Workshop schedule and drafts

November 21, 2006 at 2:40 pm (General)

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.


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Harrison commentary on C. Rossetti

November 1, 2006 at 4:35 pm (General)

Tony Harrison has kindly sent me an as-yet unpublished essay of his on Christina Rossetti and illness, which you can read for tomorrow’s class if you have time; I’ve e-mailed it to you.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)

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Class canceled tuesday morning

October 20, 2006 at 2:49 pm (General)

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.


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Weekly Assignment #8

October 19, 2006 at 1:48 pm (General)

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”
  • “Jenny”
  • “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.

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Essay criteria

October 5, 2006 at 1:27 pm (General)

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.

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Class canceled Tuesday

September 17, 2006 at 10:21 am (General)

I need to cancel class for Tuesday morning; we’ll need to do our best to grapple with “In Memoriam” in a single session on Thursday.

As a substitute, you might consider reading T. S. Eliot’s essay on “In Memoriam,” first published in his _Essays, Ancient and Modern_ (London: Faber, 1936). This is the essay where Eliot wrote that “In Memoriam,” despite its tone of spiritual crisis, is a very religious poem “not because of the quality of [Tennyson’s] faith, but because of the quality of his doubt.” It’s available in several books in the library, including the original Faber edition.

See you Thursday.

P.S. Please do post questions and answers on the usual schedule. Thanks.

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Tennyson reading poetry

September 14, 2006 at 1:58 pm (General)

You can listen to Tennyson reading from “The Charge of the Light Brigade” at The Poetry Archive. There, you can also listen to another charming dactylic poem by Andrew Motion, “The Dog of the Light Brigade.” The latter is indicative of just how comic Tennyson’s unsubtle metrical tricks sound to modern ears.

I have also managed to figure out the simplest way for you to listen to Tennyson reading from “Maud.” (These historic recordings, as I mentioned, were made circa 1890 by Thomas Edison himself.) The recording is included in an audiobook titled Poetry On Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work (1888-2006) (Shout! Factory, 2006), and there’s an excerpt from “Come Into the Garden, Maud” available on In this excerpt, Tennyson is reading the following lines:

She is coming, my own, my sweet;
Were it ever so airy a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead;
Would start and tremble under her feet,
And blossom in purple and red.

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Weekly Assignment #3

September 11, 2006 at 4:30 pm (General)

Sorry: I forgot to post this week’s assignment! It’s the same as always, of course. If you’ve already posted a question, you don’t need to re-post it here (although that would make things a bit more convenient).

The first part of the weekly assignment is to ask a question about the reading for this week — a real question; i.e., something you don’t know the answer to. ONE sentence only, please: questions of more than one sentence will not receive credit. I might give an extra point for great questions. Questions are due by midnight on Monday. Late questions will not be given credit.

The second part of the weekly assignment is to answer someone’s question (not your own). You must cite at least one authoritative source. (I will withhold credit for answers without a reference. If you make a sui generis argument, find an authority to support it, or else find an authority to testily contradict.) These answers can be as long as you like; I might give an extra point for great answers. Answers are due by midnight on Wednesday. Late answers will not be given credit.

Submit all questions and answers as comments to this post. Feel free to post other commentary in the comments, as well.

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Wrong again . . .

September 5, 2006 at 2:43 pm (General)

By the way, in class the other day I mixed up Sara Teasdale with Fiona MacLeod. Sorry about that.

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