Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

PUBLICATION HISTORY: Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte's only novel, was published in two volumes under the pseudonym Ellis Bell in 1847. "Acton Bell's" (Anne Bronte, Emily's younger sister) one-volume Agnes Grey was also published with Wuthering Heights - together, the novels made up a three-volume triple decker. Two months before, the more well-known Charlotte published Jane Eyre under the pseudonym "Currer Bell." Thus, many speculated that all three novels were perhaps by Currer. A second edition edited by Charlotte was published posthumously in 1848. Included with the 1850 edition was a "Biographical Notice" which sought to correct this common misperception that all three novels were published by "Currer Bell." This notice reveals the "Bells" to be the Bronte sisters, and also the process through which they came into the literary world. Of Wuthering Heights, Charlotte wrote, "The immature but very real powers revealed in 'Wuthering Heights' were scarcely recognized; it's import and nature were misunderstood."

After all, reception for Wuthering Heights was mixed; many Victorian audiences found its narrative form (double-, and sometimes even triple-framed narration), dark Gothic elements, and difficult-to-ascertain moral lessons to be strange amidst the more common realist novels of the era.

One of the structurally difficult aspects of Wuthering Heights is its genealogy, where doubled-identities and symmetrical intermarriages often make it hard to keep track of who is who. For a genealogy of Wuthering Heights, see the following.

The novel begins with one Mr. Lockwood renting out the property at Thrushcross Grange. He encounters the landlord at Wuthering Heights (Heathcliff), and overstays his welcome there, not being able to leave due to inclement weather. At Wuthering Heights, Lockwood completely misreads the relations between Heathcliff, Catherine, and Hareton. A servant allows Lockwood to stay overnight at the Heights, and before bed, Lockwood snoops around and reads snippets of the older Catherine's writing in the margins of book when she was a child with Heathcliff and Hindley. At night, Lockwood has a disturbingly violent dream in which Catherine is at the window and instead of letting her in, he smashes her bleeding arm into the window's broken glass.

Disturbed, on his return to the Grange, Lockwood solicits Ellen Dean, the lifetime servant of the Earnshaw's at Wuthering Heights who has been acquainted with their lives for several generations. Ellen, known familiarly as "Nelly," begins her story, and the majority of the novel is narrated through her first-person account. 

In the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw adopt the gypsy-like Heathcliff off of the streets and he quickly becomes the favorite of Mr. Earnshaw. This leads to some tense relations between Heathcliff and Hindley, the oldest child of the Earnshaws. However, Heathcliff becomes very close to Catherine Earnshaw (the older Catherine) and the two of them seem kindred spirits with a "mischievous" streak. Mr. Earnshaw dies, and things become worse for Heathcliff. One day, Heathcliff and Catherine sneak off together once to the Linton family's Grange and are caught: the Linton's, however, take Catherine in for five weeks but throw the dark, gypsy-like Heathcliff out. Through, Nelly, we are given Heathcliff's first-person account of this incident, and it is clear that Heathcliff has been hurt by the Lintons' snubbing. Meanwhile, Hindley, now master of the house of Earnshaw, treats Catherine and Heathcliff not so well. After Catherine's return from the Lintons', relations become even more strained with Heathcliff who deeply feels the snootiness of Catherine's new friends, Edgar and Isabella Linton. At this point in the narrative, Nelly wants to skip ahead a few years, but Lockwood does not allow it. 

Hindley leaves for college and returns with a wife, Frances, and Hareton Earnshaw is born. Frances, however, dies during Hareton's birth. Hindley continues to treat Heathcliff poorly, consigning him the subordinate status of doing labor in and around the grounds. Relations between Catherine and Heathcliff further deteriorate when Hindley is out one day and Catherine invites Edgar over and prefers his company over Heathcliff's. Though Edgar sees Catherine's violent side in this episode, they reconcile and become lovers. Catherine still loves Heathcliff even though she marries Edgar. 

Heathcliff disappears, and Ellen leaves Wuthering Heights to go off with her mistress Catherine to Thrushcross Grange. When Heathcliff returns, he seems to have a revenge plan against everyone who has snubbed him. Isabella falls in love with Heathcliff, and seeing an opportunity to hurt Edgar Linton, he courts her despite clearly not being interested in her. Meanwhile, Heathcliff is barred from visiting the Grange by Edgar, but in protest, Catherine begins to starve herself. Isabella soon runs away with Heathcliff and becomes estranged from her family. 

Soon Nelly receives a letter from Isabella which tells of her ill-treatment at Heathcliff's hands and their return to Wuthering Heights. Nelly goes to the Heights to visit Isabella, and runs into Heathcliff who exacts a promise from her that she will arrange a meeting with Catherine for him. Catherine and Heathcliff meet in a passionate reunion, but Edgar Linton intercedes. Caught between the quarrel between these two men, Catherine soon dies, but not before little Catherine is born. to her and Edgar. Subsequently, Isabella escapes from Wuthering Heights, Hindley dies and Heathcliff gets Wuthering Heights and also custody of Hareton Earnshaw, much to his delight. 

Little Catherine grows up idyllically at the Grange, protected from the characters at Wuthering Heights by her father and Nelly, but eventually, she ventures out and meets Hareton by chance. She is generally disgusted by him (Hareton has been treated much in the same way by Heathcliff that Hindley once treated Heathcliff). Catherine is much more enamored with Linton, the son of Isabella and Heathcliff, who comes briefly to the Grange after Isabella dies. Unfortunately, Heathcliff claims Linton for Wuthering Heights, as he is his father. Catherine, drawn to Linton, secretly visits the Heights and despite their best efforts, Nelly and Edgar can't stop her. Nelly even burns Catherine and Linton's love letters to one another, and generally doesn't take their relations seriously, deeming them silly. However, the attachment remains, and when Heathcliff comes to tell her that Linton is sick and she must visit him, she goes. Catherine eventually confesses to Nelly about these visits, and Nelly tells Edgar. The visits are prohibited, and meanwhile, Linton becomes ill, and so does Edgar. Finally, Catherine is allowed to see Linton on the borderlands of the Grange, and she is frightened by how weak and fearful he has become. 

It turns out that Heathcliff has a plan to trap Catherine and Nelly at Wuthering Heights, forcing Catherine to marry Linton on his timetable in order to worry Edgar to death, and to enable him to inherit the property at the Grange after Linton's death. Heathcliff succeeds at this plan and gets the Grange after Linton dies soon after he is married to Catherine. Nelly's narrative ends here, and Lockwood visits Wuthering Heights and decides to leave to go back to London, musing on a potentially unfulfilled romance between himself and Catherine. Nelly ends the narrative with the reconciliation of Catherine and Hareton, whom Catherine now treats more humanely and reforms into a gentler man, teaching him how to read and write. At the close of the novel, Heathcliff dies, seemingly haunted by older Catherine's presence before his death. Somewhat contradictorily, the narrator ends with imagining the three slumberers (Edgar, the older Catherine, and Heathcliff) abiding together peacefully and quietly in the earth.    

As Patsy Stoneman notes in the introduction to the Oxford edition of Wuthering Heights, the work is as difficult for literary critics today as it was for Victorian critics and audiences to pin down. Stoneman writes that the history of criticism of Wuthering Heights might as well be a history of modern literary criticism itself. Stoneman's history of criticism is worthy of summary:
  • Two influential pieces of criticism: 1926 - Sanger published The Structure of Wuthering Heights which details the symmetry of intermarriages and disentangles temporal and spatial landscapes twisted into the frame narration. 1934 - Lord David Cecil published a "symbolic" reading which essentially holds that the text is not realist but that the characters symbolize two different cosmic principles: the spirit of the "wild" "dynamic," and "vital," and the spirit of calm. Cecil explains how these cosmic forces are upset by Heathcliff, and then his final "assimilation to the body of nature" balances out these forces once again. Both Sanger and Cecil offer readings which give the impression of neatly "tying up" loose ends (or perhaps ignoring them).   
  • "Landscape" readings: many critics have noted the vital role which nature and the landscape plays in Wuthering Heights - Catherine and Heathcliff are thus the most in touch with the vital forces of nature, in contrast to the social rules and conventions of those around them including Edgar, and of course, the narrators (Nelly and Lockwood).
  • "Class" readings: Wuthering Heights operates on an agricultural economy (labor is visible), and the Grange is a place of leisure (labor is invisible and only the products of labor are visible). Heathcliff is a socially mobile agent who breaks this class structure.
  • "Feminist" readings: Catherine is a prisoner of gentility at the Grange, and hence her passionate episodes of starvation evince hysteria resulting from the imprisonment; Heathcliff's legal and financial triumph and his violence represent the "twin poles" of masculine power.

Stoneman herself offers a powerful reading which connects Bronte's work to her potential encounter with Shelley's "Epipsychidion," arguing for Catherine's triumph over masculine ethics of propriety/ownership (Edgar) and of justice/revenge (Heathcliff). Catherine embodies a Shelleyan ethic of free love beyond the bounds of marriage in trying to love and care for both men, finally bringing them together in their graves: Catherine lies between the two of them, and in the locket which she wears contains Edgar and Heathcliff's hairs twisted together.  

Such readings focus primarily on the first generation and not the second generation (little Catherine, Hareton, Linton) which takes up as much narrative space as the first. I'm interested particularly in how Nelly and Heathcliff remain the two most important determiners of "storytelling" in both generations, both of whom are not members of privileged classes; thus I seek a kind of hybrid reading of class and narrative control which simultaneously accounts for not just the first generation but the second as well. 

I suggest that throughout the novel, Heathcliff and Nelly, both members of an underclass, jostle for power through trying to possess the reins of storytelling. Heathcliff and Nelly are underprivileged by birth, and also their underprivilege is written into their physical appearance: Heathcliff is dark and gypsy-like, and Nelly, as we learn through Joseph, is not particularly attractive: "I sudn't shift for Nelly--nasty ill nowt as shoo is. Thank God! shoo cannot stale t'sowl o nob'dy! Shoo wer niver soa handsome, but what a body mud lok at her 'bour winking." Both Heathcliff and Nelly are unable to live out "proper" social futures: Heathcliff is barred from money and property because of his dubious social origins and Nelly is barred from marriage because of her social position and looks. For these characters respectively because of their genders, futures may only be possible via either money and property, or marriage. 

Heathcliff's revenge is to write the futures of the second generation (Catherine, Hareton, and Linton) and Nelly's revenge is really the same. The case for Heathcliff's wish to tell the stories or write these futures is more obvious: Heathcliff prevents Hareton (the son of the privileged Hindley) from reading and writing, consigning him to a brute laborer; forces Catherine into a marriage with his own son, thereby enabling himself to inherit the Grange in addition to Wuthering Heights. It is, of course, more difficult to ascertain the ways in which Nelly desires to control these futures since she is the primary narrator and seeks a sympathetic ear from her audience, but there are many instances whereby her own investment in writing futures peeks out, rendering her a much more sinister character than may be expected. In direct competition with Heathcliff, Nelly defends Hareton, insisting that his rough nature was merely superficial and that Catherine might successfully bring out his essentially gentle self in the end. When Catherine and Hareton reconcile, and Catherine marries Hareton, Nelly seems unduly triumphant: "The crown of all my wishes will be the union of those two. I shall envy no one on their wedding day: there won't be a happier woman than myself in England!" Though she herself cannot marry because of her position and her looks, she has written the future of a marriage and this control will make her happier than all the women in England! She seems to have envisioned a sort of triumph not only over Heathcliff, her direct competitor in controlling futures, but also over those who have sought to consign her to the margins over the course of two generations. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Benito Cereno by Herman Melville

Melville's novella was first printed in Putnam's Magazine in October, November, and December of 1855. Like "Bartleby the Scrivener," Benito Cereno was later incorporated into the Piazza Tales collection. The immediate source for Melville's story of mutiny on a slave ship was chapter 18 of Amasa Delano's Narrative of Voyages in Travels, in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (1817). Melville's story is fictional adaptation of Delano's account. Among other chances, Melville changed the date of the mutiny from 1805 to 1799 in order to remind readers of Haitian revolutionary Touissant L'ouverture. Putnam's had recently published an article which referenced Touissant and Santo Domingo, associations which were"a slap in the face to southerners for whom Santo Domingo conjured memories of the slave rebellions and massacres perpetrated by Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and Gabriel Prosser in the 1830s." (Source: Lorant, biography of Melville)

When Melville submitted "Benito Cereno" to Putnam's, G.W. Curtis (who had a hand in editing the magazine, though had declined the chief editorship) is to have famously criticized the inclusion of portions of Cereno's deposition accounts at the end of "Benito Cereno"as evidence of laziness and hurry on the author's part. This was to become a repeated critique of "Benito Cereno," but as critics have since pointed out, the deposition at the end actually a brilliant, carefully considered hybrid of Melville's own prose and portions of the original deposition.    

The story is told through a third-person narrator up until the excerpted deposition of Benito Cereno at the very end. Yet, the narration has the odd feature of frequently focalizing on Delano's thoughts; through frequent free indirect discourse, the narrator and Delano seem to merge. 

While sailing around the coast of Chile, Delano and his trade ship encounter a strange ship which he supposes might be a ship in distress. As they approach, Delano and his crew recognize the ship to be a Spanish slave ship called the San Dominick in great disrepair and rusty old world ornamentation. Delano boards the San Dominick to see if he might help, and discovers that it's captain, Benito Cereno, crew, and slaves seem to be in bad shape. Delano can't account for Cereno, try as he might--he doesn't understand, for example, the excessive subservience of Cereno's trusted slave, Babo. Cereno hardly seems like a leader, yet it appears that everything is in order. Cereno offers Delano a detailed story of how they had set sail 190 days ago from Buenos Aires, meeting with heavy gales off Cape Horn and losing many officers and sailors in the gale. After these losses, the San Dominick, according to Cereno, experienced more losses to a plague of scurvy. When Delano arrives, they are in dire need of food, water, and supplies. 

There is, all the while, the sense that something is not quite right: Delano, an upright American Protestant, sometimes imagines that Cereno the Catholic Spaniard is going to kill him, but out of his also American good-nature and rationality, expunges such thoughts from his mind. The distance which the narrator maintains from Delano clearly signals irony, though the reader is not privy, on a first reading, to what has actually happened on the San Dominick. 

Among the strange episodes which Delano cannot parse include an interaction with a large African by the name of Atufal, who wears chains and has supposedly been subordinate to Cereno in the past. Atufal is to come before Cereno's presence every two hours and will not be released until he asks Cereno for pardon. Delano finds it odd that such a powerful, looming figure as Atufal might be subservient to someone as gloomy, thin, and nervous as Cereno. In yet another famous episode, Babo gives Cereno a shave, and when Babo's razor gets close to Cereno's neck and head, Delano fancies violence for a moment, but again (as he is good-natured), dismisses the notion. When Babo nicks Cereno's neck on accident, Babo is excessively subservient, and Delano feels like the whole scene is like some sort of play, but again, dismisses such notions from his mind because they were supposedly irrational. 

Of course, at the end it is revealed that both Atufal's chains and Babo's shave are in fact acts, and that the San Dominick was a ship controlled by slaves who had revolted. This is revealed to Delano when he goes back to his own ship, slightly peeved that Cereno had inhospitably refused his help, and Cereno jumps aboard with him. Immediately, a revolted slave jumps on board as well and tries to kill Cereno with a dagger. Meantime, the ghastly skeleton of Cereno's partner, Alexandro Aranda is revealed from beneath a canvas on the hull, accompanied by the words, "Follow Your Leader" in chalk. These words were supposed to remind the Spanish sailors that if they made any mistep, they would "follow" Aranda. The rest of the narrative action tells how Delano and his crew finally help Cereno regain the ship. Finally, the hybrid deposition (as mentioned above in the publication history) of Cereno is given as if giving him the last word, but the narrator closes with an afterword on Babo's strong, silent bearing before his trial and death, and Cereno's death soon after, a weakened man who finally did "follow his leader." 

Benito Cereno is truly a masterful feat of irony--as Eric Sundquist describes, Delano's inability to understand what is truly happening creates several layers of irony. At times, Cereno thinks that Delano is being ironic or satirical, but in fact Delano is not (as the narrator remarks, he is incapable of satire and irony). For example, when Delano sees Atufal and says, "So...padlock and key--significant symbols, truly," Delano means nothing more than his perception of the Spaniard's authority over the slave, but for a moment, Cereno thinks that Delano might know and was mocking him for no longer having control over the slaves. Of course, a further dramatic irony inheres in Delano's not having any idea what is happening. The first-time reader, too, is not likely to have totally understood this dramatic irony, but again, the distance between the narrator and Delano signals to the reader that there is, in fact, dramatic irony. This is what Sundquist calls "irony without retort," a tense, "tautological" irony which can't be "released" through complete understandings until the end of the account. According to Sundquist, this unreleased irony is what delivers the "dread" which controls the narrative. 

What then, is the function of this controlling irony to Melville's seemingly scathing critique of upright northerners in America? Delano is frustratingly dense, and his "good intentions," Protestant biases, and overly rosy view of Africans as somehow naturalistic (cf. Delano's thoughts on the motherly negresses on the ship) are beyond just funny--the darkness and the "dread" of this kind of irony suggests that such ignorance has dreadful consequences (i.e., the Civil War, as Sundquist suggests). Thus, Sundquist's analysis situates Benito Cereno within the historical anxiety of the mid 1850's, and kind of makes Melville a prophet of sorts.   

Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

PUBLICATION HISTORY: Melville's famous short fiction, "Bartleby the Scrivener" first appeared in Putnam's Monthly Magazine's November and December issue, 1853 (Putnam's authors were anonymous at the time). Putnam's, unlike other magazines like Harper's, sought above all to promote American authors rather than to simply reprint already famous British ones. Bartleby was well-received, and would continue to be referenced in print for decades (Source: Hershel Parker biography of Melville)

There has been much critical interest in the work's relationship to periodical and newspaper culture. In particular, Hershel Parker links "Bartleby"and actual reports on the Dead Letter Office in Washington in Putnam's and other contemporary publications. (Interestingly, Dickens in Pickwick also has chapter on "dead letters"; indeed these "letters [that] speed to death" seem to be an peculiar imaginative preoccupation throughout the nineteenth century). Johannes Bergmann has argued that the first chapter of a serial called The Lawyer's Story in the New York Tribute and Times on February 18, 1853 was a potential source for Melville.

This original publication included the subtitle, "A Story of Wall Street," but when included in the collection, The Piazza Tales, the title was shortened to "Bartleby," though it is uncertain whether this was Melville or the editor's decision.

"Bartleby" is narrated, unreliably, by an elderly lawyer who begins the account by presenting characterizations of himself, and his two copyists, Turkey, Nippers, and his office boy, Ginger Nut. