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.