Monday, October 31, 2011

Evelina and Verisimilitude (Required Blog Post by Matt G.)

Matt writes:

Pamela is the only epistolary novel I have read until Evelina and I imagine that is the case with most of us.  Besides the same mode of writing both works have similar protagonists, in that they are young girls largely uninformed of higher society life.  That being said, it is only natural to look at the two works side by side to a certain extent.  Which character to you find more likable and why? 
Specifically for Evelina I found quite a bit of it hard to believe.  Naivety only extends so far as an excuse for Evelina’s behavior. Could she really have no idea on the proper etiquette of dances or how to talk to men?  If that is believable than shouldn’t have Mrs. Mirvan have realized this and taught Evelina on what is expected?  As to Mrs. Duval simply happening upon outside the theater in the rain, did anyone else find that a bit of an extremely unlikely circumstance?  I understand she had to be introduced somehow, but that just seemed like too much a stretch.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

For Credit: Who is this Evelina?

Like Pamela, Evelina is an epistolary novel.  Unlike Pamela, this novel is consistently epistolary, and some letters are written by characters other than the titular protagonist.  In Evelina, we read a number of letters about Evelina before we get to hear her distinctive voice directly.  What information do the letters between Rev. Villars and Lady Howard convey about Evelina?  How would you read her first letter to Rev. Villars differently if it wasn't preceded by this correspondence?

Deadline: Tuesday (11/1), start of class.

Secondary Lit Post: Pat Mitchell

The issue of character identity within Horace Walpole’s gothic novel The Castle of Otranto is one that arises frequently both in reading the novel and the critical debates that have taken place since its original publication. Due to the fluidity and fickle nature of many if not most of the book’s characters, precise identity can be hard to pinpoint. What roles do and do not come into play are up for debate, and can be interpreted a seemingly countless number of ways by varying readers. One such interpretation, is that offered by Max Fincher in his article, “Homosocial Sins and Identiy in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.” In the article, Fincher suggests that Walpole’s own deeply rooted homosexuality as well as his homoerotic tendencies are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) present within the context of the book’s characters, most notably the Manfred character.

Fincher predicates his argument by stating that “the predominant themes of the problems of marriage, courtship between differing classes and incestuous desire are not ostensibly homoerotic.” He, like most, sees these aforementioned themes as the basis for Walpole’s writing, and he makes clear that he doesn’t wish to confuse the underlying homosexual influence as a focal point of the narrative. Put in simpler terms, Fincher acknowledges that the homosexual aspects of the novel, while he does indeed believe they are there, are a bit below the surface, and easily not picked up on if the reader isn’t looking for them.

From there, Fincher goes on to explain in depth precisely where he sees the most identifiable homoerotic characteristics, specifically in regards to Manfred. Fincher argues that Manfred’s “open secret” of being the grandson of a usurper is corollary to Walpole’s own secret identity as a homosexual. The crux of argument reads as follows: “. It operates in a similar way in which the open secret of the condition of the homoerotic body does, through the collusion of silence and unspeakability.” Shortly thereafter Fincher identifies the passage wherein Manfred, while speaking to Frederic, is unable to openly admit to the lineage of corruption he hails from, as he stumbles over his own words when speaking of his grandfather, never reaching any certifiable conclusion. This, Fincher argues, serves as further proof that the closet Manfred has constructed for himself is representative of the real-life closet in which Walpole resides, and that Manfred’s fear of exposure is the same fear that Walpole deals with in reality.

For me, this interpretation was fairly eye opening. It was an angle that I hadn’t given much consideration to, if any at all. Upon my first reading of the article I was still leery to say the least, but then in re-reading some passages, specifically those mentioned by Fincher within the article itself, he indeed appears to have constructed a sound and logical argument. After doing some brief independent research on the topic right after this, it took little more than a quick Google search to realize that the theory of Walpole as a homosexual is actually quite predominant today. Furthermore, what I especially appreciated about the article was that it appointed some more identity to Manfred, something that I felt was a bit lacking within the original narrative. It was clear from my original reading that his character was somewhat of a desperate one, but what the article drove home for me was this notion of self-preservation within his character that I hadn’t found so overwhelming the first time around. Particularly when paralleled with the author’s own deep-rooted concerns, it becomes much more obvious and for me, more intriguing.

As previously mentioned, one specific passage that Fincher points to is the scene in which Manfred speaks of his grandfather, but unable to come to terms with what he cannot admit, he falls short of finishing his statement. He says: “My grandfather was incapable – I say, sir, Don Ricardo was incapable – Excuse me, your interruption has disordered me – I venerate the memory of my grandfather.” (64)

My question then is, if Manfred had found it within himself to be revealing here, how do you think he would have gone about it? There are several possibilities. Would he have come clean but in his trademarked devious nature entwined some fresh lie with the actual truth? Or would he have been straightforward and blatant? Or, to take it a bit further still, do you think there was no real way his character could’ve admitted the secret of his grandfather at all? Some would likely argue that the way in which Walpole presented this scene was the only genuine way it could be done. As Fincher puts it, it’s entirely “open for interpretation.” So how do you see it?

Fincher, Max “Homosocial Sins and Identity in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto” Gothic Studies Journal (2001): 229-242. Web Accessed: 28 October 2011.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Required Blog Post: Nora Ellis

In reading The Castle of Otranto, there is much that is difficult to believe. Between murder, trysts, and giant helmets of death, the book is at times almost as difficult to believe as a soap opera. With that in mind, how would you go about producing this book as a movie?

Consider all of the elements of film making. In adapting the script, which pieces would you cut or change? Would you add anything to make things clearer, or to make the cast larger? How true would you stay to the text? Which lines do you think would end up on IMDB as "memorable quotes"? What would you use as a tagline, in the advertisments for the film?

As with all movies, you would have to decide which character you wanted to consider the "main" character. Which character would you have the movie center around and why? Would you change things in order to make certain characters more sympathetic?

What would your general vision for the piece be? Would you do it in period dress? Would you modernize it? Make it a Western? Would you turn it into a science fiction teen angst television series? What genre would you classify it when it was sent to the box offices? What rating do you think it would get?

Finally, who would you cast? Who would play Theodore, Isabella, Manfred, Matilda, Frederic, et cetera? Why would you cast those people?

Though this does not seem as textually deep as many of the questions posted are, I think we can learn a lot about our readings of the novel by examining what we would keep or cut and who we imagined each character as. I think that examining a text in this way helps us look at the novel as a sort of co-creater, giving us insights into a basic justification of the text. In reading as a director, slashing anything unimportant from the script, one starts to understand what about the text really matters.

Secondary Lit Post: Krista DeMeuse

A reader of Horace Walpole’s Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto can clearly observe similarities between the novel and the plays of Shakespeare, specifically Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In his article “Hamlet and Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto,” Robert B. Hamm Jr. explores the ways in which Walpole’s novel was influenced by and tried to expand upon the embodiment of the emotion of terror that was portrayed by actors in theatrical productions. Hamm Jr. argues that Walpole was successful in his attempt, stating “While it draws heavily on the theater, Otranto concludes, I argue, by privileging the novel’s superior ability to embody emotion persuasively” (669). According to Hamm Jr. Walpole’s inspiration for the terror in his novel was the Ghost’s appearance to Hamlet in the play, which Walpole inserts into the novel three different times—sometimes with verbatim dialogue—in an attempt to translate the terror inspired by the actors into the pages of the novel (674).

In the second half of his article, Hamm Jr. compares the corresponding scenes in the play and in the novel. The first interaction with the supernatural in The Castle of Otranto takes place in the first chapter when the painting of Manfred’s father comes alive and interrupts Manfred’s attempt to ravish Isabella. According to Hamm Jr., Walpole recreates the scene by “casting Prince Manfred in the role of Prince Hamlet” (675). Hamm argues that the fact that Manfred immediately identifies the figure a part of a sinister plot to undermine his authority strikes more terror into the reader, there by surpassing the terror in the play (675-676). The second instance of the appearance of the Ghost to Hamlet is mirrored in the novel when Jerome—who was thought dead by his son for so long that he symbolically represents Hamlet’s dead father—tells his son Theodore about the sufferings faced by their family. While no actual spectral appearances occur in this scene, Hamm Jr. argues, Hippolta’s unexpected entrance into the scene serves as the terror inducing moment (678). Finally, the last instance in which Walpole mirrors Shakespeare is the scene in which a specter visits Fredrick—the father of Isabella—to remind him of an oath that he made, corresponding to when the Ghost reminds Hamlet to remember the promise of revenge that he made (679-680).

Robert B. Hamm Jr. ends his article with an overview of how Horace Walpole is able to expand the terror of the play Hamlet in the novel form with The Castle of Otranto, “Walpole increases the number of characters who stand in for both Hamlet and the Ghost. In essence, he provides three sons and three spectral fathers to explore various depictions and degrees of terror. The multiplication of characters involved in these scenes is indicative of the novel’s broader treatment of the passion” (682). The overall argument of Hamm Jr. seems to be that one of the purpose’s behind Walpole’s creation of The Castle of Otranto was to encourage members of society leave behind the theater and move to novels in order to “find true emotion” depicted (686).

Before I read this article, I had not noticed all of the allusions and similarities to Shakespeare in The Castle of Otranto. While this article was somewhat dense and seemed to lose focus at some points, I did find Robert Hamm Jr.’s argument to be very enlightening. I can see how the scenes from The Castle of Otranto that he describes do mirror those in Hamlet and how readers could possibly find the novel more terrifying because Walpole makes it seem as if the supernatural experiences could happen to anyone, not just a prince. However I am unsure if I fully believe his argument that Walpole was trying to “one up” Shakespeare.

Do you buy Hamm Jr.’s argument that Walpole expands the terror of Hamlet by increasing the number of people to who experience the supernatural and/or visits from a specter? What about the claim that Walpole was consciously encouraging people to read more novels and go to the theater less?

Hamm Jr., Robert B. “Hamlet and Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto.” SEL: Studies in English Literature (John Hopkins) 49.3 (2009): 667-692. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 25 October 2011.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kirsten Mendoza- Queer Theory in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto

In “Guessing the Mould- Homosocial Sins and Identity in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto,” Max Fincher argues that this gothic novel may be read symbolically as the dynamics of a subject who has internalized a homophobic culture. During the mid-eighteenth century, a loosely defined sexual sensibility starts to gain importance thereby constructing boundaries between male-male friendship and desire. In order to further show how queer theory may be applicable to The Castle of Otranto, Fincher brings to light letters written by Walpole to men of distinction such as Lord Lincoln. These letters convey passions that range from friendship to erotic desire. William Guthrie had accused Walpole as being feminine and of loving men. According to Fincher, “Homophobia is structured upon a misogynistic viewpoint, and for the post facto effects it had on Walpole in his desire to be more ‘manly’” (Fincher 234). Walpole’s fear of his desire being ‘outed’ (as it had possibly been by Guthrie) was an ingrained part of his subconscious.
            Like the fear of being ‘outed,’ Manfred is preoccupied with the threat of his identity being ‘outed,’ an identity that claims him to be the grandson of an usurper. “Manfred is a kind of closet, albeit a public one… He can’t even name the act of betrayal and usurpation or even consider it a possibility” (Fincher 234). Like the uncanny, the sins of his family has become so familiar to Manfred that is in not only unspeakable, but also unfamiliar just as the homoerotic desire may be unfamiliar to the self. Silence and unspeakability characterize Manfred’s familial secret as the homoerotic body does as well. The fear of homoerotic desire being exposed parallels the fear of Manfred’s true identity being revealed.
            “Aesthetically, the Gothic novel is similar to the spectacle of the masquerade in its tendency towards flamboyant exaggeration” (Fincher 236). The overtly misogynistic actions of the characters of the male figures and the negative portrayal of femininity in the novel may be indicative of a desire to over compensate masculinity through this “flamboyant exaggeration.” Like Walpole’s possible desire to overcompensate his supposed “femininity,” Manfred must also protect his masculinity. Manfred’s son is sickly and effeminate. His death is seen as a blessing in disguise since a son unable to produce an heir is a reflection of Manfred’s own lack of masculinity. In order to prove his manhood, it is necessary for Manfred to continue his line, to produce a viable male heir. The portrayal of Hippolita is extremely interesting. Hippolita, a mythological Amazonian warrior, is denigrated in The Castle of Otranto to a dutiful wife who values her husband’s happiness over her children’s and her own happiness. She is not the only woman in the novel who subjects women to the vices of men. Bianca states that “a bad husband is better than no husband at all” (Fincher 237). According to Fincher, the misogynistic tendencies of this novel fit well with a desire to overcompensate for a lack of masculinity.  Through The Castle of Otranto, we can see how gothic fiction is used to enforce the ideas that sexuality outside of hetero-normative practices is “unnatural and demonic” (Fincher 241). This is done, however, through manifesting the author’s own possible uncertainty and confusion of identity into the gothic novel.


While reading The Castle of Otranto, I couldn’t help but feel repulsed by Manfred and Frederic’s desire to marry each other’s daughters and Hippolita’s catering to her husband’s devious plans. Did Manfred really have to desire to marry his deceased son’s fiancĂ©e? Fincher’s argument does seem, in my opinion, to warrant the validity of queer theory even without the extensive description into the life of Horace Walpole. The overcompensation of masculinity and extensive misogynistic tendencies of the novel make sense if you think of it as a means to firmly segregate the masculine from the feminine, to evade any possibility of the tinkering of feminine qualities upon the male. Manfred’s desire to prove his masculinity through continuing his line is a point which I find to be extremely probable and valid. Furthermore, the family “secret” as synonymous with the fear of being ‘outed’ raises very interesting points. If sexual boundaries were coming into formation during the 18C, then perhaps the sensitivity to being ‘outed’ or labeled as homoerotic, then  both Manfred’s claim to the Castle of Otranto and homoeroticism has much (in the present day at least) to do with identity.

Does queer theory bring to light possibly alternatives for us to read The Castle of Otranto? Do you believe that Fincher’s arguments are plausible? If so, then what parts of this gothic novel do you think attests to the fear of being ‘outed?’

If you do not think that Fincher’s arguments make sense, then what other possibilities would you like to give to deconstruct his correlation between the hyper-masculinity and misogynistic tendencies evident in the narrative???  For example is the negative portrayal of women in the novel indicative of a desire to prove masculinity, OR, is it simply used to make the plot more interesting as a critique on women-women relationships?

WORKS CITED

Fincher, Max. Gothic Studies, Dec2001, Vol. 3 Issue 3, p229, 17p
Subjects: CRITICISM; CASTLE of Otranto, The (Book); WALPOLE, Horace, 1717-1797

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Megan Mayfield: Required Blog Post

It immediately caught my attention in the first chapter of The Castle of Otranto that the peasant was not imprisoned in some high tower of the castle like we might imagine, but he was imprisoned deep in the caverns of the castle. This, to me, is reminiscent of an idea that Freud later described as the Uncanny. The Uncanny is complex, but a simple explanation might say that something that was once familiar to us has somehow been made strange and unfamiliar; this strange and unfamiliar then reasserts itself, and causes within us an "uncanny" feeling. Dolls, automatons, or other lifelike inanimate objects are often cited as examples of the Uncanny; they were familiar playthings of our childhoods that we then naturally strayed from as we grew older. So, occasionally, one may encounter an adult who is afraid of a doll's lifelikeness. We familiarity with dolls have been buried, so when they reassert themselves later, they may be terrifying. This is how I viewed the tunnels in which the peasant is placed. The tunnels are part of a home, a castle, and they are used for something so entirely opposed to the ideals of a home--a prison. So, the comfort and familiarity of a home is buried and made strange by using part of it as a prison; also, the peasant is semi-literally buried within the castle this way. He then reasserts himself by finding his way out and leading Isabella out.

Did anyone else see similarities between the Uncanny and any part of the novel thus far? If so, do you believe the entity Manfred sees in the window is in anyway uncanny? Have you made any connections to any other Gothic stories? Maybe the way Fortunato is buried within the catacombs of a home within Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"? Other Poe stories? Am I reading too much into this tunnels of the castle? You can tell me, please.

Information: Final Assignment (UPDATED and BUMPED)

The final assignment prompt is here, and over there in the sidebar.  If you have questions about the assignment or need further clarification, asking here is a great way to find out what you need to know (and it makes the information available to your classmates as well.

UPDATE: The proposal is due at 8pm tomorrow.

Also, I got some e-mails over the weekend indicating some general confusion about what this assignment entails.  Just to make sure everyone has the same information, I'll post some of the further explanation I supplied here, for everyone's benefit:

What you need is a scholarly book (also called a monograph) written by a historian, literary scholar, or cultural studies scholar in the field of eighteenth-century literature and culture.  A great way to find such a book is through the MLA Bibliography, which you can get to through the UIUC library.  If you've never used the MLA bibliography before and find yourself running into problems, the librarians in the Literatures and Languages Library (in the main UIUC library) are knowledgeable about it.  Another strategy is to simply search the holdings of the UIUC Library on the online catalog using some keywords (for example, "Eighteenth Century" and "Women" or "Gender"), but this approach can yield an overwhelming number of possibilities.  

"Secondary" means "written by a C20/C21 scholar" about a particular cultural subject or historical period--in our case, the C18.  So you need a book written IN the late 20th/early 21st century ABOUT the eighteenth century.  It needs to be a scholarly work (history, cultural studies, literary criticism), NOT fiction or poetry or drama (those would be "primary" works). So: just one book BY a scholar who is engaged in literary history or cultural criticism about the eighteenth century.   You will see what the scholarly work you have chosen has to say about C18 culture, and you will identify a few key points that seem to bear in interesting ways on the novels we're reading in this course.  Then you will use the books we read for the course as examples or test cases for the ideas advanced in the secondary work you have looked at.  So just ANY book about eighteenth-century history or literary won't do--if it's too narrow in focus, it won't leave you with much to say about our novels!--and ideally you will choose one that discusses issues or ideas that you find particularly interesting (that will make the assignment more enjoyable).  

The formulation "I just compare this book to the novels from class..." makes me a little nervous.  The scholarly book you select is necessarily going to be so different from the novels we read that "comparison" doesn't quite capture how you need to bring them together--you'll need to understand the argument your C21 secondary scholarly author is making ABOUT the period (or its culture or its literature) and then test it by applying it to the novels we read.  Just wanted to make sure that part was clear! 


Hope this helps!  Feel free to ask additional questions or get further clarification by responding to this post.

Friday, October 21, 2011

James Scholar Post 1: Didactic Lessons and Crusoe as a "Home-maker"

James Scholar: First Blog Post
“Romancing the Home: ‘The Female Quixote,’ ‘Betsy Thoughtless,’ and the Dream of the Feminine Empire”
Richard Barney’s eighteenth century analytical compilation, Plots of Enlightenment: Education and the Novel in Eighteenth Century England, makes several significant arguments for the Novel’s didactic purpose in eighteenth century society. One of his most interesting chapters, “Romancing the Home: ‘The Female Quixote,’ ‘Betsy Thoughtless,’ and the Dream of Feminine Empire”, draws a very relevant comparison between the protagonist of Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote, Arabella and Defoe’s famous character, Robinson Crusoe. Barney’s argument is rooted in Defoe’s contribution to the emergence of domestic fiction: fiction marketed towards woman that delivered “didactic” messages, or messages that taught women how to properly fulfill their role in nineteenth century society. Although this type of fiction didn’t fully emerge until the nineteenth century, Barney argues that Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, whose narrator’s “success depends at least in part or initially mastering the ways and means of maintaing a domestic economy-the functions usually assigned to women” (269), is a symbol of what women were expected to accomplish as eighteenth and nineteenth century females. Barney describes Crusoe’s story as “a man who learns to master the discipline of domestic management before then applying it to the larger project of forming his personal kingdom” (268). Barney’s argument is that, rather than Defoe presenting an imperialist, masculine figure, Defoe created a character who appeals to the female reader; a character who must establish domesticity to properly function in society. 
Barney is creating an argument that is, interestingly, almost opposite from the way Defoe is commonly compared with female works. In our class comparison of The Female American with Robinson Crusoe, one of the major arguments is that Unca is recreating what Crusoe accomplishes, only she is a female. The reader looks at Unca as a female taking on a man’s role, not a female accepting her already established role. The way in which Unca is often compared to Crusoe revolves around the idea of Unca fighting for her role as the masculine imperialist, proving that she can be a missionary, only a better one. Through Barney’s argument of Crusoe as a domestic figure, is it plausible to envision Unca’s story as a reclaiming of her domestic superiority to Crusoe? Or is she fighting for the masculine role?
Also, if Robinson Crusoe really does mark the emergence of the domestic novel, what would women of the eighteenth century take from Crusoe as their “didactic” lesson? Do we get this same didactic lesson from Unca? And does gender at all play into who does it better? For example, when we look at both characters as domestic figures, does Unca appear more successful? And vice versa, if we compare them as entrepreneurs and leaders, does Crusoe take the lead because of his masculine status?

Barney, Richard A. Romancing the Home: ‘The Female Quixote,’ ‘Betsy Thoughtless,’ and the Dream of Feminine Empire. Plots of Enlightenment: Education and the Novel in Eighteenth-century England. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1999. 255-300. Print.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

For Credit: Female American Follow-up

Some great issues were raised in response to today's attendance question.  Feel free to respond to any of these (just make sure you specify which you're answering!) OR offer any reflections, observations, or questions that you didn't have a chance to voice in class:
1.  I think it would be interesting to discuss why Unca Jr. and her husband took all of the native's gold and sent it back to England.
2.  Why didn't the Female American have as many problems with religion/morality as Crusoe?  Most of the conflict seemed to vanish because of this...
3.  I'm wondering whether gender or race is the bigger issue for an 18th century audience.
4.  Why does Unca see when others are sinning or abusing authority, but not her?
5.  Where does this novel fit into our understanding this genre at the time period?
6.  I want to know if you are on board with bringing this into the canon or is it just useful to study one of the inessential bubbles?

Deadline: Saturday midnight (after all, we need to get started on Otranto!)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Secondary Blog Post: Christina

Secondary Literature Blog Post
On The Female American
Christina Cho


The essay by Kristianne Kalata Vaccaro, “‘Recollection... sets my busy imagination to work’: Transatlantic Self-Narration, Performance, and Reception in The Female American” touches upon the fact that women used narratives as a space for them to be independent and autonomous being able to perform different roles(Vaccaro 141). This article scrutinizes hybridity and multiple-ness (having many identities or just not confined to one), because the novel, The Female American “pushes boundaries of genre, gender, and nation in a way that mirrors the messiness- or, in Christopher Looby’s terms, the “disunity”- of eighteenth-century American culture and politics.” (141) The disunity can be explained by how the “mixed-race women in colonial America” unable to clearly define their identities as American or British becomes neither, thereby creating their own sphere of influence. Also this article talks a great deal about American identity and how Unca adapted to her own island and had the mentality of spiritual imperialism (the story being heavy on Christian superiority). Because Unca takes on a “colonial” role she is able to “indulge in what would otherwise be, for an English woman, transgressive acts and adventures”(141). It gives her the power to take on the leadership role in converting the Native Americans. Which would most likely be a male role if one was present. Her being biracial too and being able to speak their language helps her in the process and they accept her immediately. The article further discusses this multiple identity in relation to Unca’s body. Her body, “like her multi-genre text, gains strength in its multiple hybridity... as a mixed- race woman invading this liminal, uncolonized space, the hybrid appearance of Unca’s body makes her a likely candidate to simulataneously identify with and proselytize the Indians.” (143)
For Unca’s case, she becomes a woman missionary acting as a spiritual imperialist. Which is striking in the fact that she is living in a society where she is expected to be silent and to fulfill the role as a submissive wife. But her not being constrained to societal duties once she is put on the island gives her that opportunity. But we see her independence and autonomy in volume one as she turns down her suitors. She is not forced to do anything. Also her being taught by her Uncle is shown a great deal in the narrative and everything she knows is from her Uncle. And because she speaks from HIS perspective, she can almost be seen as a masculine figure because “Unca’s narrative is characterized by her ‘ventriloquizing dominant ideologies of gender,’ as when she addresses herself in her Uncle Winkfield’s voice and, ultimately, preaches to Indians from the concealed location of the hollow, masculine, sun god idol”(142). The “concealed” can be seen as her “putting on” a new role.

This might not have much to do with the story, The Female American but I’m curious to know the effects of having a multiple “fluid” identity. And does it really create more avenues for freedom? Because from reading this article (which I found pretty confusing) it seems to be showing how having that hybridity, or dual-ness gave Unca the freedom and opportunity to exercise independence in the island. And it’s just a thought because our surrounding is becoming more multi-cultural and global.






Works Cited
Vaccaro, Kristianne Kalata. "Recollection … sets my busy imagination to work": Transatlantic Self-Narration, Performance, and Reception in The Female American." Eighteenth Century Fiction 20.2 (2008): 127-150.Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 19 Oct. 2011.

Required Blog Question: Female American

We've seen that The Female American has themes of both imperialism (Unca's determination to convert the natives, her own position of "High Priestess" over them, the demolition of the idol statue, etc.) and feminism (Unca's domination over the Indians, her agency and survival skills, and again her position as "High Priestess").

What, then, should we as readers make of Unca and her husband's decision to remain on the islands (albeit with increased resources from England)? Is this the author's effort to support imperialism? Does the characters' decision to stay reflect their desire to continue their lives of grandeur and authority, or does the accompanying decision to leave Europe behind them forever imply a desire to "go native" and abandon their imperialist ideals?

On the feminist side, is Unca's decision to stay on the islands where she is a person of authority a backhanded implication that a woman can have no real authority in a more "structured" western society? Is the author literally putting Unca in her place by not allowing by saying that "sure, women can have authority, but not in our society," or is he or she empowering Unca by giving her imperialistic dominance?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Required Blog Post: Keena Griffin

Beginning with the title and introductory sections of our text, The Female American, we are guided to base our interpretations of this book on two themes: the roles of gender and race. It is often compared to Robinson Crusoe because of obvious similarities in the plot and details, which further leads us to read the text with these themes in mind and then compare them to the white male Crusoe. We are led to ask how the actions of a racially mixed female character compare to the white male. However, should we really take the gender/race bait? Is there a theme alive in the text that Winkfield wants to subliminally send to the reader without the focus of extensive criticism?

If there is another theme present, how does it interact with 18th century tradition of novels as educators? Does it attempt to educate morality or Christianity, such as some of the other works we have read - or does it do something completely different that other novels have not touched yet? Finally, how does intertextuality aid this new theme (or the original themes if you don't believe there is another theme present)?

Secondary Literature Post: The American Female as compared to Crusoe



Betty Joseph’s article “Re(playing) Crusoe/Pocahontas: circum-Atlantic stagings in The Female American” calls attention to the comparisons made between The American Female and Robinson Crusoe. Joseph presents The American Female as a novel of its own, saying that it “rewrites Robinson Crusoe but... more complex because it transfers Defoe’s piece into one of female self-fashioning and into a critique of colonialism”(1). Joseph’s main argument in her section on “The Island as the other’s space” is that not only does Unca display truer signs of Christianity and leadership, but that the female protagonist uses many of Crusoe’s actions as a stepping off point for her own success. Joseph points out that the use of the survival manual in The American Female critiques, and even belittles, Crusoe’s writing of his “novel” as the creation of a survival guide; a guide that is written by the hermit in Unca’s story. In addition to having a similar guide for survival as Crusoe, Unca writes the greatest chapter into the manual herself; one that outdoes Crusoe’s own writing abilities because it offers much more than “instruction” on survival. One of the most important points that Joseph brings up is that The American Female creates a “third space” or an “imagined community, where the founding father has been displaced by the not-quite-white mother, and where Christianity becomes a female fantasy of total being the rescues the native population from the history of Anglo (male) missionary projects” (1). According to Joseph’s evaluation of The American Female, the female protagonist offers much more depth to the castaway narrative through her creation of a “third space”;  “on an unnamed island, without a founding father, Unca secedes from the possibility of citizenship and consolidates herself as the delegated lawgiver of the Christian God in a third space, unlocatable in the national histories of either England or the United States" (1). The creation of this space, according to Joseph, sets Unca above and beyond the expected missionary, who strictly identifies with the the idea of the white Englishman who “takes over” an already inhabited space. Joseph paints Unca as a hero, who, rather than treating the natives as the “other”, actually saves their souls through Christianity.
Joseph’s article argues the status of The American Female as a work that is highly ignored in eighteenth century literature studies. Joseph presents many of the similarities between Unca’s tale and Crusoe’s through her own arguments for Unca as a stronger protagonist. Joseph emphasizes the “third space” as an important distinguisher of Unca’s story from that of Crusoe’s. This space that she creates becomes a place separate from the identity of an “American” or “Englishman”, and is rather a place where Christianity becomes a fantasy-like state that is free of colonization.
Through my understanding of The American Female, I see Unca as a much different figure than Crusoe. Like Joseph argues, she takes on a Pocahontas-like role; which distinguishes her as a savior to many people, not just to herself. Unlike Robinson Crusoe, where the main goal throughout is his own survival, Unca’s goal becomes her missionary work on the island; she seeks to be a tool to God, unlike Crusoe who looks to God to fulfill his own needs. I am actually a little surprised at the close comparison between the two novels, because I believe we are working with two completely different protagonists, with two completely different journeys. Unca's tale is one that emphasizes her given role as a missionary to the people of the island. Her story is about spreading her faith to others, while throughout the entirety of Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe is looking to solidify a faith for himself. 
Why do you think that Robinson Crusoe and The American Female are so closely related according to critics? Do you think that The American Female goes above and beyond what Defoe does in his own novel?
In terms of gender, do you feel that because Joseph is a woman, her article maintains a biased view on the comparison between the protagonists? Or do you think her argument is founded in fair and supported evidence?
Lastly, what do you think of how Joseph argues for Christianity in each work? Is Christianity treated completely differently in the two novels? What is she saying about how Crusoe deals with religion? Through Unca's spreading of religion, what does Joseph seem to think about the author's portrayal of the female soul? How does this article, along with your reading of The American Female portray the soul of a female character with that of a male (what attributes do women seem to have emotionally that males do not?).



Works Cited
Joseph, B. Re(playing) Crusoe/Pocahontas: circum-Atlantic stagings in The female American. Criticism v. 42 no. 3 (Summer 2000) p. 317-35

Saturday, October 15, 2011

For Credit: Something Completely Different!

I didn't say so in class, but it's on the syllabus: we're finished (for the moment) with Tristram Shandy (but we'll be coming back to it!) and moving on next week to The Female American. Read to the end of Vol. 1 (p.98) in advance of Tuesday and plan to complete the book as a whole by Friday.

If you've been annoyed and frustrated by Tristram Shandy, The Female American will be something of a relief. It's another of those C18 novels that says exactly what it means and tells a coherent linear story. (For those enjoying Tristram Shandy and regretting that we can't forge ahead with it--and there are a few of you, right?--this abrupt shift may seem disruptive. Know that I do it advisedly. Shandy is sort of like pesto or pecan pie or bleu cheese--even for those who like it, one can quickly cross the line between enjoyment of just enough and revulsion at too much.

The Female American is, as you will see, something of a response to Robinson Crusoe. Unlike Robinson Crusoe, Pamela, and Tristram Shandy, it is profoundly non-canonical. Like Fantomina, it moldered unnoticed and ignored on the shelves of a few rare book libraries until the 1990s, when the fresh new wind of cultural studies blew the dust off it.  Thus far, the Broadview edition I ordered for the course is the ONLY modern print edition of it available--and I believe it's been the first edition since the early 1800s.  There is as yet little scholarship on it (as those of you signed up for secondary literature posts will discover!), but the novel is getting taught and discussed.

So what do you think: what are the reasons for resurrecting a forgotten text like this?  Are they good reasons or not?  A week on the syllabus devoted to a firmly noncanonical book like this one is a week that we're NOT spending on works that have stood the test of time: the novels of Fielding, Richardson, Defoe, Burney, Sterne (and those omitted from the syllabus altogether, like Swift and Smollet).  Does it warrant the time we devote to it?

Try NOT to answer this question in the abstract--wait until you've done a little reading, so you have some textual (not just theoretical) basis for your ideas.

Deadline: Tuesday (10/18), start of class.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Secondary Lit Post: Entropy and Tristram

This was a rather dense article describing some "Focaultian" and some anti-Enlightenment perspectives on the novel of Tristram Shandy.

The first part of the article claims that the novel presents a worldview that is divorced or apart from Enlightenment. The author calls that worldview, "linear, [and] clockwork regularity of Newtonianism" and he sees this novel as a "fracturing" of this kind discourse, common to the Enlightenment era (2). The article explains that Tristram is going against life as concrete, easily divisible hard details in favor of entropy; entropy meaning the idea of physical systems as a gradual decline of order into disorder and lacking predictability.

An interesting point the article made was the way in which Sterne was the way in which he uses every miniscule, drawn out detail, and the reason for the drawn 3 volumes. The article claims that Sterne goes against "classical scientists' arbitrary discounting of small influences and the large-scale effects they can have within dynamic systems" (3). Linearity is impossible in the novel form; Sterne is making an assertion that the very nature of the novel form cries out for the very nature of life itself. By providing the small details, he gives importance to those things in affecting the bigger picture.


A way he continues to challenge what are "essentialist" Newtonian perspectives, is the way he treats his birth. The book takes so long in getting to Tristram's actual birth as a way of disputing the conventions produced by the homunculus. The author writes
of the homonculus, "no longer fully formed and predetermined, this homunculus loses its Newtonian particulateness as a self-contained 'information packet' only needing unfolding and expansion; rather, it is opened out into a whole field of relationships, its identity only determinable in a constantly widening web of information" (6). The reason for all these minute details is to show that this essentialist view of the homonculus are trite. It goes against the idea of sperm as simply holding a tiny human and fully formed. The interconnected way in which the details lead up to his birth show the way in which we are not fully formed human beings here. The article calls them different "scales" or "web of information" (6-8). There is chaos in birth. We are not fully formed or going along predetermined paths and these details are way of showing that human beings are not definable creatures, stuck on a linear, clockwork type event line. The more details added, the more chaos, and the more true to life Tristram makes this novel.

From this big picture perspective, I believe that this is in keeping with the way in which the 18th century novel is a way in which a ideology or idea can be pushed. I always saw the novel as decidedly anti-religion and anti-essentialist. It is, however, didactic, not in a religious sense, but it makes some clear ideological assertions. He is using the novel form as a tool for teaching or presenting certain ideology, which I see as somewhat moral; he's got an agenda.


I apologize if the ideas seem half-formed; I'm not sure if I've fully grasped some of the assertions made in the article, but there you go.

My question would be to what degree do you agree with this assertion? Are the minute details, and the drawn out discourse of his birth a way of going against the scientific views of the time period? If so, how does it affect the way in which we view this novel in a discourse with 18th century literature of the time? Is it in keeping with those ideas or not?


Works Cited

Freeman, John. "Delight in the (Dis)order of Things: Tristram Shandy and the Dynamics of Genre." Studies in the Novel 34.2 (2002): 141. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.