Leanne Waters is a published Irish writer and award-winning journalist. In November 2011, she had her first book published with Maverick House Publishers. The non-fiction title My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia detailed Waters' personal battle with bulimia nervosa and has since been hitting bestsellers shelves in bookstores around the country.
Waters studied English in University College Dublin, until taking a leave of absence to focus on her writing career. Before that time, she worked as the Features Editor in the UCD University Observer and won the award for Journalism relating to Mental health and Suicide prevention at the 2011 National Student Media Awards for her article, Mental Awareness: Eating Disorders.
Leanne Waters experienced severe bullying as a child, was very reclusive and quiet, often finding solace in writing. She suffered with mental illness from a young age, experiencing episodes of anxiety and mild depression. In her teens she suffered from Bulimia Nervosa and underwent several months of behavioral therapy. Her memoir My Secret Life explores the many facets of this condition.
Waters is now in her early twenties and since that period, she has dedicated her time to her personal development and writing. She has recently completed her second book, a fiction novel called The Inheritance, which has been signed for representation by literary agent Diana Beaumont of the Rupert Heath Literary Agency in London and is now in the process of being edited.
Waters is currently studying English Literature in University College Dublin and is preparing work for future novels. She currently lives in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
*Please Note: The following blog is entirely the work of author Leanne Waters. Many entries are academic essays submitted by Leanne Waters to the English department of UCD and belong to their author only. The publication of these works is entirely for educational purposes and is not to be plagiarised in any way, or assumed as the work of any individual but Leanne Waters.
The Exploration of Authority in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Ian McEwan’s Atonement
As this essay will contend, English novels such as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Ian McEwan’s Atonement offer clear representations of the loss of authority. In addition to this, however, the authoritative deficit experienced in each text is counterbalanced with an omnipotent narrative commentary, as will be discussed. This contention can be best explored through four major arguments. Firstly, the absence of father figures in these novels perpetuates a disruption of the social order. Secondly, the failure of personal command is expressed through the deterioration of the ill or injured human body. Thirdly, the ironic use of the country house motif further highlights a lack of stability within the texts. Finally, this essay will then consider the execution of metafictional narrative authority as a means to counterbalance the aforementioned arguments.
In her essay on Jane Austen and female authorship, critic Deborah Kaplan comments on how: “the novel, like the psychoanalytical models applied to it, emerged in patriarchal cultures […] and celebrates bourgeois family life under the rule of the father” (Kaplan 534). Drawing on Kaplan’s argument, the role of the father in the social order of family life seems imperative. As such, the absence of a father figure can denote a serious lack of authority within the family unit. This loss of authority can be seen in Austen’s Mansfield Park, following the departure of Sir Thomas Bertram to Antigua. Upon deciding to perform in a play, Henry Crawford very poignantly asks: “what should prevent us?” (Austen 122). In doing so, he reminds readers of the missing authoritative force that should prevent such an act of misconduct. Edmund’s feeble attempt to dissuade the would-be actors from their pursuit of performance reinforces an awareness of that absence and the dangers such liberation poses. He states that: “my Father would totally disapprove it […] he would never wish his grown up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict” (Austen 125). However, what becomes clear is that Edmund’s bid to act as surrogate father to the unruly ambitions of the young people proves to be completely insufficient. Far from preventing his peers’ endeavours, he ultimately joins them in accepting the role of Anhalt and, as Anna Lott points out, “the Bertrams transgress the unstated rule of the absent Sir Thomas” (Lott 275). Sir Thomas himself later acknowledges his own errors in the upbringing of his children and it is stated that: “Here had been grievous mismanagement […] Something must have been wanting within” (Austen 459). Again, this epiphany draws attention to an absence that existed long before Maria’s affair with Mr. Crawford. The emphasis on the absence within is a reminder of Sir Thomas’s journey to Antigua and the negative impact of his vacancy within the family. This acknowledgement, therefore, highlights the irrevocable necessity of the father figure in the social order.
Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement offers a similar example of social disruption. It is in the absence of Jack Tallis, for example, that Lola is assaulted on domestic territory. When Mr. Tallis calls to inform his wife that he will not be home as expected, it is stated that Mrs. Tallis “rose immediately, without any start of surprise […] and called out as she always did” (McEwan 153). The familiarity with which Mrs. Tallis receives the news suggests that this absence is a regular occurrence and that the household is almost constantly without a father figure for guidance. In his work on McEwan and postmodernity, Bruno M. Shah states: “McEwan depicts a world wherein God’s significance lies in his indifferent absence” (Shah 39). Thus, it may be worthwhile to weave from this statement a broader concept of fatherhood. Here are two notions that parallel one another in a number of ways; firstly, there is God, the father of spirit, whose apparent role is one of moral guidance and spiritual salvation; then there is Jack Tallis, the father of flesh, whose role implies social instruction and physical protection. If, as Shah claims, the God-father fails to fulfil his role, then it seems the flesh-father is destined to do the same. Both are absent and as a result of this missing fatherly authority, “the worst” occurs with regards to Lola and Mr. Tallis is urged to return home (McEwan 154). Furthermore, this absence gives rise to a threat of a different nature, as David K. O’Hara argues: “[Briony’s] father, hardly a physical presence anymore, is away on business in London. Left to her own devices […] young Briony Tallis takes solace in her own imagination” (O’Hara 76). Here, O’Hara highlights the hazards of imaginative liberty and suggests that the dangerous threat of Briony’s unrestricted imagination is a result of Mr. Tallis’s absence. This is especially true in considering the inconsequentiality of Mrs. Tallis’s rule: “Whenever Mrs Tallis exercised authority in the absence of her husband, the children felt obliged to protect her from seeming ineffectual” (McEwan 128). Now ungoverned by authoritative leadership, Briony creates a fiction in her head of a maniac [Robbie] and feels compelled to “protect her sister against him, and then find ways of conjuring him safely on paper” (McEwan 157). It is this fiction that will ultimately separate the lovers and thus, lead Briony down her lifelong path of atonement. If, as O’Hara suggests, these imaginings could have been avoided merely by the presence of the commanding father figure, then the consequences of that absence become all the more poignant.
A second loss of authority explored in these texts is that of personal control, as seen in the case of Tom Bertram in Mansfield Park. It is described how: “Tom had gone […] to Newmarket, where a neglected fall, and a good deal of drinking, had brought on a fever” (Austen 422). In many ways, Tom’s ‘fall’ from health may be read as his punishment at the hands of the author due to the “thoughtlessness and selfishness of his previous habits” (Austen 458). Stefanie Markovits, for example, argues that Austen essentially punishes her characters for their immoral actions. She writes: “Mansfield Park renders action a suspect category: good manners are not a guarantee of good morals; you must be good, not just do well. While principles must be active, bodies must not be” (Markovits 785). As such, Tom Bertram’s fall from health is reflective of the fact that he has already fallen from morality. Consequently, Tom loses not only his desire for the life of independence he previously lived, but also his physical ability to maintain that lifestyle. This is evident when Tom expresses “extreme impatience to be removed to Mansfield, and experience those comforts of home and family which had been little thought of in uninterrupted health” (Austen 424). No longer independent to live as he always has, Tom’s physical incapacity strips him of all personal authority and brings him back to the security of the domestic environment. Moreover, his ill-health diminishes his own capacity to take care of himself. Along with Edmund, for example, Tom was once described as having “all the grandeur of men” (Austen 12). Now however, Tom’s illness has reduced him to descriptions such as “the poor invalid”, “poor Tom” and he requires his younger brother’s attendance (Austen 422-423). As such, Tom’s loss of personal command seems to have delivered him to the authoritative level of a mere child.
Like Tom, Robbie Turner’s loss of personal command in Atonement is as a result of his physical condition. After being wounded with what he assumes to be “A piece of shrapnel perhaps”, Robbie’s health begins to wane (McEwan 192). As a result of what is later discovered to be septicaemia, Robbie becomes somewhat fragmented as his mind starts to hallucinate. While at Bray Dunes, for example, Robbie decides to double back on his long journey in the hope of conversing with the dead: “But first he must cover the miles again, and go back north to the field where the farmer and his dog still walked behind the plough, and ask the Flemish lady and her son if they held him accountable for their deaths” (McEwan 263).
In this way, Robbie’s loss of authority can be seen in the dislocation of his mind from his body and his inability to align the two against the reality he faces. While Tom struggles with a lack of independence, Robbie contends with a lack of subjective unity. In his work on subjectivity and the body, Keith E. Collett remarks: “McEwan’s work deals with the struggle of the male subject within the postmodern environment of dislocation and fragmentation” (Collett 67). This statement becomes all the more poignant in consideration of Robbie’s physical position within the novel; he is dislocated from his home, from Celia and now, from his own body. Robbie himself briefly acknowledges this dislocation: “It was his mind. Periodically, something slipped. Some everyday principle of continuity, the humdrum element that told him where he was in his own story” (McEwan 246). Moreover, the psychological fragmentation displayed by Robbie is emblematic of the wider fragmentation of war, which leaves in its wake: “vehicles, bomb craters, detritus. There were more bodies” (McEwan 241). As such, Robbie’s loss of authority over his own mind and body is indicative of not only his personal disunity, but of the chaos of humanity in its entirety.
Another argument to consider regarding the loss of authority in these novels is the ironic use of the country house motif, a symbol of fixed stability and safety from the outside world: “To be married is to be well-housed in the ideal materialization of the matrimonial state that is the space of the country house” (Kagawa 125). Yet in spite of this assertion, authors such as Austen and McEwan portray country homes that are often under threat from the outside world. In Mansfield Park, for example, the intrusion of public theatricals into the domestic space signifies the compromised authority of the home. Edmund tells his brother how the staging of a play at Mansfield would “be taking liberties with my Father’s house” (Austen 126). The elder Bertram brother retorts to this claim with: “His house shall not be hurt” (Austen 126). The focus in this exchange is on the well-being of the home, which is almost like a personified entity. What remains important is that the perimeters of the home are not breached by the intrusive otherness of the public world. Lott agrees with this and writes: “Edmund’s attempts to contain or control the danger of the theatricals by refusing to allow outsiders to participate demonstrate the family’s fear of the widespread danger […]” (Lott 283). While ultimately the country house is protected against public theatricals with the return of Sir Thomas, it remains vulnerable to the encroachment of the city. This is best seen in the disruptive role of the Crawfords, who “had been mostly used to London” (Austen 41). The day at Sotherton, for example, provides a suggestive parallel to the breach of the domestic space. While awaiting Mr. Rushworth’s return with the key for the ha-ha gate, Mr. Crawford tells Maria: “I think you might with a little difficulty pass round the edge of the gate, here, with my assistance; I think it might be done, if you […] could allow yourself to think it not prohibited” (Austen 98). In this instance, the gate – like the supposedly sturdy walls of the country home – is a barrier against the evils of the outside world; one that must not be penetrated. Yet, under Mr. Crawford’s ‘outsider’ influence, this frontier is dismissively ignored. Thus the protective barricades of the domestic as a whole are severely compromised and the traditional authority of the country house is undercut.
The same ironic vulnerability can be seen in the Tallis home in Atonement. Stephen Siddall comments on this lack of security in saying: “McEwan describes the driveway and, especially, the fountain in ways that both evoke the timeless security that the house in its landscape should provide, but which also undermine the potential idyll with social and aesthetic dislocation [emphasis added]” (Siddall 59).
Greater than the mere descriptive passages of the home, however, the Tallis estate – as with Mansfield before – comes under the threat of the outside world and consequently, loses its authoritative place within the country house motif. This is most evident at the close of the novel, when readers discover that Briony has “turned into the drive of Tilney’s Hotel” (McEwan 363). In the case of the Tallis home, the invasion of the outside world has triumphed and the domestic landscape has become public property. Briony herself feels this betrayal against the once-sacred country house and comments: “We were slowing now to let some golfers and their caddies cross. I couldn’t help thinking of them as trespassers” (McEwan 363). The irony here is that the country house, which traditionally offered stability, has now become a transient concept that is open to invasion. More importantly, it is no longer a space that embodies protection, but rather something that needs to be protected: “from a distance it had a stark and unprotected look” (McEwan 363). It is this ironic exposure of the once ‘safe’ country house that further demonstrates the loss of authority explored in these texts.
The final argument of this essay considers not the loss of authority within the stories themselves, but instead, the maintenance of narrative authority by their authors. Through the strategy of metafiction, authors such as Austen and McEwan subvert their own depictions of lost authority and remind readers that these portrayals have always been fictitious constructs. In doing so, they showcase a narrative authority that counterbalances the arguments of above and provides a deeper layer of complexity in the exploration of authority as a whole. In her commentary on Mansfield Park, Felicia Bonaparte states: “Not infrequently in the narrative, and often in a mocking way, she [Austen] calls our attention to the fact that she is structuring her story not in imitation of life but in imitation of fiction, of the conventions of the form” (Bonaparte 46).
Bonaparte’s contention here can be seen in the many metafictional intrusions the author makes throughout the novel. A perfect example of this can be found in the final chapter, when Austen writes: “My Fanny indeed at this very time, I have the satisfaction of knowing, must have been happy in spite of everything” [emphasis added] (Austen 457). The use of the term ‘my’ in this instance highlights the reality of Fanny’s fictive makeup; Austen is calling attention to the fact that Fanny Price is a literary invention and that her course throughout the novel has been very carefully coordinated by her creator. Moreover, the use of the word ‘must’ here seems to be a comment on the genre of novels themselves. Erika Wright states that: “Novels trained their readers to expect conflicts that get resolved, longing that gets rewarded, beginnings that necessarily and steadily move toward an end” (Wright 378). As such, Austen uses this ‘must’ to subtly remark on the expected convention of novel endings. Fanny, in this case, must have been happy because such is the conventional fate of the novel heroine. Austen accentuates this reality both here and elsewhere in the novel, as when Maria and Mr. Rushworth dance “with each other at a proper number of balls” (Austen 39). Again, Austen is honing in on the conventionalities of novel-writing; she does not feel the need to specify a number, as she makes it clear how both she and her readers know what to expect. This kind of strategy ensures that Austen’s presence and her commentaries on the craft are not easily forgotten, thus solidifying her narrative authority throughout the text.
Equally, McEwan’s somewhat macabre control over Atonement inscribes his place within the novel as its creator. While Austen’s metafictional discussion focuses on novel conventionality, McEwan’s discourse centres on the creation of fiction and its relationship with interpretation, as Brian Finney contends: “I read this novel as a work of fiction that is from beginning to end concerned with the making of fiction” (Finney 69). This concern can be traced, firstly, through Briony’s own writing, which shows a literary lineage as the young author grows. Briony’s literary journey begins on the very first page with a Victorian melodrama: “At some moments chilling, at others desperately sad, the play told a tale of the heart whose message, conveyed in a rhyming prologue […]” (McEwan 3). Her progression from this form of writing into a later modernist style that “owed a little too much to the techniques of Mrs Woolf”, evokes a sense of historical awareness (McEwan 312). The author is clearly embedding Briony’s text – and his own – within a literary history and begins his metafictional discourse with the making of fiction through the ages. However, more conspicuously, McEwan takes this discussion further through his subversion of reader expectation, as Pilar Hidalgo points out: “the reader discovers on the last page of part 3 that he or she has been deceived about the nature of the narratorial voice of the novel” (Hidalgo 85). Hidalgo is remarking, of course, on the revelation of Robbie and Celia’s deaths, which have been written out of Briony’s novel. In first-person narration, Briony states: “we will only exist as my inventions” (McEwan 371). She therefore draws attention to the God-like status of the author and the narrative authority that has always belonged to the author. Moreover, in passing this remark, Briony also draws attention to the fact she is not the real inventor; her own creator is McEwan himself. This supposed betrayal of reader expectation exists not for the sake of cruelty, but rather, to comment on the necessity of interpretation alongside creation in determining the outcome of the story. The lovers’ fate is dependent on both the author’s creation and also, the reader’s analysis. It is through this metafictional commentary on the process of invention that McEwan determines his narrative authority throughout the text and moreover, how he includes the reader in that authority.
In conclusion of the arguments made above, both Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Ian McEwan’s Atonement explore the loss of authority in a variety of ways. They do this through the absence of father figures, the portrayal of the ill and injured physical body and finally, the irony of the country house setting. Yet, despite these depictions, both authors demonstrate a narrative authority, which is expressed through the use of metafiction. In doing so, they remind readers of the fictive status of these texts. Thus, they undercut their own portrayals of lost authority and give a fresh dynamic to the exploration of authority as a whole.
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. London: Penguin English Library, 2012. Print.
Bonaparte, Felicia. “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery: The Ordination of the Text and the Subversion of ‘Religion in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park”. Religion and Literature 43:2 (July 2011): 45-67. EBSCO Premier.
Collett (II.), Keith E. Subjectivity and the Body in Novels by Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Will Self, and Jeannette Winterson. Ann Arbor: ProQuest, 2008. 63-102. Print.
Finney, Brian. “Briony’s Stand Against Oblivion: The Making of Fiction in Ian McEwan’s Atonement”. Journal of Modern Literature 27:3 (Winter 2004): 68-82. JSTOR.
Hidalgo, Pilar. “Memory and Storytelling in Ian McEwan’s Atonement”. Critique 46:2 (January 2005): 82-91. EBSCO Premier.
Kagawa, P. Keiko. “Jane Austen, The Architect: (Re)Building Spaces at Mansfield Park”. Women’s Studies 35:2 (March 2006): 125-143. EBSCO Premier.
Kaplan, Deborah. “Achieving Authority: Jane Austen’s First Published Novel”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 37:4 (March 1983): 531-551. JSTOR.
Lott, Anna. “Staging a Lesson: The Theatricals and Proper Conduct in Mansfield Park”. Studies in the Novel 38:3 (Fall 2006): 275-286. EBSCO Premier.
Markovits, Stefanie. “Jane Austen and the Happy Fall”. Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 47:4 (Autumn 2007): 779-797. JSTOR.
McEwan, Ian. Atonement. London: Vintage Books, 2011. Print.
O’Hara, David K. “Briony’s Being-For: Metafictional Narrative Ethics in Ian McEwan’s Atonement”. Critique 52:1 (January 2011): 74-100. EBSCO Premier.
Shah, Bruno M. “The Sin of Ian McEwan’s Fictive Atonement: Reading his Later Novels”. New Blackfriars 90:1025 (January 2009): 38-49. EBSCO Premier.
Siddall, Stephen. Landscape and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. 56-59. Print.
Wright, Erika. “Prevention as Narrative in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park”. Studies in the Novel 42:2 (Winter 2010): 377-394. EBSCO Premier.
The Failure of the Owning Self:
A Short Scene Analysis of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent
As this analysis will contend, the use of things to represent the self who owns emphasises the illusory nature of individualism. The owning self fails to construct an autonomous and stable entity and consequently, fails to omit itself from a broader collective. This can be best explored through the Professor’s relationship to his detonator in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. More specifically, a close reading of the Professor’s conversation with Ossipon in chapter four of the text highlights two major arguments in relation to the above contention (Conrad 50-52). Firstly, the Professor’s reliance on his detonator gives way to the creation of fictitious ideologies and highlights the transient status of individualism. Secondly, the Professor’s bomb offers a false sense of security and thus blindly leads to the entrapment of the owning self within the wider collective.
It is clear that the Professor constructs his subjectivity almost exclusively through his detonator, claiming that his character is established via “Force of personality” (Conrad, 51). If the force in this instance is solely the Professor’s bomb, then his personality is determined only through ownership and possession of a material thing. The act of owning in this way becomes the foundation for the Professor’s individualism. He states that: “What is effective is the belief those people have in my will to use the means. […] Therefore I am deadly” (Conrad 51). Here, the Professor seems to manipulate René Descartes’ assertion that “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes 20). Instead, he centres his very existence around his bomb and the self who owns becomes the definition of the self in its entirety; as such, the Professor’s Cartesian creed becomes ‘I have, therefore I am’.
It is this dependence that gives rise to apocryphal ideology. The Professor’s ideological self, for example – his enforced brand of ‘deadly’ individualism – is thus marked as ephemeral. It depends upon the transient state of having and calls attention to the fact that the removal of his perfect detonator would surely strip him of his constructed subjectivity and the “superiority” he believes it gives him (Conrad 51). The Professor’s individual ‘am-ness’ therefore is little more than an evanescent belief, which could not exist without the use of things to represent it. He claims that his character “stands free from everything artificial […] I depend on death” (Conrad 51). However, he fails to acknowledge the artificiality of an ideology that finds a bedrock in a bomb; something that is, in many ways, out of his control. Moreover, his ability to inflict death on himself and others is circumstantial and the threat of this power being removed is not only possible, but ever-present in the wider context of the novel.
The transitory calibre of the Professor’s ideology is reinforced by the language he uses throughout this passage. The very accusations he makes against the propagandists ironically act as mirrored truths regarding himself. He tells Ossipon: “You see, you can’t bear the mention of something conclusive” (Conrad, 51). Yet, as has been touched upon, the instability of the owning self is in fact a model for inconclusiveness. There can be only indeterminacy in the reliance on temporal things, or at the very least, things that are not guaranteed to be within his control at all times. Verbs such as “depend”, adjectives such as “bound”, along with nouns such as “restraint” and “connection” all suggest a tone of hindrance (Conrad 51). This sense of restriction satirically accentuates the insufficiency of the Professor’s authoritative self. Because it relies on possession for the source of its power, the limitations of his individualism thus permeate through his own speech patterns. Furthermore, along with hinting at this encumbrance, he also exposes the mock capacity of his identity, notably using words such as: “impression”, “artificial” and “posturing” (Conrad 51). In making his allegations against the revolutionists, the Professor unknowingly redirects the focus back onto himself and leaves his thing-inspired ideology at a point of vulnerable exposure. Therefore, what becomes clear is that the hyperbolic emphasis he places on falsity does little more than imply that he and the propagandists are “Like to like” (Conrad 52).
More than merely failing to construct a stable notion of individuality, the Professor’s relationship to his bomb also paradoxically places him firmly within the wider collective of social convention. In this passage, he tells Ossipon: “You revolutionists […] are the slaves of the social convention, which is afraid of you; slaves of it as much as the very police that stands up in defence of that convention […] It governs your thought, of course, and your action too […]” (Conrad 52). Once again, Conrad plays with irony. While the Professor so pointedly condemns the politics of Ossipon and his fellow propagandists, he also inadvertently unveils his own inability to escape the broader social narrative.
Drawing on Frederic Jameson’s thinking on dialogism in the expression of opposing class discourses, the Professor here highlights the plight of every character in Conrad’s novel, even beyond this one passage. For example, while his detonator is emblematic of his anti-establishment persona, it also blinds him from the realisation that he himself works under a shared social code. To create his individuality, the Professor must carry his bomb, the material thing that represents his removal from and resistance to social convention. To form any means of resistance, however, the Professor overlooks the necessity of that very convention. In order to resist, there must be something to resist to. His detonator, therefore, functions contradictorily as the symbol of his individual ideology, but also, as the reminder that he is participating in a larger social dynamic. His own resistance thus becomes his active contribution and, in this sense, the Professor is a ‘slave’ like the revolutionists. He cooperates as an antagonist within the unity of a common code in a process he himself calls “counter moves in the same game” (Conrad 52). Adding to this point, the Professor specifically refers to this dynamic as a “little game” (Conrad 52). The adjective here is indicative of the fact that this game is taking place within the broader context of a political collective and is a mere discourse in a wider social sphere. As such, the Professor’s ownership of a material thing in defining his individualism is in itself defined by an inescapable composite.
Lastly, it is worth noting the Professor’s statement that this game showcases “forms of idleness at bottom identical” (Conrad 52). The term idleness in this case suggests that only action is the realisation of ideology. Once more, the Professor does little but draw attention to his own state of ideological paralysis. Considering this statement in the broader context of the novel, it is important to remember that his detonator – the symbol that ensures his characteristic “safety” (Conrad 50) – is never used. If the bomb never goes off then consequently his own individualism is never realised. By virtue of the fact that the detonator is the Professor’s only means of resisting the social order, then his place within the wider collective is solidified by his inability to accomplish this resistance, even on his own terms.
To conclude, this passage highlights two major considerations in relation to the use of things in representing the self who owns. Firstly, it exposes the Professor’s individuality as transient and dependent, and secondly, it showcases the inability of his would-be individualism to remove itself from a wider collective; both of these arguments are made evident through the Professor’s relationship to his perfect detonator, as explored. Therefore, it is feasible to say that the utilisation of things in Conrad’s The Secret Agent successfully depicts the failure of the owning self and the artificiality of individualism.
Conrad, Joseph. The Secret Agent. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
Descartes, René. “Of the Principles of Human Knowledge”. Selections from the Principles of Philosophy. Middlesex: Echo Library, 2009. 19-41. Print.
Jameson, Frederic. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Oxon: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Hi Gillie, thanks for your message (and good lord, call me Leanne or else I’ll feel like my mother!) I’m no guru when it comes to essays but I think organisation is the key and it’s good structure that has helped me keep a solid 4.0 GPA for a long time now. Use a four-point plan (or a 3-point plan) i.e.
Let’s say I’m asked to write a 2,000 word essay. This is how I would (and always do) break it down:
Introduction – 150 words
Argument 1 – 425 words
Argument 2 – 425 words
Argument 3 – 425 words
Argument 4 – 425 words
Conclusion – 150 words
I’ve done this for literally every single essay I’ve ever written regardless of what’s being asked. Once you have a solid structure, you can make very clear arguments and it becomes easier to organize what it is you’re trying to say. Obviously, don’t forget to format correctly and use paragraphs where necessary (I’m sure you don’t need me telling you things like that!) and cite all your references, both to your primary text and your critical support. I have recently put up several academic essays on my blogs for educational purposes. You should perhaps read one or two to get a better idea of how the structure works out. The Dickens essay or the Godwin essay might be the best ones to look at for structural purposes. And of course, you don’t always need to use 4 arguments, that’s just what I tend to do. If you have 3 good arguments, then redefine your word allowance on each argument accordingly. I would avoid going beyond 4 arguments though, as I’m sure you have a limited word count. I know Journalism is not the same as literature, but I do very much believe that the same rules apply. I hope this has helped in some way. The very best of luck in your studies!
Violence and Masculinity in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia: A Feminist Reading.
The exploration of violence and masculinity in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia acts as a means to question performative gender roles and moreover, to accentuate the failure of misogynist patriarchy within Cather’s text. This contention can be argued through four major incidents revolving around, firstly, the concept of masculinity and secondly, the intrusions of violence within the narrative. These include Ántonia’s rejection of a performative female role; Lena Lingard’s enabling presence in the development of male subjectivity; Wick Cutter’s attempted rape of Ántonia; and finally, Pavel’s feeding of the bride to the wolves.
In his seminal work on “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”, Slavoj Žižek bases his thesis around the creation of the fictitious Ideal Lady and states that: “Deprived of every real substance, the Lady functions as a mirror on to which the subject projects his narcissistic ideal” (Žižek, 2408). Taking from Žižek’s argument, the dynamic of the relationship between Jim and Ántonia calls into question the gendered subjectivity of both. Ántonia’s assumption of a masculinised persona from an early age subverts her own femininity and, in turn, compromises the ideological bedrock upon which Jim must build his own notions of masculinity. Ántonia tells Jim: “I ain’t got time to learn. I can work like mans now” (Cather, 70). In doing so, she not only comments on her androgyny, but equates masculinity with physical labour; something that Jim is not, nor will ever be, familiar with. If working on the farm is masculinised, then it means that the scholarly work Jim ultimately dedicates himself to is feminised in exchange. Thus, Ántonia inverts the normative gender roles within Jim’s scope of understanding and leaves him “feeling vexed” (Cather, 71).
More than merely complicating the development of Jim’s male subjectivity, however, Ántonia fails to satisfy his expectations of the feminine Ideal. She rejects the Žižekian Lady forthright and Jim notes how: “Ántonia ate so noisily now, like a man, and she yawned often at the table and kept stretching her arms over her head, as if they ached” (Cather, 72). In order to accomplish Jim’s self-indulgent Ideal, Ántonia must become a blank canvas on which he may begin to create his own subjectivity. This would require what Žižek describes as the “mortification of the flesh-and-blood woman” (Žižek, 2409). Ántonia must adopt the femaleness of a “space that is not a space” (Kroetsch, 112). She must become an empty vacuum – a non-entity – which Jim can then fill with his growing ideologies of both masculinity and femininity. However, Ántonia disappoints him in this regard and her loss of femininity becomes antagonistic and dangerous to the domination of misogyny. This is clear when Jim’s grandmother expresses her fears of Ántonia losing her “nice ways”, to which Jim notes: “She had lost them already” (Cather, 72). Ántonia has not just lost her nicefemale ways in this instance, but has shattered Jim’s illusionary Lady, undercut his masculinity by comparison and threatened the extent of his gendered authority within his own narrative. Opening a discussion on the position of Willa Cather, Deborah G. Lambert states: “Although such a woman is, and knows she is sexually female, in her professional life she is neither female nor male” (Lambert, 677). Lambert’s reflection on Cather becomes very poignant in this argument and brings to light how Ántonia, like Cather herself, must become somewhat genderless in order to succeed in her labours. Jim’s evident frustration at her rejection of a gendered identity only stands to further insist the failure of patriarchal command over both Ántonia and Cather’s text as a whole.
In stark contrast to Ántonia’s masculinisation, Lena Lingard’s sexualised femininity functions as an enabling presence in the development of male subjectivity. Lena becomes the epitome of man’s other and a necessity in the formation of Jim’s concept of masculinity. Simone De Beauvoir writes that: “To men’s eyes the opacity of the self-knowing self, of the pour-soi, is denser in theother who is feminine” (De Beauvoir, 1268). Working off this contention, Jim may thus know himself as a man only through knowing his opposite; in this case, Lena as a woman. His reunion with Lena while he is at university confirms that Jim is in a process of stabilizing his masculinity – or at least attempting to – after the threats that Ántonia posed to it while growing up. Regarding his relationship to Lena, Jim comments: “Lena was at least a woman, and I was a man” (Cather, 148). Lena Lingard’s conformity to the Žižekian Lady-Thing allows Jim to project his ideological masculinity through her. As is made evident by this statement, Jim believes he has finally, if only temporarily, found stability as a masculine subject and a fixed certainty within the text’s depiction of paternalism.
Once again, however, his ability to perform adequately within the perimeters of paternal masculinity is disrupted. This time, with Ántonia only a mere remembrance, it is Jim himself who undercuts his gendered identity. He discontinues the relationship with Lena, claiming: “I even tried to persuade myself that I was standing in Lena’s way – it is so necessary to be a little noble!” (Cather, 155). This confessional statement suggests Jim’s uncertainty regarding the motives for his decision. As such, the stability that was momentarily stumbled upon becomes unravelled and Jim fails to live up to the version of masculinity that Lena has so adequately outlined for him. Instead, like Ántonia before him, Jim rejects the paternal gender role to which he is assigned and prioritizes his academia; a career that has already been feminised to a certain extent by Ántonia’s masculinised labour work, as argued above. In this way, Jim’s dismissal of Lena Lingard’s enabling otherness reinforces the fact that not only have the performative gender roles been resurrected and undermined, but patriarchal domination has failed in the construction of male subjectivity. Jim’s recurring dream of the sexualised Lena also contributes to this failure. He states that: “I used to wish I could have this flattering dream about Ántonia, but I never did” (Cather, 123). In the case of Jim’s relationship to Lena later in life, he actively chooses to renounce the prescribed patriarchy. But when it comes to Ántonia, he is simply unable to assimilate to it. Jim’s inability to sexualise the androgynous Ántonia once more highlights the deficiency of patriarchal masculinity.
It is Judith Butler, of course, who underpins the aforementioned argument on the performative nature of gender roles. In her discussion on “Gender Trouble”, she claims that: “gender is a kind of persistent impersonation that passes as the real” (Butler, 2541). This is never more true than in Jim’s illusionary construction of masculinity, as explored in the previous two cases. Along with providing theoretical support for the above assertions, Butler also grounds the third argument of this essay in stating that: “This ‘body’ often appears to be a passive medium that is signified by an inscription from a cultural source figured as ‘external’ to that body” (Butler, 2542). It is here that a discussion may be opened on the intrusions of violence within the narrative. The presence of violence may be argued as an external force with which the body must contend and thus the ramifications of violent inscriptions are paramount in understanding both gender roles and patriarchy.
With this in mind, the first incident of violence to consider is Wick Cutter’s attempted raped of Ántonia. Fearing Cutter’s return to his home in the night while she is alone and in a state of vulnerability, Ántonia urges Jim to take her place. Thus, upon the predicted return, Jim states that: “The hand that held my shoulder was instantly at my throat. The man became insane; he stood over me, choking me with one fist and beating me in the face with the other, hissing and chuckling and letting out a flood of abuse” (Cather, 135). Jim’s exposure to this brutality is underscored with the knowledge that this was initially intended as an act of sexual violence. The fact that he has taken Ántonia’s place is poignant in understanding how this scene of violence has once more, inverted the prescribed gender roles of patriarchy. The assault highlights Jim’s emasculation; he has literally taken the place of a woman and his body becomes feminised through violent inscription.
More than merely questioning illusionary gender dictations, however, the attack undermines the heteronormative compulsion of patriarchal society. The suggestion of sexual male-to-male aggression and the homoerotic implications this makes, once more dismantles the stability of Jim’s masculinity. After the attack, Jim comments that: “I heard Ántonia sobbing outside my door, but I asked grandmother to send her away. I felt that I never wanted to see her again. I hated her almost as much as I hated Cutter. She had let me in for all this disgustingness” (Cather, 135). The ‘disgustingness’ to which Jim refers is not merely the physical injuries suffered by his body, but more importantly, the figurative inscriptions to his hetero-male subjectivity. The hostility Jim vents towards Ántonia, therefore, is a manifestation of Jim’s frustration with his compromised masculinity and the failing system of social patriarchy; neither of which could have been realised without Cutter’s display of midnight violence.
The second intrusion of violence to consider is Pavel’s savage murdering of the Russian bride. In her discourse on sexuality in the work of Cather, Blanche H. Gelfant claims that: “the real danger to man is woman…his protection lies in avoiding or eliminating her” (Gelfant, 74). This statement is never more applicable than in the case of the Russian brothers’ tale. When hungry wolves descend on a wedding party and the brothers’ sledge comes very nearly under siege, it is stated that: “He [Pavel] called to the groom that they must lighten – and pointed to the bride…Pavel knocked him [the groom] over the side of the sledge and threw the girl after him” (Cather, 38). What physically takes place here is of monumental importance to patriarchy; Pavel felt the need to sacrifice a woman onboard his sledge in order to survive. The literal survival of the Russian men in this instance becomes the figurative survival of male dominance and patriarchy. Accordingly, it is the female subjectivity – represented here in the physical body of the only woman – that must be thrown to the wolves to ensure the continuation of male supremacy. Drawing on Gelfant’s argument, Pavel’s story is emblematic of the elimination of the physical woman and more notably, female subjectivity; a contention that finds its roots in the aforementioned work of Simone De Beauvoir. Even Jim – who is in the midst of establishing his own masculinity – admits that this story gives him a “painful and peculiar pleasure” (Cather, 39). This admission only serves to reinforce the paternal mentality that Jim is then attempting to assimilate to.
However, the failure of this patriarchal act becomes evident upon learning of the brothers’ fate: “they had been alone ever since. They were run out of their village…Wherever they went, the story followed them” (Cather, 38). The irony that this reality presents is that while the symbolic act of murdering the female body was intended to promote misogynist dominion, that very act then diminishes it. It is the brothers who suffer the inscription of this violent patriarchy and are haunted by the ramifications of that violence for the rest of their lives. It must also be remembered that the sacrificing of the female body also came at the cost of the male body of the groom. Therefore, an act that seems to champion paternal authority is destabilized by the fact that it is that very ideology which is thwarted in the process.
In conclusion of the arguments made above; the masculinisation of Ántonia in the form of farm labour jeopardises a patriarchal understanding of both her own femininity and Jim’s masculinity; Jim’s rejection of the sexualised otherness of Lena’s femininity discredits his devotion to the paternal construction of masculinity; the sexual implications of Wick Cutter’s onslaught violates Jim’s understanding of gender roles; and finally, Pavel’s sacrifice of the physical female to the wolves and consequent exile from his community accentuates the failure of misogynist dominance. Therefore, as is clear by the arguments presented here, the exploration of violence and masculinity in Cather’s text challenges prescribed gender roles and gives prominence to the failure of patriarchy within the novel.
Butler, Judith. “Gender Trouble”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 2540-2553. Print.
Cather, Willa. My Ántonia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
De Beauvoir, Simone. “The Second Sex”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 1265-1273. Print.
Gelfant, Blanche H. “The Forgotten Reaping-Hook: Sex in My Ántonia”. American Literature 43:1 (March 1971): 61-82. EBSCO Premier.
Kroetsch, Robert. “The Fear of Women in Prairie Fiction: An Erotics of Space”.Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House: Five Decades of Criticism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. 111-120. Print.
Lambert, Deborah G. “The Defeat of a Hero: Autonomy and Sexuality in My Ántonia”. American Literature 53:4 (January 1982): 676-690. JSTOR.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 2407-2427. Print.
The comic techniques of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers.
In his work on the relationship between modernity and the arts, scholar Michael North states that: “Victorian novels, of course, are full of famous comic turns, but it is hard to think of a novel after Pickwick Papers in which the comedy is not significantly diluted by uplift or sentiment” (North, 6). It is this assertion of sentiment that forms the bedrock of Dickens’ comedy. As this essay will contend, the comic techniques found in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers are used to highlight the innocence of club chairman Mr. Pickwick against the deceptive and often dangerous nature of his society, both socially and legally. At the same time, such comic strategies are also used to promote positive ideologies of the domestic domain and Pickwickian benevolence in general. Said techniques are often brought more fully to the fore through the presence of contrasting sombre realities within the narrative, as will be discussed. Dickens’ comic paraphernalia includes verbal comedy to expose social deception, physical humour to celebrate the private world of the interior and finally, legal parody to endorse Pickwickian notions of benevolence and honour.
The first comic technique to consider in light of the above contention is that of verbal comedy, which is best seen in characters such as Alfred Jingle, as Barbara Hardy points out: “It [The Pickwick Papers] has the comic spirit of these marvellous jokers, a comedy of character as well as language” (Hardy, 96). Taking from Hardy’s combining of character and verbal comedy, Alfred Jingle is in many ways the embodiment of Dickens’ linguistic humour. Jingle’s speech pattern interrupts the otherwise eloquent dialogue of the Pickwick comrades with its fragmentary, compressed and somewhat breathless execution. His compulsive lying is masked under comic catchphrases and vivid language:
Ah! you should keep dogs – fine animals – sagacious creatures – dog of my own once – Pointer – surprising instinct – out shooting one day – entering inclosure – whistled – dog stopped – whistled again – Ponto – no go: stock still – called him – Ponto, Ponto – wouldn’t move – dog transfixed – staring at a board – looked up, saw an inscription – ‘Gamekeeper has orders to shoot all dogs found in this inclosure’ – wouldn’t pass it – wonderful dog – valuable dog that – very (Dickens, 11-12).
Using an extreme form of parataxis, Jingle’s comic verbosity gives a fresh dialectical rhythm to the narrative and in doing so, draws Mr. Pickwick and the club members into his deceptive character. Jingle plays upon each of the Pickwickian’s superficial passions and they are duped by his deceit; a triumph that could not be achieved without his comedy of language. As a result, they warmly welcome him into their company: “Mr. Winkle turned to Mr. Pickwick, and murmured a few words; a whisper passed from Mr. Pickwick to Mr. Snodgrass, from Mr. Snodgrass to Mr. Tupman, and nods of assent were exchanged” (Dickens, 13). In this way, Jingle’s rhetorical humour highlights two important aspects of the novel’s sentiment; firstly, it underscores the deceptive nature of the world beyond the safety of the Pickwick Club and exposes the dangers that such social deception poses. Secondly, Jingle’s oral comedy simultaneously accentuates the innocence of Mr. Pickwick and his followers. Gullible to Jingle’s lies and naive about his character, the Pickwickians are never more vulnerable than when under his mocking influence.
Very often, Dickens furthers his comic pursuits through the use of stark contrast. This can be best seen through the interpolated tales of woe and misery, which provide a basis of comparison for the novel’s humour to work off. In this instance, Jingle’s lingual farce blurs the lines between fact and fiction; a comic trope that is reinforced by the slightly more serious revelation of Dismal Jemmy’s falsity. Regarding his brother’s fictitious stories, Job Trotter tells Mr. Pickwick: “He could assume anything, Sir… You may consider yourself very fortunate in having escaped him so easily” (Dickens, 669). As with Jingle, Mr. Pickwick’s innocence has fallen victim to the social deception of the outside world, both through comedy and now, the telling of sombre narratives. Such revelations, however, are very necessary to the development of Mr. Pickwick, as the story “continuously and persistently moves inward, exploring the narrative subject himself and revealing much more about the explorer than the explored” (Simon, 2). Whereas Jingle completely lulled Mr. Pickwick into trust, he now seems to anticipate the revelation of Dismal Jemmy in saying: “I need not enquire whether his dismal behaviour was natural or assumed” (Dickens, 669). In light of this, it may be hoped that the Pickwickian innocence is wavering and that Mr. Pickwick is himself becoming more savvy to the deceptions of the outside world. Regardless of whether this is the case or not, Jingle’s verbal comedy sets the tone for the rest of the novel and foreshadows the “terrors, suffering, and sorrow” of the reality beyond Pickwick’s limited understanding (Patten,358). While at the same time, Jingle’s playful language also prerequisites the vulnerable incorruptibility of the Pickwickians throughout all of their adventures to come.
The second comic technique Dickens makes use of is that of physical humour, which gives rise to the promotion of the domestic domain. In his exploration of Pickwick’s innocence, Philip Rogers notes: “The episodic structure of the novel makes it possible for Dickens to introduce the innocent Pickwick to the evil world and then, at the conclusion of an episode, to expunge the acquired knowledge of evil and restore Pickwick to his original innocence” (Rogers, 26). This exposure to the outside world is exemplified perfectly in Pickwick’s late-night debacle in Ipswich, when he mistakenly finds himself in the wrong bedroom, belonging to “a middle-aged lady in yellow curl-papers” (Dickens, 277). While certainly Miss Witherfield herself presents no evil to Mr. Pickwick, she is nevertheless another example of the world with which Pickwick is so unfamiliar. Thus, the scene that ensues is one of confusion, fumbling and physical ‘slapstick’ comedy, as Pickwick attempts to remove his night-cap, gather his clothes and offer an explanation. True to form, his unshakeable goodness prevails even in the midst of chaos: “Although he had hastily put on his hat over his night-cap, after the manner of the old patrol; although he carried his shoes and gaiters in his hand, and his coat and waistcoat over his arm, nothing could subdue his native politeness” (Dickens, 279).
As with Alfred Jingle’s verbal comedy, scenes of physical humour such as this are essential in depicting the extent of Pickwick’s childlike innocence. Dickens uses such physical comedy to highlight his character’s inability to effectively navigate his way around the outside world or, in this instance, even around an inn. That childlike vulnerability once more becomes very vivid when Dickens paints a wretched picture of the lost Pickwick in the late-night corridors of the inn: “after groping his way a few paces down the passage, and to his infinite alarm, stumbling over several pairs of boots in doing so, Mr. Pickwick crouched into a little recess in the wall, to wait for morning” (Dickens, 279). When Pickwick is finally rescued by Sam Weller and returned to the safety of his room, it is clear that the physical comedy played out in the previous scene is a warning against the world beyond the interior domain. The domestic, in this sense, offers sanctuary against Dickens’ own humour and Weller puts Pickwick to bed like a child, further showcasing Pickwick’s helplessness against the treacherous society surrounding him, as discussed in the previous argument.
Indeed, Sam Weller’s role becomes vital with “the task of protecting Pickwick from and educating him in the ways of the world” (Baer, 174).The relationship that develops between the two men stands to continue the promotion of the domestic realm. They form somewhat of a family between themselves for the larger part of the novel, as James R. Kincaid suggests by highlighting how Sam Weller is “attached to him [Pickwick] by love” (Kincaid, 129). Having returned Pickwick to the safety of his domestic world after the bedroom incident – as seems to be the case with so many embarrassing scenes of physical comedy – Weller tells Pickwick: “You rayther want somebody to look arter you Sir, ven your judgement goes out a wisitin’” (Dickens, 280). This patriarchal role is exchanged back and forth between the two men and eventually manages to move out of the comic sphere and into a much more sentimental arena at the novel’s close. Pickwick asserts his turn in the fatherly role by enabling Weller to marry Mary and in return, Weller proves his devotion: “vages or no vages, notice or no notice, board or no board, lodgin’ or no lodgin’, Sam Veller, as you took from the old inn in the Borough, sticks by you, come what come may… nothin’ shall ever perwent it” (Dickens, 709).
It is this relationship, therefore, that elevates the initial use of mere comic technique to the broader terrain of sentimentality. It places an important focus on the family and the domestic. The comedy that here promotes positive ideologies about the family and the interior domain is balanced out neatly with stories such as that of the Convict’s Return. Moreover, in what Mara H. Fein refers to as a “comic reconciliation”, there is an abundance of marriages between Snodgrass and Emily, Weller and Mary, and Winkle and Arabella (Fein, 374). Beyond this mere comic tradition, however, Pickwick himself has also gained a family of his own; both with his Pickwickian companions and also with Weller, with whom he shares a “steady and reciprocal attachment, which nothing but death will sever” (Dickens, 719).
The final comic technique to consider is Dickens’ use of parody as a means of endorsing Pickwickian benevolence. In particular, the parody of institutional authority comes to the fore in scenes such as the Bardell versus Pickwick trial, as well as Mr. Pickwick’s arrest and consequent introduction to Mr. Nupkins. As before, Pickwick is confronted with the evils of the outside world and by contrast, his own innocence becomes most poignant. Kincaid agrees on this point and states that: “The trial provides the clearest demonstration of the tendency of society to manipulate people into things, or to force them into artificial, meaningless roles that deny their identity” (Kincaid, 137). In the case of Mr. Pickwick, we see that Dickens’ protagonist becomes little more than a means of making money, not only for Mrs. Bardell, but also for Dodson and Fogg. Furthermore, it becomes apparent through parody that what is being denied in this courtroom is benevolence. The trial becomes a farce through trifling mistakes, as when Mr. Phunky becomes Mr. Monkey, Mr. Winkle becomes Daniel Nathaniel and even by virtue of the fact that Sergeant Buzfuz attempts to introduce humour into his arguments: “Mr. Sergeant Buzfuz paused in this place, to see whether the jury smiled at his joke” (Dickens, 426). The spectacle that is Dickens’ legal parody is best revealed through Weller’s mockery of its overseers, such a Sergeant Buzfuz. His honest answers and unwavering wit becomes somewhat of a parody within the parody: “the spectators tittered, the little Judge smiled, and Sergeant Buzfuz looked particularly foolish” (Dickens, 436).
Ultimately, what appears on one level as superficial comedy is transformed into a comment on the legal system. Dickens uses this comic technique to demonstrate how the law is open to manipulation by skilled officials such as Buzfuz who make use of emotive appeal: “Buzfuz rubbed his eyes very hard with a large white handkerchief, and gave a appealing look towards the jury, while the Judge was visibly affected, and several of the beholders tried to cough down their emotions” (Dickens, 420). In presenting this comic manipulation, The Pickwick Papers exposes the corruption of the judicial system and consequently, society in general. This portrayal is in stark contrast to the “kind-hearted Pickwick” (Grossman, 175). Depictions of his devout belief in benevolence and honour are rife throughout the text and Pickwick is presented to readers as a man who “inspired awe and respect”, or attempted as much at the very least. (Dickens, 3).
Along with the courtroom absurdity, authoritative figures such as magistrates also suffer Dickens’ comic exposure, as with Mr. Nupkins. The magistrate is continually uncertain of his necessary call of action and requires the assistance of Jinks to make important decisions. This is apparent in the exchange following Pickwick’s arrest: “‘To – to – what Mr. Jinks?’ said the magistrate pettishly. ‘To find bail, Sir.’” (Dickens, 307). By highlighting Mr. Nupkin’s legal incompetence, Dickens is simultaneously condemning the lack of benevolence that must surely produce it. Again, this is accentuated by the notions of virtue and honour the novel’s narrator bestows on Pickwick in statements such as: “He is known by all the poor people about, who never fail to take their hats off as he passes with great respect” (Dickens, 719). Therefore, Dickens’ travestying condemnation of the institutions that should encourage social benevolence suggests that he wants Pickwick to “give the world its true voice only – the Pickwickian” (Marlow, 953). And as such, it is undeniable that he is feverously promoting his own crafted notions of Pickwickian benevolence and honour.
In conclusion of the above arguments, Dickens’ comic techniques include comedy of language to highlight social deception, physical humour to exemplify the safety of the interior domain and finally, legal parody to expose institutional corruption and promote Pickwickian benevolence. As a result, the comic techniques found in The Pickwick Papers act as tools to adequately portray Mr. Pickwick’s innocence against the deception of his society, as well as to elevate ideologies of the family and the domestic.
Baer, Florence E. “Wellerisms in The Pickwick Papers”. Folklore 94:2 (1983): 173-183. JSTOR.
Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
Fein, Mara H. “The Politics of Family in The Pickwick Papers”. ELH 61:2 (Summer 1994): 363-379. JSTOR.
Grossman, Jonathan H. “Representing Pickwick: The Novel and the Law Courts”Nineteenth-Century Literature 52:2 (September 1997): 171-197. JSTOR.
Hardy, Barbara. The Moral Art of Dickens. London: The Athlone Press, 1970. 81-99. Print.
Kincaid, James R. “The Education of Mr. Pickwick”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction24:2 (September 1969): 127-141. JSTOR.
Marlow, James E. “Pickwick’s Writing: Propriety and Language”. ELH 52:4 (Winter 1985): 939-963. JSTOR.
North, Michael. Machine-Age Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 3-23. Print.
Patten, Robert L. “The Art of Pickwick’s Interpolated Tales”. ELH 34:3 (September 1967): 349-366. JSTOR.
Rogers, Philip. “Mr. Pickwick’s Innocence”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 27:1 (June 1972): 21-37. JSTOR.
Simon, Leslie. “Archives of the Interior: Exhibitions of Domesticity in The Pickwick Papers”. Dickens Quarterly 25:1 (March 2008): 23-36. EBSCO Premier.
The relationship between Pozzo and Lucky: A Holocaust Reading of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
The hierarchal dynamic that can be seen in the relationship between the characters of Pozzo and Lucky in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, provides tangible proof of the haunting presence of the Holocaust in the writing of Beckett’s text. This contention may be best examined through a close reading of Pozzo and Lucky’s scene in the first act of the play (Beckett, 16-20). With reference to this particular episode, the looming reality of the Holocaust can be explored via three major arguments. These are the dehumanisation of Lucky, the burden of material things and finally, the visual and acoustic exploration of the theme of death.
The first argument to consider in light of the above contention is the dehumanisation of Lucky. His characterisation within the play is largely defined by the observations of the other characters. Pozzo, for example, repeatedly refers to Lucky as “pig!” and “hog!” (Beckett, 16). He also comments on Lucky’s physical condition in saying: “He stinks” (Beckett, 17). In doing so, Pozzo outlines the way in which Lucky is to be regarded by both Estragon and Vladimir, as well as the play’s audience. He strips him of humanity, even any sense of consciousness, and instead reduces him to the level of an animal. Even by virtue of his name – a common name for a dog or other subservient domestic pet – Lucky is constructed by the language used in this scene and grounded in his role as an inferior creature to Pozzo’s representation of mankind. Furthermore, Estragon and Vladimir prove to be guilty of that same dehumanisation to a degree, with the stage directions stating that: “VLADIMIR and ESTRAGON,cautiously at first […] begin to circle about LUCKY, inspecting him up and down” (Beckett, 17-18). By virtue of this directional prompting, it is clear that Lucky is an alien presence, something nonhuman, that is to be considered and judged with vigilance. When they finally assess Lucky by dwelling on his face, they too, adopt Pozzo’s initiative and reduce him to little more than a small beast:
VLADIMIR: [Grudgingly.] He’s not bad looking.
ESTRAGON: [Shrugging his shoulders, wry face.] Would you say so?
VLADIMIR: A trifle effeminate.
ESTRAGON: Look at the slobber.
VLADIMIR: It’s inevitable.
ESTRAGON: Look at the slaver.
VLADIMIR: Perhaps he’s a half-wit.
ESTRAGON: A cretin. (Beckett, 18).
In this exchange, Lucky begins as a man and a potentially handsome man, as suggested by both the dialogue and the jealous tones and intimations of the tramps. Then, his status of manhood is lessened by virtue of his apparently feminine qualities, until finally he is not even human at all, but a mere creature. Pozzo continually addresses Lucky in the imperative tense, doling out orders such as: “You’re being spoken to, pig! Reply!” (Beckett, 20). As such, Pozzo reinforces the fact that not only is Lucky not to be considered as human as he and the tramps are, but he is most clearly to be understood as being in a condition of subordination. Lucky becomes somewhat of a commodity in this way, along with the material things he carries. Going beyond dialogue alone, however, stage props are also utilized to dehumanise Lucky. For example, he wears a “chafing” rope around his neck and even temporarily “takes the whip in his mouth” (Beckett, 18, 17).
It is this dehumanisation of Lucky that draws attention to the formidable presence of the Holocaust. His devaluation among mankind parallels anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda of the nineteen-thirties and forties regarding those of the Jewish faith. As is made example of in Nazi media such as Fritz Hippler’s film of nineteen-forty, Der ewige Jude [The Eternal Jew], Jews were characterized in a similar fashion to Pozzo’s carrier. Like the depiction of Lucky, Hippler’s propagandist film attempts to portray Jews as less than human, thereby turning them into animals and thus ridding them of basic human privileges. If this is the case, then Lucky may be considered as an artistic representation of the systematic oppression of Jews. Consequently, Pozzo counters this and may be understood as an illustration of bygone Nazi supremacy and the ideological representation of an Aryan Race.
The second argument to acknowledge the presence of the Holocaust revolves around Lucky’s burden of material things. He is repeatedly forced to pick up Pozzo’s baggage, put it back down, and pick it up once more: “[LUCKY puts down bag, basket and stool, advances, helps POZZO on with his coat, goes back to his place and takes up bag, basket and stool.]” (Beckett, 17). The repetition of his engagement with material things is enacted only through his subservience to Pozzo; he carries this baggage only because he is ordered to do so. This provides further evidence of Pozzo’s domination over Lucky’s body.
Most notably, Estragon – ever concerned with the physical ailments of the body – asks the question: “Why doesn’t he put down his bags?” (Beckett, 18). What Estragon fails to realise, and inadvertently draws attention to, is the fact that Lucky’s body has been conditioned into compliance, which is in many ways the function of this use of stage props. Continuing the train of thought offered in the first argument that presents Lucky as the representational oppression of the Jews throughout the Holocaust, it can then be argued that Lucky’s body becomes a means to express suffering: “LUCKY sags slowly, until bag and basket touch the ground, then straightens up with a start and begins to sag again”(Beckett, 18). The exhaustion that permeates into Lucky’s physical actions reflects a weakened and damaged body and thus, Lucky’s physical condition becomes the figurative display of Jewish hardship. The well-being of Jews has been sacrificed to further the preponderance of Nazi ideology. What Beckett articulates via the stage directions here is then reiterated in the dialogue when Vladimir first encounters what he describes as: “A running sore!” (Beckett, 18). Once again, taking due direction from the opening argument, Lucky’s wound may consequently be interpreted as the perpetual affliction of Jews during Nazi war time. His body, in this sense, becomes the emblematic body of an entire people.
However, what is called into question by considering the function of Lucky’s distressed condition, is the use of material things to convey as much. Like many historians, Jack Fischel draws attention to the role of Jewish commercial success during the interwar years of nineteen-nineteen and nineteen-thirty-nine. In his discussion on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he states that: “Hitler found the Jewish menace lurking everywhere, and he asserted that Jews controlled countries such as the United States through their influence over world finance” (Fischel, 4). As Fischel suggests, anti-Semitic propaganda was influenced and promoted by the financial and commercial success of the Jews, particularly abroad. This understanding of the Jewish connection to global commerce provides an insight as to why Beckett so pointedly chose to use material things as the catalyst of grief. Commercial commodities and material things, therefore, become a weapon. They are the means by which Pozzo indirectly punishes Lucky, thus paralleling Nazi chastisement of the Jews during the Holocaust years, partly because of Jewish ascendancy in the world of commerce. As Pozzo uses material things against Lucky’s body, so Nazi propaganda used commerce against Jews as a collective body.
The final case to argue for the presence of the Holocaust is Beckett’s probing of the theme of death, both visually and acoustically. This can be seen through dialogue, imagery and the overwhelming occupancy of silence. In terms of imagery, Beckett conspicuously plays with the visual of bones. Emphasis is added to Pozzo’s discarding of the chicken remains by virtue of the fact that: “ESTRAGON stares at the bones” (Beckett, 19). Thus, importance is placed on that visual, as the audience naturally centres its attention in the same direction as the onstage characters. The connotations that can be made between bones and the concept of death are obvious and moreover, Beckett reinforces the prevalent sense of death through dialogue. For example, Pozzo poignantly remarks: “Touch of autumn in the air this evening” (Beckett, 17). This encourages the awareness that winter – a season of vegetative death and hibernation – is imminent and the pressing sense of death is again reiterated by stage directions such as: “[He consults his watch]” and “[He calculates]” (Beckett, 16). It is also important to bear in mind that it is Pozzo, the source of supremacy within this scene, who reminds us of the passage of time and the foreshadowing reality of death. In this manner, Pozzo’s authority expresses itself as a threat; a reminder of the finite existence of humanity. Furthermore, regarding Lucky, Pozzo orders the tramps to “Leave him in peace!” (Beckett, 19). Again, the word ‘peace’ here suggests the slumber of death itself, proving Pozzo’s reluctance in allowing deathly thoughts to be easily forgotten.
What binds these suggestions of death back to the presence of the Holocaust comes once more through Lucky, who is directed to move with the “Rhythm of one sleeping on his feet” (Beckett, 18). Such stage directions conjure images of the walking dead, or a deathly march. The natural progression from this way of thinking inevitably leads to the historical ‘Death Marches’ of nineteen-forty-five, which saw the evacuation of Nazi-controlled concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Death, in this way, surpasses mere dialogue and is encapsulated in the very movement of the body; a body, as argued above, which represents a Jewish collective. Accordingly, what is visually elaborated here is the literal death of Jews as a result of mass genocide and systematic extermination.
More than this, however, the powerful status of silence within the text brings the concept of death to a new, metaphorical understanding. Lucky does not speak at any point in this scene and indeed, within the broader context of the play, the one time he does speak, his verbal outburst causes “General outcry” (Beckett, 35). His lack of verbosity within this scene is epitomised in stage directions such as: “Silence of LUCKY” (Beckett, 20). It is also mirrored temporarily in Vladimir’s insufficient attempt at commenting on Lucky’s treatment and condition and he becomes “[Stutteringly resolute.]” (Beckett, 20). Beckett is emphatically drawing our attention to this audible absence and as such, gives silence an auditory space within the play. It is here that it may be necessary to acknowledge Adorno’s statement that: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (Adorno, 34). This assertion forms the bedrock of the theme of death. More than the physical death of a body, Beckett is commenting on the death of sound also. Drawing on Adorno’s principle, silence provides an acoustic acknowledgement of sound’s inability to adequately express the trauma of genocide. It is a recognition of the inadequacy of language and literature to effectively respond to the Holocaust. This is never more evident than in Beckett’s complex treatment of death; both the death caused by genocide, as well as the death of language and literature itself.
As a closing point, it may be necessary also to briefly comment on some of these arguments within the wider spectrum of the play. If Lucky’s role as a symbol for the oppression of Jews and Pozzo’s role as an emblem for Nazi ideology can now be taken for granted, the plot developments of Act II may be thus better understood. Pozzo, for example, goes blind and comments: “The blind have no notion of time” (Beckett, 79). Arguably, Pozzo is here acknowledging the blindness of the very ideology he represents and more so, perhaps the illusionary vision upon which it is based. Furthermore, the fact that this ideology has no concept of time hints at the failure of Nazi ideology to place itself within the development of history and to foresee the traumatic ramifications such ideology would have on history. Equally, Lucky becomes “Dumb!”, to the point where “He can’t even groan” (Beckett, 82). As discussed above, this implies an inarticulation and an inability to express the effects of trauma. To do so would, as Beckett has already indicated, cause ‘general outcry’.
In conclusion of the points made above; the animalisation of Lucky parallels that same barbarisation of Jews during Nazi war time. This technique establishes Lucky as the representational illustration of Jewish oppression and Pozzo as the embodiment of Nazi ideology during the Holocaust. Secondly, the damaging effects of material things on Lucky’s body resonates with the commercial success of Jews prior to the Holocaust. In the scene detailed, commodities become a source of affliction, resembling the manipulation of Jewish commerce to endorse ant-Semitic propaganda. Lastly, the theme of death, as explored through dialogue, imagery and silence suggests the inadequacy of both language and literature in effectively responding to the trauma of the Holocaust and genocide. Therefore, it is clear to see that the presence of the Holocaust is undeniable in the relationship between Pozzo and Lucky, as presented in the close reading of this scene.
Adorno, Theodor W. “Cultural Criticism and Society”. Prisms. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen and Samuel Weber. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983. 17-34. Print.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2006. Print.
Fischel, Jack. The Holocaust. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998. 3-10. Print.
Hippler, Fritz. Der ewige Jude. Munich: Deutsche Filmgesellschaft, 1940. Film.
Interiority in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” as a means of promoting matriarchal domesticity: A close reading.
The trope of interiority within Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” acts as a means to promote both domesticity and matriarchy within the text. This can be best explored through a close reading of the Loathly Lady’s speech on thegentillesse (Chaucer, lines 1109-76). The endorsement of the domestic and matriarchy can be seen in a variety of ways; these include the high value placed on notions of the interior, the use of natural imagery, the crafting of suggestive language and finally, the broader context of this speech.
In his critical work, Bernard S. Levy comments on the hag’s speech regarding the true meaning of gentillesse, stating that: “The Loathly Lady thus attempts to convert the knight from his socially orientated view of gentillesse to a proper view of gentillesse as a matter of God-given virtue made evident in noble deeds” (Levy, 107-108). It is this conversion from the nobility of the social domain to an interior perspective on the gentillesse that forms the basis of this argument. The hag dismisses the ideological nobility that accompanies birth, claiming that: “Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen” (Chaucer, line 1112). In this condemnation of birth rights, these notions of inheritance and heritage become external forces by contrast to what she argues to be true nobility; the internal manifestation of holy virtue: “Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse” (Chaucer, line 1117). In this way, the hag suggests that the interior of the individual provides the bedrock upon which all nobility is constructed. Only through this internalization of nobility may a man then act out external good deeds and find virtuosity “in private and public” (Chaucer, line 1114). Indeed, even the word order here implies the priority the hag gives to the world of the private.
In doing so, the hag clearly paints a picture of the interior domain as a source of perpetual goodness in mankind. This is in stark contrast to what she describes as the “old richesse” of “oure elders” (Chaucer, line 1118). The phrase ‘old’ here encourages a sense of a dying notion of nobility. Unlike the life-giving nature of the internal gentillesse, the honour that is embedded into bygone generations clearly retains only a finite influence and will ultimately die along with those generations. As such, the hag successfully entreats the wayfaring knight into accepting the importance of the interior and its connections to true nobility. Furthermore, the examples given above demonstrate the extent of female dominance in the very notion of interiority itself. Most strategically, the hag uses the language of economics and consequently, the language of men. Terms such as ‘riches’ and ‘worth’ make clear the hag’s ability to weigh her circumstances up effectively. Her linguistic androgyny provides a common ground upon which she and the knight may connect and therefore, contributes to the persuasiveness of her overall argument. Consequently, this power of rhetoric lends to female dominance and is ultimately reinforced and confirmed by the knight’s later submission to the will of the hag.
The second argument to consider revolves around the use of natural imagery within the sermon on the gentillesse. In opening his Jungian discussion on the tale, Eric D. Brown states that: “The skeletal structure of the Wife of Bath’s Tale, that is, the background of a seasonal myth and of a myth of personal, physical transformation, can usefully be examined for its archetypal implications” (Brown, 303). Brown highlights two important points here; firstly, the seasonal presence within the text and secondly, the theme of transformation, both of which are interlinked. As with the concept of nobility, the hag takes natural imagery and internalizes it within the development of man. She states that: “‘Ful selde up riseth by his branches smale/ Prowesse of man” (Chaucer, lines 1128-1129). The narrator here is playing with the visual of a tree. She uses this as a metaphor for lineage and once more, undercuts the significance of the fruit – thegentillesse – that can come of such generational evolution. This is the hag’s first step to internalizing nature itself, as in just one statement she begins to enclose the natural imagery within the family circumference. This is a blatant move from the social perspective of nobility into a more domesticated understanding. She goes a step further still and comments:
If gentillesse were planted natureelly
Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
Pryvee and apert thane wolde they nevere fine
To doon of gentillesse the faire office (Chaucer, lines 1134-1137).
Here, the hag has condensed these images of nature to the private level of the individual. She argues that virtuosity is not something that can be attained from an external force, but a natural evolution within the consciousness of men. The emphasis once more falls on the importance of the interior as a means of shaping the appropriate codes of conduct even in the external, public world. A before, the domestic domain and the representation of the inner spatial world are given precedence. Moreover, this domestic growth reinforces Brown’s contention of thematic transformation. Only through internal evolution of character may one thus display a ‘natural’ beauty externally. Moving outside thegentillesse passage, for example, this argument ties with the hag’s transformation into a beautiful young woman; in order to produce this external transformation, the knight must internalize ideologies of nature and nobility and the evolution of these concepts within the inner – or domestic – sphere.
Along with further promoting the importance of the domestic world, the hag also succeeds in reasserting female dominance by use of natural imagery. This can be best seen in lines such as: “Taak fyr and ber it in the darkeste hous” (Chaucer, line 1139). This wild imagery of fire may be interpreted as the will of men, which is suggested by virtue of the fact that the old woman wishes to make an example of it and have all other men witness its domestication: “As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde” (Chaucer, line 1143). Taking a matriarchal stance, the hag supports the caging of this masculine fire within the domestic and as has been pointed out, she wishes for all men to see and learn from it. Therefore, the internalizing of this natural imagery signifies the matriarchal oppression of men. Thus, not only does the hag use interiority to promote the domestic, she pointedly uses it to express her support of female authority.
The trope of interiority can also be found in the hag’s suggestive language throughout this passage of the tale. In his work on the art of persuasion, Charles Koban comments that: “When the knight passes from the dominion of the queen to that of his aged deliverer, it becomes obvious that Chaucer is narrating a more basic quest that the one the queen sends our hero on” (Koban, 235). As Koban makes evident, whether under the authority of the queen or the hag, it is clear that the knight remains under constant female domination. More importantly, while the queen sends the knight on an epic quest throughout the public world, the hag brings him on a quest back to the domestic by attempting to encase him back into the world of the interior. She accomplishes this through her careful crafting of language in the gentillesse speech. The diction used throughout the passage suggests both interiority and matriarchy, as is evident in lines such as: “lat men shette the dores” (Chaucer, line 1141). Here, there is a blatant sense of enclosure. The hag is insistent on the closing off of the public world and the closing in of the private. Such suggestive language is indicative of confinement to the hearth of domesticity. Equally, the idea of closing in becomes one of pinning down in lines such as: “His office natureel ay wol it holde” (Chaucer, line 1144). The verb ‘to hold’ here suggests constraint and once more is interwoven with the concept of male oppression. The hag establishes this linguistic restraint over and again with words such as “bad”, “clayme”, and “possessioun” (Chaucer, lines 1124, 1131, 1147). The focus is thus put on both the sense of enclosure (of the domestic domain) and commandment (of the woman or wife). The hag extends this notion of encasement yet again in passages such as:
Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse,
Nat of oure elders for hire old richesse.
For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
For which we clayme to been of heigh parage [emphasis added]
(Chaucer, lines 1117-1120).
Despite the fact that the hag is discussing male nobility, she includes her voice in the sermon that will bring about its very deliverance. The emphasis on words such as ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘us’ makes it clear that even male nobility has been internalized in the female voice. On the one hand, this accentuates the promotion of interiority and the domestic by undergoing a process of internalization within the voice of the female narrator. On the other hand, it denotes possession and ownership and propels the controlling matriarchy discussed in the above arguments. This is reiterated via the tone of the gentillesse passage also; the hag uses the imperative tense throughout, in lines such as: “Reedeth Senek, and redeth eek Boece” and “Grante me grace to liven vertuously” (Chaucer, lines 1168, 1174). Her commandments are filtered through the sermon from beginning to end and create a tone that implies that the only appropriate response the knight can surely give is one of submissive obedience. Lastly, the rhyming scheme and meter of the passage makes for a powerful backdrop to the confinement the hag is attempting to enlist. The loose iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets suggest another attempt at both male encasement within the interior and the devout authority that the hag insists women be received with.
The final argument of this essay is to bring interiority out of the context of the gentillesse speech and understand its significance within the broader spectrum of the tale. In her discussion on poetic instability, Susan Crane states that: “Women also cross gender lines in the Wife’s tale. The barber in Midas’s story becomes a wife; the ladies’ court of judgment replaces Arthur’s; and the hag comes to speak like a cleric, while her husband submits with wifely meekness” (Crane, 25). Picking up on Crane’s argument, the female sovereignty discussed above runs throughout the tale as a whole. This is most obvious, as Crane highlights, when the knight is brought to judgement in court and the king subjects him to the judgement of the queen: “And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille/ To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille” (Chaucer, lines 897-898). In this example, the female role is elevated to the public space of men and the male submission to female judgement inverts the gendered roles of spatiality that attribute the domestic to women and the public to men. This inversion highlights the way in which women in the Wife’s tale attempt to domesticate men. The hag ultimately succeeds in this endeavour in thegentillesse segment. She does this firstly, by virtue of setting alone:
But al for noght; the ende is this, that he
Constreyned was; he nedes moste hire wedde,
And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde. (Chaucer, lines 1070-1072)
Obligated by what the narrator calls constraint, the knight is willed into the intimate bedroom setting. This is in stark contrast to his wayfaring travels through the public world thus far in the narrative and is part of the hag’s attempt to bring him back into the world of the interior. The confidential setting of the bedroom is the most inner facet of the interior domain and as such, the hag has successfully brought the knight through the first step of domestication. Therefore, it becomes clear that while the trope of interiority is to endorse domesticity, it does so only regarding the domestication of men. Moreover, it is essential to remember that the controlling force of the female is ultimately the deciding governance of the knight’s fated road into the interior domain. The knight’s troubles began, for example, when “By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed;/ For which oppressioun was swich clamour” (Chaucer, lines 888-889). It was his offence against women that brought him to court and arguably, it was therefore his disobedience to matriarchy in the external world that has lead to his domestication. Consequently, his only redemption is found in his compliance to matriarchal order. The hag asks him whether he would prefer a young and beautiful, but potentially unfaithful wife, or an old and haggard wife of true fidelity. He responds in telling her: “For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me” (Chaucer, line 1235). In doing so, the knight has at last been fully domesticated and the power of his wife’s governance has been thoroughly solidified, concluding the hag’s endeavours for both domesticity and matriarchy.
In conclusion of the four points made above; the hag puts forth arguments that favour interiority and mark lineage as external; her use of natural imagery suggests the internalization of nature itself; diction and tone provide subtle reinforcements of constraint and female authority; and finally, the connections between the gentillesse speech and the overall tale provide confirmation of the tale’s endorsement of matriarchal domesticity through the trope of interiority.
Brown, Eric D. “Transformation and ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’: A Jungian Discussion”. The Chaucer Review 10:4 (Spring 1976): 303-315. JSTOR.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath’s Tale, III (D)”. The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Oxford: OUP, 1988. 116-122. Print.
Crane, Susan. “Alison’s Incapacity and Poetic Instability in the Wife of Bath’s Tale”. PMLA 102:1 (January 1987): 20-28. JSTOR.
Koban, Charles. “Hearing Chaucer Out: The Art of Persuasion in ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’”. The Chaucer Review 5:3 (Winter 1971): 225-239. JSTOR.
Levy, Bernard S. “The Wife of Bath’s Queynte Fantasye”. The Chaucer Review 4:2 (Fall 1969): 106-122. JSTOR.
The significance of Jacques Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage in the construction of subjectivity
Jacques Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage is significant for a psychoanalytic understanding of the construction of subjectivity for four major reasons. Firstly, it highlights the necessity of “the other” (“Mirror Stage”, 1164) in the subject’s understanding of himself and his place in relation to his environment. Secondly, it lays the foundations for the way in which the ego will always be divided throughout the subject’s life. Thirdly, the mirror stage is fundamental to the development of secondary understandings such as social identifications. And finally, this essay will focus on how the alienated identity formed during this phase acts as psychological armour against the id, in order to function efficiently in the world.
To begin, Lacan writes of the infant in the mirror stage: “Unable as yet to walk, or even to stand up, and held tightly as he is by some support, human or artificial… he nevertheless overcomes, in a flutter of jubilant activity, the obstructions of his support” (“Mirror Stage”, 1164). Here Lacan places a notable emphasis on the external support of the infant and thus highlights the necessity of the other; not only is the mirror the other in this instance, but so is the supporting human. Therefore, despite seeing the apparently independent and united mirror-image of himself, the infant remains “sunk in his motor incapacity and nursling dependency” (“Mirror Stage”, 1164). The dependency that is foreshadowed in the Imaginary domain – and more specifically in the formative mirror stage of development – is what will later define the construction of the infant’s subjectivity in the Symbolic.
Just as the infant is now dependent on the mirror – the current other – to identify himself in the image, he will later be dependent on language as the other to identify himself in “the dialectic that will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations” (“Mirror Stage”, 1167). As De Saussure argues, language will become the foundation of the subject’s reality: “Linguistic signs, though basically psychological, are not abstractions; associations which bear the stamp of collective approval – and which added together constitute language – are realities that have their seat in the brain” (De Saussure, 850).
This dependency is not only absolutely necessary in the formation of subjectivity, but something that has existed since the subject’s birth, as Lacan explains in his essay The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious: “Thus the subject, too, if he can appear to be the slave of language is all the more so of a discourse in the universal movement in which his place is already inscribed at birth, if only by virtue of his name” (“The Agency of the Letter”, 1170). As the subject is produced through and within the aesthetics of the mirror-image during this crucial phase, so he will be developed through and within language throughout the rest of his life. Therefore, the subject’s dependency on the other – emphasized greatly in Lacan’s theory – plays an imperative role in the construction of subjectivity.
Another point of significance that solidifies Lacan’s mirror stage as central to the composition of subjectivity is the alienation of the I from the mirror-image itself. When discussing the mirror-image form, Lacan notes that: “the important point is that this form situates the agency of the ego, before its social determination, in a fictional direction, which will always remain irreducible for the individual alone, or rather, which will only rejoin the coming-into-being (le devenir) of the subject asymptotically” (“Mirror Stage”, 1165). The infant misrecognises his own mirror-image – what Lacan refers to as the “Ideal-I” (“Mirror Stage”, 1164) – as being a whole, constant and independent entity. Nevertheless, he identifies this entity to be himself, thus making a fictional correspondence, as what the infant sees does not and will never coincide to what he feels. The “méconnaisances that constitute the ego” is an “illusion of autonomy to which it entrusts itself” (“Mirror Stage”, 1168). This causes a gap between what the infant feels and experiences and what he sees in the image of the Ideal-I. It is this gap that will ultimately spilt the ego or the I within the later Symbolic domain; a gap the infant – when he becomes a subject – will then spend the rest of his life attempting to close or cover over.
The Ideal-I is an impossibility that the infant covets and he will forever strive to achieve it, but will always fail. In this way, the mirror becomes little more than the projection of his own desires; a condition that the subject will continue to do later in life, as Žižek discusses in his article Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing: “The idealization of the Lady, her elevation to a spiritual, ethereal Ideal… functions as a mirror on to which the subject projects his narcissistic ideal” (Žižek, 2408). Just as the infant sees the desirously fully-formed, autonomous and coordinated image of the Ideal-I in the formative Imaginary domain, later he will continue to project his unattainable desires into Žižek’s ideal Lady. Therefore, the splitting of the ego or the I during the mirror stage will be a prevailing constant in the subject’s life and further exemplifies how and why Lacan’s theory is so significant in the construction of subjectivity.
Another argument to consider in this matter is Lacan’s contention that the developments taking place during the mirror stage “will also be the source of secondary identifications” (“Mirror Stage”, 1164-1165). One of the most important of these secondary identifications is social identity. As has already been addressed, Lacan situates the I of the subject in a fictional context, whereby he aspires to achieve an impossible ideal. The ideology, which dominates the subject’s mirror stage in his psychological development, will come into play once more on the larger scale of society, as Althusser stresses in his workIdeology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Linking Lacanian thinking to Marxist theories, Althusser states that: “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (Althusser, 1350). Therefore, it can be argued that just as the infant forms a relationship between the Ideal-I and the reality of his existence in the Imaginary order, the subject later forms a relationship between ideology and the reality of his social conditions. In both cases, the “function of the imago” is to “establish a relation between the organism and its reality – or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt” (“Mirror Stage, 1166).
This calls into question why the subject does this at all, both in infancy and also later in society. To answer this, it is necessary to again refer to Lacan’s emphasis on the frailty of the subject and more importantly, the “dehiscence at the heart of the organism” that comes about as a result of “a primordial Discord betrayed by the signs of uneasiness and motor unco-ordination of the neo-natal months” (“Mirror Stage, 1166). The splitting of the ego, which has been discussed above in this essay, is necessary for the conditions of existence, as Althusser maintains: “men make themselves an alienated ( = imaginary) representation of their conditions of existence because these conditions of existence are themselves alienating” (Althusser,1351). As can be deducted from this argument, with the support of Althusser’s Marxist stance on the matter, the role of ideology in Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage is essential to the subject’s ability to form secondary identifications such as social identity. Moreover, Althusser’s focus on the alienated representation and the conditions of existence brings this essay to the final and arguably most vital point.
The final argument of this essay focuses on the importance of the “assumption of the armour of an alienating identity” (“Mirror Stage, 1166) in the mirror stage. To clarify, what Lacan is accentuating here is how the subject uses his own alienated identity as a means of armour from the truths of the id. In order to explain this, he turns his attention to “the function of méconnaissance that characterizes the ego and all its structures” (“Mirror Stage”, 1169). Lacan states: “if the Verneinung represents the patent form of that function, its effects will, for the most part, remain latent, so long as they are not illuminated by some light reflected on to the level of fatality, which is where the id manifests itself” (“Mirror Stage”, 1169). The nature of the id is composed with the reality of our own mortality and the human frailty that is attached to that mortality and danger, something that, according to Freud, “no human being really grasps” (“The Uncanny”, 834).
Therefore, the subject uses the alienated identity formed during the mirror stage to construct an internal defence – or verneinung – to suppress “a piece of the id” (“Fetishism”, 844). Freud supports Lacan’s argument and correlates it to the castration complex in his work Fetishism: “Thus a piece of reality which was undoubtedly important had been disavowed by the ego, just as the unwelcome fact of women’s castration is disavowed in fetishists” (“Fetishism”, 844). In the case of both the “assumption of the armour of an alienating identity” (“Mirror Stage”, 1166) and the fetishists, some form of reality has been denied or repressed. For Lacan, this fortification of the alienated identity is completely necessary for the subject to function as an efficient human being for the rest of his life. As without it, the subject becomes exposed to not only “the madness that lies behind the walls of asylums”, but also “the madness that deafens the world with its sound and fury” (“Mirror Stage, 1169). Therefore, the assumption of the necessary armour in the mirror stage is a natural prerequisite that the subject will need for the rest of his life, further proving the significance of Lacan’s theory in the assembly of subjectivity.
To conclude the points of above, Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage for a psychoanalytical understanding of the construction of subjectivity is significant for four major reasons. The first of these is that it highlights the indispensability of the other in the subject’s identifications and how that indispensability will prevail through into the Symbolic order of language. The second reason is that the mirror stage foreshadows how the ego will be forever divided in the subject, both in the Imaginary domain and beyond. Thirdly, the mirror stage model will be vital to the subject’s secondary identifications, such as his place in society. And finally, Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage is significant in subjectivity because it brings about the assumption of the alienated identity’s protection from the realities of the id, thus allowing the subject to function efficiently as a human being.
Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 1335-1361. Print.
De Saussure, Ferdinand. “Course in General Linguistics”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 850-866. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. “Fetishism”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 841-845. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 824-841. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 1169-1181. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytical Experience”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 1163-1169. Print.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 2407-2427. Print.
‘Things as They Are’ in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams.
William Godwin’s Caleb Williams directs the reader’s attention to “Things As They Are” (Caleb Williams, 3) in four major ways. These can be divided into the two categories of historical context and literary technique. In terms of historical context, ‘things as they are’ are exposed through the role of spying and also through the exploration of Caleb’s imprisonment. In addressing literary technique, that same exposure to ‘things as they are’ can be seen through Godwin’s use of the first-person narrative and finally, the presence and importance of the written word throughout the novel.
To begin, the issue of espionage in Caleb Williams acts as a means to bring to the fore the reality of how “the spirit and character of the government intrudes itself into every rank of society” (Caleb Williams, 3). In this argument, therefore, the notion of ‘things as they are’ can be interpreted as a political intrusion and the over-bearing power of government. In its historical context, J.E. Thomas maintains that “The London stipendiary magistracy, established in 1792 also set up a network of informers which was extensive, and quite apart from the ostensible reason for which the organisation was instituted” (J.E. Thomas, 131). Thomas’ idea of authorised espionage is encapsulated perfectly in the character of Gines in Caleb Williams. Caleb discovers that “Mr Falkland had taken the infernal Gines into his pay” (Caleb Williams, 314). He states that: “The employment to which this man was hired was that of following me from place to place, blasting my reputation” (Caleb Williams, 314). In this case, by drawing attention to Falkland’s legitimising of Gines’ arguably illegitimate actions, Godwin questions the morality of the political spying of his time. By making this connection between fiction and reality, he draws the reader’s attention to ‘things as they are’ regarding the intrusive measures of hierarchal institutions such as government. It further accentuates the fact that the eighteenth century was experiencing “the development of a shadowy new police force that existed outside the traditional bounds of magisterial oversight” (Bailey, 525).
The emphasis Godwin lays on the role of spying does not end with the “noxious insect” Gines and his perpetually menacing “speculations and suspicions” (Caleb Williams, 271-273). Caleb himself takes on the role of would-be detective and vows to “To be a spy upon Mr Falkland!” (Caleb Williams, 112). He tells the reader that his spying “gave a kind of tingling sensation not altogether unallied to enjoyment” and that “the more impenetrable Mr Falkland was determined to be, the more uncontrollable was my curiosity” (Caleb Williams, 113). Here, Godwin inverts the fall of power and Mr. Falkland becomes victim to Caleb’s spying. In the case of Gines, Godwin has merely invited his readers to see “the resemblance between events in the novel and events unfolding under the present spirit of government” (Pauley, 215-216). With Caleb, however, he goes a step further by having him penetrate so deeply into the privacy of Falkland. It suggests that ‘things as they are’ in the sense of political espionage are not only present in this novel, but are open to be changed.
The historical context of Caleb’s imprisonment is another argument to consider in Godwin’s attempt to draw the reader’s attention to ‘things as they are’. There are two forms of imprisonment to look at here. The first is Caleb’s psychological imprisonment in a patriarchal social system. After Falkland has confessed to the murder of Tyrrel and Caleb is “tormented with a secret” (Caleb Williams, 144) he can never disclose, he then becomes the psychological prisoner of Falkland’s power. Caleb states that: “I was his prisoner; and what a prisoner! All my actions observed; all my gestures marked. I could move neither to the right nor the left, but the eye of my keeper was upon me” (Caleb Williams, 149). This instance relates directly to the social hierarchy these two characters operate under, with Falkland as the wealthy squire and ‘keeper’ and Caleb as his employed ‘prisoner’. It is this very hierarchy that traps Caleb, as Pauley contends: “Though not confined under lock and key, Caleb is every bit as effectually Falkland’s prisoner as Emily had been Tyrrel’s. Indeed, by the logic of gothic terror, Caleb’s imprisonment is all the more complete for not being physical” (Pauley, 222). Therefore, it can be argued that Caleb is imprisoned only by the mentality of his own class in the patriarchal structure of his society. Because Falkland is both his employer and of a higher class, it remains imperative to Caleb’s well-being to not provoke his master any further than he already has. Peter Thomas develops this contention further and suggests that “Caleb becomes his own jailor – for the very effectiveness of the controlling ‘eye’ depends on Caleb’s awareness of it and thus of his internalization of its disciplinary function” (Peter Thomas, 33). In terms of historical context, what Godwin is drawing the reader’s attention to is the inequality associated with the patriarchal social structure of his era. ‘Things as they are’ in this sense refers to how this very system imprisons those of the lower classes and how it encourages said class to accept the limitations of their own victimhood.
The second form of imprisonment Caleb experiences is physical, when he is transported to “the same prison which had so lately enclosed the wretched and innocent Hawkinses” (Caleb Williams, 184). When faced with the severe degradation of prison conditions, Caleb makes a direct reference to the then existing Bastille of France. He says:
Go, go ignorant fool! and visit the scenes of our prisons! witness their
unwholesomeness, their filth, the tyranny of their governors, the misery of
their inmates! After that, show me the man shameless enough to
triumph, and say, England has no Bastille! (Caleb Williams, 188)
Here, ‘things as they are’ are very literally referring to the horrid conditions of prisons in England. Moreover, Godwin is not only drawing the reader’s attention to the possibility of their own ignorance – evident when Thomas admits he believed “such things never happen but in France” (Caleb Williams, 210) – but he is also exposing the unfavourable elements of the British justice system. While England may not have a physical Bastille, the imprisonment of the innocent Caleb suggests that England does have an unseen judicial Bastille. Bridget Marshall supports this argument in saying that Godwin directly “attacked the English system of justice, unflinchingly portraying its horror” and through “debunking the myth that injustice only happens in foreign countries, distant times, and Gothic novels, Godwin speaks to evils that are much closer to home” (Marshall, 27).
The next two arguments in exploring how Godwin directs his reader’s attention to ‘things as they are’ revolve around literary technique. The first of these techniques is Godwin’s use of the first-person narrative. Kenneth Graham argues that Caleb Williams is “a Gothic romance of modern times that embraces the other two narrative purposes in fascinating and ambivalent ways” (Graham, 49). It is this very ambivalence that draws the reader’s attention to ‘things as they are’. Caleb’s first-person narrative proves itself to be untrustworthy and morally ambiguous. For example, Caleb swears “by the great God that shall judge me another day, I am innocent!” (Caleb Williams, 183). Moreover, he maintains that all his spying on Falkland is borne out of mere “ungoverned curiosity” (Caleb Williams, 139) and not malice. Yet for all his justifications and contentions of innocence, Caleb torments Falkland with suggestions of what he may or may not know. This is most evident with Benjamin Hawkins’ letter: “I took care to dispose of it in such a manner as that it should be found by Mr Falkland… I was willing that the way in which it offered itself to his attention should suggest to him the idea that it had possibly passed through my hands” (Caleb Williams, 121).
This contradictory and complex characterisation “invokes the psychological sublime – awe of character and personality” (Anderson, 104) and entreats the reader to rethink Caleb’s morality and his reliability in telling his story. Therefore, the first-person narrative is a literary technique that forces readers to question ‘things as they are’ – or, at least, things as they are being told they are – and come to an understanding based on subjectivity and not literary dictation. In this sense, ‘things as they are’ becomes whatever the reader interprets of the novel’s context. Godwin’s direction here becomes even more poignant by virtue of the fact that his first-person narrative blurs the lines between fact and fiction, as Gerard Barker argues: “A first-person narrative is particularly suited to make ‘the reader feel it as a reality’ because, by its very nature, it can authenticate not merely its subject matter but also the means by which that subject matter is narrated” (Barker, 4). As a result of this narrative strategy, ‘things as they are’ in fiction and ‘things as they are’ in reality are amalgamated together in ambiguity and thus, readers have little choice but to analyse that ambiguity.
The second literary technique that Godwin utilizes is his meta-commentary, in the form of the written word. In his article Of Choice in Reading, Godwin himself argues for the power and influence of literature. He comments how hundreds of literary works have been “the adoration of ages, upon which the man of genius and taste feeds with an uncloyed appetite, from which he derives sense, and power, and discernment, and refinement, and activity, and vigour” (‘Choice’, 139). The power with which Godwin values literature, therefore, is undeniable and it’s this power that can be once again found in Caleb Williams, which draws the reader’s attention to ‘things as they are’. There is an abundance of the written word in Godwin’s novel, including the notably defaming paper of the “Wonderful and Surprising History of Caleb Williams” (Caleb Williams, 311). Consequently, the role of literature stands to act as a most monumental one. In the case of both Caleb and Falkland, it can make or break their reputations, as Patrick Brantlinger argues: “Falkland manages almost to write Caleb into a guilty corner, so to speak, before Caleb writes his way out of the corner” (Brantlinger, 47).
In this way, the pen can become a weapon in eighteenth century ideology. It is when Caleb speaks of this form of artillery that we see Godwin’s meta-commentary come into work. Caleb states that: “With this engine, this little pen, I defeat all his machinations; I stab him in the very point he was most solicitous to defend!” (Caleb Williams, 325). Godwin uses his own pen in much the same way and as Caleb ultimately writes Falkland to his death, so Godwin is trying “to end the centuries-long tyranny of aristocracy and the ancien régime” (Brantlinger, 48). By drawing attention to how the written word can disrupt the established social hierarchy – or ‘things as they are’ – Godwin also highlights the fact that this very novel also has that capacity. Therefore, his meta-commentary reminds the reader that Caleb Williams “is intended to answer a purpose more general and important than immediately appears upon the face of it” (Caleb Williams, 3) and to consider this story in the context of ‘things as they are’.
To conclude the four points of above; William Godwin’s Caleb Williams uses historical context to draw the reader’s attention to ‘things as they are’ through espionage and Caleb’s imprisonment. The text exposes ‘things as they are’ with literary technique also, which can be seen through the use of the first-person narrative and lastly, through his meta-commentary use of the written word.
Anderson, Emily R. “‘I Will Unfold A Tale—!’: Narrative, Epistemology, and Caleb Williams”. Eighteenth Century Fiction 22:1 (2009): 99-114. EBSCO Premier.
Bailey, Quentin. “Extraordinary and dangerous powers: Prisons, Police, and Literature in Godwin’s Caleb Williams”. Eighteenth Century Fiction 22:3 (2010): 525-548. EBSCO Premier.
Barker, Gerard A. “The narrative mode of Caleb Williams: Problems and resolutions”. Studies in the Novel 25:1 (1993): 1-12. EBSCO Premier.
Brantlinger, Patrick. The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth Century British Fiction. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1998. 46-51. Print.
Godwin, William. Caleb Williams. London: Penguin Books, 2005. Print.
Godwin, William. “Essay XV: Of Choice in Reading”. The Enquirer: Reflections on Education, Manners and Literature. Ed. J.E. Spingarn. London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 1797. 129-146. Print.
Graham, Kenneth W. “The gothic unity of Godwin’s Caleb Williams”. Papers on Language and Literature 20 (1984): 47-59. EBSCO Premier.
Marshall, Bridget M. The Transatlantic Gothic Novel and the Law, 1790-1860.Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2011. 27-64. Print.
Pauley, Benjamin. “Far From a Consummate Lawyer: William Godwin and the Treason Trials of the 1790s”. Reactions to Revolutions: The 1790s and their Aftermath. Ed. Ulrich Broich et al. Münster: LIT Verlag Münster, 2007. 203-230. Print.
Thomas, J.E. Social Disorder in Britain 1750-1850: The Power of the Gentry, Radicalism and Religion in Wales. London: I.B. Tauris, 2011. 127-132. Print.
Thomas, Peter. Detection and its Designs: Narrative and Power in 19th-century Detective Fiction. Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1998. 13-43. Print.
Power represented as ‘Other’ and its engagement with the body: a theoretical approach to 21st Century poetry.
In her investigation into the effects of power on the body, Tina Chanter examines the ambiguity of power itself, its varied dispersal and recognizes that “the multiplicity of power makes it possible to acknowledge that there are no clear, outright winners or losers” (Chanter, 61). Picking up on Chanter’s point, this essay may then work off the notion that the structures of power are by no means exclusively oppressing forces on the body. Rather, it will argue for the complexity of the engagement between the body and structures of power in twenty-first century poetry.
To adequately explore this engagement, it is necessary to take a theoretical view on the poetic representations of both the body and structures of power. In order to do this, an amalgamation of usually distinct theoretical disciplines is required through the critical works of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Judith Butler. Though spanning across the wide-ranging strands of post-structuralism, psychoanalysis and queer theory, these theorists are unified by a common thread throughout their works; this is their approach to the concept of the ‘Other’. For example, Derrida contends that: “every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within which it refers to the other, to other concepts, by means of the systematic play of differences” (Derrida, 11). This play of differences relies heavily on an ever-present Other and it is through this other that signification is achieved. Equally, this awareness of the Other is highlighted in the psychoanalytic works of Lacan. He writes of the infant in the mirror stage: “Unable as yet to walk, or even to stand up, and held tightly as he is by some support, human or artificial… he nevertheless overcomes, in a flutter of jubilant activity, the obstructions of his support” (Lacan, 1164). Here, Lacan places a notable emphasis on the external support of the infant and thus highlights the presence of the Derridean Other; not only is the mirror the Other in this instance, but so is the supporting human. Therefore, a common understanding can be seen between Lacan’s external Other of the mirror stage and Derrida’s ever-present Other in his play of differences. Judith Butler echoes this looming Other in her work also, stating that the body “often appears to be a passive medium that is signified by an inscription from a cultural source figured as ‘external’ to that body” (Butler, 2542). Drawing once more on Derrida’s Other, Butler presents it as something external to the body’s boundaries that can have an affect through those boundaries. Thus, despite the varied branches in which these theorists operate, they conform to the idea of a persistent Other even, outside the context of their given field of study. Moreover, they recognise the power of the Other in theoretical debate.
It is this unified approach to the concept of the Other that lays the foundations for an understanding of the engagement between the body and the structures of power, which may now be exploited in relation to poetry of the last decade. For the purpose of this essay, the structures of power may be defined as any external force or anything outside the limitations of the body that has a significant affect on the body. Therefore, any powerful, external force on the body may thus be considered as Other. The complexity of the engagement between the body and the power of the Other is best evaluated through the interrogation of specific structures of power – or, Others – which include occupational power, the power of absence and finally, the power of social forces.
The first argument to consider in the aforementioned engagement is the body’s dependency on the Other. The Other in this case is presented as the power of occupation, which is best considered through an analysis of Moya Cannon’s poem, “Hands”. Mostly pointedly, Cannon makes continued reference to exotic places; she mentions “the north-eastern coast of Brazil/ over Fortaleza”, “the Amazon” and how she is transported “east towards Marrakech” (Cannon, lines 1-8). The repetition of these remote place names occurs from the first line of “Hands” and the reader is thus introduced to the poem with a sense of the foreign. This emphasis on the foreign highlights the alien nature of the power that is now out of the speaker’s control. Her seat among all of “the dozing passengers” (Cannon, line 13) renders her powerless for the duration of her flight, as she sacrifices control over her body’s safety to “the hands of the pilot” (Cannon, line 17). In a sense, the prominent repetition of exotic place names draws attention to the Otherness of that now unattainable power; it is the distinction between the familiar and the unfamiliar that Cannon is drawing attention to. In doing this, she not only presents the far-reaching extent of the pilot’s power (the Other), but also contrasts it with the speaker’s vulnerability. The narrator comments on her own unseasoned knowledge in lines such as: “a city of which I know nothing” and “the life of each one a mystery” (Cannon, lines 2-4). Here, she accentuates her own subjection in the face of the greater power, the pilot. Therefore, the limitations between the speaker’s body and the Otherness of the pilot’s power have been clearly defined.
The speaker recognises her body’s dependency on the Other for survival and contemplates the “other hands which can hold our lives” (Cannon, line 19). As such, Cannon focuses in on the idea of the Other; that which is outside the limitations of the speaker’s body but which is also imperative to its continuity. Through her threaded imagery of hands, Cannon begins to make links between “the hands of the pilot”, “the hands of the surgeon”, the hands of a nurse and even “the soft hands of my mother” (Cannon, lines 17-24). In doing so, she extends the power of the Other outside of the exclusive realm of a pilot and expands it to the reach of all occupations on which her body’s continued survival depends. In this instance, the Other is the power held by a fellow human.
The reliance of the body on the Other is constant, as it moves from power to power. This is made clear through the use of form. Cannon’s poem is one continuous sentence without any full-stops and suggests the idea of ongoing transportation. Furthermore, it reflects the perpetual motion of human life, which is “passed from hand to hand” (Cannon, line 29) or, more specifically, the passing of the dependent body from one powerful Other to another. Form is also used to further encapsulate the Otherness of the occupations upon which the speaker’s body relies for survival. When referencing the occupational powers to which the narrator’s body adheres, Cannon drastically shortens the sentence length and thus creates a notable distinction between the Otherness of occupational power and the ‘body’ of the rest of the poem. Through this formal strategy, Cannon creates a sharp contrast between the speaker’s body and “the hands of those others” (Cannon, line 25) upon which that body depends.
The necessity of the Other in the survival and well-being of the body can also be seen in Jean Sprackland’s poem, “Hands”. Like in Cannon’s poem of the same title, the Other presented in Sprackland’s work is a fellow human supporting the safety and needs of the body. In this case, the speaker more specifically references “the hands of the midwife” (Sprackland, line 6). The reliance of the body can be seen through the appreciation of the speaker herself; the tone of the poem is one of gratitude and is epitomised in the narrator’s affectionate simile: “I loved her [the midwife] like my own mother” (Sprackland, 13). The body’s reliance on the Other in both Cannon and Sprackland is therefore undeniable. Moreover, in a fashion that is not dissimilar to Cannon, Sprackland uses the formal technique of layout to highlight the Otherness of the midwife’s occupational power. The memory of the midwife is sectioned off from lines six to thirteen; it is structurally islanded in the middle of the poem’s body and is also islanded in the memory of the speaker as a removal from the reality of the present moment. As with Cannon, this drastic formatting further encapsulates the Otherness of the occupational power at work.
The notion of the body’s reliance on the power of the Other is best supported through the theoretical work of Lacan. Both Cannon and Sprackland present their respective Others in the human form and under given occupations within society. This representation can be brought back to Lacan’s external support of the infant during the mirror stage in the formation of subjectivity. He writes that the external support of the soon-to-be subject can be either “human or artificial” (Lacan, 1164). The Other, therefore, can not only be the mirror in use, but also the supporting parent. In this way, the mother and father roles become occupational in their power over the infant and it is the necessity of their occupational presence in Lacan’s theory that can then form the supporting theoretical current of the arguments made above. To summarise these arguments, it can now be understandably maintained that the Other can be representative of fellow humans in the structure of occupational power. Moreover, this Other is indispensible to the survival and well-being of the body, as explored above.
In his seminal work “Différance”, Derrida writes: “the movement of signification is possible only if each so-called present element, each element appearing on the scene of presence, is related to something other than itself” (Derrida, 13). This conjures up the notion of signification through – and only through – difference, which remains the focal point of Derrida’s lecture. It works off the concept that everything is defined and understood only by virtue of what it is not in a continuously interlinking chain of signifiers. Therefore, the determining not in this case may be understood to be the Other of that which it defines. This argument can extend to the very definition of Being; what we understand of Being is wrapped up in our understanding of death (or lack of Being), as well as presence in the face of absence. On the one hand, Derrida provides the underlying theme of the next argument by setting up the stage of Otherness; the “effects of difference”, as he refers to it (Derrida, 11). On the other hand, however, the poetry being considered in this case deviates from Derrida’s argument for the instability of presence; instead, it exemplifies a structuralist view of the stability of both presence and absence. It is through this slight deviation from Derrida’s overall theory of Otherness, that the selected poetry formulates “the meaning of Being in general as presence or absence, in the categories of being or beingness” (Derrida, 10).
In considering the authority of bodily presence in contrast to the Otherness of absence, the continued reliance of the body on the Other is once more brought to the surface. This is best seen through C. Dale Young’s poem, “Proximity”. His allegorical work of loss surrenders the power of the present human body to the powerful Otherness of absence. Interestingly, he uses the imagery of a ghost-like presence to highlight the absence of a human body in lines such as: “the phantom skin”, “the ghost hand” and “this phantom touch” (Young, lines 5-20). The spiritual aura suggested here does two things; firstly, it emphasises the lack of a physical presence and secondly, it creates an alien occupancy to which the speaker’s body responds. The sensuality Young plays with through the skin, a hand and a touch adds a further suggestion of delicacy to the speaker’s connection with this transient company. The phantom guest Young is describing here is the Otherness of absence itself and it is this Otherness the speaker relies on to understand the reality of his own body’s presence. The speaker tells us that he has “forgotten my skin, misplaced my body” (Young, line 1) and goes on to detail the gradual disappearance of his entire body:
I felt my own body,
piece by piece, dissolving: my hands, finger by finger,
then the legs and the chest leaving the heart exposed
and beating, the travelling pulses of blood
expanding the great vessels. The rib cage vanished
and then the spine (Young, lines 11-16).
Thus, from the very beginning of the poem, the speaker loses any real grasp over his body. He seems at odds with the reality of his own presence, just like “the man with the amputated arm convinced he could/ feel the sheets and air-conditioned air touching the phantom skin” (Young, lines 2-4). It is only through contrast to the Other – the absence of another’s body – that the narrator once more slips back into his own skin. He notes the “fully real feeling of the hair on your arm shifting over my own” (Young, lines 20-21). In this way, the speaker’s body begins to rebuild itself through the Otherness of absence and the transience of the phantom presence. The Other is a support mechanism and traces out the speaker’s lost body; “as your hand moved from my shoulder and out across my chest” (Young, lines 21-22). Evidently, the reality of his own body and its indisputable Being relies on the Other for clarity, just as signification for Derrida is accomplished only through a play of differences; of continually contrasting Others.
Young’s title “Proximity” also plays into the binary opposition experienced between presence and absence. He seems to be toying with the Derridean notion of the instability of both concepts and his title certainly attempts to rest on the fine line between the two. However, by its own definition, the title of this poem clarifies that despite the closeness that may be achieved between these oppositional states, there still exists a boundary between the two; a mere ‘proximity’ between presence and absence is all that can ever be achieved or hoped for. Consequently, through the maintenance of the impenetrable boundary between presence and absence, the body depends on the Otherness of the latter and the speaker regains his body until he at last like “Augustine faced with his own flesh” (Young, line 24).
Another element to consider in the engagement between the body and the structures of power as Other is the threat that the structures of power can pose to the body. One such threat posed is that of negative inscription. This can be better understood through the work of Judith Butler, who writes: “cultural values emerge as the result of an inscription on the body, understood as a medium, indeed, a blank page; in order for this inscription to signify, however, that medium itself must be destroyed” (Butler, 2543). It is this representation of the body as a blank canvas that forms the bedrock of the next argument. As has already been discussed, the body relies heavily on the support of the Other and yet with that reliance, the body itself is vulnerable to foreign inscription and in many cases, dangerous inscription. Again, Butler specifies what exactly is meant by this term ‘inscription’ in stating:
the very contours of ‘the body’ are established through markings that seek to establish specific codes of cultural coherence. Any discourse that establishes the boundaries of the body serves the purpose of instating and naturalizing certain taboos regarding the appropriate limits, postures, and modes of exchange that define what it is that constitutes bodies (Butler, 2544).
With these understandings in mind, it is now feasible to contend that inscription is anything from an external force that is signified on the body like a tattoo on skin, or a blank canvas. One structure of power that produces such inscription is the forces of society and more particularly, the power of the family unit. The exploration of the inscriptions of the family can be seen in Brian Teare’s “First person plural is a house”. Like in many of the poems already discussed, Teare makes a significant point of alienating the Otherness of the power to which the speaker’s body adheres. This is achieved most poignantly through his openness regarding his methodology. The poem opens with Teare informing the reader that “First person plural is a house/ where I put myself into the third person” (Teare, lines 1-2). By explaining his literary technique, Teare exposes his strategy in consciously distancing himself from the power of these memories; the power of the family unit. In one sense, this removal acts as a protection mechanism, which Teare clarifies: “at this distance they’re theoretical as dolls, rhetorical/ as pain imagined” (Teare, lines 4-5). His contextualisation of these memories holds them at arm’s length and thus makes them as painless as possible. In another sense, like with previous poets, Teare is also marking the powerful family unit as Other to the limitations of his own body. By placing it at a distance from himself, he emphasises the inherently foreign nature of this force on his body.
In elaborating on this act of distancing, Teare allows himself to step in and out of the inscriptions that have bee imprinted on his body by the Other. This comes to the fore with his inability to use the word incest. Indeed, despite the central theme of incest throughout the poem, the word itself is only used once and never again. He writes: “they can’t see the word they create/ with their bodies” (Teare, 5-6). The inability to use the word incest more than once creates a sense of hesitancy, as if the word itself is in some way toxic; a production of the family’s Otherness.
Teare draws a connection between the toxicity of the unspeakable word itself and the Butler concept of inscription when he comments how “such bodies won’t stop speaking,/ always that word on the tongue in the mouth of another” (Teare, lines 6-7). It is this line that, in many ways, epitomises the negative inscription of the Other on the human body. As is suggested by this statement, incest – the power attributed to the Otherness of the family unit – is presented as an ongoing inscription that cannot be removed. Furthermore, the suggestive imagery of tongues and mouths promotes the possibility that the aforementioned toxicity of this Other can be seen in it’s passing back and forth from one person to another like a contagion. Therefore, the Otherness of incest and the inscriptions of a family unit in which the power is held through incest, is carried on the blank canvas of the body like a tattoo. As such, Butler’s theories on the effects of external powers on the body is brought to full force, when the poetic representation of the body is damaged through the negative inscriptions of social forces, or more pointedly, the family unit.
In conclusion of the arguments made above, the structures of power – when presented as Other to the limitations of the body – bring about a complex engagement with that body. The poetry of Cannon and Sprackland provide an insight into the body’s dependency on the Other of occupational power; both for survival and wellbeing. As has been clarified, this is supported by the psychoanalytic theories of Lacan. C. Dale Young furthers this reliance in his exploration of the power of absence as Other and adds an excellent dynamic into the theories of Derrida. And finally, the work of Brian Teare, which exemplifies the Otherness of the power of social forces, provides a new element to this engagement through his effective consideration of Butler’s theories on the negative inscriptions of Others and the consequences such inscriptions may produce.
Butler, Judith. “Gender Trouble”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 2540-2553. Print.
Cannon, Moya. “Hands”. Hands. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011. 20. Print.
Chanter, Tina. Gender: Key Concepts in Philosophy. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006. 56-68. Print.
Derrida, Jacques, “Différance”, Margins of Philosophy. Ed. Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972. 1-20. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytical Experience”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2010. 1163-1169. Print.
Sprackland, Jean. “Hands”. Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets. Ed. Roddy Lumsden. Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2010. 322. Print.
Teare, Brian. “First person plural is a house”. The Room Where I Was Born.Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. 11. Print.
Young, C. Dale. “Proximity”. Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century. Ed. Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin. Louisville: Sarabande Books, 2006. 440. Print.
Intertextuality, poverty and language in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Stephen Dedalus’ quest for self-mastery in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is explored through intertextuality, poverty and language. As will be discussed, the intertextual deployment of the work of Thomas Moore is used to highlight the issue of servitude, which Stephen rejects in his mission for self-command throughout the novel. However, this endeavour will be questioned by the presence of music. The essay will then argue for the necessity of poverty in the creation of the artist and Stephen’s desired autonomy, as well as the importance of language in his self-construction.
To begin, Joyce details Stephen’s encounter with “the droll statue of the national poet of Ireland” (Joyce, 194), making clear reference to Thomas Moore. It is in this encounter that both Joyce’s and Stephen’s opinion on the work of Moore is forcefully brought to the surface: “though sloth of the body and of the soul crept over it like unseen vermin…around the servile head, it seemed humbly conscious of its indignity” (Joyce, 194). It is clear from this description that Stephen views Moore as little more than a linguistic slave to “the highest echelons of English society” (Quinn, 10), serving a British audience with the art of an Irish struggle. As Justin Quinn explains, “In the eighteenth century, Irish poets writing in English did not have as their goal the expression of national spirit, but viewed their work as an integral part of the British tradition, and wrote for a British audience” (Quinn, 8). This movement included Moore’s melodies and thus, Stephen sees his work as an example of artistic submission.
The notion of servitude is important to keep in mind in scenes such as that of Stephen’s return to his family home in chapter four, when he hears how “The voice of his youngest brother from the farther side of the fireplace began to sing the air Oft in the Stilly Night’ (Joyce, 177). The singing of Moore’s melody appears like an endorsement of the servitude for which Moore himself stands; that same servitude that Stephen rejects so vehemently. His siblings thus become a part of this submission. They sing a song of “melancholy and nostalgia” (Pyle, 209) and, like Moore, become servile to not only the fancies of a British audience, but also to the past and its “endless reverberation of… weariness and pain” (Joyce, 177). Stephen’s hesitation in joining in with his siblings – how he “waited for some moments, listening…with pain of spirit” (Joyce, 177) – suggests the distance that is being created between Stephen and his family. Evidently, he does not wish to be defined by his family or their obedience and as such, this distancing is imperative in his quest for self-mastery. Furthermore, just as Stephen attempts to detach himself from the slavery of his family, so Joyce also attempts to mark a clear distinction between his writing and the subjection of Moore’s writing.
However, for all the efforts on the parts of both Joyce and Stephen, this scene encapsulates their failure in removing themselves entirely, which forms the basis of the next argument. Despite his hesitation and his attempt to displace himself from the family unit, Stephen “took up the air with them” (Joyce, 177). Music, in this instance, is what binds the family together. More importantly, it is also what binds Joyce and Moore together, as Emer Nolan contends: “they [Moore and Joyce] both exploit the idea of music as a medium for the preservation of shared memories, and they understand that songs may create at least the illusion of a harmonious collective identity” (Nolan, 68). Though apparently undesirable on the part of Joyce, it is through music that he and Moore become a collective identity of Irish writing, just as Stephen here becomes part of the collective identity of his family. Thus – even if only temporarily – music disrupts Stephen’s wishes to be defined only by himself and hinders his quest for self-proficiency.
Similarly, as Stephen is tempted temporarily into the regressive confinements of his family, so he is also tempted into the constricting life of priesthood. As he leaves the director’s office, he hears a “quartet of young men…swaying their heads and stepping to the agile melody of their leader’s concertina” (Joyce, 173). As with Moore, music in this instance is equated with submission, only this time it revolves around a servitude to God. Very notably, none of these musical artists are playing of their own accord, but instead are in step with a leader who instructs them in their own artistry. Therefore, despite the momentary temptations – both in joining his family and also, the priesthood – Stephen dismisses both; a metaphor which can be carried over into the passing of the music itself: “The music passed in an instant, as the first bars of sudden music always did, over the fantastic fabrics of his mind, dissolving them painlessly and noiselessly” (Joyce, 173). Thus, Stephen’s determination for self-mastery, though interrupted, resumes forthright in his rejection of both his family and the priesthood. Equally, this suggests that, though closer to Moore than he would perhaps like to be, Joyce has also succeeded in his rejection of the work of Thomas Moore.
As well as intertextuality and its use in exploring Stephen’s quest for self-sovereignty through the issues of servitude and music, the aforementioned scene with his siblings also gives rise to significant elements in the wider context the novel. Another matter surrounding Stephen’s self-command, for example, is that of poverty. The destitute living conditions of the Dedalus family are brought to the fore in this scene, when Joyce details how “Tea was nearly over and only the last of the second watered tea remained in the bottoms of the small glass-jars and jampots which did service for teacups” (Joyce, 176). Moreover, poverty is the reason why the family must move from home to home; an issue that causes Stephen a degree of humiliation among his peers, evident when the text states that: “A boy named Fallon in Belvedere had often asked him with a silly laugh why they moved so often. A frown of scorn darkened quickly his forehead” (Joyce, 177). However, it is these keen observations and even the humiliation felt on Stephen’s part that are ultimately essential to art and, in Stephen’s case, to the creation of the artist he so desperately wishes to become. Allen Hepburn agrees with this and states that: “insolvency, coupled with a personal sense of humiliation, inspires Stephen Dedalus to write poetry. Creativity literally becomes the flip-side of economics…As the Dedalus family loses its prestige and money, Stephen, by a dialectical process, discovers his vocation as an artist” (Hepburn, 197).
The creation of the artist once again revolves around Stephen’s ability to alienate himself from the “squalor and noise and sloth” (Joyce, 191) around him. In this particular scene, he makes a clear distinction between the unchanging impoverishment of his siblings and his own privileges: “All that had been denied them had been freely given to him, the eldest” (Joyce, 176). In this way, Stephen is allowed a certain degree of superiority over the reigning poverty of his circumstances and thus, he is at liberty to observe it from a distance as an artist in the making. Art frees him from the poverty he is born in to, but at the same time, it is that very poverty that will fuel his art. Therefore, the two remain irrevocably interlinked and consequently, poverty remains a key element in Stephen’s self-mastery; if not for his ability to achieve it, then certainly at least in perpetuating his desires for it.
The issue of poverty in Stephen’s quest for self-affirmation can be brought outside of this passage also and can be seen later in the novel as Stephen prepares for his departure. He writes: “Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order…I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” (Joyce, 275-276). Here, Stephen escapes the depravity of his family’s poverty and the paralysis that causes. At the same time, however, he takes it with him in the physicality of his second-hand clothes, suggesting that it was poverty that brought him to this moment and to his flight in pursuit of his artistry. Whereas poverty has created the ‘reality of experience’ for his family, he once again distances himself from that reality and vows to create his own when he decides to “dedicate himself to the life of art” (McConnell, 180). As Hepburn describes it, “Stephen flees from his poverty and asserts his cultural superiority as an artist” (Hepburn, 213), thus further solidifying his goal for self-domination.
The final matter to discuss is that of the importance of language. When Stephen asks where his mother and father are, one sibling tells him that they are: “Goneboro toboro lookboro atboro aboro houseboro” (Joyce, 177). This playful use of coded-language suggests two things. The first is the presence of varying dialect in Ireland at the time. Seasmus Deane maintains that: “He [Joyce] incorporated into his writing several modes of language and, in doing so, exploited the complex linguistic situation in Ireland to serve his goal” (Deane, 42). As Deane suggests, Joyce is here dealing with the loss of the Irish language and consequently, the fragmentary nature of the English that replaced it. The invention of this childlike language used in jest toward Stephen highlights the fact that English was very much still a borrowed language within Ireland and as such, was open to various dialectical modifications. Outside of this passage, the complex situation with the English language in Ireland turns from playful to threatening when Stephen meets with the dean. He states: “His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language” (Joyce, 205). This change comes about as a matter of ownership; whereas Stephen’s sibling has, to some extent, taken the borrowed language of English and revitalised it into something of his own making, the dean uses an English that Stephen has no place in; “The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine” (Joyce, 205). Therefore, Stephen is uncomfortable using this version of English, as it is of another man’s tongue and as such, questions his ability in his linguistic self-construction.
Another aspect to consider in the language used by Stephen’s sibling is the emphasis placed on creation, which is exactly what Stephen covets in his linguistic development in the wider context of the novel. Joyce states that: “He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable” (Joyce, 184). Like his sibling in the aforementioned passage, Stephen is taking the language of others and using it to construct a language of his own. In a sense, he is borrowing language in order to further his own eventual linguistic autonomy. Deane maintains that “it is one of the most important of all the Joycean performances that a character should take possession of the language of others, the public language, and render it as his inimitable own” (Deane, 43). Stephen’s ability to make the language of his others his own is most evident in the overall narrative structure – and more importantly the narrative progression – of the text. Whereas the ambiguity of the narrator dominates the novel, Stephen ultimately transcends from being a subject of narration to becoming his own narrator, as the telling of the story changes into the first-person narrative. As Stephen’s sibling created his own playful language, so Stephen creates his own linguistic self-command, taking the ambivelant speech of others and transforming it into his own quotation. It is only by rejecting this borrowed form of existence that Stephen “for the first time may have the capability to form a unity of self” (Kershner, 617) and thus, may begin his road to self-construction.
To conclude the points of above, Stephen’s quest for self-mastery is explored in four major ways. The first two relate to the intertextual deployment of the work of Thomas Moore; firstly, through Stephen’s rejection of Moore’s servitude and secondly, through the binding effect of music in the works of both Thomas Moore and James Joyce. In placing the home scene of chapter four into the wider context of the novel, Stephen’s endeavours for self-conquest are then also seen through the role of poverty and finally, through the indispensible importance of language.
Deane, Seamus. “Joyce the Irishman”. The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce. Ed. Derek Attridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 31-53. Print.
Hepburn, Allen. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Poverty”. James Joyce Quarterly 42-43:1-4 (Fall 2004 – Summer 2006): 197-218. EBSCO Premier.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. London: Penguin Books, 1992. Print.
Kershner, R.B. Jr. “Time and Language in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist”. ELH 43:4 (1976): 604-619. JSTOR.
McConnell, Frank D. “Words and the Man: The Art of James Joyce”. The Wilson Quarterly 6:1 (1982): 176-187. JSTOR.
Nolan, Emer. “‘The Tommy Moore Touch’: Ireland and Modernity in Joyce and Moore”. Dublin James Joyce Journal 2 (2009): 64-77. JSTOR.
Pyle, Hilary. “’Men of Destiny’: Jack B. and W. B. Yeats: The Background and the Symbols”. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 66:262/263 (1977): 188-213. JSTOR.
Misogyny: Its Presence and Effectiveness in Renaissance Prose Fiction.
Though Renaissance prose fiction showcases clearly misogynistic intentions, it cannot be categorized as fundamentally or exclusively misogynist. This contention proves reliable in consideration of four major arguments; two of these arguments explore the presence of misogyny in Renaissance prose fiction by examining issues such as the presentation and acceptance of sexual violence against women and also, the presentation of the natural duplicity of women. The second two arguments interrogate elements of Renaissance texts that challenge the perceived notion of misogyny; these elements are the narrative competence of women and also, the reversal of power experienced in the voyeurism of the female gaze. As such, this essay intends to maintain a balanced view of the issue of misogyny in Renaissance prose fiction and thus present arguments for and against its presence and effectiveness.
To begin, the presence of misogyny can be seen the in the representations of sexual violence against women, in works such as Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller and George Gascoigne’s The Adventures of Master F.J. These representations call into question the effects that reading about rape can have on societal perceptions of the act itself and its place within society. Will McMorran argues that such depictions of sexual violence in art can go so far as to normalise the act of rape within society. He writes that: “the fictional representation of rape forms part of the same cultural discourse that informs, and is informed by, actual acts of rape” (McMorran, 76). Picking up on McMorran’s point, the depiction of rape in literature can not only standardize the act itself, but can also affect perceptions of women and the female body. In the case of Nashe’s detailed rape scene in The Unfortunate Traveller, the author uses vivid imagery to create a misogynistic view of the female victim, Heraclide. He writes: “He grasped her by the ivory throat and shook her as a mastiff would shake a young bear” (Nashe, 278). Here, the female body is made comparable to that of an animal. In doing so, Nashe devalues the female body and places women on a level that is inferior to men. Continuing this misogynistic description, Nashe comments: “Backward he dragged her, even as a man backward would pluck a tree down by the twigs” (Nashe, 278). Once more, the victim is compared to a primitive image, this time of the natural world. In this case, the female body is as conquerable to man as nature and the execution of this description paints it in such a way that makes the invasion appear like a congenital one. The way in which such rape scenes are presented contribute to and act as examples of a misogynist mentality, as they promote notions of male dominance – both over nature and over women – as well as encouraging the submission of women, made comparable to the submission of an animal. Moreover, the treatment of the aftermath of Heraclide’s rape can provide further insight into the misogyny that governs character reactions. Conforming to a chauvinist mentality, she exclaims: “Why should not I hold myself damned (if predestination’s opinions be true) that am predestine to this horrible abuse” (Nashe, 280). Here, Heraclide assumes responsibility for what has happened to her and commits suicide, as Steven R. Mentz maintains, “Heraclide refuses consolation and reinforces the misogynist canard that makes a woman culpable for her own rape” (Mentz, 352). Therefore, instead of assuming her rightful place as a victim, instead Heraclide becomes another piece of paraphernalia in constructing a misanthropic view of women and consequently, she herself supports the misogyny that quite literally wrote her rape into Nashe’s work.
Another example of sexual violence against women is the rape of Elinor in the work of Gascoigne, who writes: “he thrust her through both hands and etc.; whereby the dame, swooning for fear, was constrained for a time to abandon her body to the enemy’s courtesy” (Gascoigne, 61). As with Nashe, Gascoigne here compromises the female victim’s ownership over her own body. In the same way nature and Heraclide are forced to forfeit the rights of ownership to man, so Elinor abandons her body to male ‘courtesy’. The fact that Gascoigne describes a crime of this nature in such a way suggests the misogynist notion of male dominance once again. Furthermore, the narrator’s interpretation of Elinor’s personal state immediately after her rape accentuates the devaluation of women. G.T. comments that: “having now recovered her chamber, because she found her hurt to be nothing dangerous, I doubt not but she slept quietly the rest of the night” (Gascoigne, 61-62). G.T.’s cavalier understanding of Elinor’s reaction betrays a lack of empathy for the victim, which undermines the seriousness of the situation, as Paul Salzman contends: “the wily G.T. does not take the attack on Elinor quite so seriously… G.T.’s crude view of things seems ultimately justified, as Elinor returns to her secretary” (Salzman, 32). Regardless of the actions that Elinor proceeds to take following this scene, the narrator’s treatment of the incident attempts to make sexual violence comical and dismissive. It displays and encourages an acceptance of sexual violence against women and thus, reinforces a chauvinist mentality of female inferiority.
The second example of misogyny in Renaissance prose fiction is the presentation of the natural duplicity of women. In their discussion of the witch hunts during the Middles Ages and, more specifically, the perceptions of women provided by the authors of the Malleus maleficarum, Kari Boyd McBride and Mega Lota Brown write the following: “the persecution of women for witchcraft arose from a network of social attitudes that held the ideal woman to be silent and submissive yet, at the same time, more prone to demonic seduction and possession” (McBride and Brown, 79). This misogynist notion that women were naturally more prone to evil than men is a social belief that carried into the Renaissance and can be seen in texts such as William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat and Thomas Deloney’s Jack of Newbury; both of which take for granted the natural duplicity of women and as such, these stories are written accordingly. For example, the associations between women and evil are epitomised in Baldwin’s text by both the bawd and Mousleyer. The bawd’s association with Catholicism condemns her by religious belief, which is made clear by the fact that her leader, the Pope, is described as: “a very incarnated deuil” (Baldwin, 11). The bawd is one of the few females within Baldwin’s novel and her inherent evil is marked by virtue of the fact that she is a “catholik quean” (Baldwin, 20). The other major female of the text is Mousleyer and like the bawd, she too must endure the persecution that McBride and Brown discuss above. Firstly, by virtue of the fact that Mousleyer is a cat, she is automatically allied with witchcraft and thus, the devil, in lines such as: “English witches, and Irish witches, may and doo turn them selues into Cats” (Baldwin, 10). More than mere association, however, Mousleyer is outright accused of personally being the devil in the third part of Master Streamer’s narration: “when hee saw my glistring eyes, he fel down backward & brake his head crying out, ‘The deuil, the deuil, the deuil!’” (Baldwin, 24). Therefore, despite being a cat, even Mousleyer cannot escape the misogynist persecution of femininity. While on the one hand, these presentations are indicative of sectarian divisions between Catholics and Protestants, they also poignantly draw attention to the existing tension between the male/female binary opposition and highlight the anxiety regarding women and femininity in literature at the time.
That same intrinsic wickedness that is expressed through the female characters of Beware the Cat can also be witnessed in Deloney’s work, in what David J. Morrow describes as: “the carnivalesque scenes in which he [Deloney] punishes insiders and outsiders alike” (Morrow, 399). The perpetrators that Deloney uses to carry out these punishments are women and this is never more evident than when the maidens of Jack’s house “served Will Summers for his sauciness” (Deloney, 357). Summers’ mockery of the maidens and later, his attempts to seduce them bring about a derogatory representation of women’s depravity. Albeit in the pursuit of comic relief, the scene nevertheless highlights the social attitudes discussed above regarding women and Summers becomes victim to the scorn of the insulted maidens. Deloney writes that: “they bound him hand and foot, and set him upright against a post, tying him thereto” (Deloney, 357). In punishing such unsavoury characters via the assumed wickedness of women, Deloney stands to protect the idealised goodness of Jack; Deloney’s man of “a merry disposition and honest conversation…wondrous, well-beloved of rich and poor” (Deloney, 314). Moreover, he is able to reinforce with comedy the misogynist creation of women’s customary baseness.
As has been explored, misogyny has an undeniable place within Renaissance prose fiction. However, the importance of that presence is questioned by the overall effectiveness of it and it is this effectiveness that is greatly challenged through two somewhat misandrist aspects of Renaissance literature. The first of these aspects is the narrative power of women, as experienced in Baldwin’s Beware the Cat. Despite Baldwin’s attempts to undermine women through the blackening of their gender, as explored above, it is his female narrators within the text that triumph in the telling of their stories. Thus, the superiority of female narration compromises the conceit that Renaissance literature is fundamentally misogynist. The complex multi-narrative structure Baldwin uses leans greatly to the idea that the masculine voice is to be assumed as the strongest, given the fragile representation of femininity itself, as seen in Comment [C208] of the marginalia: “Women are afraid of their owne shadowes” (Baldwin, 23).
The irony here is that while Baldwin attempts to undermine the position of the female voice through the commentary of G.B., it is the female orators who prove the strongest. For example, both Mousleyer and the bawd accomplish what they set out to in their persuasions. Mousleyer clears her name before the assembly of cats and it is stated that: “When Grisard, Isegrim and Poylnoer the comissioners had herd this declaration and request of Mousleyer, they praised her much” (Baldwin, 26). Equally, the bawd is successful in creating a believable fiction about a non-existent daughter, as Robert Maslen maintains: “The fake translation of the widow’s daughter into a cat begins to melt the young wife’s heart; and the fake letter, full of the elaborate metaphors… completes the process” (Maslen, 7). Streamer, on the other hand – whose objective was to uphold his argument through evidence and first-hand experiences – fails miserably and produces instead a narrative of hearsay and second-hand accounts, as exemplified when he hears and readily accepts the story of a lodge companion as truth: “I heard a like thing hapned in Yreland where, if I conjecture not amisse, Grimalkin of whom you spake, was slain” (Baldwin, 6).
Furthermore, Baldwin himself suffers in comparison to his own female characters. While they accomplish their goals, Baldwin fails to produce the didactic text he so obviously desires, which is made evident by the Exhortation of the text: “I would counsel al men to take heed of wickednes and eschue secret sins and priuy mischeuous counsels, lest (to their shame) all the world at length doo knowe therof” (Baldwin, 27). Instead, Baldwin allows both G.B. and Streamer to undercut the strength of male narration, as Sandra Bell notes: “his two narrators: one, an unreliable narrator, Master Streamer; the other, the narrator of the text’s frame, and perhaps also of its argumentative and complex marginal annotation” (Bell, 236). As such, any attempt to undermine the female voice and promote a misogynist ideal of a superior male voice fails drastically. This idea of the superiority of the female voice is summed perfectly in the question: “The bawd’s fiction does exactly what she wants it to do: can the same be said of Baldwin’s?” (Kinney, 205). As well as this, Baldwin seems to need his female voices more than his male voices when we consider Mousleyer’s unnecessarily long-winded tales. Clare R. Kinney attempts to explain Mousleyer’s tales in saying that: “There is no apparent reason why her judges need to hear her entire history in order to determine her case – it is Baldwin who has need of the whole beast fable (or the fabulating beast) as the vehicle for his anti-Catholic satire.” (Kinney, 202) Therefore it is Baldwin’s own weakness as a story-teller that ultimately solidifies the authority of the female voice over the male and thus, the contention that Renaissance prose fiction is fundamentally misogynist now appears reductive.
The second argument to challenge the effectiveness of misogyny centres around female voyeurism, as seen in Gascoigne’s The Adventures of Master F.J.For example, While Elinor remains the perfect example of an object that is to be viewed – most obviously because she is the subject of F.J.’s poetry – it is Lady Frances who ‘positions herself on the margins of the narrative, watching the games’ (Wilson, 27) and thus inverts the roles of the spectator and the spectacle. Her watchful eye looms over all the transactions between Master F.J. and Lady Elinor in their romance, even in the intimate act of sexual intercourse: “yet the Lady Frances… did watch and even at the entering of his chamber door perceived the point of his naked sword glistering under the skirt of his nightgown; whereat she smiled” (Gascoigne, 31). More than merely viewing, Frances is also ‘thoroughly tickled now in all veins’ (Gascoigne, 31) and it is in this way she becomes empowered and thus challenges any misogyny that seeks to undermine her gaze. With voyeurism being typically associated in Elizabethan times with the male spectator and the female spectacle, here Frances manages to turn that established power on its head, as Susan C. Staub pints out:
“Frances’s intrusion in this scene begins to undermine Gascoigne’s carefully constructed male readership and effectively inverts the power relations implied in the commonplace masculine spectator/feminine spectacle paradigm. Thus he deprivileges the male gendered gaze, creating a site of potential gender anxiety” (Staub, 41-42).
Therefore, simply by watching the man she loves in this scandalous act, Lady Frances encroaches on Master F.J.’s privacy and in the process, she objectifies him and emasculates him. This observation is again brought to the forefront when Frances steals F.J.’s sword: “his naked sword presented itself to the hands of Dame Frances, who took it” (Gascoigne, 31). Once again, F.J. is emasculated by Frances’ theft of his most prominent phallic symbol and the position of male superiority is undeniably overthrown.
To conclude the points made above; misogyny can be seen in these texts through the presence and acceptance of sexual violence towards women, as well as the association experienced between women and evil. However, such Renaissance literature also illustrates challenges to this misogyny; firstly, in the narrative superiority of women and secondly, in the power of inverted female voyeurism. As such, while Renaissance prose fiction does render misogyny an innate part of its literature it is by no means fundamentally so.
Baldwin, William. Beware the Cat. Ed. Cathy Shank. London: Edward Allde, 1584. 1-28. Early English Books Online.
Bell, Sandra et al. The Broadway Anthology of Sixteenth-Century Poetry and Prose. Ontario: Broadway Press, 2011. 235-305. Print.
Gascoigne, George. “The Adventures of Master F.J.” An Anthology of Elizabethan Prose Fiction. Ed. Paul Salzman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 3-81. Print.
Deloney, Thomas. “Jack of Newbury”. An Anthology of Elizabethan Prose Fiction.Ed. Paul Salzman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 313-392. Print.
Kinney, Clare R. “Clamorous Voices, Incontinent Fictions: Orality, Oratory, and Gender in William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat”. Oral Traditions and Gender in Early Modern Literary Texts. Eds. Mary Ellen Lamb and Karen Bamford. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 195-207. Print.
Maslen, Robert. “‘The Cat Got Your Tongue: Pseudo-Translation, Conversion, and Control in William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat”. Translation and Literature 8:1 (1999): 3-23. Print.
McBride, Kari Boyd and Meg Lota Brown. “Women and the Law”. Women’s Roles in the Renaissance. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2005. 53-88. Print.
McMorran, Will. “The Palimpsestic Heroine: Sade’s Justice”. The Flesh in the Text. Eds. Thomas Baldwin et al. Bern: Peter Lang, 2007. 59-78. Print.
Mentz, Steven R. “The Heroine as Courtesan: Dishonesty, Romance, and the Sense of an Ending in The Unfortunate Traveller”. Studies in Philology 98:3 (2001): 339-358. JSTOR.
Morrow, David J. “The entrepreneurial spirit and ‘The life of the poor’: communal ideology and social struggle in the prose fictions of Thomas Deloney”. Textual Practice 20:3 (2006): 395-418. EBSCO Premier.
Nashe, Thomas. “The Unfortunate Traveller”. An Anthology of Elizabethan Prose Fiction. Ed. Paul Salzman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 207-309. Print.
Salzman, Paul. “Courtly Fiction: I. Gascoigne”. English Prose Fiction, 1558-1700: A Critical History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. 22-34. Print.
Staub, Susan C. “The Lady Frances Did Watch: Gascoigne’s Voyeuristic Narrative”. Framing Elizabethan Fictions: Contemporary Approaches to Early Modern Narrative Prose. Kent: The Kent State University Press, 1996. 41-54. Print.
Wilson, Katharine. “The Making of Master G.H.: Gascoigne, Whetstone, Grange, and Harvey”. Fictions of Authorship in Late Elizabethan Narrative. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 19-51. Print.
I’ve been inundated with lovely emails and messages since my appearance on The Saturday Night Show over the weekend. I’d like to say thank you all so much for your kind words. However, there is a little bit of a backlog to work through now and if you could please be patient, I will of course reply to them all asap! Thank you again and if you missed the interview, be sure to catch it on the RTE Player (link below).
With love, Leanne xxxx
Catch the interview (approx 17mins in) HERE: