altogether sexuality’s cruel logic’.[2] She suggests that in discarding female desire, Wollstonecraft rejects the aesthetic paradigm developed by Edmund Burke which ‘takes the female boy as the paragon of beauty and the sexual “fit” between (heterosexual) bodies as the incarnation of providential proportion’.[3] Poovey clearly understands the significance of this paradigm as heterosexual, and ultimately regards the absence of female passion in the Rights of Woman as a rejection of the sexual. In my own research, I have argued that the Rights of Woman rejects the phallus, not female sexuality—leaving room for a third option: the lesbian.

To what extent, if at all, is this evident in the novels we have read thus far?

[1]Cora Kaplan, Sea Changes: Essays on Culture and Feminism (London; Verso, 1986), p. 41

[2] Mary Poovey, ‘Aesthetics and Political Economy in the Eighteenth Century: the Place of Gender in the Social Constitution of Knowledge’, Aesthetics and Ideology, ed. by George Levine (New Brunswick; Rutgers University Press, c.1994), p.97

[3] Poovey, p.97

October 2023

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Sep |  Today  |
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31               

Search this blog

Blog archive

RSS2.0 Atom
Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder