Some of you have asked whether you can send drafts that are farther along before your workshop — that’s fine with me, and I’ll pass them along via e-mail. I do want whatever you have by the end of today, though (Tuesday) so that I can distribute something to everyone tomorrow, thus maximizing reading time.
Here’s the workshop schedule:
Tuesday 11/28 — Lindsay, Meredith, Susanna
Thursday 11/30 — Daniela, Laura, Jake
Tuesday 12/5 — Matt, Holly, Eric
Thursday 12/7 — Chris, Josh, Aaron
The last, final, ultimate version of your paper is due to me by e-mail on Thursday, December 14.
Read these nine Hopkins poems, please: “God’s Grandeur,” “The Windhover,” “Pied Beauty,” “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo,” “Carrion Comfort,” “No worst, there is none,” “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,” “Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,” and “My own heart let me have more pity on.”
And, as usual, and for the last time, please post questions and answers on the usual schedule.
Oops. Sorry for not posting the Swinburne assignment last week. Those of you who have not already posted questions, please do add your comments to this post.
Tony Harrison has kindly sent me an as-yet unpublished essay of his on Christina Rossetti and illness, which you can read for tomorrow’s class if you have time; I’ve e-mailed it to you. Key sentences from the article:
The fear and sublimation of female sexual desire and insistence upon the dangerous, if not fatal, effects of its indulgence emerges often–metaphorically, if not literally–in much of Rossetti’s poetry.
I have here begun to argue that such extreme sexual Puritanism as we find evidenced in Christina Rossetti’s life and work–the insistence on sublimating sexual passion in the hope of experiencing religious ecstasy–might be understood to emerge from her own experience of adolescent desire, which in the inhospitable climate of mid-Victorian England, surfaced in symptoms doubtless diagnosed by her doctors as ‘hysteria.’
Also, here are some interesting comments on Monna Innominata from Tony’s 1988 work Christina Rossetti in Context (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1988):
The thematic structure of the Monna Innominata is at first difficult to discern, and once perceived, it includes a good deal of repetition and variation. However, like her brother’s House of Life, the structure of this sequence echoes that of the Petrarchan sonnet itself. Four discrete thematic units appear within this ‘sonnet of sonnets,’ or macrosonnet. These roughly correspond to the first and second quatrains of the octave within a Petrarchan sonnet and the two triplets of the sestet. (153)
I haven’t included Tony’s summary of these thematic units: can you take a stab at identifying what these units might be?
As a final gesture, she [Rossetti] abjures even the [sonnet]. Her sequence thus serves to expose the corrupt and fraudulent ideology the form itself has come to represent. … Unlike Rossetti’s sequence, [E. B.] Browning’s [Sonnets from the Portuguese] surrenders entirely to tradition. As all readers of her sonnets are aware, Browning’s speaker repeatedly embraces her subordinate role in the relationship with her beloved. (156)
… Rossetti–the poet behind the fictitious “poetess” of the sonnet sequence–represents herself obliquely as a cultural critic whose special concern is with presently corrupt relations, not only between men and women, but also between love and religion, especially as those relations are expressed in a particular artistic tradition. [Paragraph break] Within the projected action of the sonnets themselves, however, any direct cultural criticism is elided. (157)
This is one of my favorite Christina Rossetti poems, but it’s rarely anthologized. It was written in 1862, the year Lizzie Siddal died, so it might be about her; it might also be about Rossetti’s mother. Note the almost militant transfiguration of the “Blessed Damozel” image. Note, too, the unusual rhyme scheme of the sestet and that the volta comes at the twelfth line instead of the ninth.
Ten years ago it seemed impossible
That she could ever grow as calm as this,
With self-remembrance in her warmest kiss
And dim dried eyes like an exhausted well.
Slow-speaking when she has some fact to tell,
Silent with long-unbroken silences,
Centred in self yet not unpleased to please,
Gravely monotonous like a passing bell.
Mindful of drudging daily common things,
Patient at pastime, patient at her work,
Wearied perhaps but strenuous certainly.
Sometimes I fancy we may one day see
Her head shoot forth seven stars from where they lurk
And her eyes lightning and her shoulders wings.
[Added note: Yes — questions and answers appended to this post, please!]
My mother has been hospitalized up in Albany, NY with heart problems that will probably require surgery, so I’m flying up to see her tomorrow and will be gone through Tuesday. We’ll discuss DG Rossetti on Thursday, spilling over into Christina week if necessary.
Also, on Thursday, Nov. 2, we’ll be visited by Tony Harrison, who will lend us his expertise on Christina Rossetti. It wracks me to pick Christina Rossetti poems not to read, but do concentrate on these selections in your anthology: “Goblin Market,” “Birthday,” “An Apple Gathering,” “Song,” all the sonnets in “Monna Innominata,” and “In an Artist’s Studio.”
Sorry to have delayed returning your midterm essays! I’ll bring them to Thursday’s class.
Please read the following works for next week’s discussion of D. G. Rossetti — we’ll be discussing the poetry on Tuesday and the criticism (and poetry) on Thursday:
- “The Blessed Damozel”
- “The Ballad of Dead Ladies”
- The House of Life (all the sonnets selected by your anthology)
- “The Fleshly School of Poetry”
- “The Stealthy School of Criticism”
And, of course, please post questions and answers as usual.
Hope you all had a great time gleaning your brains in the midterm today! Looking forward to reading what you wrote. I’ll return your essays with comments next week. From here on in, plan to keep working on that paper toward a final version for the end of the semester; note that expanded (ungraded) drafts are due in less than six weeks, on November 21, before Thanksgiving. We’ll workshop those on the last four days of class, and you’ll turn in a final version by Thursday, December 14.
When we return next week, we’ll be discussing George Meredith’s long poem “Modern Love.” Go ahead and read the Petrarchan sonnet “Lucifer in Starlight,” too; those are the only Meredith selections in your anthology. Please post questions and answers on Meredith on the usual timetable.
Oh, and here’s that timetable I put together (it’s an Excel spreadsheet).
To sum up today’s class: the midterm essay on October 10 will be strictly an in-class essay; you will write it by hand and turn it in at the end of class, but you may bring and consult as many books and documents as you like. Below are my criteria for both the midterm and the final essay; it is of course true, however, that I will make copious allowances for the midterm essays, and I’ll write more about that below.
What I want to see from your essays:
All scholarly writing tries (essays) to produce new knowledge. In whom? Well, for these assignments, in me. I don’t like the construct of the “implied reader” or the “imagined reader,” at least not for course assignments, where we know exactly who will in fact be reading what we write. Please try to teach me something I didn’t know before you wrote your essay, or please try to convince me of something I might not now believe. I know it’s difficult to judge what I know and believe and what I don’t, but it’s at any rate easier than trying to judge what an invisible, imagined, or implied reader might already know or believe. You can at least make an argument that I did not make in class, or better still an argument that teaches you something new, or best of all one that produces important, relevant knowledge for the previously ignorant world and his wife. Your classmates will also be reading a draft version of your final essay, so please write with the idea of teaching them something that they will find both new and interesting.
I’d like you to make a firm, clear argument, though not one that is simplistic or extreme. Scholars can often do us the favor of giving us clear terms in which to discuss ideas: this relates both to your own scholarly writing and to your use of scholarly sources. In other words, to heighten clarity you can invent your own useful vocabulary and/or you can make use of existing critical vocabulary (e.g, “anxiety of influence,” “dactylic tetrameter,” “mirror stage,” etc.). Definition of abstract terms is key. I like to think that the “answer to a question” model for an argument helps to encourage this clarity. Similarly, making comparisons and distinctions between poets and/or poems helps to clarify the argument you’re making about one poet or poem.
Your argument should rely on good, carefully marshaled evidence: internal textual evidence from the poems themselves (i.e., close reading and formal analysis); historical evidence (either from primary sources or as reported in secondary sources such as editions of letters, biographies, or histories); and/or authoritative judgment (theorists such as Lacan, Foucault, Said, Freud, Butler; period scholars such as Jerome Buckley, Steven Marcus, and so on). All sources should be carefully acknowledged in MLA citation style.
Under this heading I include both a clear, lively, individual writing voice and mechanical considerations such as clean spelling, punctuation, and grammar. I’m all in favor of essays that entertain as well as instruct (as long as they do instruct), and this means that I don’t mind at all if you want to write in the first person, employ metaphor, neologize, alliterate, show a familiarity with pop culture, or engage in any number of other techniques for producing pleasurable prose. At a minimum, essays should be free of mechanical errors and inflated language.
I understand that you haven’t yet had time to glean the knowledge contained in your bibliographies, and that therefore you feel worried about having to make a good argument in the midterm essay (now confined to a single class period on Tuesday, October 10). Still, I think that it’s best to try out an answer to the question you’ve posed in this midterm essay, partly to see if you can make yourself believe it, based on what you’ve read so far. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your argument changes dramatically from the midterm to the final essay after you’ve had more time to think and read.
Even at this early point, with only a few texts under your belt, you can still try to make an original argument and state it clearly, attempting to support it with (probably chiefly internal) evidence from the texts we’ve read so far in the best style you can muster. I will make allowances on all heads when I grade the midterm. You are writing for me, remember, not an implied reader who might expect you to have read more than we have yet read this semester.
I think it’s also probably wise to more or less abandon the “breadth” criterion, the request that you make an argument about Victorian poetry in general, certainly for the midterm at least. I do still want to encourage you to institute comparisons and distinctions, for the purposes of clarity if for no other reason. I don’t think we can really understand a single work unless we have some sense of its larger context, so I want to see some evidence that you have at least a vague impression of that larger context, even if only as represented by one or two other Victorian works, before I’ll believe you about any single work you discuss.
The assignment this week is to ask a one-sentence question, not about Coventry Patmore (who will have to remain unquestioned until class), but about Victorian poetry and/or Victorian love poetry in general. This question should be difficult, although it can still partake of the factual — it should be a question, in short, that you must essay to answer (get it? important etymology, there). Please submit this question as a comment to this post by midnight on Monday.
Here are some sample questions based on what you have been posting and saying that could be answered with an essay:
- Do the theories of Lacan help us to understand Victorian poetry?
- Did the Victorian working classes read poetry?
- How metrically experimental was Victorian poetry?
- Did major Victorian poets understand and use the ‘language of flowers’?
- How much did Victorian poetry subscribe to the idea of social progress, social development?
- Was Victorian love poetry erotic, sentimental, intellectualized, repressed, or all or none of these?
- Where in Victorian poetry can we see the effect of the events and ideologies of the British Empire?
And, for once, you will answer your own question: not with an answer (not yet), but with a bibliography. This bibliography should include, but not be limited to, some of the poems we have read or will read in class. The bibliography can be as long or as short as you like, and can include primary or secondary sources — whatever seems as though it will help you answer your question. The only other criterion is that you must actually be able to read those sources, and you must plan to actually read them (if you haven’t already).
Victorian essays on poetics in our textbook are already in your possession; books and journals owned by our library are easy enough to obtain; and some works are fully available to everyone online through Google Book and Google Scholar. Some other sources that would help you might take a little time to obtain: interlibrary loan through Tripsaver usually takes less than a week, for instance, or you might decide that you really need to take a day and drive up to Duke University, where your NCSU ID will grant you the right to look at eighty-seven Tennyson letters in manuscript. Though, of course, most questions could easily rely on the published Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson right here in our own library.
Please submit your bibliography as a comment to this post by midnight on Wednesday.
Note that this bibliography will serve as a preliminary bibliography for your in-class essay on October 10, and that essay will attempt to answer the question you ask this week. It’s fine if your bibliography changes before October 10, but I will ask you to bring a printed bibliography and the works themselves, or your notes on them, to class on that day. If you want to write your in-class essay using a laptop, that will be fine, and if you want to get started on it before October 10, that will be fine, too. That essay (which can be as long or short as you like) will be due, typed up and printed or e-mailed to me as an attachment, by midnight on Tuesday October 10. Your midterm essay may (or may not) serve as the germ of the long 15- to 20- page essay due by the end of the semester. But more on that next week.
One final point: I am imagining both the midterm and the final essay as making a really very broad, general argument about “Victorian poetry” or “Victorian love poetry” that draws on several of the poets we’ve read this semester for supporting evidence and also makes important distinctions between these poets within that larger argument, but I could be convinced on a case-by-case basis to countenance the writing of an essay that is much more narrowly focused, one that asks and answers a question about a single author or a single poem that we’ve read.