Category Archives: British Literature

Books

A main aspect of my existence as an English major are, of course, books. The acquisition of new books, however, is problematic.

During the school year, I don’t have a lot of time for fun reading–doesn’t stop me from having at least two books I’m starting on at a time though–and therefore multitude of collected books on the ever present “to read” list piles up.

Added a few new babies to that collection yesterday at our University’s Friends of the Library Booksale. Patrons can donate books and the library goes through their collection and pulls out-of-date or old materials for selling.

Some golden finds were the entire VHS collection of “Upstairs, Downstairs,” which I’ve been dying to see for ages, a few Norton Anthologies (sadly, I already have all of the ones I needed although I might go back to purchase any of the modern ones…books on half.com don’t sell themselves!), and a John Updike novel that I almost purchased because we just finished studying him.

However, I feel happy with my selections:

A combination of work and pleasure...

Longman Anthology of World Literature by Women: I am quite excited about this, I’m sure that this will get a lot of use. I frequently choose female authors for my various research grants, breaks up the monotony of the “dead white guys” club.

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: This came out in 2001. I read half of it whenever I was in the 6th or 7th grade and my mom freaked out and turned it in to the library. It is pretty raunchy for young adult literature, but I think more than ten years separation is enough time. I always wanted to read the sequels too, so here’s my silly-lit for the summer.

A Short History of Literary Criticism: A lot of used book places don’t have a lot of literary criticism books. I have one on my Kindle and the one I used for my Lit Crit class. Best class I’ve ever had as an undergraduate.

Understanding Clinical Nutrition: I’ve been looking for a reliable nutrition source for ages and this textbook came out in 2006. I think the current students at my school are only using the 2009-2010 edition now, so it isn’t really that out of date. As someone who lifts, I want to know why the body works and what could make mine work better.

Of course, these books are in addition to this:

Summer reading....shelf.

I should not add any more books to my ever growing reading list. But I do anyway. I love my paper friends.

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British Literature as a Foundation for the Americans

This is the wrap-up week for my British Literature online class. I cannot believe that the eighth week of school is upon us and midterms are already here. My block one class will now transition into block two and I will continue to blog as part of my class requirements.

That being said, I would like to conclude this facet of blogging for British literature with some thoughts over what I learned.

Namely the fact that I am irredeemably an Americanist in regard to literature. I had thought that due to my rabid Anglophilia stemming from an early age that I would absolutely detest American literature. I have to admit when I have never been more wrong.

British literature is wonderful. There are things that are authored by the people on this tiny island that cannot possibly be replicated anywhere else–due to class conflicts, cultural norms, and having lots and lots of female rulers.

However, American literature takes the basis of what British literature does and builds on it. It removes all the things that make it inherently stodgy and stale, and add a breath of life to it. There is a refreshed enthusiasm for the craft of words seen in most American literature–the Puritans being the exception not the rule–that is seldom witnessed in British literature. Maybe from my minuscule sampling of this field, I just haven’t found it yet.

-a.b.

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Virgina Woolf and “Triple” Consciousness

Present within Virginia Woolf’s work of “Ms. Dalloway” is the apparent demonstration of stream of consciousness writing. This narrative strategy yields a certain amount of psychological realism within the work versus if it did not have this present. Whenever a work is presented with more psychological realism, it is easier to grasp and understand because the characters and situations seem more relatable.

So, whenever I started contemplating the concept of this stream of consciousness writing, I realized that there was another element present that I had previously not remembered: that of the character Septimus. Septimus could be said to be Clarissa’s doppelganger, or her darker, inner self that she is at war with constantly.

If one contemplates the inclusion of Septimus in the proceedings, you would realize that there are three facets to Clarissa to consider. There is her external, social butterfly. Her internal stream of consciousness and the facet of her personality known as Septimus. Realizing that Septimus, insanity slowly bubbling under the surface, and Clarissa’s normalcy exist side-by-side is a terrifying reminder how close we all are to losing our  minds.

Woolf provides a tragic insight into the human condition using the concepts of stream of consciousness and double consciousness in regard to narrative strategy and style. Partially why we still fascinated with this work is the idea that we are constantly at war with what bubbles under the surface, threatening to take us over.

-a.b.

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T.S. Eliot: A Hipster from Another Time?

Dr. Hochenauer posted these thoughts on our homepage for our contemplations over T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”:

The question becomes whether The Waste Land is meant to be read or studied. The poem creates a super-reader who should know several languages and cultures. It’s literary references and allusions are obscure so readers must also be extremely well read. Even then, the subjectivity of the poem renders it almost incomprehensible. It becomes part of a cult of the obscure. It’s obscurity for obscurity’s sake.

According to the ideas conveyed here, it seems as Eliot is trying to establish a culture of meta-knowledge–a required amount of precursory ideas that the reader must comprehend before his ideas are digestible. Now, as a poet who wishes to convey their ideas to a wide audience to touch a multiplicity of people, why would he wish to do this? As someone who admittedly does not know much about Eliot and his history, it seems as if he derives an extreme pleasure from the concept of knowing that he has such a wide knowledge base beyond the realm of the average individual.

Eliot, in this regard, I believe shares a lot of attributes of the trendy “hipster” youth social group. One popular definition of hipster that has cycled around my peers is that a hipster is someone who tries very hard to appear as if they have gone to no effort at all.

I think that there are elements of Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” that can be applied to this definition. Eliot makes his poem difficult to understand seemingly for the reason of making it “obscure for obscurity’s sake”, an avant-garde realization made by Dr. Hochenauer. Eliot seems to be re-defining what it means to be a poet and why it means to be a poet in this work in a way that’s purposefully dense to make the reader frustratingly search for answers.

-a.b.

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The Greatest Expectations of All

“Great Expectations” serves as one of the noblest forms of social critique: that of one that gives examples of what it means to improve. Dickens uses his writings to comment upon the societal expectations of the day. Pip possesses the greatest expectations: that for himself. He desires to become this lofty gentleman and Dickens uses this to satirically critique the normal way of thinking of the time.

Pip desires an education and wealth so that he can move forward in society, and yet he realizes whenever he receives these gifts that he is no better off than what he was previously. One of the overall themes of this work is the concept that you can receive happiness at whatever level that you are currently at. You don’t have to be the wealthiest or most intelligent person on Earth–those are things that can alienate you even more from the people you care about.

Overall, the Victorian era shifted in its focus from a society reliant upon a Romanticized view of God and providence, to that of hard-work and almost a Darwinian determinism. It is very difficult to rise above one’s circumstances. As we see in the novel, Pip tries to do so and whenever he “succeeds”, he feels ghastly for treating his friends and family members in such an abominable way.

In a slightly related note, this past week was also Charles Dickens’ two hundredth birthday.

I wonder if he expected the notoriety that he received.

-a.b.

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Say it over and over and over again…

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me,
Though the word repeated
Should seem a “cuckoo-song,” as dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Beloved, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, “Speak once more–thou lovest!” Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me–toll
The silver iterance!–only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

-Elizabeth Browning

It is tempting upon first reading to write this off merely as the insecurities of being female, especially when relating to one’s significant other. It is very tempting to do this as a female who has experienced precisely the same anxieties about feeling loved or being told enough that she is.

However, we should be careful as students of literature to not just slap a label of “oh-well-she’s-a-woman” on this. This is a poem that I think everyone can relate to, even though it was penned hundreds of years ago. And when I mean everyone, I mean everyone.

Although I have not been inside the mind of a male–I’m sure a very frightening place–I can relate from my own experience with my ex-boyfriend that men can be just as insecure about relationships as women can. In fact, I just hate reiterating the idea that this beyond just a female trait. This trait is a human trait. People across the planet are insecure about how they feel about their relationships. If we consider the idea that all gender is a social construct anyway (probably a topic for a different entry) then we should realize that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to have feelings of doubt in this regard. In fact, it is probably very healthy in a relationship to do this. If one was just secure about everything, then I think there would be a lack of willingness to keep trying. Insecurities exist for a reason.

Recently, in my relationship with the gentleman I am dating, I experienced this severe anxiety demonstrated in this poem. After awhile, I had to realize that I should pull myself up out of my pit of dispair to realize that what I was feeling was unfounded. Due to his style of caring not being verbally demonstrative, I had to adjust myself to being in a relationship that mainly demonstrated caring through his actions, not his words.

And I’m okay with this. In fact, I think it’s helping me a lot more than either of us realize.

So, perhaps my suggestion to Browning’s speaker is to keep this concept in mind. Not every syllable he or she utters has to be full of the throws of adoration. People demonstrate love and caring in different ways. Maybe his touch says he loves you? Maybe her smile says she cares? And maybe, over time, they will learn to express how they feel toward you in a verbal way. But if it is unnatural to them, who is to say you should try and change who they are to make yourself feel better?

-a.b.

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Fear and Loathing in Frankenstein (and the 21st Century in General)

Something interesting that just struck me is how things we consider frightening have changed over time. To the Romantics and people of Shelley’s day, the notion of creating life  scared  them. Now, living in our Post-Modern day, what scares us anymore? My first inclination is to propose that it is death, but I think that would be too easy, because humans reflexively fear death and the unknowns associated with it.

Perhaps then, what Shelley proposes is scary to the Romantics is not the creation of life, but rather the invention over something they have no control over . This seems valid, especially how at this point, the Romantics and Romantic modes of thinking are made in response to the Industrial Revolution. I think this concept can still be seen a small bit in the movies still produced today about Artificial Intelligence surpassing the creator.

This still doesn’t particularly help with understanding what the 21st Century audience is scared of. Most people, with mention of Frankenstein do not consider it to be a frightening story, even though that could have been the intention.

One small foray into the human psyche says that, at least in the industrialized nations, we are afraid of discomfort. So many films about torture. So many infomercials about needing blankets with sleeves. Any inconvenience can be thrown money at to fix. Any thought of pain keeps us in our mental cages.

-a.b.

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Frankenstein: Shelley’s Narrative Style isn’t Going Out of Style

I can probably guess that I am the only one who would care about this topic in regard to Frankenstein.

One of the things that has really facinated me in regard to the journey literature takes over the course of the past few hundred years is that of the use of framing devices and other agents to make a work more realistic. I have always wondered what caused the very first author who participated in this mode of narrative to thing “gee, I think I will make this first chapter NOTHING about the main characters. How the protagonists relate to this framing agent will be seen only by around chapter four.”

Elements of this narrative are seen in most works from this time period, such as The Scarlet Letter and others of their ilk. However, the use of this in literature is no longer in vogue. However, this literary convention of the Romantic/post-Romantic time period that is similar to the concept seen in movies such as Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and The Blair Witch Project. The framing of these stories involves them having a movie camera to record a documentary or record the goings on at a party. That and the shaky camera angles usually employed convey that this was “found footage”, just like how a letters recording an event unfolding provide more distance between you and the author.

Frankenstein, obviously, uses this method of narrative. This heightens the realism, drama, and can actually make the work more frightening than if the work was just the tale of the namesake of the novel.

-a.b.

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The Romantics had a Drinking Problem

Sometimes a phrase, stanza, line, or sentence will just catch you a certain way where you can’t stop contemplating them. This stanza in Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale” did that for me.

O for a draught of vintage! that hath been

Cool’d a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,

Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South!

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple-stainèd mouth;

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

– “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

 begin with, what a wonderful section of imagery! The tone of the poem isn’t altogether a happy one, however, this section is much more upbeat in what it conveys. Sometimes, I must say, I feel the same as Keat’s speaker in wishing for a “draught of

vintage.”

Returning to the title of this entry, I must admit, I was being purposefully hyperbolic. However, the Romantics do tend to get carried away with their frivolities. The Romantic era is characterized by Charles Baudelaire as being “precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling.” These strong feelings sweep away the monotony of the real day-to-day life. What else epitomizes this concept than the idea of drinking and merry-making? Or the idea of using alcohol as an escape?

The Romantic philosophy is grounded in the concept of the rejection of the rational, logical, and “Englightenment” self. Science does not rule the day for the Romantics, who would much rather sit down and discuss the aesthetics of a painting than the mechanics behind why the moon revolves around Earth.

Another Romantic philosophy exemplified in this selection is the fascination with nature and a certain amount of “oneness” associated with nature. I’d love to experience what Keats conveys, a chilled glass in hand and relaxing on the back deck overlooking the “country-green.”

The Romantics wouldn’t look at drinking as a problem,  nor as a solution either. Merely as a complement to life, like a nice Merlot with a New York Strip.

a.b.

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