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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, Tuesday

Though I was already familiar with one of Virginia Woolf’s short stories (“Kew Gardens”), I mainly noticed with Monday, Tuesday how the stories reflected her domestic, in addition to artistic, concerns. I sometimes lost track of exactly what Woolf was going for due to her experimental efforts, but a few stories stuck out. “A Society” seemed to be the story that most reflected the concerns she discusses in A Room of One’s Own (by dealing more directly with the issue of women’s disconnect from the goals of much of the art of her time), which I could also see to some degree in “An Unwritten Novel” (though I wondered more with this story if there were more specific works she was responding to, while the former story seemed a more generalized response), while “A Haunted House” and “The Mark on the Wall” appeared to be intended more as responses to other kinds of writing in Woolf’s time, reinterpreted to fit in with the Bloomsbury lifestyle, as Kempe noted with Woolf’s approaches to houses and rooms (76-77). I again couldn’t tell if they were meant as responses to any specific works, but the former reminded me a bit of The Turn of the Screw (as a more psychological reimagining of the idea of the haunted house concept), which I guess Roger Fry may have also noticed when he made the Henry James comparison with “A Mark on the Wall,” if he had seen this story yet as well (Kempe 81). The latter, meanwhile came across as perhaps a counterpoint to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by featuring a narrator who can take some comfort in finding something so out of the ordinary that reflects “how very little control of our possessions we have” (48).

I wasn’t as sure what to make at first of the revelation that the mark was a snail. Going along with “Kew Gardens,” I could see the symbolism of the snail as reflecting the natural world in contrast to society’s often more materialistic concerns, though I was surprised that it would come up in more than one story. It made me wonder if this story’s position at the end of collection reflected how this symbol was the ultimate point that Woolf wanted readers to get from her stories, though I hadn’t always associated each story so much as I was reading them, since they sometimes seemed to have rather different interests and approaches, and so I hadn’t thought so much of their arrangements as part of the collection as a whole. I mainly just wasn’t quite sure how to tie this idea in with my impression of this story as related to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” since Gilman didn’t seem at first like the kind of writer Woolf would be so interested in responding to (even that story also responded in some way to the issues of modern art and women’s rights in relation to writing), though I guess their interests were just similar enough that Woolf felt she needed to emphasize the main point with which they differed, since her work seemed to try to and avoid dealing so much with the issue of madness, I guess because she was trying to keep a more optimistic outlook (with protagonists who can learn something from these concepts rather than be destroyed by them), or not let it distract from her other artistic interests (so that in Mrs. Dalloway, for example, these concerns are explored with Septimus rather than more overtly with Clarissa). As part of Monday, Tuesday, I could see this story as meant as a kind of bookend with “A Haunted House,” maybe to show the progress of Woolf’s ideas of nature and art as they develop through the collection, from the relatively straightforward concerns of the first two stories to the philosophies of the last ones, with the narrator of “The Mark on the Wall” showing more awareness of these ideas than previous ones did.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Modern Art

MacLeod’s article was helpful for me in straightening out the major modernist artistic movements, since I was only really aware of a few. I also liked how he made some direct comparisons with major poets and writers (Williams, Stevens, etc), so I got a better idea of how the art and literature of this period interacted (usually they seemed to just be treated as parallel, other than with the more obvious Stein-Picasso connection). I was glad to be able to associate the writers we’re reading with more specific artists, though I wondered why the influence of the wars on art wasn’t explored more (other than in relation to the Dadas). This mainly occurred to me while reading Clive Bell’s “The Artistic Problem,” in which he describes works of art as being “beautiful in themselves” (102). This seemed to me like an almost more Romantic approach to art, and didn’t seem a definition that would work with artists such as Otto Dix (or even necessarily with earlier artists such as Goya), whose wartime influences resulted in some very dark, grotesque works (though he may have, like Fry, just defined beauty differently, wasn’t sure from that essay). But MacLeod’s reference to Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” in particular drew my attention to the similarities of her idea of the “imaginary gardens with real toads” with the Bloomsbury group’s promotion of modern art, particularly when Desmond MacCarthy writes “that a good rocking-horse often has more of the true horse about it than an instantaneous photograph of a Derby winner” (99).

The other issue that interested me in these readings was the issue of the Bloomsbury Group’s approach to art and criticism. Going with that idea of the group as a subculture rather than a utopian ideal, I started to wonder more about whether they were basically the “hipsters” of their times (which had been hard to conceive of before, given how they usually seem to portrayed now in films such as Tom & Viv as such a privileged, leisurely class, or in criticism in general as more canonical, rather than contemporary, writers), since with Bell’s “by ‘we’ I mean intelligent people under sixty” remark (102) it certainly seemed like this would be a label they might get if they were around today, whether justifiably or not, through such interest in contemporary art and the assumption of being part of a more educated, youth-oriented class of people. I also began to wonder about this group’s approach to criticism in relation to T.S. Eliot’s, so I was surprised to find that they seemed to have more in common than I thought they would, particularly in parts of Fry’s work, since I had thought of them as being so philosophically opposed. Though there seemed to be a greater emphasis on the importance of emotion for the Bloomsbury writers, there still seemed to be that same interest in form and envisioning artistic creation in more scientific terms, with Bell still emphasizing the importance of work and a sense of detachment in creating art (104-105), and the assumption that artistic tradition is something that must be internalized and reinterpreted to suit modern concerns rather than simply copied (105-106), ideas echoed in Fry (400) while he also acknowledged how criticism was influenced by personal experiences (398), and even while emphasizing the emotional content of art still seemed to agree at least somewhat with Eliot’s emphasis on detachment (403), since his interest in the Post-Impressionists seemed to be in the sense that they gave more control and order to Impressionistic concerns.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eliot's Early Poems

I had previously read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but after reading the Hulme essay I thought about it a bit more as a dramatization of the conflict he discussed, particularly in relation to the issue of Romanticism and the infinite. By contrasting Prufrock with Romantic concepts such as the mermaids and the universe (at least to the extent of assuming it can be disturbed), I interpreted Eliot as emphasizing the greater sense of grounding that Hulme endorsed. In the context of the other 1917 poems, I also noticed a particularly urban sensibility that I hadn’t really noticed in Eliot’s work before (except in The Waste Land), though it didn’t seem as prevalent here as in the other poems from this period (I guess to again emphasize Prufrock’s isolation; he also struck me on this reading as resembling Leonard Bast, who maybe would have had the same kind of dilemma in his encounters with the Schlegels).

With the other poems, especially “La Figlia che Piange,” it seemed like he was trying harder to apply his “Tradition and the Individual Talent” ideas in a way that could work with everyday social interactions, rather than just in relation to literary tradition, since I interpreted this poem as mainly being about the narrator’s wish to understand the female subject in some poetic way (based on “the sunlight in your hair,” and “a gesture and a pose”) that wouldn’t be clouded by an emotional response (maybe embodied by the man, and contrasted by the narrator’s distance from both), though it also seems as though the narrator’s hope for his leaving her to “stand and grieve” may also be a sign of his/her (though I assumed the narrator was male, given the woman’s role as subject to a particular kind of gaze) desire to use emotion as fodder for the imagination without wanting to experience it firsthand. The major difficulty I had with reading these poems was that after seeing Tom & Viv, it was sometimes tempting to read Vivienne’s troubles into his poems (particularly with ones like “Hysteria” and “Cousin Nancy”), though I tried not to. But another point that struck me was just how female-centered many of these poems were, since I’d thought of Eliot’s perspective as being such as masculine one. I wasn’t always certain of the significance of the female figures, but they mostly reminded me of the approach to women’s changing roles detailed in Howards End, with “Cousin Nancy” coming across as a suggestion (or maybe just Eliot’s hope) of how Nancy’s New Woman proclivities could still not entirely dismantle the authority represented by “Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith” (though I wasn’t sure if their authority would then reflect what Eliot may have considered more truly “modern” ideals, like the more English ambitions of the Wilcoxes, or just traditional values under fire, like Christianity), while “Aunt Helen” reminded me more of Ruth Wilcox, as an account of the passing of a more naturalistic and aristocratic symbol of classical Englishness. “La Figlia che Piange” seemed distinctive in this regard, since the female subject of this poem seemed more like Eliot’s attempt to find a Muse-figure for himself (though I don’t know what the title translates to, which I imagine would make a difference).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hulme, Pound, and Eliot

I think I ended up agreeing with a lot of Hulme’s points about the way criticism works and how readers’ interests and backgrounds affect their perceptions, though I was rather annoyed at some of his attacks on Romanticism, mostly because I couldn’t tell if his extreme approach was entirely sincere or if he was just making such characterizations in an effort to get more attention for himself by making statements that might seem outrageous (though I wasn’t sure if anyone was genuinely shocked or angered by his statements, despite his reference to the French riot, or if the “us vs. them” aspect of his characterizations was just set up in a way to give him the appearance of being provocative by implying that any effort to defend romanticism would be a result of being some junkie-like fanatic or else irrelevant). In particular, I didn’t like how he referenced the scientific aspect of the classicism/romanticism conflict in just one paragraph and then mostly dropping it (94), because he referenced both sides of the argument as if he didn’t really have an actual opinion of them beyond just viewing them as convenient, making the whole idea of referencing them seem rather pointless. I also didn’t really agree with the “spilt religion” concept (95), since it assumes so much that people would naturally be religious if only it wouldn’t be questioned so much, which I don’t think is true, since it doesn’t seem like anyone becomes religious just by instinct, it either seems to get pushed on them as children, or they just decide on it as adults because nothing else was working for them (he also compares this “instinct” to that of sex, which I found pretty ironic considering how organized religion tends to frown on sexual activity of any sort; I wondered what he would have made of more current issues such as the Catholic priest sex-abuse scandal, which he could use to prove his point about not suppressing natural behaviors, though it doesn’t say much about the organizations he seems to want to uphold so much).

I was also interested in Pound’s and Eliot’s criticisms, because I liked how they really seemed to just be writing as poets rather than established critics (as Kermode noted), and seemed to have absorbed the better aspects of Hulme’s writing, since Pound convincingly characterized the difficulties faced by writers of his generation, while Eliot’s cited influences and interests (such as The Revenger’s Tragedy and his approaches to Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets) were ones that I hadn’t expected and made me more interested in how they tied into the Modernist movement as part of a particular tradition, as he had suggested. Hulme’s references to “zest,” along with Pound’s emphasis on word usage, made me think a bit of Marianne Moore’s discussion of poetry in “Humility, Concentration, and Gusto,” though their arguments otherwise often seemed too gendered and focused on poetry to have much consideration for women writers, or prose works such as Howards End (Hulme’s characterization of romanticism in particular didn’t seem to take into account the more ambivalent roles of writers such as Mary Shelley within the movement), which I guess may have been a factor in Woolf’s writing, though she seemed more interested in discussing prose over poetry (though I only know the “Shakespeare’s Sister” aspect of her criticism so far).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Howards End: First Impressions

When reading Howards End, I think the main aspect that interested me in relation to modernism as a movement was the protagonists’ German heritage. I wasn’t sure how much of this aspect was meant to reflect the issues facing German-English families at that time or was just purely symbolic, since I imagined at that time Forster probably had some anticipation of the conflicts that would lead to the war. The Schlegels I guess could then embody perhaps a sort of rebuke to any notion of Germans as being particularly threatening to the country as a whole, with Forster instead using the imperialist Wilcoxes to suggest a more class and traditional values-based conflict at work, so that Margaret and Helen represent more of an inevitability in British culture, as the modernist movement and the war lead England to more of that “melting-pot” society anticipated by the end of novel, which could involve “only connecting” through ascension and reinvention in the upper classes (Margaret), outright challenge through the lower classes (Helen), or basic assimilation through the bourgeoisie and Oxford culture (Tibby).

Though the sisters’ roles as German-Englishwomen do seem consistent with the idea of the more cosmopolitan effect of modernism on literature that came with the war, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them as reflections of the New Woman concept, I guess because Forster seemed to be trying to go for a more naturalistic approach in his storytelling. By focusing so much on two adult sisters who have yet to marry and endure various romantic complications, my first impression was that he may have been going for a sort of update on the traditional Jane Austen-style domestic drama (with Henry’s and Helen’s affairs meant as twists indicating such a formula’s need for change in twentieth-century literature), though I’m not so familiar with Victorian-era approaches to the domestic novel, so it also occurred to me with these twists that he could have been responding to the more tragic approaches of works like Thomas Hardy’s. By keeping the sisters somewhat at a distance from the model representation of the New Woman (as seen in characters such as Shaw’s Vivie Warren or more openly politically-engaged suffragettes) and more disapproving counterpoints (such as the tragic heroines of Pinero’s dramas), I wasn’t sure how much of his approach was reflecting his own apprehensions about the New Woman or just trying to avoid any risks of veering into unambiguous stereotypes, since he seemed to be so focused on establishing the difficulties of class interactions and behavior.

The main interests of the novel seemed to be to be summed up in Chapter XIII, with the second paragraph (79), which seems to share Yeats’ view of time in terms of gyres (reinforced in the ending) while also establishing the urban/suburban conflicts of late 19th/early 20th-century England’s literary landscape. Another specific point that interested me was at the end of Chapter XXVIII, when the penultimate paragraph notes that “When men like us, it is for our better qualities, and however tender their liking, we dare not be unworthy of it, or they will quietly let us go” (174). Aside from its explanations of male/female relationships, I was mainly struck by the uses of first-person pronouns in a narrative that had otherwise remained pretty ambiguous. I had previously assumed that the narrator must be male, since there didn’t seem to be much effort to establish much real personality or voice obviously separate from Forster’s, but this part made me wonder what kinds of conclusions we were supposed to draw about a narrator meant to be female, since the narration otherwise seemed mostly omniscient, even with such a casual opening phrase as “One may well begin with…” (5), suggesting the narrator as a character with a voice that goes beyond the traditional third-person.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Of Modernism

The main ideas that I guess I associate with Modernism that don’t seem to have come up so much in our readings are the concepts of a more globalized and consumerist consciousness. The former I associate mainly with the advent of World War I, as a major event that involved so many countries in such a profound way, so that its literature couldn’t be limited to primarily a British or American perspective. The latter I think of more in terms of the realization of a kind of literary culture (with both “high” and “low” varieties, such as Joyce acknowledged in Ulysses) and a greater interest in the role of money to shape literary ability (as Woolf discussed).

I think in this regard Modernism would be distinguished from Post-Modernism (or perhaps a post-Post-Modernism) by the fact that even while there may be a greater engagement with other mediums (such as art, music, film, etc), there still seems to be for the most part an acknowledgement of cultural difference at this point, without the challenges to genre boundaries and pop culture appropriations that can often be found in contemporary literature. It seems to me that the high/low literary distinctions may be a factor in the differences between British and American Modernism, since my impressions from my previous experiences so far have been that the ideas of highbrow and middlebrow literature have maybe been a bit more fluid with American writers (or at least with popular and acclaimed women writers such as Cather, Ferber, Loos, and Parker). I guess I mainly associate Modernism with both World Wars (and beginning around I guess the 1880s or 90s), though I think it probably changed over time in some way, particularly with the development of, and changes in, the New Woman concept.

With the gender issue in particular, I associate Modernism with a more politicized approach that seeks to address women’s rights struggles more directly in New Woman literature and war poetry, or in a way that seeks to emphasize sensory and conscious perceptions of domestic life over traditional narrative structures (as with the novels of Woolf and May Sinclair). I also associate this period as being when women could take more dominant roles in different literary movements and subcultures (as Woolf and other writers like Loy did), rather than being perceived as rather uncomfortable parts of the fringes (as many women associated with earlier movements like Romanticism were). Of our readings, I was particularly interested in Reed’s discussions of the Bloomsbury group in terms of their approach to domesticity, and the “Utopia vs. Subculture” issue, because it helped me to better conceive what the circle was about. Otherwise I think I may just agree to some extent with Clive Bell’s attitude towards criticism that Reed cited at the end of his Introduction, though that’s probably because I’m not too familiar with the Bloomsbury writers’ actual works (other than some Woolf), so I don’t want to try setting up some specific notion of what Modernism is.