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Women writers at the beginning of the 20th Century began an exploration into the mind and a self-awareness of the individual. These writers concerned themselves not only with time and history but with a sense of perception and an investigation into the inner dimensions of the human mind. According to Peter Barry, the period of high modernism between 1910 and 1930 showed, ‘a movement away from…omniscient external narration, fixed narrative points and clear-cut moral positions’. This was to give way ‘to experimentation and innovation’ (Barry, 2002, p82). The move into high modernism however, demonstrated a shift from the omniscient narrator to the third person free indirect objective, which gave an insight into the minds of all the characters. Virginia Woolf believed, ‘Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end’ (Woolf 2018). Woolf meant that if a writer could be free from the conventional aspects of writing, then they would be able to produce unconventional work that reflected the innermost workings of the mind. This is reflected in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Mansfield’s ‘Prelude’. If the female protagonists could be freed from their constraints, then they could realise their freedom in whatever form that may be. Ermarth suggests that Virginia Woolf, ‘encourages her audience of women with the thought that “for the first time in history” women have the chance to re-shape the conventions in which both men and women live’ (Ermarth,1983, p16). Both Mrs Dalloway and ‘Prelude’ tempt their female heroines with dreams of freedom and are tormented by the constraints of their gender.
Both texts are concerned with the theme of time. Henri Bergson stated that, ‘Duration is the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances’ (Bergson, 2018). This shows the advancement of time upon the woman is subjective and both Woolf and Mansfield utilise time as a constraint upon their heroines. Mrs Dalloway is set over a period of twenty-four hours, as ‘a day in the life’ story and ‘Prelude’ over the course of two days. In Mrs Dalloway, the sounds of Big Ben chime throughout the text, ‘with his majesty laying down the law…’ (Woolf, 2003, p93) exhibiting a masculinity and patriarchal symbol to the text. The clock symbolises time marching on and is a constant reminder that it cannot be stopped. It also represents the patriarchal society in which women were living and was a constant reminder of their place. This is in sharp contrast to the internal clock which Clarissa is governed by ‘all sorts of little things came flooding and lapping and dancing in on the wake of that solemn stroke which lay flat like a bar of gold on the sea’ (Woolf, 2003, p93). The language Woolf uses demonstrates the softness of the woman but also an oppression of their gender. Woolf shows us a different side of time, one which only a female can recognise and again showing the way women are trapped by their own sex. This gender awareness shows a response to the new style of writing that women writers embraced.
Mansfield however, shows the progression of time through the stages of womanhood from Kezia the adolescent daughter, Linda the pregnant mother and Mrs Fairfield the grandmother. Each represent a different time in which the female develops. Gubar states that, ‘they form the development of one creative female self…in a matriarchy…governed and graced by women’s rituals’ (Gubar,1983, p35). Mrs Fairfield represented the old traditions with her role being defined in the kitchen, ‘[w]hen she had finished, everything in the kitchen had become a series of patterns’ (Mansfield, 2002, p94). These patterns symbolise the outdated version of womanhood and the desire of Linda to be freed from these constraints. Gordon states that, ‘…Stanley Burnell and his mother live in the bustling present, his wife Linda dreams…in a timeless past, …and Beryl, the unmarried girl, lives in a continually imagined future.’ (Gordon, 1954, p23). It is interesting to note here that neither of the two younger women are in the present, which shows their desire for a different life away from the conventions of their time.
Clarissa Dalloway has given up her dream of freedom and is confined to her class. Just as Jane Austen before her, Woolf demonstrates that women still had to marry to gain status and wealth and have a part to play within the household. Squier states that, ‘[w]hile Clarissa feels invisible, part of the background of her society…Elizabeth is both visible and highly capable…’ (Squier,1990, p180) illustrating the difference between mother and daughter in two very different worlds. Clarissa represses her maternal instincts, a throwback to the patriarchal society in which she has been brought up. Elizabeth however has a different outlook: ‘She would become a doctor, a farmer, possibly go into Parliament if she found it necessary…’ (Woolf, 2003, p99). There is a determinism in her that is not reflected in Clarissa. Elizabeth sees no constraints and believes she can do anything. Even when she moves around London, it is in a modern way: ‘Suddenly Elizabeth stepped forward and most competently boarded the omnibus in front of everybody’ (Woolf,2003, p99). Woolf shows that women are moving forward to a new modern world which will allow them to flourish and realise their dreams whilst Clarissa remains part of the old traditions. Woolf’s use of the word ‘omnibus’ also emphasises new technology emerging with women being a part of it, illustrating how times were changing.
In ‘Prelude’ however, Linda dreams of escape from the burden of being a wife and mother. When the children arrive at the house, she states, ‘Are those the children? But Linda did not really care; she did not even open her eyes to see’ (Mansfield, 2002, p86). This lack of maternal instinct from Linda shows the movement away from the role of wife and mother, to an individual reflection of the self. Linda’s desires come to the fore, showing the interpretation of self-awareness. This was relatively unheard of in the early 20th Century, where women still had to play their part in the household. Mansfield illustrated that to step away from pre-determined stereotypes was to experience freedom for the first time. Beryl, however dreams of being a woman of independent means, ‘as she lay down, there came the old thought, the cruel thought-ah, if only she had money of her own’ (Mansfield, 2002, p88), demonstrating the frustration she felt. As a woman, Beryl would have to marry to achieve wealth but would still be trapped in the constraints of marriage. When she imagines a man in the garden below her window, Beryl’s desires are tempted but are an escapism from her entrapment. Gubar argues that Beryl, ‘exemplifies the lure of romantic thralldom for the youthfully erotic female imagination and the narcissim at the center of such imaginings’ (Gubar,1983, p36) demonstrating Beryl’s wish for a different life.
In both texts, the writing becomes wave-like and gendered. In ‘Prelude’, the portrayal of the aloe tree is androgynous. The aloe flowers once every hundred years whereas Linda us set to reproduce at her husband’s will. The portrayal of the aloe tree is very masculine with its, ‘cruel leaves…’ and ‘long sharp thorns that no-one would dare come near’ (Mansfield, 2002, p115), symbolising the patriarchal entrapment that Linda feels. She then daydreams of the aloe transforming into a ship, which becomes symbolic of her dream of escape, as she imagines herself ‘rowing far away…Faster! Faster!’ (Mansfield, 2002, p114). Waves are feminine, and the aloe becomes a symbol of empowerment in that, to discover the maleness in you, can be to discover your escape route. This is a vision of freedom that Linda sees firstly with the aloe as a phallic symbol, then as an escape. This blurring between the genders, portrays the wave-like writing which represents femininity and the dream of freedom. Linda also has vivid dreams of birds, symbolising her need for escape. Walking in the dream with her father, he passes Linda a small bird, ‘[a]s she stroked it began to swell…it grew bigger and bigger and its round eyes seemed to smile knowingly at her’ (Mansfield, 2002, p90). Mansfield symbolises Linda’s pregnancy with the swelling of the bird, illustrating that both her father and husband have aided society in trapping her within the family life she feels caged in.
Gilbert and Gubar suggest that Woolf believed, ‘the woman writer seemed locked in a disconcerting double bind: she had to choose between admitting she was “only a woman” or protesting she was “as good as a man”’. (Gilbert, 1984, p64). This can be shown in her interpretation of Clarissa and Septimus. The two characters are mirror images of each other because of their bisexuality but their positions in society are in opposition. Both the mirroring and opposing forces create their own level of entrapment, that both seek to escape. This new style of writing responded to the need of women’s dream of freedom. Indeed, when Clarissa is told that Mr Dalloway had been asked to lunch by Mrs Bruton without her, feels ‘suddenly shrivelled, aged, breastless…out of her body and brain which now failed…’ (Woolf,2003, p23). Woolf demonstrates the impact of this lack of solidarity of sisterhood, undermines Clarissa’s femininity and shows her vulnerability.
When Clarissa goes to the attic room to disrobe, there is a linguistic climax and Clarissa ‘did undoubtedly feel what men felt’ (Woolf, 2003, p24). The androgynous text shows Woolf embracing both sides of women’s sexuality and is reflected in her own essay, ‘A Room of One’s Own’, stating, ‘there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction…’ (Woolf, 2018). Woolf argues that there are two sides to the individual and that both parts are required to achieve an internal balance. She also describes Clarissa’s climax as, ‘an illumination; a match burning in a crocus…’ (Woolf, 2003, p24) showing her dreamlike escapism in the confines of the attic room. The language Woolf uses here becomes gendered in that the match represents the male. The reality of androgyny then, is accomplishing the male other within the female and the use of a match representing the penile form is symbolic of a patriarchal society.
In both Mrs Dalloway and ‘Prelude’, the female protagonists dream of escape and a life away from the one in which they inhabit. Trapped by marriage and children, Mansfield portrays Linda realising her desire for escape from the constraints of life but never being fulfilled. Linda’s recognition of the androgynous aloe illustrates the women’s place at home is disappearing and a more liberated life is desired. Woolf’s portrayal of Clarissa shows a woman trapped by class and gender. Mirroring Septimus, Clarissa discovers the male within her and this reflects her desire to be liberated from the constraints of the old traditions. Both Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield tempt their heroines and torture them with dreams, phallic symbols, time and a world in which they cannot escape. Their androgynous writing reflects a world in which it demands not only a desire for women’s liberation but an acknowledgement that both femininity and masculinity are required to achieve a balance within the individual.
Barry, P. (2002). Beginning Theory- An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Bergson, H. (2018). ‘Creative Evolution’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity 22/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.
Ermarth, E. (1983). ‘Fictional Concensus and Female Casualities’. In: Heilbrun, C.G. & Higonnet, M.R. (eds). The Representation of Women in Fiction. Maryland, USA: The John Hopkins University Press.
Gilbert, S.M. & Gubar, S. (eds). (1984). The Madwoman in the Attic. Second Edition. USA: Yale University Press.
Gordon, I. A. (1954). Katherine Mansfield. London: Longmans, Green & Co. Ltd.
Gubar, S. (1983). ‘The Birth of the Artist as Heroine: (Re)production, the Kunstlerroman Tradition, and the Fiction of Katherine Mansfield’. In: Heilbrun, C.G. & Higonnet, M.R. (eds). The Representation of Women in Fiction. Maryland, USA: The John Hopkins University Press.
Mansfield, K. (2002). ‘Prelude’. In: Smith, A. (ed). Katherine Mansfield- Selected Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Squier, S.M. (1990). ‘Carnival and Funeral’. In: Bloom, H. (ed). Clarissa Dalloway. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.
Woolf, V. (2108). ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity 22/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.
Woolf, V. (2018). ‘Modern Fiction’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity 08/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.
Woolf, V. (2003). Mrs Dalloway. Hertfordshire, UK: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.
Both John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? are set in America during the 1930’s and the plight of the poor and the working classes is represented as a response to the socio-economic problems of the time. Following the Wall Street Crash in 1929, America found itself amidst the Great Depression; a time of mass poverty, displacement and suffering. The Dust Bowl was so named after apocalyptic dust storms in the Mid-West states, which brought severe poverty and drought to the families trying to make a living working the land. Both texts draw upon the migration to the West to seek a better way of life, but this determinism is thwarted by nature and capitalism and by establishing a more naturalistic stance, captures the lives of the working classes and poor in their own environment. James Gregory believes that, ‘…the Dust Bowl Migration left a lasting legacy helping to bring to public attention…the unique vulnerabilities of a sector of the labor force that most Americans had previously ignored’ (Gregory, 2004, p2). In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck endeavoured to highlight the problems faced by the poor to bring their plight to rest of America. During the Great Depression, Hollywood fuelled the American Dream with all its glitz and glamour and thousands flocked to the west coast in search of work in the movies. In They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the central characters face exploitation and corruption in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. Richard Gray states that writers of the time, ‘…turned their attention to the lives of apparently average people caught up in a cycle of deprivation- turning to sex or violence…in a desperate attempt to break that cycle’ (Gray, 2012, p508) and McCoy uses this cycle to highlight difficulties faced by the poor and working classes.
In The Grapes of Wrath, nature takes a firm hold of the Joad’s destiny. With the Dust Bowl earning its name, the land they work becomes infertile. As tenant farmers they face an uncertain future when the owner of the land they work on decides to evict them. Using the inter-chapters as social commentary, Steinbeck is able to give a wider overview of the economic and social problems than just the Joad family; ‘The tenant system won’t work anymore. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p35). The unfairness is stifling and Steinbeck takes full advantage to portray the ecological disaster that has devastated the Mid-West. Thousands of families were displaced with little or no money or food, then lured out to the West with the dream of fruit picking and owning their own piece of land. The anonymous nature of the inter-chapters allows Steinbeck to portray these issues as a universal humanitarian crisis. As a result of this crisis, Steinbeck lays out a solution to the problem in his inter-chapter regarding man’s place in the world:
fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe (Steinbeck,1996, p151).
Steinbeck is showing that if man becomes less of an individual and stands together with his fellow man as a collective, they are more powerful and more likely to force a change. ‘For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I” and cuts you off forever from the “we”’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p152). As an “I”, Steinbeck represents the bank and the landowners and everything that is wrong with the country, representing capitalism at its best.
Railton argues that American capitalism is, ‘the roots of which had always been the promises of individual opportunity and of private property as a reward for taking risks and working hard’ (Railton, 1990, p28). Ownership becomes individual yet the “we” that is needed requires action, which is Steinbeck’s revolutionary call for social change. Carpenter argues that, ‘If need and failure produce only fear, disintegration follows. But if they produce anger, then reconstruction may follow’ (Carpenter,1988, p14). This is more distinct with Steinbeck’s final nod towards his solution in the last inter-chapter, ‘where a number of men gathered together, the fear went from their faces and anger took its place…the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath’ (Steinbeck,1996, p434-435). It is evident that Steinbeck believed that if all men stood together, they would become more powerful and could effect the change that was so desperately needed.
Similarly, McCoy also demonstrates man’s desire to control nature and the exploitation of the poor. With the dance marathon taking place at the end of the pier in Hollywood, McCoy illustrates how far west Robert and Gloria needed to go in order to achieve the American Dream, ‘…it was built out over the ocean on pilings, and beneath our feet, beneath the floor, the ocean pounded night and day’ (McCoy, 2010, p 15). The ocean is symbolic of nature and shows how it is an unstoppable force that cannot be controlled. Lehan states that nature is, ‘…capable of the greatest endurance, despite the shiny city as a monument to man’s belief that he controls nature’ (Lehan, 1995, p34). Whilst they are only able to hear the ocean and not see or smell it, McCoy illustrates an artificial world being swallowed up by exploitation and capitalism. Fine believes that, ‘Where the continent comes to an abrupt end against the cliffs, bordering the Pacific, the road, and with it the dream, comes to an end as well’ (Fine, 1995, p44). This is illustrated when Robert meets Gloria in the park, ‘It was very small, only one block square…Once you entered the park you had the illusion of security’ (McCoy, 2010, p9). The security Robert feels, is created by nature and in which, man cannot takeaway. Nature cannot be controlled unlike the working classes and McCoy uses nature to encapsulate the oppression imposed on the poor.
Robert is told to ‘”[k]eep that door closed!”’ (McCoy, 2010, p40) when he is caught watching the sun setting over the ocean and dances over the shadows of the sun to enjoy its warmth before it disappears, portraying Robert’s affinity with nature and as Richards states, ‘all qualify in his imagination as symbols of peace and harmony’ (Richmond,1971, p96). Yet it is the shutting out of nature that is part of the exploitation of the working classes. Richmond argues to view the novel as a ‘satire on the exploitation by racketeers of a desperate, debilitated society…or as a severe reproof of the social system that produced bread lines and relief agencies’ (Richmond, 1971, p92). Whilst Steinbeck sought to sound a revolutionary bell with Wrath and a call for social change, McCoy sought to expose the exploitation of Hollywood and shatter the American Dream. Nyman suggests that, ‘The fact that participants are mere commodities is revealed in that they are actually owned by the organisers who have the right to decide on their fate’ (Nyman, 1997, p261). Utilising Marxist theory, McCoy creates the dance marathon as an allegory of American capitalism; the dance hall becomes a factory, the performers become producers, and the audience become the consumers. McCoy uses this allegorical style to show the alienation of the individual and the capitalist nature of Hollywood, thus exposing the plight of the working class and the poor.
The most important thing to Ma Joad is to keep the family unit together. Steinbeck’s construction of the family unit staying together through any amount of hardship, portrays a hierarchy that was once patriarchal but has been subverted by the mother. Donald Pizer believes that the Joads are honest and primitive and at the same time, ‘there emerges the life-sustaining values of industry and pride as well as an instinctive generosity and compassion’ (Pizer, 1988, p86). This can be seen in Ma’s insistence that Casy travel with them on the road and her forcefulness to Pa saying, ‘”They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean”’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p102). Steinbeck is showing the family as a caring unit regardless of their class or status, giving them a humanity that the American public could relate to. However, Ma threatens violence when Tom suggests that he and Casy separate from the family unit. Threatening the group with a jack handle, Ma refuses to leave saying, ‘”What we got lef’ in the worl’? Nothin’ but us. Nothin but the folks”’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p169). There is nothing more important to Ma than to keep the family together and Steinbeck allows her to step forward and be heard, demonstrating the consequences of a separation of the family unit.
The social determinism in Ma and the active role she now has in the family shows the naturalistic theme of the text. The jack handle represents masculinity, and Ma now takes control from Pa in an attempt to take over the very little she has in her power. McKay argues that, ‘without the unshakeable strength and wisdom of the mother, who must at times assent her will to fill the vacuum of her husband’s incapability, nothing of the family…would survive’ (McKay, 2010, p52). Her normal passive role as wife and mother is being transformed into an active role as Pa stands back and loses his position. Railton believes that, ‘The sufferings inflicted on the family bear witness not only to their strength of character but also to the evils of the social and economic status quo’ (Railton, 1990, p32). Steinbeck shows the family in crisis and the normal strand of hierarchy being lost, just as their land and home has been. The construction of the family unit seemingly breaking down as the effects of the economic and social crisis reaches fever pitch. At the Weedpatch camp however, Ma realises the effects on her are temporary when she receives kindness from the camp manager saying, ‘These folks is our folks…Why, I feel like people again’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p307). Steinbeck’s belief in the family unit, regardless of the adversity thrown at them, is a symbol of hope and this is all the Joads can cling onto.
Where the Joad’s belief in the family unit was their only hope, in sharp contrast McCoy illustrates the alienation of the individual. The dance marathon shows an arena-like world in which the poor were tempted to compete against each other for money. Nyman argues that, ‘the novel’s portrayal of contemporary popular culture…further emphasizes the loss of individuality and the end of humanity’ (Nyman, 1997, p270). Unlike Wrath, there is no family ideal here, only a Darwinian vision of survival of the fittest. McCoy demonstrates that the exploitation of the individual is having such a profound effect on the working classes, that the family ideal is disintegrating. Richmond argues that, ‘Her denial of Ruby Bate’s desire to have a baby is a veiled wish for her own extinction’ (Richmond, 1971, p94) illustrating Gloria’s horror to bring a baby into the world and as James tells Robert, ‘Gloria wants her to have an abortion’ (McCoy, 2010, p17), portraying the family unit as an inconvenience. Although James and Ruby are married, the idea of another mouth to feed is incomprehensible to Gloria’s negative view of life. McCoy further emphasises this when the Mothers’ League for Good Morals try to close the competition based on their moral high ground. Richmond believes that they, ‘elicit from Gloria a most vociferous rejection of conventional morality as sham ritual’ (Richmond, 1971, p95) prompting Gloria to attack the very ideals that the American Dream is built on, ‘You drive em’ away from home with your goddamn lectures on purity and decency, and you’re too busy meddling around to teach em’ the facts of life-‘ (McCoy, 2010, p86). Not only does McCoy illustrate that the facts of life aren’t just reproductive, but true ‘facts of life’ are lost within the alienation of the individual demonstrating a lack of family ideal in a seedy underworld.
Steinbeck’s use of Old Testament references sees the Joad family’s journey as a pilgrimage and the dust storms as an apocalypse. Just as Jesus wanted to save his sinners, Steinbeck sends the Joads on a journey looking for salvation, as though God has forsaken them. The religious allegory throughout the text demonstrates just how harrowing the plight of the poor and working classes was. Railton believes that, ‘Casy’s presence is what allows Steinbeck to dramatize his concern with consciousness’ (Railton, 1990, p38). By alluding to biblical themes, Steinbeck’s social commentary gives the reader a conscience, therefore hoping to rouse the reader into action. Steinbeck likens the character of Jim Casy to a Jesus Christ figure. He is a minster who no longer preaches anymore but needs to find his own philosophy in life. When he meets Tom for the first time, he tells him, ‘used to get an irrigation ditch so squirmin full of repented sinners half of ’em like to drownded’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p20) and then in explanation tells Tom, ‘The sperit ain’t in the people much no more; and worse’n that, the sperit ain’t in me no more’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p20). The Joad’s hope is what keeps them going, yet Casy does not diminish this with his lack of faith. Instead, he is their guide to the path of righteousness, rightly or wrongly. Even at the time of his death, Casy is seen to be sacrificed saying, “You don’ know what you’re a-doin’” (Steinbeck, 1996, p386) mirroring the words of Jesus at the time of His crucifixion.
The biblical theme continues when Rosaharn goes into labour, whilst the flood waters are rising around her. Steinbeck endeavours to expose the family to the most horrendous of hardships in a bid to evoke sympathy to their situation. Railton states that, ‘It is the moment of Rose of Sharon’s conversion. Out of the violent loss of her baby… comes a new, self-less sense of self’ (Railton, 1990, p43). The effect of the loss of the baby is hard to bear for the reader, yet Rosaharn, having found a new strength from within, breastfeeds the starving man, ‘She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p455) seemingly taking over the role of Jesus from Casy. Steinbeck’s final scene is perhaps his most controversial as he makes a final appeal to the conscience of the reader. To show humanity in the face of such adversity, portrays the poor and working classes in such a way that it would be impossible not to be sympathetic to their plight.
In stark contrast, McCoy opts for a more philosophical approach. The two central characters are at opposite ends of a philosophical spectrum. Whilst, the nihilistic Gloria believes her release from the horrors of life can only come through death, Robert’s existential belief is that he can do anything. Richmond believes that ‘her participation in the dance is consistent with her view that nothing makes sense, that as a fugitive from life the contest is the last, most absurd posture of Angst’ (Richmond, 1971, p93). McCoy shows through Gloria’s insistence that the American Dream should come to her, her alienation in a society that promises much but delivers very little. When a celebrity arrives at the dance hall, Gloria refuses to clap and says, ‘You’re goddamn right I’m jealous. As long as I am a failure I’m jealous of anybody who’s a success’ (McCoy, 2010, p28). Though the epitome of the American Dream is those who work hard are rewarded, McCoy illustrates that this is not the case, thus showing how unobtainable it is.
For Gloria, entry into the dance contest is her belief that she will be seen by a Hollywood producer and put in the movies. Yet she is one of thousands whose belief is the same, saying ‘This whole business is a merry-go-round. When we get out of here we’re right back where we started’ (McCoy, 2010, p65), thus encapsulating McCoy’s view of life in Hollywood. However, Robert’s fantastical belief that he will become a director brings little relief to the nihilistic views of Gloria. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Robert moves towards an acceptance of Gloria’s philosophical position. On his reflection of the shooting of his favourite horse, he is told, ‘It was the only way to get her out of her misery…’ (McCoy, 2010, p120) mirroring the same words Gloria uses when she tells him to shoot her. Fine argues that by obliging Gloria, ‘he is indicating that if he has not quite come round to her nihilistic vision, he has come a long way toward it’ (Fine, 1995, p58). McCoy’s portrayal of Robert and Gloria’s philosophical view points illustrate the horrors of life for those in poverty during the Great Depression who are exploited and promised the ultimate American Dream.
Both texts demonstrate a betrayal that the West has not become the Promised Land and capture the plight of people in poverty during the Great Depression. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck shows the sheer adversity faced by poor families at a time of an ecological disaster. The realisation of the effects of the Dust Bowl, make the lives of these families virtually impossible. Evicted from their home as tenant farmers, the Joads cling onto their belief that as a family unit they should stay together and head west and with Steinbeck alluding to biblical themes throughout, is designed to evoke sympathy. Using the inter-chapters as social commentary, Steinbeck was able to point out the flaws in American society and to show the effect this had on the working class. In They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, McCoy’s portrayal of the poor and working classes is demonstrated as exploitative and corrupt. The nihilistic Gloria with her deluded view of life is in stark contrast to Robert’s fantastical optimism. McCoy shows the seedier side of Hollywood and through Gloria and Robert, highlights how unobtainable the American Dream really is.
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Richmond, L. (1971). ‘A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance: Horace McCoy’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”’. Twentieth Century Literature. [Online] 17 (2) pp. 91-99. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/606815 [Accessed 18/03/2018].
Steinbeck, J. (1996). The Grapes of Wrath. USA: Penguin Books Ltd
During the 19th Century, the novel began its rise to show the struggle between ‘self’ and ‘other’. As the century progressed, authors of the time began to explore this binary divide to understand the ‘modern’. The investigation into human kind and to define and assert the self, began with a search for identity. In The Return of the Native, Hardy’s representation of his central characters question the idea of man’s place in the world. Kucich states that, ‘Hardy’s pessimism was rooted above all, in his conviction of man’s insignificance in natural processes’ (Kucich,2001, p225). This pessimism runs throughout The Return of the Native, as Hardy portrays the dying out of Christianity and lack of connection with nature, as a cause for the alienation of the individual. The crisis of the modern world is in line with the Romantics’ belief that modern people do not understand nature anymore. This can be seen in Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘The World is Too Much With Us’, in the lines, ‘Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in nature that is ours;’ (Wordsworth,2012, p545). Hardy wanted to show that the world needed to stop and take stock before it was too late. He believed that humans couldn’t find their way and life was blurred in the city and to go back to nature was to realign the soul and that identity is only possible in the country. He makes a case for this in Far from The Madding Crowd, where he states that, ‘civilised mankind… are dreamwrapt…’ (Hardy, 2018), showing that human kind is unaware of themselves and cannot find themselves. Perry Miesel states that Hardy’s modern must begin with ‘the extension of consciousness from the deceptive light of the most newly built fire to the surrounding territories of darkness’ but the conflict is that ‘all fires must be extinguished to learn to see in the darkness’ (Miesel,1972, p79). Hardy uses the character of Clym as a receptacle to show the search for his identity on the heath, returning back to nature, questioning religion and a revival of the tragic within the novel, and it is these factors which makes The Return of the Native a ‘modern novel’.
In chapter 1, Hardy introduces us to the heath during a transition of daylight to darkness: ‘Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity’ (Hardy, 2000, p6). The heath is in control and nature is at one with the environment. Hardy illustrates that the heath is far superior and this new kind of aesthetic is what Hardy wanted to portray as a theatre of life. Meisel suggests that, ‘Hardy’s changing use of landscape is important both as mediator between human community and nature and as a means of creating individual consciousness’ (Meisel, 1972, p71). Hardy shows that to be part of the heath and become at one with it, is the human’s salvation from a modern world in crisis. Modern man is longing for new beauty, but nature is hostile and as ‘Civilisation was its enemy…’ (Hardy,2000, p7) was beyond the comprehension of humans. Hardy gives life to the heath, describing it as ‘a place perfectly accordant with man’s nature-neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly…but, like man, slighted and enduring…’ (Hardy, 2000, p7) personifying it with the traits of man and a new kind of aesthetic sombreness far superior that humankind. Daniel Schwarz states that ‘paradoxically, the heath is not only a metaphor for the cosmos, but it mirrors mankind’s common internal chaos…’ (Schwarz, 1979, p23). Hardy demonstrates this through the heath having a deep impact on the psychology of the characters living on it. His move into naturalism shows an investigation not only into the impact of the environment on the human but to the psyche as well.
The heath has its own time zone, described as, ‘The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening…’ (Hardy, 2000, p5) illustrating a transcendental and mystical space. In stark contrast, when Eustacia walks on the heath, she carries her grandmother’s hourglass because of a ‘peculiar pleasure she derived from watching a material representation of time’s gradual glide away’ (Hardy, 2000, p60). Using the hourglass, Hardy shows Eustacia having no connection with the heath. This is shown in the contrast between the characters of Eustacia and Thomasin. Hardy describes Eustacia’s relationship to the heath as, ‘The subtle beauties of the heath were lost to Eustacia; she only caught its vapours’ (Hardy, 2000, p59). Eustacia doesn’t understand the heath and wants to escape to the city, where she believes that life is happening away from her. Williams suggests that, ‘In her mind, Paris represents nothing except glamour and luxury’ (Williams,1972, p141) showing her superficial wants and desires. However, the heath will not release her from its clutches. Enstice believes that, ‘she is unashamedly in opposition, to both the heath and the centres of light and warmth that contain its human elements’ (Enstice, 1979, p87), demonstrating that Hardy’s construction of Eustacia has all the elements of what the future holds for mankind if it continues down this path. Thomasin however is close to nature and is described as ‘[a] fair, sweet and honest country face…reposing in a nest of wavy chestnut hair’ (Hardy, 2000, p32). The description of Thomasin and the language used shows Thomasin’s connection to nature. The personification of the heath shows the misalignment between the human and nature. It is a hostile, unforgiving place which humankind needs to come to terms with in the modern world. This forward thinking shows Hardy believing that the relationship between humans and the world is disillusioned and the heath becomes a place of enlightenment.
The character of Clym becomes a Jesus-like preacher on the heath mirroring the Sermon on the Mount of Christ. Hardy describes the inhabitants of the heath as, ‘In name they were parishioners, but virtually they belonged to no parish at all, (Hardy,2000, p100) illustrating the decline in Christianity. Whilst preaching to the heath men, ‘They listened to the words of the man in their midst…while they abstractedly pulled heather, stripped fearns, or tossed pebbles down the slope’ (Hardy,2000, p336)’ Clym wanted to educate them but Hardy shows that this was of little importance to the heath men. They listened to him out of sympathy rather than out of passion for a saviour. Schwarz states that, ‘Our last views of Clym are not of a man who has triumphed, but of one who has been defeated’ (Schwarz,1979, p23). Hardy shows that the decline of Christianity in a rural setting requires something more than the old doctrines and his existential
Hardy’s interest in paganist rituals can be seen throughout the novel. From bonfires being lit across the heath to the mummers ritual play at the Yeoman household, Hardy’s antagonism with paganism is ironized at the end of the novel. During the final few scenes, a maypole is erected for the villagers: ‘In these spots homage to nature…fragments of Teutonic rites to divinities whose names are forgotten, seem in some way or other to have survived mediaeval doctrine’ (Hardy, 2000, p319). The maypole dance is where Diggory Venn and Thomasin are brought together. Throughout the novel, the character of Diggory Venn, the reddleman, is symbolic of paganism. In Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’, nature is described thus, ‘Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw / with ravine, shrieked against his creed/’ (Tennyson, 2018, LVI), which is an imitation of Diggory. A stalwart of the heath and forever coloured red as a reddleman, Diggory morphs from paganism to Christianity through his marriage to Thomasin. Seymour believes that, ‘Their union is not merely emblematic but represents the ‘inevitable movement onward’’ (Seymour, 2000, pxxi) demonstrating Hardy’s belief that Christianity would return. Although Clym states, ‘”Aunt only objected because he was a reddleman”’ (Hardy, 2000, p327), the lack of Christian values shown is symbolic of the traditional Christian stance Hardy objected to. A modern way of thinking came from the heath and Hardy views on Christianity and paganism sought only to show that there is no God. The novel criticises both pagan and Christian positions and portrays neither as valid. Leonard Deen states that the ‘protagonists’ acute sense of isolation in an alien society and in a universe abandoned or forgotten by a god who is after all only a fiction’ (Deen, 1975, p131). Hardy believed that to cling to Christian values was to remain stagnant in life and to go back to the beginning to see the real truth in ourselves was the way forward. Yet whilst his answer was not in the values of Christianity, neither was it in paganism. Hardy’s existential view prophesises the need of a more modern way of thinking, which cannot be found in Christianity or paganism.
It is his readings of social Darwinism theory that Hardy show the misunderstanding of the human role in nature. Hardy deconstructs the human role as makers in god’s image and believes that if we stick to Christian morality we would not be able to evolutionise the two sides of the self. Hardy goes the next step to complete the process of evolution in human nature. Believing the modern world is in crisis, Hardy’s solution is that evolution is the modern way forward. To go to nature in this way, the modern world will find its way again. Meisel argues that Hardy’s confrontation with rationalism is a symbolic one ‘that establishes a parallel between Darwin’s work and the development of Hardy’s fiction’ (Meisel,1972, p5). Humans are not in charge and this illustrates just how modern Hardy’s way of thinking was becoming.
Hardy revives the idea of tragic in The Return of The Native and tragedy becomes a series of events in which the characters all seem to relate. In Hardy’s poem entitled ‘Hap’, the lines, ‘[t]hese purblind doomsters had as readily strown / Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.’ (Hardy, 2018) show the idea of tragic possibilities of fate and that things happen due to time and circumstance rather than some all-powerful being, bringing about the tragic within the text. He shows that the human frame is too fragile to embrace the enormity of the world. In the description of the heath in chapter 1, Hardy states that ‘solitude seemed to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities’ (Hardy,2000, p7), illustrating the construction of the environment for tragedy.
The character of Eustacia allegorises the entire western culture from her Promethean heroine to her Shakespearean witchlike status. Deen suggests that, ‘She is emblematic of the feeling and infinite desire which rebel against inevitable limitation, and thus is the supremely tragic figure of the novel’ (Deen, 1975, p122). Hardy epitomises this in Eustacia’s desire ‘[t]o be loved to madness…’ (Hardy, 2000, p58) showing her fatalist ideas do not correspond with human nature. The tragedies that befall Eustacia show her disconnection from a modern world and her lack of understanding. Upon hearing of Clym’s impending arrival back on the heath, Eustacia dreams of a dance in which she is in the arms of a man in armour, believing him to be Clym. Eustacia’s dream is a foretelling of her own death: ‘Suddenly these two wheeled out from the mass of dancers, dived into one of the pools of the heath…’ (Hardy, 2000, p98). Even though she believes the man to be Clym, it prophesises her and Wildeve’s drowning in the weir on the heath. Hardy’s foreboding demonstrates that disconnection with life and want of the fast, urban way of life is the tragedy of the modern world. In this way, he is offering a solution, which doesn’t quite come to fruition for the characters in Native. In The Mayor of Casterbridge however, the character of Henchard comes full circle in his realisation and awareness of his actions. Hardy’s modernist approach links the beginning of time with the end to come to a resolution.
In Native though, Clym’s self-absorption is his tragic flaw. Schwarz believes that, ‘Seemingly without passion or vitality after Eustacia’s death, he is rather anxious lest Thomasin should propose to him’ (Schwarz, 1979, p23). Clym does not have the awareness and thought: ‘…he dreaded to contemplate Thomasin wedded to the mere corpse of a lover that he now felt himself to be’ (Hardy, 2000, p325), showing his incapacity to move forward following Eustacia and his mother’s deaths. Upon partially losing his sight, Clym is left unable to see both physically and ‘intellectually blind in some respects right to the end’ (Williams, 1972, p144). The most pivotal point for Clym comes when his estranged mother journeys to see him, with the hope of reconciliation. The tragedy that unfolds shows Hardy utilising Clym’s blindness as a metaphor for the lack of vision of the modern world: ‘He had been disturbed and made to dream and murmur by the knocking, but he had not awakened’ (Hardy, 2000, p236). This ultimate lack of understanding demonstrates that none of the characters are in control, giving substance to Hardy’s argument for life in the city. Resurrecting the tragic in novel form, Hardy is able to convey the ancient art form into the modern period, as a resolution for a life which is moving away from nature.
In The Return of the Native, Hardy calls for a realignment of humanity with nature. Hardy believed that to be at one with nature is where identity could be found and that life in the city was too fast. Illustrating the heath as a far superior place in which humans have no comprehension of, Hardy is showing that to return to it, will offer a resolution and even a small amount of understanding is better than nothing. Using the heath as a mystical place that appears to transcend all other faiths and doctrines, Hardy shows that this is where humans can find themselves. Hardy criticises both positions of Christianity and paganism showing that neither are substantial in the modern world. To remain faithful to the old Christian values was to remain stagnant in life and Hardy’s portrayal of both doctrines corroborates this. In his revival of Greek tragedy, Hardy shows that to go back to the old way or to the beginning of time, was the way forward in finding the ‘self’. The tragedy of the modern world is that life moved too fast and in Native, Hardy portrayed a rural setting as the modern place to be.
Deen, L. (1975). ‘Heroism and Pathos in The Return of the Native’. In: Draper, R.P. (ed). Hardy: The Tragic Novels. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.
Enstice, A. (1979). Thomas Hardy and the Landscapes of the Mind. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.
Hardy, T. (2018). ‘Far from Madding Crowd’. Handout given in Victorian Novel 08/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.
Hardy, T. (2018). ‘Hap’. Handout given in Victorian Novel 08/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.
Hardy, T. (2003). The Mayor of Casterbridge. London: Penguin Classics.
Hardy, T. (2000). The Return of the Native. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Kucich, J. (2001). ‘Intellectual debate in the Victorian Novel: religion, science and the professional’. In: David, D. The Victorian Novel. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Meisel, P. (1972). Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Repressed. USA: Yale University Press.
Schwarz, D.R. (1979). ‘Beginnings and Endings in Hardy’s Major Fiction’. In: Kramer, D. (ed). Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Thomas Hardy. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.
Seymour, C. (2000). ‘Introduction’. In: Hardy, T. The Return of the Native. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.
Tennyson, A.J. (2018). Literature Network. [Online] Available from: http://www.online-literature.com/tennyson/718/ Accessed: 23/04/2018.
Williams, M. (1972). Thomas Hardy and Rural England. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.
Wordsworth, W. (2012). ‘The World is Too Much With Us’. In: Wu, D. (Ed) Romanticism: An Anthology Fourth Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd
These are the books that are on my reading list for my final year at University. The children’s literature module looks the most exciting judging by this picture alone! The Dr. Seuss books caused much hilarity from my nine year old, who couldn’t quite believe his mum was going to be learning about The Cat in the Hat! I have already read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and that was fantastic. Not really feeling The Hobbit though but we’ll see.
I have a couple of American literature modules next year, Contemporary American and Beats. I’ve read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Looking forward to reading American Psycho on this module!
These books are for the Magical Realism module, as is the Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude above, it just ended up in the wrong picture. I am looking forward to this module, as it seems a little bit out there, a bit different.
The final module is called Nature, Now and I have already read Don Delillo’s White Noise; a novel concerned with the mortality of the protagonist Jack as he gets swallowed up in the consumerism of the American way of life. So, the reading list is huge. I’m also doing a Shakespeare module but the plays in this module are all contained in one huge book, that I already have on my book shelf.
Wish me luck, as I disappear into a world of books for the next couple of months…
In the same way Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew reported on the life of the working classes in his articles published in the ‘London Labour and London Poor’, Dickens captures the social fabric of Victorian London at the time of his writing. Mayhew’s depictions of the London street markets evoke chaotic scenes and images that invade the senses. Dickens’s commitment to capture the same realism in Oliver Twist gives the reader a clear image of the full range of the social spectrum together with a portrait of the city. Part of the construction of realism is symbolism and Dickens uses this with his descriptions of the houses and the way that the Victorian lowers classes lived. This realism projects a comprehensive use of stylistic finesse in a way that captures the reader and evokes an empathy with the lower classes. In Louis James’s book, The Victorian Novel, he states that ‘…Oliver Twist placed social concerns at the heart of the emergent Victorian novel.’ (James, 2006, p159). Dickens also uses his journalistic experience and reports on the social issues of the time; to confront the reader with the real. In the Cambridge Companion to The Victorian Novel, Deirdre David tells us that Dickens aimed to shock his audience with a novel that dealt with the Poor Law introduced in 1834, (David, 2001) and upon defending himself, Dickens claimed the criminals ‘really did exist…’ and ‘…to show them as they really were…’ (David, 2001, p7-8). This intention can be seen quite clearly in chapter 50 of Oliver Twist.
Dickens’ use of place names and descriptions of buildings at the beginning of the chapter allow the reader to see the settings exactly as they are. His lengthy sentences and descriptive list-making symbolise a realistic view of the life of the lower classes in the city, ‘…unemployed labourers of the lowest class, ballast heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children…’ (Dickens, 1992, p329). Dickens constructs lists as a way of showing the full range of people living in the slums and this gives the effect of hundreds upon thousands of people. The ‘city’ had become a new theme in Victorian writing and as the interest in ‘the novel’ was growing, this would have intrigued the Victorian readership immensely. The descriptions of places that they knew and heard of gives the novel a sense of the real and the journalistic approach to the start of this chapter evokes a startling imagery of filth and destitution. A ‘maze of close, narrow and muddy streets thronged by the roughest and poorest of waterside people…’ (Dickens, 1992, p329).
Dickens’ use of a metaphor here with his creation of a labyrinthine world with the word ‘maze’, suggests the poor and working-class people will never escape their fate. They are condemned to a life of poverty and again Dickens is commentating on the poor being constrained by this with many turning to a life of crime rather than go to the workhouse.
As Sikes’ whereabouts become common knowledge, the crowd begins to grow gradually from a ‘…multitude of angry voices’ (Dickens, 1992, p334) and then almost immediately to a mob, growing all the while. ‘There were tiers and tiers of faces in every window, cluster upon cluster of people clinging to every house top’ (Dickens, 1992, p336). Whilst Dickens is being melodramatic in his description of the crowd here, his realist approach to this scene portrays an image seemingly layered upon itself, like the layers of society. Similarly, Henry Mayhew categorises the layers of the social classes in his articles. There is even a figure described as ‘…an old gentleman…’ (Dickens, 1992, p336) showing the social makeup of the crowd was not confined to the lower classes. Dickens is using the crowd scene to depict life in the city. The frenzied crowd turns lynch mob and becomes apoplectic as Sikes appears above them. Sikes was a detested and violent criminal and as individuals no-one would have approached him. This new identity of ‘the crowd’ shows the fascination with crowd behaviour and the loss of individual identity within it. As part of a whole, they became energised and hidden, which in turn makes them a powerful and unrelenting force. Again, Dickens was confronting the reader with the real and the crowd scenes depict a visual image of the masses.
Dickens describes Sikes as ghostly, ‘Blanched face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, beard of three days growth, waster flesh, short thick breath’ (Dickens, 1992, p333). When the boy Charley sees Sikes hiding with the three robbers, he is horrified and calls him a monster. At this, ‘Sikes eyes sunk gradually to the ground’ (Dickens, 1992, p334). It is as though he cannot bear to hear the words. There is a psychology at play here. Sikes would appear to feel shameful and this makes him human rather than ‘monster’. This realist approach that Dickens uses here does not evoke a sympathy from the reader, rather an understanding of what Sikes has become. He is a product of society’s failings and a victim of his own situation. In David’s The Victorian Novel, she states that ‘Dickens’s novel registers a sincere commitment to fiction as a morally transforming force and a palpable belief that its form emerges naturally from its moral imperatives’ (David, 2001, p7). Dickens embodies Sikes to symbolise everything that is wrong with society and is a product of his environment. Again, this is Dickens commentating on social problems and bringing them to the forefront of the reader.
The realistic approach that Dickens uses in chapter 50 of Oliver Twist gives the reader a true depiction of life in the city. His journalistic style of description and lengthy sentence structure symbolises the chaos and noise of Victorian London and captures the imagination of the reader. Dickens wanted to shock with his depictions of life in the underbelly of Victorian London and shows us the city as it really is. The crowd turned mob imagery gives way to a new identity of ‘the crowd’ and the loss of identity within it showing that people did become truly lost within the masses. Dickens also takes a moral stand and embodies the character of Sikes as evil, representing everything that society has become. He confronts the reader with the real as a way of reporting on social issues in order to bring a gravitas to the poor and destitute.
#amwriting #cathythewriter #olivertwist #charlesdickens
David, D. (ed) (2001) The Cambridge Companion to The Victorian Novel. Cambridge: University Press
Dickens, C. (1992) Oliver Twist. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited
Harrison, M. (2008). “The Paradox of Fiction and the Ethics of Empathy: Reconceiving Dickens’s Realism”. Narrative [Online] 16 (3) (Oct., 2008), pp. 256-278. Available from: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/stable/30219607
James, L. (2006). The Victorian Novel. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Kucich, J. (2001). ‘Intellectual Debate in the Victorian Novel’. In: David, D. (ed) The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Mayhew, H. (1985) London Labour and the London Poor. London: Penguin
Meckier, J. (1982). Hidden rivalries in Victorian fiction: Dickens, Realism, and Revaluation. [Online] Kentucky U.P, United States. Accessed from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/detail.action?docID=1915201. [Accessed 17/10/2017]
Ward, J. (1907). The Realism of Dickens. Reviewed in: The Dublin Review 1836-1910.[Online] 141(282), pp. 285-295. Available from: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/docview/7909837/fulltext/113EAF18E8914338PQ/1?accountid=17254
Who is the man of the crowd in Poe’s tale, what is his critical and narrative function and what wider resonances does Poe’s figure have in relation to other texts you have studied?
A new aesthetic experience for Victorian novel writers was the city. Literature began to respond to the challenges of life in the 19th Century as industry began to leave the countryside and develop in the city. People flocked to the city in their droves and Poe’s tale reflects the alienation of the individual in the city. The population grew and the city captured the whole spectrum of society, which fascinated Victorian writers. They were able to capture the heart and soul of the city and bring it alive in all its glory. Friedreich Engels essay ‘The Great Towns’ states that, ‘The hundreds and thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other…and still they crowd by one another as though they had nothing in common’. (Engels, 1987, p69) Engels is showing that the crowd phenomenon incorporates every social class yet is soulless and a mass of humanity; the city experience cold and unfriendly. Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist shows that identity can be lost within the crowd and people can be swallowed up and lost within the labyrinth of the city. There was also a de-centering of the individual in an age of migration caused by industrialisation and Poe’s radical tale The Man of the Crowd is an allegorical story of constructed identity in a crowd that shows the true horror of an emerging modern world. In Thomas Carlyle’s ‘Signs of the Times’, he reported on the ‘Mechanical Age’ and stated that, ‘men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand’ (Carlysle, 1858, p102). This is a true reflection of Poe’s The Man of the Crowd.
The construct of Poe’s Man in The Man of the Crowd is a new and experimental literary figure showing the true horror of modernity and this enables Poe to portray this horror in an allegorical manner; the man is a mere metaphor for life in the city. Poe’s tale incorporates a narrator who watches the world from a window following an illness, ‘…two dense and continuous tides of population were rushing past the door’ (Poe, 1978, p507). The imagery used here shows a dense throng of people rushing around and the narrator wishes to become a part of it. Davidson suggests that,
…this Man is an individual who cannot bear to be alone or whether he is… the narrator and protagonist in a cringing, fearsome guise that the narrator will not even admit to himself.’ (Davidson, 1969, p191).
The narrator begins to speculate on the way the light flits over the window in the same way that the crowd flits past it, ‘The wild effects of the light enchained me to an examination of individual faces…’ (Poe,2017). Poe is showing that although the city is now entrenched with the masses and people migrate towards it following industrialisation, the search for the individual within it becomes an impossible task. The man though represents the full spectrum of the social classes and it is in this way that Poe’s allegorical tale shows the true representation of life in the city. Upon the narrator seeing the Man, he tells us of the effect this has on his mind, ‘there arose confusedly…the ideas of vast mental power, of caution, of penuriousness, of avarice, of coolness, of malice, of bloodthirstiness, …of supreme despair’ (Poe,2017). The narrator cannot understand the individual he has picked out because his identity changes with his surroundings thus making it impossible for the narrator to read him. Ian Munro argues that ‘…the crowd was a powerfully contradictory presence, symbolizing conflicting aspects of the city through metonymy and metaphor’ (Munro, 2005, p1). This shows us that the narrator is essentially following a ghost whose appearance is deceptive and changes so many times that it would be impossible and in vain to try and understand it. Baudelaire’s theory suggests that man cannot live without the city and would always be searching for modernity, ‘…By ‘modernity’ I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent…’ (Baudelaire, 2017). This would suggest the narrator in Poe’s tale is chasing a transparent entity. Baudelaire believed that being part of the crowd was to be exposed to the modern world and become recharged by it. Yet his theory of a man being more than a flaneur would suggest like Poe’s narrator who is searching out the individual, he will never find it. As the chase ends, the narrator realises that it would be futile to follow him any longer, ‘He refuses to be alone…it will be in vain to follow, for I shall learn no more of him, nor of his deeds.’ (Poe,2017). This realisation is the horror that Poe wants the reader to see.
Dickens and Poe captured the vivid image of the city with their portrayal of crowds and the people within them in very different ways. Poe’s allegorical portrayal separates out the individual in the crowd whereas Dickens show the crowd as a conformative whole. These condensations of symbolic techniques show the disillusion that was felt of life in the city. Poe’s radical approach is in sharp comparison to Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Dickens flamboyant style shows the crowd as a mass who become one with no identity. In chapter 50 of Oliver Twist, Sykes is pursued through the city by a crowd that grows into a furious throng, ‘…a strong struggling current of angry faces…cluster upon cluster clinging to every house top.’ (Dickens, 1992, p336). Whilst Dickens is being melodramatic in his description of the crowd here, the scene portrays an image of society represented at all levels. He portrays the crowd as one whole, a collective identity instead of an individual one. As part of a whole, the crowd becomes powerful and individuals become hidden, which makes them very dangerous. His use of the word ‘current’ and Poe’s use of the word ‘tide’ to describe the masses, gives the effect of fluidity and movement and one that also cannot be stopped. It is a metaphor for the ever-growing mass of people crowding into the city. There is also a sense of belonging in the crowd, a new-found identity as people joined the cries of the crowd without knowing why, ‘Those who were at too great a distance to know its meaning, took up the sound…’ (Dickens, 1992, p336). This shows the desire for identity, whether individual or collective, was just as powerful as the narrator in The Man of the Crowd. Ian Munro suggests that, ‘The crowd is an inherently polymorphous concept, always evading definition’ (Munro, 2005, p2) and we can see this in both Dickens’ and Poe’s work. Dickens extinguishes the individual identity to be part of a larger group and Poe’s representation of the crowd portrays individual identity as being made of many parts of the crowd.
The description of the Man is composed of many things that don’t go together, ‘his clothes… filthy and ragged…his linen, although dirty, was of beautiful texture’ and underneath his cloak was ‘both of a diamond and of a dagger’ (Poe,2017). He is a mass of contradictions. The narrator tells us that he is feeble, yet he manages to run through the streets and the narrator struggles to keep up with him. He is a hybrid, a construct and represents the whole of the crowd, which in turn represents the whole spectrum of the social classes. ‘I saw jew pedlars with hawk eyes…sturdy professional street beggars…feeble and ghastly invalids…’ (Poe,2017). All manner of humanity is represented in Poe’s description and it is made in the style of descriptive lists of the people in the streets. The stylistic technique of using no full stops shows the text as self-referential. Dickens uses the same style of list making in Oliver Twist to describe the vigilante mob. The list technique gives the impression of a huge mass ever growing. But whereas Poe describes the individual, Dickens shows the mob to be as one. Dickens had quite a reserved view point of city life and whereas it fascinated him greatly, he also kept himself at arm’s length from it. Poe also uses the stream of consciousness technique in the narrative which is also symbolic of Victorian authors and the narrator tells us that, ‘I felt a calm but inquisitive interest in every thing’ (Poe,2017). The reader can hear the narrator’s thoughts and it is this that connects humanity with the text. The Man of the Crowd is also observational. The narrator is watching life from a window, seeing the world go by and all manner of people pass by. Kevin J Hayes suggests that Poe’s story is ‘one mans effort to read another man, who happens to be a denizen and therefore a representative of the modern urban environment’ (Hayes, 2002, p445). This observational theory is comparable with Baudelaire’s flaneur and was the modern way that art and literature was heading. The loss of self also showed how industrialisation needed to cater for the age of modern life. The Victorian times were about trying to keep identity assured in an already fractured world but Poe’s tale of loss of identity and that it cannot be read breaks away from this mould and explores the true horror of the realities of industrialisation and the modern world.
Poe’s The Man of the Crowd portrays the horrors of modern life and shows the narrator following a Man that doesn’t exist. The Man represents all of society and cannot be read as he embodies all aspects of the social classes. His appearance is deceptive and this represents the way society is heading now that industrialisation is taking over in the city. Poe attempts to separate the identity of the Man but the Man is made up of many things and is impossible to read. Poe’s representation of this is allegorical in that it is a sociological experience of city life and showed the disillusion that came with it. In Oliver Twist, Dickens’ portrayal of the crowd scene in chapter 50 shows a crowd moving as one, a conformative whole with a collective identity. They are part of something which gives them power and strength and Dickens does not show the individual. Baudelaire suggested that modern life was ghostly and fleeting and the crowd was something to lose yourself in and escape. Whilst Baudelaire had this modern take on life, Poe demonstrates the true horror of the modern life in the city.
Baudelaire, C. (2017) ‘The Painter of Modern Life’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity November 2017 by Martin Jesinghausen
Carlyle, T. (1858) ‘Signs of the Times’ (1829) in Collected Works Vol 3, pp. 101-102. London: Chapman & Hall
Davidson, E.H. (1969) Poe- A Critical Study. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Dickens, C. (1992) Oliver Twist. Hertfordshire; Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Engels, F. (1987) ‘The Great Towns’ in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) London: Penguin
Hayes, K. J. (2002) ‘Visual Culture and the Word in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd”’ in Nineteenth Century Literature, Vol 56, No. 4, pp. 445-465. [Available from: http://ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/docview/211933431?accountid=17254 [Accessed 18/12/2017]
Munro, I. (2005) The Figure of the Crowd in Early Modern London: The City and its Double [Online] New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Available from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/detail.action?docID=308224. [Accessed 28/12/17]
Poe, E. A. (2017) The Man of the Crowd. Great Britain: Amazon
Amy L Blair’s essay entitled ‘Misreading The House of Mirth’ is an investigation into the reading practises at the turn of the 20th Century. She discusses the beginnings of the ‘how to’ guides and literature becoming a life manual. Wai-Chee Dimock’s essay ‘Debasing Exchange: Edith Wharton’s The House Of Mirth’ argues that Wharton places the characters in a marketplace and as such, the ‘deal’ is the ultimate goal and downfall of the protagonist Lily Bart. Both these texts are concerned with theme of class. Blair argues that the reader of The House of Mirth is a how to guide for the upwardly aspiring social climber whereas Dimock’s argues that the book revolves around the exchange system and Lily’s naïve attempt to play the market.
The main focus in Blair’s argument is that the theme of the book invites a practise she calls ‘reading up’, in which the novel is approached as a how-to manual for the reader to ascend to the dizzy heights of the characters. She states, ‘…class identity was decoupled from solely financial considerations so that a remaking of the self through cultural acquisition…became the imperative means of upward mobility’ (Blair, 2004, p150). Blair believes that as a result of the middle classes need to elevate their status, a ‘…new hybrid genre emerged and flourished…’ (Blair, 2004, p152) in the form of life guides and the promise of a better life for the reader. She also argues that the readership had little sympathy with Wharton’s critique of consumerism and high society and in fact were horrified with the fate that Wharton bestowed upon Lily. Blair contrasts her argument with Michel de Certeau’s theory of the ‘reader as poacher’ explaining that the reader can aspire to higher society if they become actively engaged with the text. Blair also believes that the negative reviews that Wharton’s The House of Mirth received were in part because of these practises of ‘reading up’.
Furthermore, Blair believes that Wharton uses the character of Gerty Farish as a guide in the tableau vivant scene and that it was written for a reader who was not of high society, ‘…she displayed the awed alertness of one unaccustomed to glamour and intent on taking everything in…’ (Blair, 2004, p158). Blair continues that this was also in contrast to Wharton’s criticism of the gossip pages, who, in reality, did the same job. Blair argues that ‘…the practice of reading up relies on a shift of identification as a means of wish fulfillment…’ and the ‘…identification of the self with a character who is a social better’ (Blair, 2004, p167). In this way, Blair is arguing that the text is a guide for the social climber and Wharton’s use of the character of Gerty Farish, who is of a lower status, enables the reader to do this.
The critical debate that Blair uses to evidence her findings is one that ran for a few months in the New York Times in 1905 between two letter writers, one who signed off as Newport and the other as Lenox. Both were embattled on either side of the argument regarding whether they were part of the inner circle in which Wharton wrote about or that it did not exist. Blair argues that the letter by Lenox ‘validated the superior discernment of the insider and the hopeless outsiderness of the outsider’ (Blair, 2004, p161).
Unlike Blair’s essay, no secondary criticism is used in Dimock’s piece. Dimock bases his argument on Wharton’s ideologies and criticism of the market place and his essay focusses entirely on the power within it and how Lily is the only character in The House of Mirth who plays it fairly. He states, ‘A self-acknowledged “human merchandise” she is busy marketing herself throughout most of the book…’ (Dimock, 1985, p124). Dimock argues that the question of currency runs as an undercurrent throughout the book and that debt and cost are the main themes in relation to class status.
Furthermore, the idea of ‘exchange’ is something that for Lily is not in her power. Dimock states that the rate of exchange is fixed by those more powerful than her and argues that when Lily “owes” Trenor money, ‘…he now demands only according to his rate of exchange…’ (Dimock, 1985, p125). He also states that the higher classes are those who are the ‘non-payers’, believing that the characters of Bertha and Gus Trenor are neither required to play fair nor penalised for doing so. Dimock also argues that it is Lily who pays for playing fair and is ‘…penalised then, not for breaking the rules but for observing them’ (Dimock, 1985, p131).
However, Dimock also states that Lily makes two errors of judgement, ‘…in refusing to do business, Lily is perhaps also refusing to live…’ (Dimock, 1985, p132). Lily’s refusal to act upon Bertha’s letters and Rosedale’s offer of a loan condemn Lily to her fate. Dimock argues that this moral triumph however is bittersweet as ‘Lily is simply reverting to her customary role within the exchange system: her role as the one who “pays”’ (Dimock, 1985, p134). Dimock states that morality within the book is useless against an ‘…exchange system that dissolves the language system into its own harsh brassy parlance’ (Dimock, 1985, p135), confirming that Lily paid the ultimate price with her life. Dimock’s argument in the case of morality is that within the world of capitalism, morality doesn’t exist and because of this Lily would never have survived anyway.
Dimock closes his argument with a look at how Wharton deals with the working class in the character of Nettie Struther. He states, ‘To be all that Wharton wants her to be, Nettie must be abstracted from the all-contaminating exchange system’ (Dimock, 1985, p137), confirming that Wharton’s idea of the working classes is distinctly for redeeming purposes only and that she bases this character on an ideal that there is an ‘…organic life beyond the marketplace’ (Dimock, 1985, p137). Dimock is suggesting that Wharton wanted a glimmer of hope and the character of Nettie offered this.
Both texts are concerned with class but as very different concepts. Blair finalises her essay with a nod to the reader who, if they can ‘read up’, will bypass Wharton’s criticism of the higher classes and ‘…continue[s] to cultivate an upwardly mobile lifestyle’ (Blair, 2004, p170) whereas Dimock’s argument presents itself as a stark contrast to the world of capitalism in which he argues that it becomes a survival of the fittest.
Blair, A. L. (2004) ‘Misreading The House of Mirth’. In American Literature, [Online] vol 76 (1) p149-170. Available from: https://staffs.summon.serialssolutions.com/#!/search?bookMark=ePnHCXMw42JgAfZbU5lAx5QamesCxfALhGkBWppYWzIAS8lgfUSJ4OsbyawJgCvFlcAhouCB7C7m6qQn6bgm1lUksHNoOrmGuLsoYs6IxyfCBqTjw8yMDYxN7C0AN1MQJw6ACClK6I [Accessed 30/10/2017]
Dimock, W. (1985) ‘Debasing Exchange: Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth’. In: Bloom, H (ed) (1986) Edith Wharton: Modern Critical Views. p123-137. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.
Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey was a satirical and experimental novel. Prose was a new form for the Romantics and Peacock took great care to move away from traditional tropes of the early Romantics work by gently pushing the boundaries and taking a light-hearted swipe at his contempories. Robert Kiely believed that Peacock understood the Romantics view of history but ‘…that romantic literature too often failed to connect the past with the present’ (Kiely, 1973, p177). Peacock shows that even in prose format, he can move the Romantic project forward as he questions the basic principles of the Romantics and his positive critique of the same shows a desire to rescue and renew. Peacock wanted a more social environment to come together and not to be melancholy. He recreates his friends in a Roman a clef as the characters in the novel. This also links with his disappointment that Shelley and his circle had moved abroad, and Peacock shows the characters that represent them as coming back together. Peacock felt that he had been left behind and the satirical nature of the text shows his feelings towards them. Marilyn Butler believed that Peacock and Shelley, ‘…strongly deplored the idea of a merely elitist culture…’ (Butler, 1981, p181) and that Peacock urged Shelley to ‘…consider his audience…’ (Butler, 1981, p182). This desire for a wider audience showed Peacock wanted to move away from the hierarchy of intellectuals that the Romantics wrote for and offer up literature to what Coleridge coined the ‘reading public’. The later Romantics also introduced wider cultural and historical tropes into their writing and Peacock shows this concept throughout the text. With a nod to the old traditions, Peacock faces the crisis of later Romanticism head on and Nightmare Abbey becomes a renewed optimism.
Nightmare Abbey was a modern rather than Romantic text offering a satirical and light-hearted take on Peacock’s contemporaries and the Romantic Project. Peacock wanted to show that text didn’t have to be serious and complicated. This liberated view shows through the text and the first time we are introduced to Scythrop’s character, he is meditating and then decides to write a book. Upon hearing that it has only sold seven copies, Scythrop is not dismayed, ‘Let me find the seven purchasers of my seven copies, and they shall be the seven golden candle-sticks with which I will illuminate the world’ (Peacock, 2016, p9). Peacock’s humour here is in stark comparison to the works of the Romantics and this would suggest that Peacock believes that a more positive attitude is required moving forward. When Scyrthop is walking the halls of the abbey, it states he ‘…stalked about like the grand inquisitor’ (Peacock, 2016, p9). The humour is a chance for the poets to not take themselves too seriously. Kiely suggests that ‘In making fun of the Romantics…he demonstrates why there is no such thing as romantic comedy despite an abundance of romantic humor’ (Kiely, 1973, p178). However, the humour satisfies a need that Peacock has to show the Romantics that the satire in the text is required as a renewed optimism and that the Romantic project will benefit greatly from this. This humour is at its greatest near the end of chapter twelve. Upon believing that a ghost is near, the assembled guests reaction is similar to a comedy sketch. Mr Toobad is so alarmed at the presence that in his panic, he misses the door and jumps through a window (Peacock). ‘Mr Asterias and his son, who were on watch for their mermaid, were attracted by the splashing, threw a net over him and dragged him to land.’ (Peacock, 2016, p52). The humour in this scene is in juxtaposition to the mythical creature that is being searched for.
Peacock also wanted to advocate a conviviality between friends. A chance to get together and have conversations instead of living insular lives. In particular, Peacock was making a case for laughter and merriment. In the case of the Reverend Mr Larynx, Peacock shows the convivial atmosphere he enjoyed at Nightmare Abbey, ‘he would condole with Mr Glowry,- drink madeira with Scythrop, – crack jokes with Mr Hilary,…lament the good old times of feudal darkness with the transcendental Mr Flosky’ (Peacock, 2016, p7). Peacock wanted to move away from the melancholy of the Romantics and look forward to life. This positivity was to encourage talking and debate rather than solitude and is also linked to Peacock’s disappointment over Shelley and his circle moving abroad. He no longer had them near him and was unable to engage in discussions with them.
Peacock’s novel incorporates roman a clef in a way that makes the text very personal. His characters are encrypted caricatures of his peers and are overexaggerated versions of themselves. The character of Scythrop is a portrayal of Percy Bysse Shelley and is mysterious and prone to falling in love. Upon seeing Marionetta’s distress after he shows disinterest in her, he ‘…found his tender sympathies awakened, and did his utmost to comfort the afflicted damsel’ then telling her that he was working on ‘a very hopeful scheme for the regeneration of human society’ (Peacock, 2016, p35). Here we can see the link to Shelley’s claim that poets are the ‘…unacknowledged legislators of the world’ (Wu, 2012, p1247). Peacock is mocking Shelley’s position and elitist view not only as a critique of the Romantic project but also as a jibe to not take himself so seriously. It is also quite clear who the characters are based on and Peacock’s not so subtle disguises are an attempt to shake things up in the Romantic community. The character of Mr Flosky is based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. David M Baulch suggests that Nightmare Abbey, ‘in its characterisation of Mr Flosky offers the rudimentary critique of the ideological implications of Coleridge’s Kantianism’ (Baulch, 2004, p559). Peacock is essentially mocking Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and his friendship with the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that the way in which thoughts are processed and human nature as an experience alone are the answers to the question, what is our position in the world? When asked about his belief in ghosts, Mr Flosky replies, ‘I live in a world of ghosts. I see a ghost at this moment’. (Peacock, 2016, p52). This is a making a mockery of Coleridge’s beliefs. The belief that he can see ghosts gives the demeanour of a mad man.
Lord Byron is represented by Mr Cypress, an old acquaintance of Mr Glowry. He arrives at the abbey to say farewell before he leaves for the continent. In a conversation regarding humanity, Mr Cypress states, ‘The mind is diseased of its own beauty, and fevers into false creation. The forms which the sculptor’s soul has seized exist only in himself’. (Peacock, 2016, p47). The dark, brooding figure of Byron can easily be seen in Cypress and the characters troubles mirror those of Byron when he himself finds it necessary to leave England because of accusations of incest. Kiely suggests that Peacock’s complaint with the Romantics was that they, ‘…occupied themselves too much with sorrow, but that they go about it an idle, self indulgent fashion and invent imaginary miseries rather than coping with real ones.’ (Kiely, 1972, p179). In fact, the character of Mr Hilary, who is thought to be Peacock himself, berates Cypress, saying ‘To rail against humanity for not being abstract perfection…is to rail at the summer for not being all sunshine…’ (Peacock, 2016, p46). Peacock is showing that as an insider of the Romantic movement, his critique of Byron’s melancholic, negative views is the way forward towards positivity and overcoming the crisis of late Romanticism.
Nightmare Abbey illustrates a critique of gothic fiction. With its towers and turrets, the abbey itself was, ‘…a venerable family mansion, in a highly picturesque state of semi-dilapidation, pleasantly situated on a strip of dry land…’(Peacock, 2016, p2). The use of the words ‘family’ and ‘pleasantly’ do not evoke the powerful feelings of horror that gothic was designed for. Marilyn Butler argues that, ‘its images project and evil or disturbing environment…’ and it was ‘felt to be a breakdown of control, both in the psyche and in the state’ (Butler, 1981, p157). Peacock however does not follow these conventions. Kiely states that, ‘…the setting for human experience is not a lonely chamber or prison cell, but a full table or a crowded drawing room which people are constantly entering or leaving’ (Kiely, 1973, p182). This was not stereotypical of gothic tropes. The supernatural elements in Nightmare Abbey were treated with humour and sarcasm. The style of Peacock’s narrative in the text includes prose, poetry, script and song. The text moves along well and Nightmare Abbey fits the bill perfectly for the novel as a mixed bag. However, there are numerous occasions where the text could pass as a play. There are stage directions, ‘(He rang the bell for his valet. Fatout entered)’ (Peacock, 2016, p16) and many people enter and exit, as though being directed on a stage. Notably, most of the action takes place when the characters are speaking to each other and whilst this is incredibly simple, it keeps in mind what Peacock’s aim was to bring back a conviviality of talking and friendship. The satirical nature also links with the idea of a topsy turvey world in which the Romantics were living and the way Peacock deals with his critique of the Romantic project makes the novel an excellent medium in which to get his critique across. However, with the newly arriving paradigm of realism fast approaching, Nightmare Abbey doesn’t fulfil the criteria of a realist novel. Peacock wanted to critique the effects of modernity and realism in literature was still in its infancy.
In a letter to Shelley, Peacock told him, ‘I think it necessary to “make a stand” against the encroachments of black bile’ (Cochrane, 2009, p315). Peacock was against the melancholic brooding of Byronic literature and thought it was poisoning the reader’s minds. ‘I cannot consent to be auditor tantum of this systematical ‘poisoning’ of the ‘mind’ of the ‘Reading Public’’ (Cochran,2009, p315). Mr Flosky even defines black bile as, ‘Hatred- revenge- misanthropy- and quotations from the bible’ (Peacock, 2016, p17). Peacock was intent on moving away from the Byronic vision to a more positive outlook on life. He knew that the world of literature needed to move away from such dark and gloomy worlds and the ‘reading public’ would only read what it was fed. Indeed, Mr Flosky announces,
That part of the reading public which shuns the solid food of reason for the light diet of fiction, requires a perpetual adhibition of sauce piquante to the palate of its depraved imagination (Peacock, 2016, p22)
Although Peacock’s observations of the reading public are negative in that they do not have a mind of their own, his objective is certainly clear. Marilyn Butler states, ‘Already in the eighteenth century the literary artist…came to address itself not to a patron but to a public’ (Butler, 1981, p179). Peacock felt a sense of duty to the reading public, not only to move away towards a more positive outlook but also to bring about literature into libraries and make it more accessible to all.
The advancement of the later Romantics is shown in the concretisation of historical perspective in their work. This full sense of developed history is also shown in Nightmare Abbey. Peacock wrote Nightmare Abbey in 1818 during a revival of the Neoclassical style and which Marilyn Butler explains that, ‘One way of typifying this movement would be to point to its content, that is to its primitivism or historicism’ (Butler, 1981, p180). Peacock references many famous works throughout Nightmare Abbey including Dante, the Bible and Shakespeare, many of which are quoted or alluded to. In his “Four Ages of Poetry”, Peacock states that poets are, ‘…as yet the only historians and chroniclers of their time, and the sole depositories of all the knowledge of their age…’Peacock, 2015, p2). To fill a text with so many historical works illustrates not only the later Romantic awareness of mediaeval history and classical antiquity but also Peacock’s aim to move the Romantic project along. The age of modernity was in crisis and a look back to traditional styles was a way forward.
Nightmare Abbey was written in a response to the crisis of later Romanticism and Peacock wanted to move away from the doom and gloom of melancholic vision. A satirical novel with humour throughout, Peacock’s light-hearted text showed a different world, which had a more positive outlook. Peacock was also making a statement for the Romantics to stop taking themselves too seriously. Satire was a modern style and Peacock believed that this would bring forward a new optimism. He also advocated conviviality between friends, encouraged them to get together and talk about books and literature in general. As the only action in the text is the conversations between the friends, Peacock’s demonstration of this shows his intent quite clearly. When the Shelley circle move abroad, Peacock is quite put out by this and uses his friends in the text in the roman a clef style. This enables Peacock to mock their positions and elitist ways and show the readership a caricature of them. The overexaggerated versions of his peers gave Peacock free reign to capture their nuances and styles. Nightmare Abbey is also a critique of gothic fiction and any mention of the supernatural is treated with humour. Finally, Peacock filled his text with references to many historical works. This connection with the old traditions shows that to move the Romantic project forward, a look back to the old ways was required.
Baulch, D. M. (2004) ‘The “Perpetual Exercise of an Interminable Quest”: The Biographia Literaria and the Kantian Revolution’ in Studies in Romanticism. [Online] Winter2004, Vol. 43 Issue 4, p557-581. [Available from http://rh5pp9fz2b.search.serialssolutions.com/?charset=utf-8&pages=557-581&atitle=The%20%EF%BF%BDPerpetual%20Exercise%20of%20an%20Interminable%20Quest%EF%BF%BD%3A%20%EF%BF%BDThe%20Biographia%20Literaria%EF%BF%BD%20and%20the%20Kantian%20Revolution&jtitle=Studies%20in%20Romanticism&title=Studies%20in%20Romanticism&issn=0039-3762&volume=43&issue=4&date=2004&aulast=Baulch&aufirst=David&au=Baulch%2CDavid%20M.] [Accessed 04/01/18]
Butler, M. (1981) Romantics Rebels & Reactionaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Cochrane, P. (2009) “Romanticism” and Byron. [Online] Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Available from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/detail.action?docID=1133133 [Accessed 27/12/17]
Kiely, R. (1973) The Romantic Novel in England. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
Peacock, T. L. (2015) “The Four Ages of Poetry” Handout given out in Later Romantic Writing November 2017 by Martin Jesinghausen
Peacock, T. L. (2016) Nightmare Abbey. Great Britain: Amazon
Wu, D. (2012) (Ed) Romanticism: An Anthology Fourth Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd
In what features of the writing studied so far could you see a development emerging from Early to Later Romanticism? Is it possible to talk of ‘maturing’ here, or is there a new fire and passion in the later writing that resembles the early Romantic experiments?
The later romantic writers offered a deeper investigation into the modern world and the mind. Poets such as Keats, Byron and Shelley emerged as self-assured young writers, eager to change the world with their new modes of inspiration. Wordsworth and Coleridge had produced their work for the everyman. A pastoral simplicity and form, the early romantics had an appreciation of everything around them and made it beautiful. In William Hazlitt’s essay, ‘The Spirit of the Age’ he commends Wordsworth’s work as ‘… he can make the lifeblood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living colouring with which he paints his verse’ (Hazlitt, 2017). Although Hazlitt’s viewpoint is critical of Wordsworth styling, it is in fact how Wordsworth was appreciated by the common man. The development of style and nature can be seen in the later romantic writing through subject matter and poetic form. Poets such as Byron and Keats brought an altogether more sophisticated flavour. In Marilyn Butler’s book Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries she states that ‘…a new self-consciousness had entered literary discourse…’ (Butler, 1981, p143). The later romantic writers were making more inward reflections and exploring the inner psyche with a maturity that shows the development of their writing. Their styling was more philosophical with a true sense of history and as such contained classical references. Many writers moved onto the continent and this change of scenery showed a change of focus in their writing. The differences in style and form can be seen in Wordsworth’s We are Seven and Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale.
In Wordsworth’s poem We are Seven, the simplicity of form and accessibility brings an understanding and psychology of the innocence of a child as a new experimental form. Wordsworth showed the wonders of nature and his appreciation of them with a language for the common people. He states, ‘the child had a rustic woodland air’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p 380). The description of the child evokes an image of a simple country girl and her comparison with nature is in harmony with the pastoral setting. The gentle rhyme scheme gives the poem a simplistic nursery rhyme quality as Wordsworth constructs a conversation between an adult and a child about death. The child’s simple view is that her siblings, although dead in their graves, are still with her as death is not the end; ‘Their graves are green, they may be seen’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p381). The adult cannot accept this view and the reversal of roles is refreshing in the sense that Wordsworth gives a platform for the child to converse. Children were seen as mini adults but the reason and logic the child is showing, though childlike, shows a superiority over the adult. The realist approach that Wordsworth uses allows the reader to learn from the child and that the simple logic that the child insists upon, should be utilised by everyone. Although Wordsworth’s We are Seven breaks the boundaries of exploration into child psychology, the adult still does not accept the child’s viewpoint, ’Twas throwing words away, for still/ The little maid would have her will’ (Wordsworth, 2012, p382). Wordsworth demonstrates an irony in that the adult does not understand the child and although her logic is clear, a deeper exploration of it is not given.
The more sophisticated style of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, intensifies the romantic project by giving the reader a more inward perspective. ‘That I might drink, and leave the word unseen/ And with thee fade away into the forest dim-‘ (Keats, 2012, p 1464). Although the links with nature remain in both poems, the Ode’s more sophisticated styling offers a more inward reflection. At eight stanzas long, the ode, whilst still connected to nature, is more of a lament of the poet’s life, ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/ My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk’ (Keats, 2012, p1464). Whilst listening to the nightingale sing, the poet suddenly becomes entranced. His heart aches as he listens to the bird’s melodious tune and is soothed by it. In a trancelike state, the poet experiences moods and feelings and becomes philosophical about life. In Leon Waldoff’s essay ‘Imagination and Growth in the Great Odes’, he argues that ‘His placement of the bird in the historical, the biblical and literary imagination…is an unexpected and beautifully effective act of internalisation…’ (Waldoff,1985, p 313). He argues that Keats is trying to preserve the inner feelings for which the bird now represents (Waldoff, 1985). This depth of inner realisation shows the maturity in Keats’s poetry. The bird becomes symbolic and his song immortal and this illustrates the superiority of his writing. The ode makes reference to Greek mythology, ‘Away! Away! For I will fly to thee,/ Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards/ But on the viewless wings of Poesy’ (Keats, 2012, p1465). The sophisticated nature in which he compares the classical world and poetry illustrates the more cultured styling and shows Keats belief that poetry transcends the classical world.
The early romantic poets created a gentle pastoral world and made their poetry accessible to all. With nature at the forefront, these writers illustrated that to understand nature was to understand life. They made the world beautiful and gave a platform for children to have a voice of their own. The later romantic writers showed a much more mature style in their writing. Their inward reflections and exploration of the mind showed a style developing and evolving in a way that eclipsed the writing of the early romantics. Keats styling showed moods and feelings that were not seen in Wordsworth’s early poetry. These moods reflected the inner poet and demonstrated how looking deeper inside the mind gave a more transcendental experience.
Butler, M. (1981) Romantics, Rebels & Reactionaries English Literature and its Background 1760-1830. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Hazlitt, W. (2017) ‘The Spirit of the Age- Mr Wordsworth’ (1826). Handout given in Later Romantic Writing 10/10/2017 by M. Jesinghausen
Waldoff, L. (1985) ‘Imagination and Growth in the Great Odes’ In: Wu, D. (1995) (Ed) Romanticism A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd
Wu, D. (2012) (Ed) Romanticism: An Anthology Fourth Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd