Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Four Quartets

While in my first reading of Four Quartets (done for a class about Modernist poetry and WWII), I focused primarily on how the poems reflected Eliot’s thoughts on the war and England, I noticed in my second reading more of how they reflect some of his earlier works. In particular, “East Coker” this time made me think more of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” especially stanza one’s last few lines beginning with “Houses live and die” after already establishing that “In my beginning is my end,” points reinforced in part V when he talks about failure, though it also seemed as though his claim that “Old men ought to be explorers” was perhaps meant to be a more optimistic counterpoint to the ideas he put forth in the earlier poem by suggesting a potential solution to Prufrock’s problems (or just reinforcing the sense that the Prufrock idea is not an uncommon one in his mind and that it has only become more apparent with this generation, while his references to children in “Burnt Norton” and “Little Gidding” were I guess just meant to reinforce his cyclical approach to time). I also got a better sense of Yeats’s influence in this poem and “Burnt Norton” with his references to “The dancers” and “the dance,” though I otherwise didn’t really think of any of the quartets so much in terms of other writers’ influences (I was thinking upon rereading “Little Gidding” that the “dead master” was also a reference to Yeats, though I couldn’t remember if that was actually considered the case or just an occasional interpretation), though I think I could see the thematic similarities to “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (especially near the end of “The Dry Salvages”) or Dante’s work.

I did still get a sense of Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” ideas being put into practice, especially with the Middle English part of “East Coker” and its last part, in which Eliot seems a bit more lamenting about the whole concept, by discussing what “has already been discovered/Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope to emulate,” as though he can only write this way because so much has just been done and can’t be matched (as opposed to way Woolf set up her arguments in A Room of One’s Own as though there was still more that could be accomplished), though he then insists that “there is only the trying.” But “The Dry Salvages,” on the other hand, probably reminded me most of “The Waste Land” with its references to drowning and different forms of religion. Though I again tried to avoid interpreting the poems through Eliot’s personal life (which I hadn’t known so much about on my first reading), I figured that his religious views were probably a greater influence on this work. In this respect I’d interpreted that apple-tree referenced in the last stanza of “Little Gidding” as one that could have been meant as religious symbol suggesting corruption, or lack of change in human nature, along with the reference to “The bitter apple and the bite in the apple” near the end of part II of “The Dry Salvages.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To the Lighthouse

With To the Lighthouse, Woolf’s setting and treatment of family relations (along with the sense of loss that was emphasized in the later parts of the novel) first made me wonder if this novel was intended on any level to be a response to Mansfield’s stories “Prelude” and “At the Bay,” though I wasn’t exactly sure if Woolf would have meant anything by this except wanting to show her own approach (based more in her own family experiences) to rather similar subject matter. Due to the Introduction, I mostly tried to think about the characters of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily in relation to Mrs. Dalloway. I wasn’t exactly sure how the final versions of these characters would have reacted had they been in the party at the end of Mrs. Dalloway, whether they would have had any real interaction with Clarissa or just focused on the same concerns they had in this story (though given Lily’s tendency in “The Lighthouse” to imagine what could have happened in other people’s lives, I particularly wondered how Clarissa would come across from her perspective, while I imagined Mrs. Ramsay more like she acts in this novel).

I think I mainly ended up thinking of these characters (at least the female ones) in relation to those of Howards End, since Mrs. Ramsay sort of ended up striking me as a more middle-class variation of Ruth Wilcox, with both being representatives of the older Victorian generation’s idea of a wife and mother. This led me to thinking of “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” since I figured that out of all of the protagonists in Forster’s novel, Ruth was probably the closest to the kind of “Mrs. Brown” figure that Woolf had proclaimed her interest in, and it did seem as though she showed much more concern than Forster in examining this character type’s feelings about her life and family, while Forster’s main interest with Ruth seemed based on her significance as a class and generational representative, along with her relation to nature as seen in her affection for Howards End. I figured this was might have been at least partly intentional on Woolf’s part, given that “Time Passes” featured a character named Mrs. Bast, which made me think of Jacky, as though Woolf was possibly imagining her fate after losing Leonard (unless Bast was just a common name back then, it just seemed like it would have been a big coincidence).

With Lily, I got more the impression of a Schlegel-type character, as though in this case Woolf was trying to present a newer kind of New Woman who can be an artist without really worrying so much about sex or motherhood (at least not with the kind of men that the Schlegels involved themselves with). In these terms I figured that Clarissa could potentially serve as another sort of variation on the Schlegels, though she seemed more like Margaret in her efforts as a wife, while I figured Lily may have been a bit more like an older version of Helen. I wasn’t sure then if Minta was a kind of Evie Wilcox figure, due to Lily’s ultimate conception of her as sort of failing in her marriage while Evie is finally treated as having lost out to the Schlegels, due to that sense of antagonism between each one and the female protagonist, though Evie seemed defined more by her class position than Minta was.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Modernist Politics

I was glad to get a bit more insight into Lytton Strachey’s ideas, since I’d already seen Carrington. My main impression from his selected essays (and “Conscientious Objector”) was that he was distinguished by advocating a new kind of approach to history while the other Bloomsbury writers were focusing more on contemporary politics and literature. With his “Monday June 26th 1916” entry he seemed a lot more frank about his affairs than I had expected, even though he’s writing in an apparently diary format (I wasn’t always sure if homosexuality was really discussed so much in their times, even when they did it in private, or if this was an aspect that just got more emphasis with contemporary scholarship). I felt I got a better idea of his historical aims with “Matthew Arnold” than his actual preface to Eminent Victorians, since the latter ended with something in French, so I didn’t know it, while the former also emphasized more specific examples of his ideas about Victorian culture. I wondered about what figures exactly he did see as worthy of promotion as opposed to ones like Arnold, and whether any of them are better-known now because of Strachey’s writings (I do recall reading a bit about Lyell when I took a geology class, but that was more in the context of a basic historical overview), since most of the people he attacked aren’t as familiar anymore, other than Florence Nightingale and to a lesser extent Arnold, since “Dover Beach” still seems to be taught (though my class only read it along with “Dover Bitch”).

With the Woolfs, I had previously figured that Leonard’s de-emphasis of her politics after her death may have been based on concerns over her image at that point and to downplay any more controversial aspects of her writings that he didn’t even quite agree with. But I noticed that in “Fear and Politics” and “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” that they ultimately seemed to share basically similar ideas of the importance of freedom, as they both see it in terms of being “out in the open,” without fear of others and compare the states of their societies to forms of captivity. The main differences that struck in the ways they made their points were that Virginia focused on a more feminist-style perspective in the form of a symposium presentation, while Leonard used the more elaborate and satirical fable structure to emphasize more global debate topics in a pamphlet form. I wondered if maybe Virginia’s different form or perspective could have led Leonard to see her as less political, since he may have seen her presentation as being too intimate or domestic while his work was more apparently outspoken. I also thought about with Leonard’s use of animal allegory whether he could have been influenced by Rebellion of the Beasts (a novel currently assumed to have been written by Leigh Hunt and considered another precursor to Animal Farm), though that may have been too obscure, and I guess he could have just been thinking of even earlier examples of allegories with animals.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One’s Own struck me mainly as a sort of feminine response to “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” though I don’t know if it was meant that way on any level (though I imagined that she must have at least considered it, due to her association with Eliot). Reading it in full (rather than just the excerpt I had read before, taken from chapters three and four to emphasize her “Shakespeare’s Sister” argument), I was glad to see that Woolf discussed some of the earlier women writers of the Renaissance period and was able to consider them in terms of a kind of tradition despite her reservations, since my initial response I think had been the same as the type Gubar mentioned of being concerned that she was overly condemning of what she viewed as anger. But taken in the context of her whole argument about warning against an excessively antagonistic relationship between the sexes or overly gendered styles of writing, it made more sense to me.

I wished that she had discussed more women writers’ works, particularly her actual contemporaries, since I was curious to know just how close to having a “Judith Shakespeare” she really thought women writers were in her time. Her references to Rebecca West made it sound as if she thought West may have been too radical herself (57), which surprised me, since I had previously wondered whether West would be considered modern, or overly Edwardian or materialistic in some way by her standards, due to West’s association with Wells. Woolf’s reference to “the aloe that flowers once in a hundred years would flower twice before I could set pen to paper” (27) also seemed like it could have been an implicit reference to Mansfield’s “Prelude,” though I wasn’t sure if that was deliberate either, since it also seemed like the lack of overt references to her may have been based on Woolf’s own concerns about her work, while the lack of other references to modern women writers seemed as though Woolf was maybe trying to imply that she was actually the sort of woman writer that she spoke of being necessary (or at least tried so hard to be that any other type of writer would appear insufficient), but tried to distance herself from this interpretation by using the “Mary Beton” perspective as a frame (unless she just retained some of the same discomfort with overtly expressing her opinions that she criticized in “Mary Carmichael,” or just really didn’t mean for these arguments to be taken as exactly hers and wanted her audience to disagree with these points, but I’d figured the former idea was more likely given Gubar’s explanation of her struggles with writing about her opinions). With earlier writers, I wasn’t sure if Woolf just really didn’t consider them worth discussion, or if many of them were just so obscure at this time that she really wasn’t aware of them (since so many older works by women it seems get promoted as “rediscoveries” now), though I know it could also just have had to do with the “lecture” format that likely made her want to keep it short (though it still seems way to long to imagine actually given as a speech, or even two speeches, though maybe it would just seem to go by faster if it were being read aloud).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Brown, and Modernist Fiction

I was interested in Virginia Woolf’s explanations of Modernist interests in “Modern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” since I had been wondering what contemporary writers exactly that the Modernists were working against in their time. I was surprised that so much emphasis was put on H.G. Wells, since he’s primarily associated with his early sci-fi novels now. I figured Woolf was focusing on some of his other works in her discussions, though I wasn’t sure if that would include his novels like Ann Veronica (which addressed the difficulties of suffragists and women trying to live independently) or not, though I guess it did (though that novel wasn’t really utopian, she may have still thought of it as materialistic, since Wells did generally seem to be more about big ideas than characters).

It was a bit surprising to me to find Woolf putting so much emphasis on characterization, since the more experimental interests of most of her stories made me think that wasn’t as much of an interest of hers, though Mrs. Dalloway obviously featured a wide range of perspectives. “Mr. Bennett and Mts. Brown” and Trotter’s essay ended up primarily making me wonder about how the Modernist movement’s interests varied with the short story in relation to the novel. I know the short story was often seen as a promising new form for writers no longer interested in the novel at that time, but I’m not sure how that affected interest in characterization.

It certainly still seemed to be of interest for Katherine Mansfield, but I don’t know if her approach to the short story was more typical for many Modernists at that time, or if many of those writers wrote more in the style of Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday stories (I also wondered whether more specific forms like the novella, novelette, or flash fiction were being considered yet at all, due to how long or short Woolf’s and Mansfield’s stories could be, but I figured that those categories may have just come later on). I also found it interesting that Trotter included writers like Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Hemingway in his discussion of the Modernist novel, since I hadn’t really been thinking so much about the American side of the Modernist movement, and they were writers I was generally a bit more familiar with than the British writers. Though I know a few of their short stories, they seem to vary a bit as well in their character interests, since Hemingway seemed to focus a bit more on moments, like Woolf (at least with stories like “Hills Like White Elephants”), while the others seemed more interested in particular cultural climates (Jazz Age, post-Civil War, etc), so I don’t know if they, or British short story writers like Lawrence, would ultimately satisfy Woolf’s “Mrs. Brown” criteria for characterization, or if that idea of characterization is really just an exclusively “Female Modernist” one, as Trotter seems to suggest. I also don’t know how exactly Forster would figure in here, since Trotter’s references to the descriptions of German-English relations in Mansfield and others (91) sounded a bit like Howards End, though I don’t know if those writers had considered that themselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eliot and The Waste Land

This reading of The Waste Land mostly struck in terms of its influences, which I hadn’t always noticed on previous readings (this being the second or third time I’ve tried reading this poem). Even before I looked at his notes that were included in this edition, I noticed the influences of the metaphysical poets and revenge tragedians. I think this came mostly from “The Burial of the Dead” (with the kind of imagery of death and memory with the references to aspects of nature like the seasons and hyacinths), and the part about “Those are pearls that were his eyes” in “A Game of Chess” (34). The other parts struck me more in terms of Pound’s possible influence, with the varieties of voices and languages (probably since I’ve read The Pisan Cantos since my last reading of this poem).

Since I read Eliot’s selected 1920 poems in the Dover edition before reading this one, I also had an overall impression of Eliot being closer to the kind of detached mode of writing he had advocated, since I didn’t feel I saw as much of his personal life in his poems as I thought I did with his earlier ones. With the 1920 poems I did get some impression of Eliot working out issues with aging, the war (“Gerontion”) and faith (“The Hippopotamus”), and maybe even still with his wife (“A Cooking Egg”). Yet they seemed now more like elements that he could have just been manipulating to his own means rather than ones that may have been unintentional to his goals (titling a poem “Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service” certainly seems to be almost daring the reader to interpret the poem as personal). I gathered from his French poems that he assumed his readers at that time all knew French, unless these were written at a point where he was just writing for a French audience (but I figured the former, and that Dover apparently thought the same). I wasn’t sure what to make of his use of the “Sweeney” personage so many times (I wasn’t sure if these selections were the only “Sweeney” poems or if he had more), other than that these may have been his main warm-ups for actually writing The Waste Land.

The Sweeney poems certainly seem to have more of that “heroic modernist” feel than his other poems in this section, and so seemed to resemble to structure of The Waste Land more than the others, even “Whispers of Immortality.” With Eliot’s essay “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” I was glad that he elaborated on this aspect of his writing a bit more (though he just discussed it in relation to Joyce, I figured it applied to his work as well). I had still been having difficulties with interpreting The Waste Land, but I felt that the idea of his using a “mythical method” rather than a “narrative method” (178) made sense as a way of understanding what he was trying to do. I was also interested in the fact that he complained of mythological influences not being acknowledged enough in literary criticism (175), even when their influence is as apparent as in works like Ulysses. This seems to be an issue that persists with much modern criticism, even with works using the same influences as Joyce and Eliot (such as with many postmodern novels).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Katherine Mansfield stories

Katherine Mansfield’s stories mainly struck me as having the same sorts of domestic concerns that Woolf’s stories often have, though Mansfield didn’t seem quite as concerned with experimentation. I noticed that her natural references (particularly with flowers) were a lot more specific than those in Woolf’s stories, though I wasn’t sure if there was any particular symbolism in that (though it seemed with the aloe in “Prelude” and the pear tree in “Bliss” at least, that there must be) or if it had more to do with Mansfield just wanting to establish a sense of place in her stories (I hadn’t been sure what kind of influence her New Zealand background would have in her writing). I mainly wondered exactly how much influence Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury group had on her stories, or if they just had the same interests (though given the dates on these stories, I was more inclined to think the former), especially since Mrs. Harry Kember’s description in “At the Bay” (259) sounded like it could have been inspired by Woolf, though it seemed Mansfield may have just meant this character as a more general representative of New Woman characteristics, to distinguish Beryl (and possibly by extension, Mansfield) from this kind of stereotypical representation. I was surprised by “At the Bay,” since when I read “Prelude” I’d just figured that its title was indication that it was meant as a single episode in these characters’ lives that wanted you to guess at what would happen to them (with aloe then possibly representing some sort of potential that each protagonist had that you wouldn’t know would be reached or squandered), so I wasn’t expecting a sequel (though the same kinds of questions remain for the most part about what directions these characters would ultimately take).

In relation to these stories, “The Garden Party” surprised me more in how relatively straightforward it is. I’m not sure I agree with the Norton edition’s apparent assumption that Little Women was such a major influence on this story (though having an upper-class boy named Laurie does seem like a big coincidence, but I thought maybe that also could have been a more common name back then, like Meg and Josephine), since it reminded me so much of Mrs. Dalloway (though I know this story came first) and Howards End (with Laura’s struggles to be sensitive to the less fortunate). I don’t know that the latter work was so much of a direct influence, but it did read a bit as though maybe Mansfield was trying to take the basic premise Woolf would use in Mrs. Dalloway (at least as far as the Clarissa/Septimus dyad) and show how it would work with an adolescent, rather than middle-aged, heroine. Her interest in the trials of adolescence (and how they are affected by class) may have been where Little Women could have been an influence, though I wasn’t sure that she was specifically considering adolescent readers as part of her audience. But since the main theme of Mansfield’s stories overall (or at least these ones) seems to be the issue of how women deal with (or try to deny) disillusionment in their domestic lives, it appeared as though this story may have also reflected an effort to show a heroine who attempts to face these concerns more directly rather than when she’s older and either married or considered a spinster.