Bats Optional -What is Gothic Literature?

Brent and I have a new audio/podcast project called The FrankenPod.

“A podcast stitched together from the corpses of mystery, noir and gothic literature and cinema”

It’s very early days but we would love for you to give it a listen.

If you have a film or book you love and it fits the criteria we’d love you to contribute.

Listen to the new episode of The FrankenPod HERE

Here is part of the accompanying article for the first episode…

Before our podcast release next week I thought it might be a good idea to have a bit of a chat about Gothic literature and what exactly that entails. I am not assuming that everyone knows or doesn’t know about the gothic genre and this certainly won’t be a deep dive because I am simply not qualified. This is just to define the parameters of the initial genre we will be focusing on with Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

First up we need to acknowledge that the gothic genre is super problematic. There are stories that give a strong voice to people of all shapes, sizes, gender identifications, sexual orientations and nationalities but this progressiveness is a pretty recent development. Gothic literature can be racist, homophobic and is frequently classist and misogynist. Whilst we could dismiss these issues as being products of the time in which they were written I think it is important that we are aware of the problems in the things we love and to acknowledge them. The only way we can move forward is to understand the issues of our past. Frankenstein is classist, misogynistic and racist. It is my favourite novel of all time, but I completely acknowledge it’s flawed.

Let’s get into my barebones overview of Gothic Literature….

 For more go to Bats Optional – What is Gothic Literature?

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The Politics of Sex and Gender in Middlemarch, “The Goblin Market” and “A Castaway”

The Politics of Sex and Gender in Middlemarch, “The Goblin Market” and “A Castaway”
By Morgan Pinder

Discourse regarding gender in Victorian literature has its foundation in an entrenched, and for the most part unchallenged binary. Coming out of the Georgian and Regency eras the societal expectations placed upon a woman were very clearly those of subservience and benignity, whereas the man was able to execute a level of agency that, while limited by class restrictions, was far more liberal than that of their wives, mothers and daughters. Men had control over family wealth and power, whereas everything a woman had at her disposal was within her own person, that is her virtue, morality, intelligence and drive to survive or nurture. It would be all too easy to paint men as the oppressors, as the enemy of women, but the Victorian depiction of the relationship and the power dynamic between the genders is often complex. In this essay I will explore the primary texts Middlemarch (Eliot, 2015), “The Goblin Market” (Rossetti, 2017) and “A Castaway” (Webster, 2017) and how each depicts the complex interplay of gender relations and power.

Christina Rossetti

Central to Rosetti’s depiction of femininity is the idea of sisterhood and the relationships between women, particularly, but not exclusively those who are biologically related (Casey, 64). The sisters, Laura and Lizzie, live a very simple existence but derive strength comfort and warmth from their relationship with each other. As there is no mention of any other people in their home lives they seem to lead an isolated, but happy and safe existence (Rossetti, 184-198). It is only through the strength of their bond, and Lizzie’s sacrifice for her sister that they are able to overcome the goblins and their curse. The action Lizzie takes to save her sister from temptation and ruin makes her a Christ like figure in an era when men were commonly the redeemers. Lizzie as the figure of sisterly redemption echoes the notion of sisterhood that was gaining increasing traction, not only through religion but also through the more secular practice of nursing made prominent in the contemporary public consciousness (Casey, 64).

The projected image of masculinity in “The Goblin Market” is presented as a dichotomy of sorts; there are the goblins who would steal the morality and virtue of the sisters, and their eventual husbands with whom they are happily married in the conclusion (Rossetti, 544). The husbands and the situation of being married do not seem oppressive, or destructive as the Goblins did, providing evidence to suggest that Rossetti is not using the masculine as the enemy of the feminine, but rather that men have the potential to operate via trickery and vice can be deployed to enslave young women and girls (Casey, 67). In the end the weakness of the Goblin men is exposed by the redemptive sisterly love that Lizzie exhibits for her sister.

The potential toxicity of masculine is also explored in Webster’s “A Castaway”. Webster also presents us with two visions of masculinity; the men who have cast aside Eulalie and her clients. She asserts that she “hate[s] men” (Webster, 271) when expressing her need for a female redeemer rather than a male. She has fallen victim to a society that only affords men the privilege of education, adventure, and autonomy. As a result of being punished for not abiding by the rules of her preassigned role she has become resentful of the males whom the system directly benefits. She speaks of her brother who was given all the chances she lacked and from whom she has since become estranged. Unlike her brother she has been offered limited ways by which to ensure her survival, many of which are not guaranteed and force her to relinquish her autonomy (Webster, 264-269), whilst men who are more immoral than her are revered (Webster, 86-103).

Augusta Webster

Eulalie in “A Castaway” problematizes the othering of the fallen woman or prostitute in Victorian society. Unlike the sisterhood of the “Goblin Market”, the wives and other, reputable women stand in judgement of Eulalie treating her as a completely different creature from themselves (Sutphin, 520). She regards their disapproval and condemnation with disdain (Webster, 137-140), and thus this mutual resentment sets up a combative and vicious relationship between women as they scramble to make their way in a world where they are all subservient to men in some way. The othering of Eulalie is particularly difficult as she does not conform to the general image of the prostitute of the time; she is from a good family, she dresses well and does not make a spectacle of herself as other, less privileged and refined women do (Sutphin, 527). She is more like them than the society women and men would like to admit, and if they acknowledged this they would not be able to treat her as they do. The reader however is being forced into acknowledging her problematic status and as a result, Eulalie becomes a sympathetic and confronting figure of Victorian womanhood (Sutphin, 527).

Unlike the men in Eulalie’s story the men of Middlemarch are more nuanced in their good nature and villainy. Many powerful men in the text lose their power through their own machinations. The pious Mr. Casaubon wreaks havoc on his wife Dorethea from beyond the grave, judging her without cause. He not only implies Dorethea has feelings for Will, but his accusation sets in motion the events that he was trying to prevent in the first place (Eliot, 1141-1148). Similarly, Mr. Featherstone’s desire for power over his benefactors leads him to create two wills and then be deprived of the choice of which is executed by the principled Mary Garth who refuses to burn the most recent and vindictive will (Eliot,739-748). In this way the powerless servant girl Mary is suddenly put in a position of tremendous power despite the money and influence of the man who has been, until the final moments of his existence, dominant of her.

Young Fred’s form of weakness on the other hand is one of little thought and obligation. He is silly and frivolous as he has never had to be otherwise as a young man of means. The women around him and those who support him are left to deal with the fallout of his actions. Unlike the pride of Mr. Casaubon and Mr. Featherstone, whose devastation is wreaked when they are deceased, Fred is redeemable and it is through the hardship and forgiveness of Mary and her family that he begins to understand the impact his actions may have (Eliot, 581). The implication of the text seems to be that men of means who are not held accountable can be a destructive force that reverberates throughout their community, whereas a man who is held accountable, whether by others or his own morality and strength of character can be a force for good or at the least benignity. 

George Eliot

Women are ultimately reliant on men for survival in Middlemarch but the form their dependent relationship takes varies. Dorethea, Rosamond and Celia are aware of the need for them to marry well in order to be respectable prosperous women. Their beauty and refinement are emphasized as they are the key assets in ensuring they can maintain their luxurious lifestyle (Waddle 19). However, the “dreadful plain” Mary Garth (Eliot, 240) defies this convention, choosing, of her own volition instead to marry Fred who is not the best match available to her (Waddle 22). Dorethea in her marriage is entirely subservient to Mr. Casaubon and Rosamond is completely infantilized, whereas Mary and Fred have a much more equal dynamic as demonstrated by her ability to admonish him without fear and their mutual respect for one another (Waddle, 21). The only power available to many of the women in Middlemarch is wielded through influencing their husbands. The women, often have limited impact outside the domestic sphere and as a result are often confined to it. It is the men of Middlemarch who are the ones who are held in high esteem for their works and are able to avoid obligation should they choose. The contribution of women is less valued and they are heavily restricted by social constructs and domestic obligation.

These texts highlight the degree to which women are often utterly without independent power in Victorian society. Whether she is a woman of means or poor she is able to escape the limitations faced by her within society. Unlike men she has limited established protections and is often unable to defend herself against injustice. However, she is demonstrated as being in every part the equal of a man within her character and if banded together in sisterhood with other women may overcome men that wish to enslave her. She has the potential to save, condemn, manipulate and do great good on the occasion that she is afforded the opportunity. The downfall of the woman is her lack of power within social structures designed to further the ambitions of men and protect them from their own weakness. The men of these texts are diverse but all share reasonable access to power and autonomy. The entirety of the male gender is not painted as monstrous, rather these texts show examples that prove the male gender to be just as corruptible, redeemable, well-meaning and fallible as the female. 

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References

Casey, Janet Galligani. “The Potential of Sisterhood: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” Victorian Poetry, vol. 29, no. 1, 1991, pp. 63–78. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40002055.

Eliot, G. (2015). Middlemarch. 2nd ed. [ebook] Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/145 [Accessed 1 Sep. 2017].

Rossetti, Christina. “The Goblin Market” Course Reader, 2017, ENGX314 iLearn site.  

Sutphin, Christine. “Human Tigresses, Fractious Angels, and Nursery Saints: Augusta Webster’s ‘A Castaway’ and Victorian Discourses on Prostitution and Women’s Sexuality.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 38, no. 4, 2000, pp. 511–532. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40002498.

Waddle, Keith A. “Mary Garth, The Wollstonecraftian Feminist of ‘Middlemarch.’ “George Eliot – George Henry Lewes Studies, no. 28/29, 1995, pp. 16–29.JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43595509. 

Webster, Augusta. “A Castaway” Course Reader, 2017, ENGX314 iLearn site.

How do women writers in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries use the essay form to interrogate the implications of progress for gender roles? By Morgan Mushroom 

Women in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century began to utilize the persuasive power of the essay in order to put forward their ideas about what values and rights women should have. Whilst many women were beginning to write and philosophize outside of the domestic sphere, the persuasive writing of women gained an audience when utilizing topics relating to domesticity as a springboard for discussing broader subjects relating to gender and morality. This often means that discourse surrounding the role of women in society was approached as it relates to the notion of the ideal woman. This essay will attempt to analyze “The Milliners” (Jameson, 1843) and “The Girl of the Period” (Linton, 1862) as these essays were written by women of the nineteenth century and allow their authors to advocate for a particular role and ideal woman of their time. To a lesser extent this essay with also examine the impact of a particularly notable excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft’s introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft, 1792) that also interacts with notions of fashion and what that means for evolving gender roles.
As the perennial face of women’s rights in the eighteenth century, Wollstonecraft advocated for the education and emancipation of women citing their enlightenment as key to their value and progress within society. In her introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman she pointedly condemns the female obsession with silliness and fashion, an obsession which leads them to neglect the more noble pursuits that are considered inappropriate for their gender (Wollstonecraft, 18). Wollstonecraft’s disruption of these gender roles that keep women uneducated and subservient comes at the end of the eighteenth century setting a radical precedent for the criticism of the ideal woman that is inextricably linked to the value she places on fashion and the domestic.

Anna Brownell Jameson 

Increased literacy amongst both men and women of all classes and the cheap manufacturing of texts during this period (Wilson, 58) meant that the reading audience grew dramatically and diversified. This new diverse audience left room for more diverse writing perspectives, leaving the door open to female authors particularly in the publication of periodicals (Wilson, 59). This new space for female authorship gave those who had limited scope for the proliferation of ideas a platform by which to advocate for their viewpoint in essay form. A common preoccupation of the persuasive essay as written by a woman of the 1800s is the criticism of the impact of progress on women and the role of the woman within society. Linton and Jameson both address perceived crises facing young women and girls of their time but in vastly different ways. Whilst Jameson addresses the plight of exploited factory girls, Linton bemoans the loss of the domesticated, homebound, British girl. Both texts also condemn the contemporary obsession with fashionable excess and what the female preoccupation with fashion means for the morality of society as a whole.
Jameson’s essay, “The Milliners”, paints a picture of the modern working-class girl being all but drowned by the wave of progress as her youth, gender and lower social standing leave her vulnerable to exploitation in the manufacturing of luxury garments and fashionable accessories. Jameson compares the experience of the fashionable society ladies who wear the garments and the malnourished, exhausted and sickly girls who produce them, pointing out that they are “fantastically and horribly coupled” (Jameson, 1). This clear condemnation of excess at the cost of another is not only condemning the society that lets these factory girls be treated so poorly, but it is also calling upon society women to forgo some of their excesses in order to advocate for better working conditions. Jameson also posits an alternative to the oppressive millinery workhouses, highlighting more ethical conduct of a particular manufacturer. The female manager, in this case, has shown not only a capacity for creative and competitive business strategy but morality to treat her workers with a degree of respect not afforded to girls in other factories. Jameson is putting forward the ideal of rights for female workers as well as more socially conscious women of means. In doing this she is carving out a role for women in society as both a valued worker and a socially responsible critical thinker. In this way, some of Jameson’s discourse in her essay is a slightly altered echo of Wollstonecraft in the way that she views fashion as being an obstacle to women achieving freedom, knowledge or morality.

