Scarlet Letter

November 7th, 2011
Posted in Uncategorized
No Comments

“Good Master Dimmesdale,” said he, “the responsibility of this woman’s soul lies greatly with you. It behooves you, therefore, to exhort her to repentance, and to confession, as a proof and consequence thereof.” At this point, the reader is not yet aware of Mr. Dimmesdale’s identity as Hester’s lover. But in light of the truth, Dimmesdale’s “responsiblity of this woman’s soul” is even more haunting: in fact, as minister he does bear responsibility for the spiritual states of his community. And in particular, he bears responsibility for the tainted condition of Hester’s soul, of Hester’s fall in the eyes of her society. That Governor Bellingham, who is unaware of the irony of his commands, tellls Dimmesdale that “it behooves you… to exhort her to repentance… as a proof and consequence” is chillingly appropriate.  It would cut Hawthorne’s story incredibly short if Hester did repent right then, but it would also save Dimmesdale a lot of suffering, possibly even his early death.  (Reread as: it is worth it for you, worth avoiding the forthcoming self-inflicted torture, to get Hester to tell the truth now, as a proof and consequence of your own sinful behavior.)

But Hester stays mum. We are also given ample description of Dimmesdale: “Therefore, so far as his duties would permit, he trode in the shadowy by-paths, and thus kept himself simple and childlike; coming forth, when occasion was, with a freshness, and fragrance, and dewy purity of thought, which, as many people said, affected them like the speech of an angel.” It is interesting how Dimmesdale is able to hold onto this deceivingly pure public persona, one that drives him almost to the point of madness because it is so incongruous with his own self-perception, while Hester  is clothed, against her will, in a villanous and sinful public persona, but one that she attempts to incorporate somehow into her life. Hester doesn’t run away from the scarlet A, and from the novel’s opening we hear about how beautiful the letter itself is, how Hester has attempted even her branding to be a reflection of actual self, one that is more beautiful than sinful. While Dimmesdale pays lip service and spouts inspiring sermons  by whose precepts he himself does not live, Hester becomes an authentic “living sermon against sin.”

Gossip in Emma

October 26th, 2011
Posted in Uncategorized
No Comments

Katrina mentions in her post that Emma’s characters gossip for fun and she is bothered by the lack of realistic consequences for the harm caused by their chatter.In “The Tittle-Tattle of Highbury”, Finch and Bowen emphasize the pervasive nature of gossip, its inescapability; both “Tittle-Tattle” and Gluckman’s article, whom “Tittle-Tattle” quotes, ascribe to gossip vital community-building qualities, how communties  are “held together and maintain [their] values by gossiping both within cliques and in general.”  I found it interesting to contrast these views of gossip’s role in Emma (and in the world at large) with the traditional Jewish take of gossip as a cancerous evil that  can ruin lives and has dramatic repercussions far beyond our realizations, with emphasis placed on communities being torn apart by gossip rather than built on the intimacy that gossip allows the in-group. Perhaps the difference in question is the mutable nature of gossip- malicious speech intending to destroy a reputation or the natural interest and curiosity of small-town members in the lives of their fellows.

Privacy is also brought up in “Tittle-Tattle”. Does this notion exist in Emma? Are there thoughts that even the free indirect narration can’t access? Places within the characters’ lives that are beyond the town’s gossips’ talons? According to Finch and Bowen’s assertion that the a highlight of the free indirect style is that it “guarantees public access to any character’s private thought,” apparently privacy is obsolete. As well, what lies between privacy and secrecy (as discussed during one keyword presentation)… considering that in Emma, “matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them.”

As a small note, this isn’t my first time reading Emma, and I do not love the book, though Austen is undoubtedly skilled. However, I enjoyed the article on the usage of free indirect style and its attempt at unifying the form and content of Emma. It was easy to imagine Finch and Bowen having in mind Virgil’s flying Gossip being everywhere and still yet nowhere, in all ears with the but sourceless, her genesis story untold; it is almost as if Gossip herself could be that ambiguous narrator standing so close to Emma, right behind her shoulder, so close that she can hear Austen’s protagonist breathing before she delves into her most private thoughts.

Learned Resourcefulness in St. Domingo

October 26th, 2011
Posted in Uncategorized
No Comments

Dillon’s article mentions both Madame Leclerc as lacking the resourcefulness of the Creole and the Creole as a self-reliant individual. Mary looks up to the Creole as someone capable of being self sustaining; in practice, the exact opposite of the person relying on a metropolitan center (such as Paris) for the perpetuation of one’s (social, economic) existence.
However, Dillon quotes Sansay’s text that says that Creole woman have “precisely the inner resources” to support themselves. Is self-reliance, then, an innate characteristic and not something bred? Is Madame Leclerc’s “voluptuousness” also somehow a trait she has been “afflicted” with? It is hard to believe that the desire to lounge faintly on a couch, dropping one’s slipper repeatedly, is an inherited rather than learned behavior. Likewise, the resourcefulness of the Creole woman is also a behavior learned because of harsh circumstances, rather than an outpouring of inner resourcefulness that has been cleverly hidden up to now. The challenge, perhaps, is more along the lines of how hard are people willing to work to relearn patterns of behavior better suited for their current situation.
Clara, Mary’s sister, epitomizes this shift. As Dillon points out, she has much the same background of the voluptuous colonial wife as Madame Leclerc, however, she confronts her changed circumstances and forces out of herself this resourceful, supposedly Creole behavior that allows her to adapt. In fact, even before her circumstances in St. Domingo necessitate Clara to be resourceful, Clara’s abusive relationship, which likely would have occurred in the metropolis as well, demanded that same trait.

Credibility in Defoe’s Journal

October 5th, 2011
Posted in Uncategorized
No Comments

Defoe’s Journal made me think again about sources of reliable information. As the plague progresses, at points gaining strength and at points tapering off, Defoe relies on word of mouth, speculation (both his own and that of the “street”) and official death tolls to inform the reader of the state of catastrophe. That a whole book is kept afloat on information that is this baseless is incredible. We are repeatedly told that the statistics of  deaths were often manipulated to extreme extents, causing them to lose any credibility.

At the end of the day, who is trustworthy in the world of Defoe’s Journal? Perhaps only one’s own self, one’s subjective understanding of the world’s (in the context of the Journal, God’s) machinations. And those views of the narrator clearly evolve over the course of the plague.

The magical/spiritual experiences chronicled in the book really emphasized the apocalyptic atmosphere of Journal.  In it, the lack of reliable information and overabundance of rumor fosters a surreal atmosphere in which anything seems possible, even believable. Every other person is apparently communing with God and having visions! If no one knows what’s really happening, who is susceptible to the plague, who is already sick and who is still waiting, then perhaps anything really is possible. This certainly detracts even further from the credibility of the “street”. I really loved how the most reliable person when it comes to knowing who is sick before the symptoms become completely obvious is a man with a leg wound. But when angels are flying in the streets while people are shut inside under guard, at that point it is even conceivable that limbs inherit ultimate authority.

Considering Mrs. Erlyne

October 5th, 2011
Posted in Uncategorized
No Comments

I loved the way the men’s club in Lady Windermere’s Fan explains gossip as the sensational bits of history, basically a selective reading, while scandal is the addition of biased judgment to this incomplete reading.

Mrs Erlyne withholds information throughout the book, placing herself in the position of agency in that she allows gossip to formulate around her since nothing about her is transparent. Even at the play’s close, she leaves possibility for gossip in her wake. Scandal, however, takes initiative on the people’s part, granting limited agency to the rest of the play’s cast as well. However, it is difficult for those in the web of gossip to realize that they are deluded and only know half of the story, while the only one in control throughout is the originator, Mrs. Erlyne.

Why does she create this vacuum for gossip? Perhaps as a veil to protect herself? Clearly she isn’t helping to improve her own reputation… Maybe she feels that it is better to let society know incorrect negative information rather than risk them stumbling on the truth, since the falsely negative information does not hurt the way that revelation of truth does.

At the end of the play, my lingering impression of Mrs. Erlyne is that I really don’t know or get her. She seems much more complicated (and therefore intriguing) than the rest of the entertaining but flat cast. She comes in like a storm, in this shroud of mystery, generating gossip and scandal (since who doesn’t judge?) and she leaves in the same manner, not fully revealed before anyone except Lord Windermere.

Hallucination/rumor in Othello

October 5th, 2011
Posted in Uncategorized
1 Comment

Kenneth Gross’s article left me thinking about the convergence of rumor and hallucination in Othello. I looked up both  words just to be sure I had a decent handle on some of their connotations. (In very short, rumor is a circulating report of something unverified; hallucination is an experience of a perception of something not present).

Gross talks about Othello “as if this character were primarily the theatrical animation of a blackened name,” which brought to mind the personified Rumor as presented by both Virgil and Shakespeare. Othello comes as the embodiment of Rumor’s formerly faceless, nameless victims. (Virgil does point out that Rumor gossips about certain prominent mythical heros, but there is also mention of the ambiguous “great cities… countrysides” that fall victim.) Just as Rumor gets painted in demonic colors and forms by both writers, Othello is given a visual trademark too, his blackness. Perhaps his vulnerability in falling prey to Iago’s rumors is hinted at by his distinctive coloring.

I found Gross’s discussion of fantasy (page 113) really interesting also. He seems to suggest a chain effect: desires cohere in one’s mind creating fantasy, a realm where wish fulfillment can take place since reality does not correspond with one’s will. This in turn creates fertile ground for hallucinations- perversions or reality and perceptions of that which isn’t. Hallucinations themselves, then, become the source of rumor.


Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar