Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Secondary Lit Post: Vathek

R.B. Gill takes an interesting approach in analyzing the critically acclaim novel, Vathek. He focuses on the author, William Bedford, as a person and how "a man unwillingly hastened by his
family and his wealth from one performance to the next, seems never to have found that inner being with which he could be at peace" (Gill, 241-242). In understanding and analyzing Bedford's life, a greater understanding of his writing style and choice of plot can be formed. Gill argues that the persona that is portrayed in Vathek and the life of Bedford are ones that were created, despite their biographical appeal.

Understanding the type of person William Bedford was will help me, as a reader, understand his writing style and purpose for writing works such as this one. Many have said that this book was an exaggeration of an actual event that occurred in Bedford's life. Apparently Bedford held a party at his house, Great Gatsby style, a chose to reiterate it in a fictional tale that is much more elaborate than the actual party that he had. Vathek is ambiguous in that it's style is clean and clear, but it is uncertain whether the tale is true or not. It can be interpreted both ways and many critics have done so. Gill's article helps me to know if questioning who the author really is and the authorial intent is necessary. I find that it may quite possibly be necessary because Bedford seems to be coming from a place of fiction in this novel. There are a lot of elaborate things in the novel (the five different palaces that cater to each sense, for example) and I am not sure if this and other instances of grandiosity are based on real life experiences, or made up fiction. Bedford grew up affluent and so these things could have quite possibly been true, but there is doubt present. I am also not sure if this novel should be passed off as fiction if some of or most of the events are based on nonfictional occurrences.

I ask you guys, is it necessary to question who the author is, really and his or her intent on the work? If we are just reading for entertainment, pleasure, academic purposes, etc; why is it necessary to know the true blue life of he writer? If it is not necessary, by not knowing the author, will that take away some of the value of the work?

Gill, R.B. "The Author In The Novel: Creating Beckford In Vathek." Eighteenth Century Fiction 15.2 (2003): 241. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For Credit: Tables Turned

You've spent this semester learning how to make sense of C18 Fiction: how to understand its conventions, how to make sense of the social roles and behaviors it depicts, how to understand the cultural streams that feed into it, how to makes sense of its arcane vocabulary and bewildering sentence structure.

Now, how about you take a shot at explaining a work of C21 cultural production to a C18 audience?  

Imagine yourself transported to the drawing room where Frances Burney, Laurence Sterne, William Beckford, Horace Walpole, and the anonymous author of The Female American are gathered on a dull winter's afternoon to hear what a time traveller from the future has to tell them about the literary and cultural forms that are going to evolve.  You open up your laptop computer, only to find that only one of the C21 texts that you had stored there survived your journey through the time/space/reality continuum:



How do you explain this video? What background information do Burney, Sterne, Beckford, et al. need in order to make sense of it? How might you help them connect to its aesthetic values?

Deadline: Saturday (12/10), midnight.

For Credit: 5 Years from Now

The following clip, "The Five Minute University," featuring Father Guido Sarducci (comedian Don Novello), is a few decades old, but still current:




What will you remember from English 429 in five years' time?

Deadline: Saturday (12/10), midnight.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Authorial Identity in Vathek

In the article, “The Author in the Novel: Creating Beckford in Vathek,” R.B. Gill remarks on the self-conscious writing style of Beckford. Gill argues that Vathek consisted of many “Beckfords” meaning one could draw many different identities from Vathek and from some of this other works. The author states, “Not finding that centre or authorial identity, critics (and Beckford himself) have created a number of identities to satisfy their own perceptions of the needs of the novel” (242). For Beckford, he utilized a self-conscious writing style, like Sterne, to create an “authorial” identity within their works.
For Vathek, Beckford creates a world of contradictions. “Like Sterne , Beckford watches himself write and is intrigued by the possibilities of expressing himself in guises -now moral, now perverse, now coy, now sublime. He cannot resist indulging himself momentarily in some ludicrous or incongruous aspect of his material” (243). These contradictions, for Gill, allow a certain distance, but “Beckford wants us to observe him laughing at his subject , manipulating it: a gentleman engaged with compromising material but, never the less, in thorough control of it and able to smile knowingly at his own folly. In this mixture of opposites, Vathek, like many other neoclassical works, has a civilized sophistication that acknowledges its own role –playing” (243-244). From this acknowledgment as a piece of fiction, Beckford was highly aware and intent on creating himself within his work according to Gill.
But, through his self-conscious writing style, Beckford both creates himself and distances himself from this identity within the novel. He uses his “self-abnegating humour” and contradictions to allow a literary distance from the Caliph he fashions for himself. This distancing would allow a gentleman like Beckford to create an “authorial identity” within his scandalous novel, yet still maintain an identity as a gentleman. Gill writes, “The novel's puzzling mixture of opposites invites the reader to seek an inner author, the ‘real’ Beckford accessible through psychological examination” (245). It’s easy for the reader to draw comparisons to Beckford’s life and see Vathek as an extension of Beckford.
Gill goes on to explore the seeming opposites of Beckford’s life. Stating Beckford was involved with a man, yet married and had two children. For Gill, the contradictions of Beckford’s life may explain the contradictions we see in Vathek. Because we can draw many different meanings from this novel, we can create multiple different Beckfords. Gill suggests that, like the character Vathek, we can create our own understanding and image of Beckford whether or not this is true.
I find this article interesting in that it suggests that we don’t really need to know the “true” Beckford to understand this story. Whether or not Beckford was Vathek is not the issue for as readers we can construct our own image of Beckford. Do you think that this novel made you understand Beckford psychologically? Can you see any instances of Beckford’s self-conscious writing style? What “Beckford” do you get out of this novel?
Works Cited:
Gill, R. B. "The Author in the Novel: Creating Beckford in Vathek." Eighteenth Century Fiction. 2nd ed. Vol. 15. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Dec. 2011. e6ccb7-00d6-4df2-a294-bf39c691d3fe%40sessionmgr104&vid=5&hid=112>.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

FYI: Class on Tuesday

Just to reiterate what I said in class on Thursday: our class on Tuesday (last class of the semester!) will be an in-class exercise for extra credit (up to 10 points). You can prepare by reviewing the names of the supporting characters in all the novels we read (who they are, how to spell their names, which novel they appear in, what they do that's interesting). Part of our exercise will be open-book/open note, so you can bring your books to class with you if you like.

For Credit: Propose an Exam Question

If this course had three-hour, timed, handwritten exam instead of a final paper, what would a good essay question for that exam be?

Deadline: Tuesday, 12/6, start of class.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

For Credit: What's New with Vathek?

Madame de Pompadour as a Sultana (1752)
If you think back to the beginning of this class and the first few novels we read, one of the challenges was figuring out how to read a C18 novel. We talked about how these were novels that said what they meant--we weren't supposed to read around an unreliable narrator, discern deep hidden truths buried in apparently innocuous stories, brace ourselves for surprise endings, or expect entertainment designed for our tastes.

By 1786, the rules were starting to change (and would eventually morph into the familiar patterns that you had to shed in order to grapple productively with C18 fiction). The interpretive skills, specific to C18 literature, that you have acquired and honed in this course are not as useful for understanding Vathek as they were for the other things that we've read.

In a world that expected fiction to "delight and instruct," Vathek does neither. If it "delights," it also confronts you with the spectacle of violence, gore, and ruthlessness. If it "instructs," it does so in a very roundabout manner: its surface lessons are too trite (avoid eternal damnation!) or bizarre (heaven is an eternity of sexless immaturity!) to be useful.

How do the tools that you bring to bear on more modern literary texts help you in making sense of Vathek?

What would have have liked to say in class today but didn't have the opportunity to?

What would you like to add to today's discussion?

Final thoughts on Vathek?

Deadline: Saturday midnight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FYI: The Final Project and Upcoming Fun

To summarize what was said in class today:

Thursday (12/1) we will finish with Vathek.

Friday (12/2), part II of your paper is due, via Google Docs (preferred) or e-mail.  Some clarification:
  • you may write about Shamela for Part II, but you still have to write about three of the other books.
  • if you choose NOT to rewrite Part I, you can treat Part II as a continuation of that paper.  If you DO choose to rewrite Part I, you should submit both parts together as one continuous paper.
  • I will be taking points off on Part II for incorrect MLA citation.  If you want to make sure you're doing it right, I recommend the OWL at Purdue, which has an excellent guide to MLA style.  
  • Also, give yourselves time to do one editing/proofreading pass before you hand the next two parts of the paper in.  I (obviously) didn't do any stylistic or grammar corrections on Part I (in the interests of turning them around in a timely manner and giving you feedback on the content of the paper), but by the time we get to the final version I will be marking papers down for careless writing and mechanical errors.
  • Questions?  Respond to this post with them or e-mail them to me.  Or come to office hours Thursday (2 - 3, 321 English Bldg.)
Tuesday of next week (12/6) is the last day of class.  In the interests of giving everyone another opportunity for extra credit, we will have an in-class graded final exercise that will cover all the reading for the course.  You should prepare by reviewing everything we have read, and paying particular attention to the names and distinguishing features of the minor (non-titular) characters.

Required Blog Post: Robin Johnson

As I began reading Vathek, I found that I'd immediately disliked Vathek (the character). He seems extremely greedy and conceited. Do you think that becoming the ruler at a young age is a reason for the way Vathek is? Is there any justification?

Also, Orientalism seem to play a big role in Vathek. From what we've read so far, how is the East represented in Vathek? What are some of the differences between this novel and the others we have read (especially The Castle of Otranto, since Vathek is also a Gothic novel)?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not for Credit: The Contenders

These last days of the semester, in between Thanksgiving break and finals, always make it hard to bring a fall syllabus to closure.  There are days to fill, yet the continuity of the semester has been broken.  My solution when teaching C18 lit is to use these final class session for exploring a text that looks towards what comes after, something that clearly builds on the Enlightenment-era roots of the period we've been studying but that also gestures towards the Romantic-era literature that will change the literary game in some important ways.  Here are some of the books I considered for this slot but ultimately rejected:

 Things as They Are, or Caleb Williams by William Godwin would be my hands-down pick if we had an additional week.  It's just too long for the time available to us, but well worth reading.  Regarded by some critics as the first-ever mystery novel, this story is recounted by a working-class narrator persecuted by his erstwhile aristocratic employer and mentor.  The author, William Godwin, might be familiar to some of you as the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft.  His well-intentioned memoirs of his famous wife completely destroyed her reputation for the next century plus.  He's also regarded as the first proponent of anarchy.  Interesting guy.



And then, of course, Jane Austen.  She properly belongs to the C19, not the C18, but Northanger Abbey was, arguably, her first novel, composed (at least in part) before 1800 (though it was the last of her novels to get published, in 1819).  It also constitutes a funny extended meta-fictional commentary on the genre as it stood at the end of the C18 and as Austen inherited it, complete with crazed Gothic patriarchs, young maidens both innocent and venal, swashbuckling hunks of manhood, well meaning pedagogues, and readers who are smarter and less dewy-eyed than the heroines they are meant to identify with. 



In The Natural Daughter by Mary Robinson, the Gothic novel meets a beleaguered feminist heroine and a marriage-plot-run-amok amidst the French revolution.  Our heroine has nothing to learn from the patriarchy but how it can let her down.  Passions and drama run high in this tale, which shows its C18 roots but often gets classified with Romantic-era literature (in no small part because of the poems that sprinkled throughout the narrative).  Robinson was a well-known poet as much as a novelist, and even more famous for being first a stage actress then the mistress of the Prince of Wales. 



There are many more novels I could have chosen from!  But these are some of the likely contenders if we weren't reading Vathek, which has its own riches to offer.

Vathek Secondary Lit Review - Sam Bakall


            The article “Life After Pseudodeath” discusses the shift in Vathek’s attitude after he realizes that his love Nouronihar is actually alive. The author begins the essay with a short discussion on other Gothic novels that play to the interest of the Orient, Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas and Frances Sheridan’s Nourjahad, and how they “thinly disguise[] Western and even Christian concepts and attitudes in Middle Eastern Islamic attire” (pg. 171).

            But, unlike the other novels that the author discusses, Vathek doesn’t try to justify the actions or veil Christian beliefs in Islam, it actually “embraces and confirms hedonism as the valid lifestyle selection of its main character,” which is something that pretty much all of the novels we have read this semester have not done (pg. 171).

            The scene in Vathek where he realizes his love isn’t dead is a bit of a Hollywood moment. The emir of the dwarves Fakreddin realizes Vathek’s interest in his daughter, Nouronihar, even though she is slated to be married to Gulchenrouz. Nouronihar and Gulchenrouz are both drugged by the emir and are sent to a secluded area, so that when they awake, they will believe that they have died and are in Paradise. But, they soon begin to realize that they are not in fact dead and ‘escape,’ for lack of a better term, and run into Vathek.

            Vathek, who’s life is based on decadence and sin, mourns her death and seems to be making more moralistic choices in what could be shown as a more pious life. But, when he sees Nouronihar, he is overtaken by lust and goes right back to how he was before, not following Islam and accepting a hedonistic lifestyle. Because he enjoyed the “splendors of life” before he met Nouronihar, it “contributes less to his damnation than does his search for supernatural power through the agency of the Giaour, a pursuit that explicitly ends in Vathek’s perdition,” (pg. 171-172).

            This acceptance of a hedonistic lifestyle and lack of moral repositioning is what sets Vathek apart from its contemporaries. In the other novels that were discussed, the main characters in them confessed their sins or rejected the things they once partook in. Vathek on the other hand, fully embraces them and never has that moral moment that we have seen in previous novels (Robinson Crusoe definitely). He never regrets what he has done to get where he has gotten himself, just that he doesn’t like the punishment he has to live with.

            The only moral realization in Vathek is when “The narrator states that Vathek deserves the loss of all hope in ‘a receptacle of eternal fire’ for the ‘unrestrained passions and atrocious deeds’ he has committed (119, 120),” (pg. 172). Otherwise, the novel mentions very little about remorse or salvation.

            I found this to be very interesting and true. While reading Vathek I think I was looking for that moral realization sometime in the novel, but never found it. Vathek just kept indulging and kept continuing on the path of damnation without a regret. The decadent lifestyle that he lived was so over the top that I also couldn’t help wondering if the reason there is no moral compass in this novel is because the entire book is a moral compass. Almost all of the other books that we’ve read this semester mention praising God in some form, whether it’s converting others, being virtuous or just mention of it in regular conversation, but none have employed potential reverse psychology.

            I would definitely agree with the author completely. Vathek was nothing like what I thought it would be in the slightest both story-wise and moralistically. I think it was interesting that the author chose other novels that had similar storylines and settings and compared them, which makes Vathek stand out even more.

            Do you think that Vathek stands out of the genre as a novel that fails to embrace the ‘moral’ literature of the time, or can the entire story be seen as a commentary on what happens when you fail to be moral and follow God? Is this book a push for religion or atheism? Do the events that unfold throughout the novel support a religious lifestyle or not?

Works Cited

Brewer, Lawton A. “Life After Pseudodeath: William Beckford’s Vathek.” Explicator 67.3 (2009): 170 – 173. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

For Credit: Making Sense of Vathek

We end our exploration of eighteenth-century fiction with Vathek, a strange little novel that is mired in contradictions:  a British novel that was written in French, a novel of the eighteenth-century that is best known in an edition that got published well after the Romantic era was underway, and a profoundly secular work that centered on a mythical being from the underworld.

Your study of the eighteenth-century novel has given you several different ways to approach this text.  Respond to this post by suggesting an interpretive question to be asked about this novel, identifying an issue in it that ought to be explored more deeply, or observing some feature of the novel that provokes your interest or curiosity.

Deadline: Tuesday (11/29), start of class.

Tristram Shandy Vs.......Anything

My question is a pretty simple one, so I'll get to it right away and then try and explain the reasoning behind my asking it - Is it fair, or better yet, even possible, to compare Tristram Shandy (the novel, not the character) to any of the other works we've gone through this semester?

Now obviously, you could answer at surface level that yes, of course you can compare any two novels...if you try hard enough. But I'm asking in a more in depth sense, with all the, for lack of a better term, wackiness, that ensues in Tristram Shandy, is it really comparable to any of the far more subdued novels we've read so far?

For me, I can assert with certainty that nothing else we've read falls under quite the same sphere as does TS. No other novels have had characters that are so difficult to keep up with (that is to say, to understand exactly what's going on with them at all times). Nor do any of the other novels offer such complicated and indirect language in the way they're presented, making it even more difficult, for me atleast, to draw comparisons.

I guess a good secondary question to this would be, do you find the fact that we're only reading selections from the book rather than the entire book itself, to provide difficulty in grasping the whole thing? I've considered several times the possibility that may be a larger aspect to my trouble with the novel than I originally thought.

I'll conclude by saying if there were any other works we've covered so far that I'd even attempt to try and draw comparisons to, it'd be Castle of Otranto. But I'll leave that for anyone else that wants to answer.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pamela vs. Evelina: The Britney/Christina of the 18C

There has been a lot of discussion about Pamela and Evelina as moralizing novels. There has also been a lot of back and forth about whether Evelina or Pamela is more likable/believable as a character. What I am interested in, however, is which author is more successful in their goal of moralizing young girls? Both Richardson and Burney use similar epistolary styles, and both protagonists are around the same age and in confusing class roles, presumably to appeal to young girls of any class. If their goals were to influence and strengthen the virtuosity of young girls, which author do you think is more successful and why?

Who's the stronger character?

We started the semester out by reading a scandalous story about a young woman choosing to leave her elevated place in society behind in search of adventure and, of course, sex. Since then, however, we have almost forgotten about the poor Fantomina, banished to a French convent (possibly to live out a sequel to her promiscuous story).

Earlier this semester we compared the agency and progressiveness of Pamela to that of Evelina, and despite our general dislike for Pamela, we deemed her the stronger female character (more realistic portrayal of the female teenager, being forced to and successfully saying no to Squire B, etc). But, what if we were to compare Pamela to Fantomina? Both women enticed their men, both behaved promiscuously at different points in time (obviously to different extremes), and both did in fact refuse the advances of their beau (Fantomina didn't succeed, but she did say no at first). Who of these women, Pamela or Fantomina, is more inclined to gain the readers sympathy (both 18th and 21st century)? Who exercises more agency, and who presents a more progressive female role? Keep in mind that, although Fantomina does get sent away, Pamela is eventually forced to conform to a typical 18th century female role.

Real vs. Fictional Social Structure

In general, literature is seen as a reflection of the culture it is from. However, we've seen that the 18th century characters we've read about are known to push the envelope of social roles. What do you think this means in terms of literature as a mirror to society? Do you think the characters we see exemplify authors' ideals of a perfect man/woman and perfect relationships according to 18th century norms? I know most of us can only speculate what 18th century life was like, but what have you gathered from the characters we have seen this semester? Do you think everyone had a character they wanted to be like (Lord Orville, Squire B, Pamela or Evelina for example), or were these fictional characters intended to only put fictional names to values and ideals?

Where are all the children? - Sam Bakall

We've read a fair amount of books this semester, and yet there really has been no mention of children in any of the novels. Besides the brief moments of Tristram's youth that we see in TS and the even more brief mention of RC's children at the very end of the novel, children really don't exist. 

Why do you think children don't play a huge role in any of the novels we have read? Are readers in this time quick to categorize young teenagers as adults, like in Pamela or Otranto, or is that just a 21C viewpoint?

Sort of going off the thread of sexuality that has been asked about, do you think authors at the time avoided writing about children in an effort to avoid people having sex, or to not promote the consequences of having sex? 

Or are children just not that interesting?

Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes - Jesse Colin


It occurs to me after nearly a semester immersed in the literature of this time period—and just now as I browse my classmates reaction to it—that the various types of birth control available to modern people in the post-industrial world may be among the most impactful inventions in the  history of mankind. 

The anxiety these people suffer over sex is overwhelming.  Of course, sex is a serious thing but I don’t think we often appreciate that we are better prepared, in many ways, to deal with it than most people have been throughout history. 

Birth control has changed the psychological playing field so much that I wonder if you could track its impact in our genetic code somewhere? 

I wonder, when I read Tristram’s thoughts about Jenny, what is the source of his intense anxiety?  Besides the emotional and material consequences (potential pregnancy), we have to assume that Tristram has some spiritual concerns as well.  Then I started to think about religion as actually a man-made product—and perhaps one of its functions is to help deal with the sex problem—the fact that mankind, the only rational being, is afflicted with serious animal urges. 

I know I’m getting all big-picture here but a few hundred years can really change things.  What are your thoughts?  Have you had any similar thoughts in your reading of some of the other texts? 

Role of M. Dubois in Evelina

We've spent a lot of time this semester talking about the roles and functions of the main characters in the novels we've read, especially females, but what about those characters who hold slightly less prominent positions? In Evelina, Burney weaves a very intricate web of familial connections between her characters, juxtaposing nature and nurture by comparing Evelina, the Mirvans, and Lord Orville to Madame Duval, The Branghtons, and Sir Clement. Further complicating that web, however, are minor characters like Mr. Lovel and Monsieur Dubois. These men, although they are often involved in the major action of the novel, seem to hold relatively unimportant positions.

I would like to focus specifically on Dubois because not only is he the more reserved, seemingly more polite companion of the abrasive Mdme Duval, but he also takes a keen interest in Evelina. In your opinion, what is the role of Dubois in Evelina; why did Burney find it necessary to include him in her already heafty character list? What does he add to the plot line, and what kind of commentary does he provide about the society to which Evelina is introduced?

The role of religion in Tristram Shandy

There are several interesting passages that allude to religion throughout Tristram Shandy. On page 490, Tristram makes several references to his role in portraying or "delivering" religion to the reader.

"I am confident my own way of doing it is the best--I'm sure it is the most religious--for I begin with writing the first sentence--and trusting to Almighty God for the second."

"I believe in my conscience I intercept many a thought which heaven intended for another man."

"Pope and his Portrait are fools to me---no martyr is ever so full of faith or fire--I wish I could say of good works too---but I have no."

From my own interpretation of these texts, Tristram seems pompous in his view of religion. In the first quote I presented, Tristram places himself on a pedestal, claiming that his "way of doing it" is the best way. He even puts himself before God, literally, by saying that the first sentence is his, and the second one Gods.  The quotes that follow also carry a tone of arrogance towards religion and religious figures. What do you make of these quotes? How do they relate to Sterne's overall presentation of religion? How do the religious ideas that Sterne presents differ or correlate to other eighteenth century novels we have read?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Male vs. Female Sexuality

I know we've discussed sexuality a number of different ways and times throughout the semester, so I want to ask what everyone thinks about how the topic has developed. Specifically, how does sexuality compare in books with male (Robinson Crusoe, Tristram Shandy) protagonists versus those with female (Fantomina, Pamela, etc.) protagonists? Think about how the (potential) presence of these issues affects this topic:
  • The order of the syllabus (reading Crusoe for our first primary novel, for instance)
  • Presence of homo-eroticism primarily in male-oriented stories
  • Use of female-oriented stories as "moralizing stories"
  • Sexual innuendo
This is a very wide open topic - but I'm thinking that Tristram Shandy and Fantomina/Pamela would be good places to start in terms of sources.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Shandy Jargon - Sam Bakall

Throughout the readings we have done of Tristram Shandy, I have on numerous occasions wondered as to why Sterne used the language he did. I found myself more confused more often than not whilst doing the readings. Sometimes I think he was just taking his ability as a writer to play with the English language, but on other occasions I have wondered if he wrote that way to discuss subjects that were normally not "discussable" in that time period. Does anyone have any other possibilities?

I know these blog posts are supposed to be grounded in the reading, but I was just curious...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homosociality in Tristram Shandy (?) - Jesse Colin


I noticed in recent passages, that the most tender moments of connection between two people are those between Toby and Trim.  Tristram seems to view homo-social relationships much more positively than he does romantic relationships.  The affair between Widow Wadman and Toby is difficult, largely because Toby is so slow to pick up on Mrs. Wadman’s affection.  Also, the way she goes about seducing him is compared, openly, to battlefield combat.  On the contrary, Toby and Trim’s dialogue is never characterized by that same combative win/loss approach. 

                The relationship between Tristram’s father and mother is a difficult one as well.  His father blames his mother for the supposedly botched conception of Tristram and he is always speaking apparently without consideration for the feelings of his wife—who seems to be always sitting in the corner of the room biting her lip. 

                Trim’s amour with the fair Beguine seems like a more romantic one but understanding it as so gets complicated.  First, the woman claims that she is taking care of Trim out of her love for Christ.  This replaces Trim as the actual object of her affection.  Also, (though the passage is somewhat cryptic and censored) Toby says outright “It was not love.”  (pp519)

                The interactions between Toby and Trim are the most amicable ones in the story and they seem to have the most genuine affection for each other.  In fact, the two are a highly functional household and something like a family unit.  In Volume VIII, Trim says he thinks that he was meant to be wounded in battle so that he would wind up in the service of Toby “where I should be taken so much better care of in my old age.”  Toby replies, “It shall never, Trim, be construed otherwise.”  Tristram then notes, “The heart, both of the master and the man, were alike subject to sudden overflowings.”  (pp 115).

                The novel’s attitude towards romantic relationships can be called cautious at best.  But it does provide an alternative where men can find life-long companionship and even something functioning less like a master-servant relationship and more like a traditional family.  Do you think it is a major concern for Sterne to make a statement about the nature of relationships?  If so, what do you think is his general attitude toward them? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Public Service Announcement: Study Advice

Okay, this link is not without its offensive and patronizing elements (it is, after all, from Cracked.com), but it delivers some excellent advice.  I suspect most of you are not in need of it, being (a) smart people who probably know this stuff already and (b) mostly upper-level English majors beyond the kind of gateway courses that rely on final exams, but I pass it along anyway.

Gothic Novels

Out of the novels that we have read so far, The Castle of Otranto has been my favorite, and I've been very curious about this genre of novel for a while now. As stated on the back of the book, it is regarded as one of the founding novels of Gothic fiction. Walpole set the stage for novels such as Dracula, Carmilla, and The Blood of the Vampire. If you've read any of these novels, you'll know that they each have the same supernatural feel to them as The Castle of Otranto has. My question is: what function did Gothic fiction have? Why do you think Walpole wrote a novel such as The Castle of Otranto?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

For Credit: Thanksgiving Bonus Bloggery

C18 feast being authentically prepared at Colonial Williamsburg.
Because a number of people are still struggling to get their blog scores up, I'm adding an extra week of blogging over the Thanksgiving Break.

The catch is, I won't be posting any questions.  You will need to post the questions, in the same ways that you posted your required blog posts.

You can get up to five additional blog points for posting a question for your classmates, and up to three additional points for responding to a question.  You can only post two questions but you can respond to as many as you like.  The bonus week runs from midnight Saturday (11/19)  until midnight Saturday (11/26)--after which Week 14 blogging (on Vathek begins).

Some ground rules:

1.  Questions MUST require answers that are grounded in the reading.  So, for example, "Would you date Uncle Toby/Widow Wadman?" will get ZERO credit.   "Does Sterne mean for you to find Toby's final reaction to Widow Wadman unfortunate, or not?  What makes you think so?" is a credit-worthy question.

2.  Questions MUST ask for non-obvious, non-yes/no answers.  So, for example, "Is Uncle Toby a good guy?" will get zero credit.  "Sir Walter is clearly very different from Uncle Toby; in what ways does Sterne characterize Sir Walter morally?  Is he a good guy or a bad guy?  What makes you think so?" is more credit-worthy.

3.  Answers that essentially repeat or simply agree with a classmate's response will get zero credit, but you may respond to a single post more than once if the conversation develops in ways that give you more to say.

4.  Questions that cover material issues already addressed on the blog will get no credit (although questions that productively allude to or build on earlier conversations are credit-worthy).

5.  Questions that duplicate a classmate's question will get no credit.

6. Vathek is off limits, but you can blog about anything else covered in the course readings.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

'Good Cursed, Bouncing Losses': Masculinity, Sentimental Irony, and Exuberance in Tristram Shandy -- Secondary Lit Post by Nora Ellis

For my secondary lit post, I read “ ‘good cursed, bouncing losses’: Masculinity, Sentimental Irony, and Exuberance in Tristram Shandy” by James Kim. The article largely focused on the idea of masculinity and emotional expression within Tristram Shandy. Kim looked at Tristram’s reaction to death, as well as focusing on the “veritable encyclopedia of phallic injury” (Kim 9) that describes the book for him. Finally, he discusses the idea of the book as being both satirical and sensitive, something he by no means believes to be true only for Tristram Shandy but that he believes to be a rising theme of eighteenth century literature. Finally, he determines that the desire for both man and woman, satire and sensitivity, are a part of the desire for excess which seized control of the entire novel genre.

The way that Kim examined Tristram’s reaction to death was really interesting. In what can only called the introduction to the article, Kim describes in great detail the black page in volume 1, chapter 12 of Tristram Shandy. One wouldn’t think it possible to describe a black page in great detail, but James Kim sees a great deal in it. For one thing, he takes it as being Tristram’s way of expressing what he feels about Yorick’s death. He says, “An overflow of ink, the black page seems to record Tristram’s overflow of feeling at Yorick’s death. It is as if, overwhelmed by the task of conveying his sentiments on Yorick’s demise, Tristram tries to say everything at once—and therefore can say nothing at all” (Kim, 4). He adds that it is also Tristram’s way of attempting to put down everything malicious that was ever said about Yorick.

He writes next about whether Tristram Shandy is satiric or sentimental, ultimately deciding that, not only is it both, that is not the point of the piece. The way that sentimentality and satire work together, says Kim, enables the depiction of a man that is both masculine and melancholy. The next section begins to focus on the idea of the multi-natured man. Here, Kim discusses the idea of a man as being both masculine and feminine, as well as the repercussions that would have upon the women of the eighteenth century. He here declares that, “For its part, Tristram Shandy faces sentimental masculinity and its concomitant sense of effeminacy with an attitude of loss and nostalgia” (Kim 8). This returns to the way that Kim interprets Tristram’s voice as being emotional, at the beginning of the paper. This emotion, to Kim, is not a masculine feeling to express. Tristram’s expression makes him effeminate, yet strengthens him as a character.

Part of Kim’s exploration of manliness is the question of whether behavior or sensibility is what makes a person male or female. He wisely does not assume that gender stereotypes are concrete, but does recognize the necessity of some differentiation between the two sexes. He finishes off the section by saying, “I think it would be a mistake to draw any conclusions simply from the air of phallic loss that saturates the novel, for the phenomenology of loss is itself a deeply ambiguous thing, capable of fostering a variety of complex attitudes and conflicted responses” (Kim 9). He is speaking particularly of Uncle Toby’s groin wound and the conversation revolving around Tristram’s father setting the clock, here.

Unlike Kim, I don’t read this as being a poem mourning the penis so much as an expression of the fear of castration. However loathed Freud might be, that phrase (fear of castration) is difficult to avoid using. After all, this book is almost entirely about genitals, however much it might pretend not to be. Most literally read, the book focuses a great deal on the fear associated with manliness and the loss thereof being associated with genitalia and the loss thereof. The desperation with which the Widow desperately tries to find out if Uncle Toby is, in fact, intact strengthens this claim.

It is interesting to combine the ideas of the feminine masculinity and the fear of castration. In a book that is, as Kim argues, both sensible and satirical, how much is the fear of the loss of manhood to be taken seriously? Is that one of the most satirized aspects of the novel, or is that something that is actually to be taken seriously? And, how closely does Tristram Shandy relate genitalia to sex? That is, does having a penis make you manly in the world of Shandy?

Kim, James. "'Good Cursed, Bouncing Losses': Masculinity, Sentimental Irony, And Exuberance In Tristram Shandy." Eighteenth Century: Theory And Interpretation48.1 (2007): 3-
24. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

Sterne, Laurence, and Graham Petrie. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1967. Print.

For Credit: Follow-Up to Thursday's Class

Final thoughts on Tristram Shandy?  Feel free to post them here.

Deadline: Saturday (11/19), midnight.

Matt G.: Tristram Shandy and Conversation (Secondary Lit. Blog Post)


For my secondary literature blog post I read, Pope to Burney, 1714-1779, by Moyra Haslett.  In her work Haslett argues that the “presiding motif for eighteenth-century literature [is] the idea of conversation…which links…different aspects of the eighteenth-century literature, it is not in any sense a single label.  It generates a range of associated ideas, rather than necessarily imposing a determinist narrative upon the period” (Haslett 1).  Her premise is that a defining feature of the eighteenth century novel is the conversational aspect that the books take with the reader.  This idea can be seen throughout the novels we have read in the course, from Robinson Crusoe to Evelina to The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.  And it is upon the last that I will focus on here.  Do you see the motif of “conversation” as one present in many of the novels we have read in class?
            Haslett argues a number of eighteenth-century “literary texts articulate or imply a self-consciousness about their own status as texts.  Often this takes the from of direct addresses to the reader” (78-79).  This is certainly true of Shandy in many places throughout the novel.  For example, Shandy continual calls the reader “my dear friend and companion” and tells us “as you proceed further with me, the slight acquaintance which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that, unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship” (Sterne, 11).  Seen here is the conversational tone that Haslett argues, it is the creation of an intimate relationship with the reader.  “The relationship between writer and reader is explicitly modelled on one of friendship and sociability.  This friendship, and the reader’s increasing intimacy with Tristram himself, offers a way of overcoming the solipsism so obvious in all of the novel’s characters” (79).   Solipsim, for those who are unfamiliar, is the idea of the self as the only reality.  So what Haslett suggests is that this intimacy allows for one to read this, and other novels, in a way that makes them much more so real to us the reader.  Do you agree with this idea, does this intimacy offered by Tristram overcome the solipsism of the novel’s characters? 
            Another aspect of Shandy that Heslett sheds let upon is how “it draws its readers into happy complicity with its own playfulness and moral seriousness.  Readers are asked to meet the narrator halfway, by bringing their own understanding and imaginations into play” (80).  This very idea can be seen on page 423 of Tristram Shandy when he offers the reader a blank page to write in their own description of Mrs. Wadman.  He asks the reader to “paint her to your own mind” (422).  This again invokes the conversation motif offered, but she goes further here on Shandy to argue that “in giving the readers so much freedom to form their own opinions and judgments, Sterne wrote a book which would be radically individualistic” (80).  Is this true, or are we pigeonholed into reading it in a much particularized way by Sterne, despite the perceived individualizations?  Heslett ends by stating that eighteenth century texts “constantly interrogate the nature of the relationship between author and reader” (81).  Certainly this may be seen in Tristram Shandy in the way he speaks directly to the reader, as well as in Evelina and Pamela by their intimate epistolary form, but to what extent do you see it as a defining aspect of eighteenth century literature? 

Haslett, Moyra. Pope to Burney: 1714 - 1779 : Scriblerians to Bluestockings. Basingstoke.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.

Sterne, Laurence, and Graham Petrie. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1967. Print.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

James Scholar Post 3: Sterne, Fictional Structure, and Character Identification

In James Cruise’s critical book Governing Consumption: Needs and Wants, Suspended Characters, and the ‘Origins’ of Eighteenth-Century English Novels, Cruise explores the characteristics of eighteenth-century novels, and the ways in which these novels sought to fulfill the needs of the eighteenth-century novel consumer.  In his book, Cruise critiques the concept of “fiction” by drawing a comparison between the reader of the novel, and the characters themselves: “The same principles that apply to readers apply also to the representation of character” (178). Cruise explains one of the pivotal moments of “fictional” character identification as the moment of “the fly” in Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen. He explains this unusual representation of character in relation to the reader; “We learn it through incidental acts or remarks- Toby’s unwillingness to kill a fly, for example, cues us into his moral character...Tristram is forever throwing obstacles in the way to block direct apprehension of character” (178). Cruise explains that Sterne’s original presentation of “morality” in the novel, undoes the already established universal moral outline that prior eighteenth-century novels created. 
The way in which Tristram presents his story is the same window into which we see his characters, scattered non-sequentially in a way that makes the most sense to the author himself. Cruise explains that Sterne “rejects the evidentiary standards of morally typed character to propose instead that the true characters lie scattered in bits and fragments beneath what is immediately apparent” (179).  In addition, Cruise attributes this fragmentation of narrative, missing fragments of words, and pages left blank for “doodling and sketching” to be elements of fictionality; a characteristic that Sterne knowingly portrayed to his readers.
We see Cruise represent Tristram in a way that eighteenth-century readers have never seen with a character before. According to Cruise, Tristram Shandy encouraged readers to seek character motivation through “outside experiences”. Through the way in which Sterne presents character, does the reader get a better sense of “moral realism” from this overly-fictional work, in comparison to its contemporaries? Cruises argument holds that structure, and presentation of character, have a profound impact on the lessons that readers take away from books.
I think that Sterne tries to get the reader to understand character from a completely original lens. The reader is forced to create their own assumptions about fictionality, morals, and character, since there is no boundary or lines for them to follow. I wonder, however, if this causes the reader to walk away with a individual and possibly “scewed” version of what universal morals are. I also wonder if Sterne’s novel distorts the idea of a uniform society, that follows the same moral instructions.
Do you think that Tristram intended to portray a sense of moral realism through his fictional work, or does his work serve as a parody to other novels of the time? Do you think that the way in which Tristram tells his story teaches character and moral lessons more effectively than a “less-fictional” work like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe? What aspects of the novel do you find to be most essential to serving the didactic/pedagogical thinking? Is there a certain structure that best serves this purpose?
Cruise, James. Governing Consumption: Needs and Wants, Suspended Characters, and the "Origins" of Eighteenth-century English Novels. Lewisburg [Pa.: Bucknell UP, 1999. Print. 

For Credit: Key-holes and wickedness

In ch. 1 of book IX, Tristram dwells on his father's calling out his mother for spying on Toby's romance through a keyhole, supposedly trying to satisfy her "curiosity." Tristram concludes that

The mistake of my father, was in attacking my mother's motive, instead of the act itself: for certainly key-holes were made for other purposes; and considering the act, as an act which interfered with a true proposition, and denied a key-hole to be what it was-----it became a violation of nature; and was so far, you see, criminal. It is for this reason, an' please your Reverences, That key-holes are the occasions of more sin and wickedness, than all other holes in the world put together. (546-7)

Keeping in mind all of the other references to holes, valleys, etc. as discussed last class, are key-holes just another straightforward sexual allusion to be added in to this category, or is the metaphor more complex than that? What do you believe to be the implications for the sinfulness of 'key-holes' as compared with 'all of the other holes in the world put together?' Given emphasis on the 'criminal violations of nature' and 'occasions of sin and wickedness' brought about specifically by the misuse of 'key-holes,' what can we say about their correct use?

NOT for credit, just community: thoughts about Penn State? (BUMPED)

[It's receded from the headlines, but the repercussions continue to ripple, so I'm bumping this up....]

It's been on my mind a lot these days.  In fact, we ended up talking about it for the first ten minutes of my other class on Thursday (which meets after ours--so I'd gotten caught up on the news over lunch).   Here's a space to offer your reflections, if you would like.  Keep it collegial.

Not for Credit: Reason #2,547 Why You Should Not Cite Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For Credit: Follow-Up to Discussion Today

Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman, as pictured by Hollywood
Please feel free to post here with any questions, reflections, or further thoughts from class today.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cara Leo's Required Blog Post

For this section of Tristram Shandy, we are presented with the concept of love. From the relationship between Uncle Toby and the widow, how does Uncle Toby, the widow, and Tristram characterize love? Why are the interactions between the widow and Uncle Toby called "attacks"? What does this say about love? What do you think Sterne felt of love and feelings?

Since we have read many novels now that deal with the concept of love, how is love represented similarly or differently from other works we have read?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nathan Griffin: The Hobbyhorsical World (Secondary blog post)

For my secondary literature article, I read “The Hobbyhorsical World of Tristram Shandy”, by Joan Joffe Hall. In her article, she focused on how the irrelevant and the relevant seem to bare equal weight for our narrator, Tristram Shandy. This is why, as Hall argues, the characters in the novel are defined by their “hobbyhorse”, or favorite hobby. For instance, Uncle Toby’s hobby is his obsession with rebuilding fortifications. He thinks in terms of war and forts, and so there is a miscommunication when trim says that the doctor is repairing the bridge. Toby thinks that this bridge is a part of a fort, because one of his bridges had broken, when, in actuality, the doctor broke the bridge of Tristram’s nose, and had to repair it.

Hall argues that “Walter Shandy’s hobbyhorse is his love for hypotheses” (132). You’ll recall that Walter has many theories regarding raising a child, including conception of a child. A man must have complete focus when making love in order to direct the spirit animals. However, it is important to note with all of the family’s hobbyhorses that they never mean anything or allow any sort of closure for the family. Toby’s hobbyhorse creates miscommunication with people, and it also results in Tristram being accidentally circumsized because he took away the metal weights in the windows. Therefore, Toby has no control over his hobbyhorse. The birth of Tristram proves many of Walter’s hypotheses wrong, due to the fact that he could not direct the animal spirits and that Tristram seems fine even though his nose is damaged, which Walter believes is the most important part of the body. Therefore, “Walter’s hypotheses neither predict nor control real events… both men are impotent when they must confront the real world”.

Tristram’s hobbyhorse, according to Hall, is his story telling. His style of writing is what Hall refers to as “train of ideas” (139). This train of ideas, or natural progression of thought processes, is Tristram’s hobbyhorse. Tristram is obsessed with not leaving out any details, and his problem is that he cannot read through what is relevant to plot and what is irrelevant, which results in long tangents and digressions.

Sterne uses this device, the train of ideas, to point out the reader’s hobbyhorse. According to Hall, “that the reader should participate in solving novelistic problems is absurd, because it is the novelist who brings in the reader as a character, who supervises the work of the reader, and who dismisses the reader” (143). So, the reader’s hobbyhorse is trying to decipher the novel. Readers look for a climax, so they try to sort through what is relevant and what is irrelevant to try to find the meaning. Well, Hall argues, Sterne’s point is that being obsessed with this hobbyhorse is never going to lead to a completion, just like all of the shandy’s hobbyhorses never did either. It is the author’s job to lead the reader, and if there is no climax, the author did not want you to find one.

I find Hall’s argument quite compelling. If readers look at novels as a puzzle, looking for that climax, they might miss the point. How is a reader to say what’s relevant and irrelevant? Maybe at the end, everything needs to be looked at equally. This article definitely helped me appreciate Tristram Shandy a lot more.

So what do you think? Is it the author’s job to lead the reader?

Do you agree with Hall, that it is difficult to draw a line between the relevant and irrelevant in Tristram Shandy?

Do you think you’ve been looking too deeply into the novel for that “deeper” meaning?


Hall, Joan Joffe. "The Hobbyhorsical World of Tristram Shandy." Modern Language Quarterly. 24.2 (1963): 131-43. Print.

For Credit: Volume VIII of Tristram Shandy

A few things to know about this volume:
  • At this point in the novel, the narrator has been promising, for hundreds of pages now, to tell the story of Uncle Toby's amours with the Widow Wadman (which took place before Tristram was born).  Now at last he can digress no longer but has to start the narrative, which will take him through to the end of the novel (we'll read Volume IX for Thursday).
  • Uncle Toby lives next door to Walter Shandy, with his loyal servant, Corporal Trim.  Toby and Trim spend their days building miniature military fortifications on the grounds of the Shandy manor (you will recall that it was their need of metal to melt down that caused the weights and pulleys to be removed from the window that fell, circumcising wee Tristram).
  • Uncle Toby was prompted to this labor in part by the number of people asking him, as he convalesced from the groin wound that ended his military service, "Where did you get wounded?"  The question is motivated by prurient curiosity: people want to know if his genitals are still whole and potent.  Toby, however, who is modest and clean-minded, interprets the question to mean "Where on the field of battle did you get wounded?"  He's found maps and diagrams inadequate to explain--hence the miniature fortifications. 
  •  Note the "Reading Guide" linked to over there under "Required Reading" in the sidebar!  It has an outline of the chapter.
 Some issues to consider as you read (feel free to address any of them--just specify which):

1.  What kind of commentary is Sterne making on fiction in general and love stories in particular?
2.  What's going on with The Story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles?
3.  How would you describe the advice Sir Walter give his brother in the letter he writes him on p. 536 - 538?  What does it tell you about Sir Walter?
4.  What questions do you have?
5.  Would Tristram agree with the sexist humor of the image below, which has been circulating on Facebook?




Deadline: Tuesday (11/15), start of class.