Eliza Lynn Linton

Linton, in sharp contrast to Wollstonecraft in particular, refers to fashion as being, not the obstacle to enlightenment and emancipation, but a symptom of greed and selfishness that draws women away from the traditional domestic sphere. Linton is very clear about her expectations of gender roles, looking to the normative family dynamics of the past in which the wife is subservient and only exists to nurture both her husband and children (Linton, 3-4). She insists that a fashionable or independent woman lacks maternal instinct only offering her children a “stepmother’s coldness” (Linton, 3). The essay argues that the modern is woman useless in the domestic sphere meaning that she is not fulfilling her gender role within society to the detriment of both men and women. The fear of the woman in her role as an empowered individual rather than as a demure and subservient homebody drives much of both the criticism of fashion and the cultural isolationist viewpoint in “The Girl of The Period”. The condemnation of fashionable dress and less conventionally privileged British modes of dress (Linton, 3) provides an opening to heated and impassioned discourse regarding the decaying morality of “the girl of the period” (Linton, 1).
Whilst Linton’s arguments for the regression of women’s role within nineteenth century to a state of domestication and servitude are anti-feminist and actively condemn the emancipation of her gender (Fix Anderson, 134) she employs similar condemnation of the frivolous excesses of the fashion of the time as Jameson’s uses in her opening and closing arguments. Jameson is chiefly concerned with ending the terrible conditions of working-class women, however, Linton’s concerns borne of preserving traditional gender roles that are gradually becoming obsolete as women move gradually outside the domestic sphere. In this way, the luxurious indulgences of privileged women are highlighted by both writers as socially irresponsible and contrary to the best interests of their gender and its role in an increasingly industrialized and modern society.
Many movements that sought to redefine the role of women in a world that was changing rapidly due to the explosion of industry were intrinsically tied to an ideal form of dress. As Linton calls for more conservative dress and Jameson calls for more socially responsible, less excessive means of dressing, so too did other female writers of the time push forward their agenda by using the fashion and dress of women. Elizabeth Smith Miller, a proponent of the dress reform movement pushed forth the idea that more practical dress was a means of empowering women and allowing them to abandon the restrictive clothing, such as corsets and long sweeping gowns that caused extensive health problems and limited the activity of the women wearing them (Kesselman, 495). As a means of opening a dialogue about the role of women in society the critique of women’s fashion not only opens the door to discourse regarding the moral values exhibited by the chosen dress of women but also serves as a means to advocate for the rights of women and a changing role for women in a progressive society. Linton, Wollstonecraft and Jameson use the form of the persuasive essay to push forth their reasons for less ornate and fashion dependent modes of dress, but their criticism of this style of dress is used as a vehicle to push back against the role that a changing society has pushed women into.
In the face of the changing social and industrial landscape of the eighteenth and nineteenth century were being called upon to fill traditional domestic roles whilst the practicalities of their modern lives require a flexibility of gender roles. Women’s role as subservient and homebound is being questioned by many writers, whilst others push back against the new freedoms being afforded the modern woman. Despite the differing agendas of the female writers examined (Wollstonecraft, Jameson and Linton) they all utilize, to varying degrees, a critique of what is proclaimed to be the female obsession with appearance and attire. As an aspect of women’s essay writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth century the preoccupation with fashion and its implications for the rights and morality of women should not be underestimated as it is often a powerful mode of discourse employed by a diverse range of prominent writers, to great persuasive effect.

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References
• Anderson, Nancy Fix. “Eliza Lynn Linton, Dickens, and the Woman Question.” Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 22, no. 4, 1989, pp. 134–141. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20082411.
• Jameson, Anna. “The Milliners” The Athenauem (1843) in Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. Ed. Susan Hamilton. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. Print.
• Kesselman, Amy. “The ‘Freedom Suit’: Feminism and Dress Reform in the United States, 1848-1875.” Gender and Society, vol. 5, no. 4, 1991, pp. 495–510. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/190097.
• Linton, Eliza Lynn. “The Girl of the Period.” Saturday Review 14 March 1868. Rpt. in Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. Ed. Susan Hamilton. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. Print.
• Wilson, Cheryl A. “Placing the Margins: Literary Reviews, Pedagogical Practices, and the Canon of Victorian Women’s Writing.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 28, no. 1, 2009, pp. 57–74. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40783474.
• Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. [Auckland, N.Z.]: Floating Press, 2010. Print.

​The Language of Resistance

Power, Language and Protective Confinement in The Handmaid’s Tale and selected poems of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton
Virginia Woolf argues that “in a hundred years…women will have ceased to be the 

protected sex”, suggesting that women would have power in their own right by the twenty-

first century. How do three texts we’ve studied in this unit represent women’s power, or lack of it?

When Virginia Woolf referred to Women as the “protected sex” (Woolf, 2014) she alluded to a future reality that holds the potential for both the empowerment and the victimization of women when they lose their protected and shelter status, but she also paints a picture of the stranglehold this protection has on the liberty of women still under the rule of protective restrictions. “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Atwood, 2017) defies Woolf’s vision of the future by taking the protected status of women to an extreme state, depriving women of knowledge, language and self determination under the guise of protection of both the “handmaids” themselves and the future sustainability of a semi-fertile society. The protected and confined status of the women at risk is also demonstrated in the poem “Tulip” by Sylvia Plath (2015) in which she is entombed within the sterile walls of a hospital, and “Self in 1958” and “Honour and Obey” by Anne Sexton (2015) in which she depicts the domestic sphere as the place of imprisonment. An adjacent  theme to protection as a form of forced confinement is the lack of access to language, and the restriction of access as a mode of control as highlighted in the works of Atwood, Sexton and Plath previously referenced but also explored in the harsh light of historical atrocity in Plath’s poem “Daddy”(2015). 

When tracing the thread of power through the works of these three authors it is necessary to acknowledge the unique relationships each text has with the notion of power and by extension the notion of freedom and self determination. All of the discussed texts show the narrator deprived of their freedom or autonomy in some way or another. Starting with perhaps the most obvious; The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood, 2017) shows very real and overt methods of control exercised over Offred, the narrator, who is entirely restricted and watched in her life as one of the fertile handmaidens. She is protected to the extent that not only does she not have the power of self governance but the government of Gilead has effectively deprived her of selfhood and identity as demonstrated by her removal of her real name and her new label, which will serve as a name while she is in the commander’s household;

My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. 

-Atwood, 94

The totalitarianism of the government of Gilead and the dystopian nightmare that Atwood has created, in which women are so inherently focused on survival that it might “preclude resistance”, has the opposite effect meaning that the mere act of resistance makes the practicalities of survival bearable (Hansot, 56). The link between power and resistance in The Handmaid’s Tale is undeniable, with Offred acknowledging that oppression necessitates rebellion, “I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.” (Atwood, 115). Offred’s helplessness in the face of the patriarchal regime, and the reality that meaningful lasting resistance necessitates the help of sympathetic men, is a result of the dystopian environment in which women have become lower class, moving the progress of feminism back to a pre-second wave state, where women are no longer able to focus on micro or macro level oppression, but are simply preoccupied with getting through the next day (Harnois, 135). There is hope for the plight of the handmaid’s as implied by the “historical notes” section of the novel, a time when being treated as a walking womb to be discarded when no longer useful is again an absurd notion, indicating that perhaps patriarchal tyranny is unsustainable and doomed to failure (Ketterer, 212).

By contrast the threat to Sexton’s selfhood is more difficult to pinpoint, but it has the same sense of the woman as just the sum of her biological and domestic functions. She is forcefully confined to the domestic and deprived of any power, including the power of language, in order to voice her resistance. In “Self in 1958” (Sexton, 2000)  the narrator is so subject to the will and power of others that she is an inanimate doll (Sexton, 2). In her allusions to women’s role as the protected, fragile, infantilized automaton of the 1950’s Sexton pre-empts second wave feminism views of macro oppression at play in everyday society (Waters, 383). The narrator describes herself as “walled in” (Sexton, 23), imprisoned by the artificial expectations and demands of domestic oppression, constructed by Sexton with the use of appliances (Sexton,22), advertisements (Sexton, 10), nylon stockings (Sexton, 9) and most importantly the entirely idealistic doll house (Sexton, 11). She is kept isolated in this artificial space for fear that her actions, if left to her own devices might run contrary to the societal ideal of the 1950’s housewife (Waters 383). This confinement to, and imprisonment in, the doll house or domestic sphere as a theme is also key to Sexton’s “Honor and Obey” (Sexton, 2000).

The confinement of the narrator in “Honor and Obey” by her role as a wife is highlighted by the urgency with which she flees from the stranglehold of matrimony. The power the husband has over the narrator is likened to the servitude of a farm horse with terms such as “bind” (Sexton, 1), “fettered” (Sexton, 2) and “harness and yoke” (Sexton, 12) peppered throughout her description of the conditions of her marriage at the beginning and conclusion of the poem. In this poem her treatment as a work horse deprives her of all autonomy and it is her escape from servitude that provides her with the ability to regain selfhood and humanity, tying into Atwood’s symbiotic relationship between resistance and power.  Without the initial oppression of her situation she would not experience the frantic escape and subsequent blissful anonymity (Sexton, 10). There are also references to confinement, imprisonment and institutionalization with the use of “the lunatic, screaming in her cell” (Sexton, 12). Sexton’s uses her newly liberated prisoner to challenge the boundaries of what is palatable in the conventional social circles of her time, in a society still struggling to come to terms with the idea of women’s empowerment in a post war environment (Gill, 425).

In “Tulips” by Plath (2015) the narrator is also confined and powerless, but instead of being powerless to a husband figure Plath’s narrator is powerless when confronted with the faceless medical institution in which she is confined. The only semblance of humanity being the nurses who “pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps” (Plath, 12), they are there to observe, not engage. She is prevented from experiencing external stimuli as she is forced to learn “peacefulness” (Plath, 3). It’s not an unwelcome seclusion, in fact Plath refers to it’s soothing qualities, but she finds her sense of self slipping (Plath, 22) lost in the protection and powerlessness of her role as patient in the institution. Willingly giving up her identity and freeing herself of the inevitable accountability that comes with the power of self determination she is no longer a mother or a wife (Plath, 20) but a passive faceless patient (Plath, 48). Unlike the narrators of the other texts she finds peace in becoming a mere “pebble” being smoothed an manipulated (Plath, 15) by the institution as it tries to guard her from further harm. Plath’s narrator is confined and protected from her own mental illness, she lies vulnerable and exposed (Waters, 386), reminiscent of Offred’s situation in the conception ceremony of The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood, 104-106) reminding the reader of the role of female sexual vulnerability in the masculine and institutional assertion of power (Harnois, 136-137).

In “Daddy” (Plath, 2015), however, Plath has an individual being to resist against, albeit one who has long since past. The spectre of the narrator’s father is tied to the Third Reich lending it an air of power, totalitarianism and brutality. There is no passive powerlessness in “Daddy” rather a reclamation of lost power and selfhood. She talks of his death depriving her the power of realising his fallibility and culpability (Plath, 7). She is deprived of communication with him, deprived of the use of his language (Plath, 26-30) with which to assert to him her identity and empowerment from his legacy. Her father’s power over her is based in fear and a lack of linguistic understanding (Plath, 24), with his German nationality not just creating a language barrier but also carrying with it the fear associated with fascism, including intimidating uniforms in the form of the “boot in the face” (Plath, 49), symbology in the form of the swastika (Plath, 46) and atrocities (Plath, 16-20). Whilst it fear and language hold the key to her father’s power over her,  it is her anger and language that is the key to her resistance. The language she uses to reclaim her autonomy includes ascribing a series of negative labels to really drive the point home that she is rejecting the hold that her father has over her; “fascist” (Plath, 48),”brute”(Plath, 49- 50), “bastard: (Plath, 80),  “devil” (Plath, 54) and paints to him as vampiric with her allusions to a vampire “who said he was you” (Plath, 72-73) and the “stake in your fat black heart” (Plath, 76). She associates herself with what he hates (Plath, 31-35) allying herself with the victims of his war crimes, she rejoices with the villagers (Plath, 77-79) at her father’s loss of power over them. She positions herself as the murderer rather than her previous status as victim (Gerbig & Müller-Wood, 84) overcoming his domineering legacy and rejecting her role as the inadequate and adoring daughter of a war criminal and establishing her individualism and self determination (Strangeways & Plath, 373).

The power of language features heavily in the works of these three authors and whether it is through the spoken or the written word suppression of language leads to the loss of autonomy, and a devastating power imbalance. The governing body of Gilead use the power of language to further define and separate class, with those confined to the lower classes, such as the handmaids, completely isolated from the written word. Offred and the other handmaids regain some of their lost power with secret usage of the spoken word; “There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power” (Atwood, 222), echoing “Daddy” (Plath 48-54) in their use of insults to resist the restrictions and controls imposed upon them. Offred’s retelling of her own story in itself is an act of defiance observing that “If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending…” (Atwood, 49). She has the ability to tell the truth or lie as she sees fit and the Republic of Gilead has no control or censorship over her words. She is muted like the “plaster doll” (Sexton, 1) of “Self in 1958”, unable to resist verbally, textually or physically. 

Power is depicted in the texts as wielded ruthlessly by the German father in “Daddy”, the religious oligarchy of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale and the husband in “Honor and Obey”, however they are overthrown from their brutal reign over their victims, with resistance playing a key role in the power dynamics at play within the texts. Under the guise of protection Offred (Atwood, 2017), “Self in 1958” and the narrator of “Tulips” are confined and kept from exercising their autonomy for fear that their action will run contrary to the societal narrative.  In order to further restrict women in “Daddy”, “Self in 1958” and The Handmaid’s Tale the lack of access to language is key to the oppression of victims. However, language, in it’s role as a tool of resistance, allows the narrators in “Daddy” and The Handmaid’s Tale to shed their victimhood in some way. The power to withhold language and text and the isolation of confinement conspire to further subjugate victims of patriarchal control. Granting these narrators the means to access language and freedom leads to a disruption of the power structure in place and is key to feminine resistance.

References

Change

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Random House UK, 2017. Print.

Gerbig, Andrea, and Anja Müller-Wood. “Trapped in Language: Aspects of Ambiguity and Intertextuality in Selected Poetry and Prose by Sylvia Plath.” Style, vol. 36, no. 1, 2002, pp. 76–92. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.36.1.76.

Gill, Jo. “Anne Sexton and Confessional Poetics.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 55, no. 220, 2004, pp. 425–445. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3661307.

Hansot, Elisabeth. “Selves, Survival, and Resistance in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Utopian Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 1994, pp. 56–69. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20719313.

Harnois, Catherine. “Re-Presenting Feminisms: Past, Present, and Future.” NWSA Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008, pp. 120–145. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40071255.

Ketterer, David. “Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: A Contextual Dystopia (‘La Servante Écarlate’ De Margaret Atwood: Une Dystopie Contextuelle).” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 1989, pp. 209–217. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4239936.

Plath, Sylvia. Collected Poems. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Faber & Faber, 2015. Print.

Sexton, Anne, Diane Wood Middlebrook, and Diana Hume George. Selected Poems Of Anne Sexton. 1st ed. Boston: Mariner Books, 2000. Print.

Strangeways, Al, and Sylvia Plath. “‘The Boot in the Face’: The Problem of the Holocaust in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 37, no. 3, 1996, pp. 370–390., http://www.jstor.org/stable/1208714.

Waters, Melanie. “Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry.” The Cambridge Companion to American Poets. Ed. Mark Richardson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015. 366-78. Print. Cambridge Companions to Literature.

Woolf, V. (2014). A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. 1st ed. London: Harper Collins UK, pp.10-99.

A Drenched Rat Walks into a Library…

I know it’s early on a Friday but I think this may be the highlight of my day. It’s rainy, I’m soggy and I walk into the dry, warm comfort of the library to find a guy giving a poetry talk, he’s comparing Henry Lawson’s Australia bush to edgy urban landscapes. He has completely captivated the kids from the nearby highschool who’ve come to listen. 

He puts down the microphone to read one of his own poem and in a loud voice proclaims:

“Go back to where you came from you dirty terrorist…”

A man walking past jumps away in alarm

“That’s what he said to me*…” 

Those half listening visibly relax. 

It’s a powerful poem about not getting pushed into victimhood by bigotry. 

I saw the poster about this earlier in the week but completely forgot about it.  His name s Zohab Khan and he’s going to be part of Write Around the Murray this year. Definitely worth checking out.

I wish I had of caught the whole thing.

*Might be a slight misquote

​How do Sarah Scott and Mary Wollstonecraft represent marriage in Millenium Hall and Maria, and how might this representation relate to their broader political concerns?

Millenium Hall (Wollstonecraft, 2011) and Maria (Scott, 1767) are texts that show marriage as the ultimate or inevitable goal of the conventional lives of women at this time. The female character either “Marries happily or dies tragically” (Rabb, 8) in the typically accepted narratives of the 1700s, and both Scott and Wollstonecraft critique this narrow view of womanhood through their very different explorations of the feminine experience. Whilst Wollstonecraft lays bare the injustices made possible by marriage, Scott envisions a place free of marriage and masculine control.
Maria is forced in to increasingly constrained circumstances by the cruelty of her husband, who was able to deceive Maria and those around her due to the legal and social constructs of marriage. Wollstonecraft’s bleak and inhumane depiction of the ills that could befall a woman who enters into marriage is not only a critique of the institution of marriage itself but also serves as a wider condemnation of the servitude in which women were forced into, granted to varying degrees based on class, due to the inherent patriarchal hegemony built almost inextricably into every aspect of a women’s life (Mackenzie, 36). Wollstonecraft is vocal in both Maria and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft, 2010) about the importance of education in the process of liberation and empowerment, positing that women are doomed to uneducated servitude through a lack of access to academic opportunities and condemnation of those women who pursue them.  

The withholding of education and money from women, with men as the initial gatekeepers to these means of independence in both texts, serves as a method of control, effectively indenturing women to men. Maria in particular paints a picture of men being the trustees of these means, not by virtue of their superior judgement but by virtue of their gender alone with Maria’s husband squandering their money and making other poor choices, whilst all she can do is watch helplessly a solicit assistance from her uncle.

Men as the arbitrary fiscal gatekeepers is also explored in Millenium Hall, in which the women are more that capable of managing their own affairs but a masculine benefactor is still the catalyst for Scott’s feminist utopia. The lack of autonomy afforded the women outside the bounds of Millenium Hall is demonstrated through the lens of marriage, for example Sarah’s potential marriage is viewed in purely financial terms by her father (Scott, 21) and is frequently represented as a transaction with the woman used as a bargaining chip between a male relative and a potential suitor. Marriage is also presented as an obstacle to education and enlightenment with those who are married distracted by domestic concerns, whilst those who are not are free to develop their own minds. 

Scott and Wollstonecraft both point to the indentured servitude of the wife as an obstacle to the financial, legal and intellectual freedom of women. Marriage in these texts is indicative of the greater imbalances in power at work in society. The state of gender politics within this domestic setting lays bare the way that women at this time were utterly dependent, willingly or unwillingly, on men both in their immediate family sphere and in society at large.

References

MacKenzie, Catriona. “Reason and Sensibility: The Ideal of Women’s Self-Governance in the Writings of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Hypatia, vol. 8, no. 4, 1993, pp. 35–55., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3810368.

Rabb, Melinda Alliker. “Making and Rethinking the Canon: General Introduction and the Case of ‘Millenium Hall.’” Modern Language Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1988, pp. 3–16., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3194697.

Scott, Sarah. A Description Of Millenium Hall … By A Gentleman On His Travels [Or Rather By Sarah Scott]. The Third Edition. 1st ed., J. Newbery, London, 1767. 

Wollstonecraft, Mary. Maria, Or The Wrongs Of Woman. 1st ed., Hamburg, Tredition, Project Gutenburg, 2011.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. 1st ed., [Auckland, N.Z.], Floating Press, 2010,.

The Renaissance Religious Experience in Poetry

Examine portrayals of religious experience by three authors whose work you have studied in this unit: what do you see as their main similarities?
The religious poetry of Renaissance England is at once both ferocious in its devotion and deeply conflicted. As a time of tremendous religious turmoil, the Renaissance period saw a great number of poets garner inspiration from spiritual and religious sources. The constant struggle between Anglican and Catholic faiths meant that faith was both a source of identity and conflict, making it a perfect subject for emotive poetry. In order to tie together common religious ideas in the poetry of this era this essay will examine the works of George Herbert as a potentially Protestant poet, John Donne as a formerly Catholic poet who became a Protestant convert, and Richard Crashaw who converted to Catholicism in adulthood. This diversity of religious perspectives, at least across the Catholic-Protestant spectrum, will both challenge and confirm religious motifs that cross dogmatic religious and political lines. In problematizing a Catholic-Protestant poetry dichotomy the aim is then to present a view of personal Christian devotional poetry in Renaissance England as represented by the works of the three select poets who, while writing nonsynchronous to each other, have both distinctive differences and similarities in the way they portray the religious experience.

The earliest of the three poets, and perhaps the most conflicted and vocal in his exploration of Christian faith is John Donne, whose mix of Catholic upbringing and Protestant conversion, in conjunction with his move from sensuous love poetry to holy  sonnet, makes his poetry riddled with contradiction and filled with strikingly passionate exclamations. Donne’s style and experience as a poet prior to The Holy Sonnets  (Donne, p.331-340) was lustful love poems that delved deep into the indulgence of sexual appetites or the desire for another. That lustful desire is transformed into devotional poetry, meaning that Donne’s poetry draws a parallel between human desire and religious devotion. The intensity of religious fervour is as powerful as the jealous love expressed in The Apparition (Donne, p.47-48). In Holy Sonnet 14 (Donne, p.328) Donne expresses his desire to be violently overwhelmed by the presence of God, in a manner that is almost sexual, beseeching his God to take him by force. He uses marriage as a motif to express his ties to evil; “But am betroth’d unto your enemie: Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe,” (Donne, p.328, Holy Sonnet 14, line 10-11). The interchangeability of lust and devotion in Donne’s poetry makes the divine into the other in his Holy Sonnets but unlike in his love poetry the other in these sonnets is immovable and impervious, with the Donne narrator unable to exert control. 

Donne also emphasizes the need for a manifestation of God to the devoted in Holy Sonnet 14 (Donne, p.328) with violent verbs such as “breake”, “blowe”, “force” and “burn” (Donne, p.328, Holy Sonnet 14, line 4) in his requests for divine intervention. Donne’s God is one who could deploy such violence with ease but may remain steadfast and illusive. This violence and passion of devotion is characteristic of all three poets examined in this essay. Despite his Catholic roots, post conversion Donne comes to perceive the Roman catholic church and its constructs as heretical and corrupt (Donne, p.442) as they deal in earthly concerns and the worship of the Virgin Mary (Marotti, p.359) Donne’s Protestant ideology is one of direct access to God, but only as god permits. There are no intermediaries, rather he is at the direct mercy of God in the struggle to achieve true devotion, a struggle which is ultimately in vain unless his God deems him worthy;

Oh I shall soone despaire, when I doe see

That thou lov’st mankind well, yet wilt’not chuse me,

And Satan hates mee, yet is loth to lose mee.

Donne, p.322, Holy Sonnet 2, lines 12-14

In Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10  he explores how the eternal life that continues after death is free of the woes of the mortal realm, so that death is at once rendered impotent and a gateway to salvation. He rejoices in the ineffectiveness of death in the face of everlasting life by addressing piteously the Anthropomorphic spectre of death “Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.” (Donne, p.326, Holy Sonnet 10, line 4)

George Herbert presents a more genial version of God. He is still creator and sits in judgement of man, but he is there to pick select a chosen few out from their humble beginnings, and through his divinity console and rescue humans from their own impious natures and the pain of everyday mortal existence. Herbert, following Donne’s lead, writes as a metaphysical poet about the abstract religious experience, whilst also anthropomorphising concepts such as Death and Love.

As a Protestant poet Herbert rejoices in the knowledge of the word of God and sees God as the only window to true beauty; without faith in God as a lens the world appears dark and joyless. The mortal realm hold very little but pain for Herbert with true hope lying in the idea of life everlasting. His preoccupation with life after death is similar to that of Donne with death presenting no threat after the poet discovers life after death through god. His fear of death has been so extinguished by faith that he proclaims “[Death] art grown fair and full of grace,” (Herbert, p.180, Death, line 15) as death now affords him passage into the afterlife. It is through his exultations and exclamations of the peace that comes through reframing the world in the context of his faith that he paints secularism as a poor imitation of the divine.

Herbert is diplomatic and vague in his deployment of identifiable ideological indicators is an example how religious ideologies in Renaissance England need to be understood along a spectrum. Herbert despite the puritan rejection of the excesses of the Catholic church shows his perceived need for sacrament even in protestant faith. Even the Eucharistic sacraments can be incorporated provided all perceived catholic superstition can be removed and those who receive the sacrament are not necessarily blessed by virtue of the sacrament (Whalen, p.1276).

Herbert also expresses the common Christian motif of mankind as inherently sinful and only redeemed through acceptance of God. Herbert sees people as corrupted and of an earth that is not divine but full of pain and suffering. He shows the struggle against human nature in order to embrace the love of God in this passage from Love III :

 “Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back 

Guilty of dust and sin.” (Herbert, p.183, Love III lines 1-2)

The “Love” of Herbert’s  Love III is Anthropomorphic divine love that has a tangible presence and agency: “Love took my hand, and smiling did reply”(Herbert, p.183, Love III, line 11). This anthropomorphising of love suggests a being that is possible to interact with and engage with. This is in line with Herbert granting personhood to death (Herbert, p.180, Death) and suggests an attempt to translate the metaphysical into easily understood physical, human terms. Herbert’s depiction of sin and redemption as an inescapable cycle that can only end in death or ultimately the day of judgement is inline with Donne’s view of the fallibility of mankind and redemptive power of god. Herbert’s expression of the  eventual endpoint of the cycle as the final relief and salvation of mankind is clear;

As at Doomsday; 

When souls shall wear their new array, 

And all thy bones with beauty shall be clad.

Herbert, p.180, Death, lines 18-20

Following the lead of Herbert and Donne into metaphysical devotional poetry, Richard Crashaw deals primarily with the personal religious experience but unlike Herbert and Donne, he takes his imagery from Catholic source material, such as saints and angels. The saint is the intermediary between man and his creator, so as a means of access  to God, Saint Teresa is both praised by Crashaw for her piety and purity but is also praised for her relationship with God. From the outset Saint Teresa is associated with the “seraphim” (Crashaw, p.152 The Flaming Heart, line 5), the Seraphim who have a direct line to god and further intermediaries between man and God.

Crashaw raises his objections to the soft femininity of the artists portrayal of the saint as she is strong and has a powerful agency as an intermediary of god. He objects to the inaccuracy of the portrait on the basis that words, not images can depict religious truth (Mebust, p.84)  but that they often fall short and are just a poor imitation of the divine. His critique of symbology and icons is less in line with Catholicism than the protestant aversion to what they considered idolatry. This has lead to a critique of Crashaw’s work as conforming to Protestant ideologies and beliefs (Teller, p.239) but the poet clearly views Saint Teresa as not just an example of devotion but also as a potent intermediary with agency to be a conduit to God. He gives her divine flame and power that does not conform to the puritanism associated with Protestant beliefs and though he condemns and parodies the sensationalist imagery of the Catholic portrait he revels in his own revision of the image.

Virgin mother and the female saint as a key component of spirituality is not something which is as heavily explored within Anglican devotional poetry as it is in Catholic poetry. This can be attributed to the construction of the divine hierarchy in the respective religions, where Catholicism places special emphasis on the Virgin Mary. Crashaw’s preoccupation, with the feminine and maternal in the divine is evident in The Flaming Heart (Crashaw, p.152) in which he examines and praises a religious portrait of Saint Teresa in lyrical and passionate terms. She is depicted as virginal, and it is from this virginal purity and her association with the seraphim, as an order of angels closely allied with fire, that she draws her fiery power. Feminine divinity in the form of Saint Teresa is represented by both a furious and loving fire. She is described as bringing forth “happy fire-works” and “mistresse flame” (Crashaw, p .153, The Flaming Heart, lines 17-18) The purity of the burning love between man, the saint, Christ and God. The imagery of the holy wound and the burning flame adds an intensity to the devotion that the poet feels for the Catholic God.

Crashaw draws out the inventive and purifying energy of god leading to the refinement and purification of humanities creative endeavours when he beseeches that divine forces “Resume and rectify thy rude design” (Crashaw, p.153, The Flaming Heart, line 39). He shows that man is weak and strengthened through devotion to, and by, the grace of god. Crashaw’s humanity is born as  “dark Sons of Dust and Sorrow” (Crashaw, p.39,The Name Above Every Name, The Name of Iesvs, line 96) and can only achieve true peace and salvation in life after death “Let this immortal life, where’er it comes,” (Crashaw, The Flaming Heart, p.153, lines 81)

Herbert, Crashaw and Donne agree in key Christian ideals such as man as inherently corrupt and whether by pre-determinism or redemptive action salvation can only be achieved through the judgement of God. Whilst the means to this salvation differ the role of God as the deciding factor is clear and absolute. There is also an agreement that it is through faith in God that a person can see and appreciate true beauty. The emphasis on the afterlife is also a common thread, with life after death being the focal point of all faithful and devotional actions. The striking use of violent language to convey the strength and potency of religious fervour is recurrent throughout many of the texts with Donne using impact verbs to describe his desire for spiritual awakening, Crashaw using fiery imagery to posit an alternate portrait of Saint Teresa and Herbert beckons “Doomsday” (p.180, line 9) when those not chosen will meet their reckoning. 

The unworthiness of mankind is noted with Herbert (p.183, line 2) and Crashaw (p.39, line 96) both referring to humanity as made of dust and unworthy, and Herbert and Donne noting the base human impulse to turn away from God. The base and earthly state of humanity and the divine is problematic for these metaphysical poets as the try to grapple with the abstract and intangible, leading to the anthropomorphising of “Love” and “Death” as in Herbert and Donne’s works and the embodiment of certain aspirational qualities in a human form as with Crashaw’s Saint Teresa. This humanising of the abstract allows the poet to interact with the divine and to exert some level of agency over their own salvation.

All poets fluidly move between Catholic and Protestant ideologies and even Donne in his strong condemnation of aspects of the Catholic church and faith does incorporate Catholic ideology in his works and bemoans a lack of unity (Marotti, p.361). Herbert is ambiguous in ideological allusions in his poems, favouring more generic explorations of the Christian religious experience and Crashaw, whilst evoking Catholic imagery also dismisses their ability to capture the divine as effectively as the written word, a decidedly Protestant viewpoint. This movement between ideologies ties these poets together and breaks down any possible dichotomy that can be drawn between Catholic and Protestant devotional poetry of this era.

In understanding the fluidity of ideologies in these texts it is important to understand the difference between the impact of sanctioned faith as opposed personal opinion (Gates, p.1) which by its very nature may transgress factional lines of Christianity. The deeply personal, first hand accounts of the religious experience detailed in the poems are the very reason that their religious conformity can only be understood on a continuum. It is personal not factional devotion that is at the core of these poems, for each poet has a unique take on spirituality and their place within it that is informed by both Protestant and Catholic factions.

While the ideological labels of Protestant and Catholic are potent and useful to determine the reasoning and origins of the methods and imagery used to depict and understand the religious experience of these poets, it is not a final, hard, fast or all encompassing definition. Understanding Catholic and Protestant devotional poetry as a dichotomy is deeply problematic as all of the writers of the poetic texts examined transgress or conceal their professed faith in one manner or another. Not only to we find transgressions but common threads throughout the religious experiences they depict , creating a collective portrait of the religiously devoted poet as being enamoured, joyous and conflicted, struggling, from humble earthbound beginnings, to achieve true spiritual alignment with God.

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References

Crashaw, Richard. The Complete Works of Richard Crashaw, Volume I (of 2). 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2015. Www.projectgutenberg.org, Web. 18th Nov. 2016.

Donne, John. The Poems Of John Donne [2 Vols.] Volume I & Volume II. 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2015. Www.projectgutenberg.org, Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

Gates, Daniel. “Faith and Faction: Religious Heterodoxy in Renaissance England.” Religion &Amp; Literature, vol. 32, no. 2, 2000, pp. 1–10. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40059863.

Herbert, George. The temple. Sacred poems, and private ejaculations. By Mr. George Herbert, Late Orator of the University of Cambridge. Together with his life. The twelfth edition corrected, with the addition of an alphabetical table. London,  1703. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Macquarie University Library. 18 Nov. 2016 

Marotti, Arthur F. “John Donne’s Conflicted Anti-Catholicism.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 101, no. 3, 2002, pp. 358–379. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27712244.

Mebust, Erik. “Words and Icons in Crashaw’s” The Flaming Heart”.” The Proceedings of GREAT Day (2016).

Teller, Joseph R. “Why Crashaw was Not Catholic: The Passion and Popular Protestant Devotion.”English Literary Renaissance 43.2 (2013): 239-267.

Whalen, Robert. “George Herbert’s Sacramental Puritanism.” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 4, 2001, pp. 1273–1307. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1261973

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Overview/Review – “To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights” – Robin DeRosa

“To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights” – Robin DeRosa

The article “To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights”  by Robin DeRosa, is attempting to set up Wuthering Heights as a novel that engages in discourse about Sadomasochism and the fluctuating power balance that is intrinsic to our understanding of both Catherine and Heathcliff’s cruelty toward each other and the narrative arc of their tortured relationship. The article also posits that Heathcliff’s masochism correlates with his access to the common language of the household and Catherine’s sadism with her access to text, such as books. The catalyst for the change in the power dynamic between the two is cited as being Catherine’s impending death, reversing the role of Sadomasochism in the relationship. Not only are the roles of torturer and victim reversed but they are shown to coexist within the same entity, as Heathcliff is both cruel and self-destructive upon Catherine’s demise. The article also considers Lockwood and other characters as part of the sadomasochistic spectrum leaving Nelly as the empowered figure in a text riddled with entities struggling for and against a ‘death drive’ (DeRosa, 3) and mortality. The role of this book within the Victorian cultural and literary landscape is also examined, with the subversion  and convention to realism examined as the sadomasochistic impulses of Catherine and Heathcliff have the effect of distancing them as subjects from traditional romantic texts.

Psychological criticism is the foundational form of critical analysis with the sadomasochism of the key characters being the predominant preoccupation of the article. The theories of sadism and masochism as outlined by Freudian psychology are included as part of the argument. The article uses these Freudian theories to explain what is sighted as a “death drive” (DeRosa, 3) in Heathcliff and eventually Catherine. Also underpinning the argument is deconstructionist critical analysis in the form of pointing to sadomasochism as a way a deconstructing the characters to alter the typical way that the novel engages with realism, with the Victorian literary preoccupation with writing a novel that achieves accurate realism and the unachievable nature of this goal that us being strived for. DeRosa also uses historical critical analysis in the article as she engages in the discourse regarding Wuthering Heights and it’s place within the Victorian literary canon, pointing to some of the more controversial aspects of the text in contrast to it’s contemporaries.

DeRosa successfully outlined the ways in which the text demonstrated the sadomasochism of the early relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine but failed to make a persuasive correlation between the experience of text and language as the determining factor in the power balance in regards to Catherine as her sadism is not explicitly demonstrated through her use of text, and her relationship with text is relatively unchanging as her sadism diminishes. The article successfully argues that the subversive nature of Wuthering Heights and Brontë’s approach to romance and realism was directly playing with notions of repressive Victorian social conventions by outlining attitudes towards realism and sexuality in literary circles and mainstream social values. 

When writing my upcoming critical essay I could use this article to address the fourth topic offered for this assessment;

“Compare and contrast the ways in which Victorian texts conform to or subvert the central precepts of literary realism.”

The attention given to Victorian discourse on realism would allow me to argue that Wuthering Heights subverts precepts of reality by displacing the central characters roles as subject and object. The roles of torturer and tortured create a dichotomy that reflects the power dynamics at play within Victorian literature whilst reducing the ability of the characters to exercise self determination, rendering them impotent in the face of forces greater than themselves. The line between the supernatural and the very real human experience is blurred using self destructive and self preservation impulses of which the characters are at the mercy. This abstract force plays with realism constructs allowing Brontë to both engage in realism and the gothic in one narrative, creating a text that constantly weaves in and out of real human experience and the haunting ghostly spectre of damnation. Sadomasochism is almost hauntingly supernatural in its manifestation, allowing the narrative of Catherine and her hold on Heathcliff to continue from beyond the grave, sweeping up others such as Lockwood and Nelly in its wake.  

Bibliography

  • Brontë, Emily and Richard J Dunn. Wuthering Heights. New York: Norton, 2003. Print.
  • De Rosa, Robin. “To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights”, Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 52, No. 1 (1998), pp. 27-43. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/stable/pdf/1348290.pdf Web. 1st October 2016.

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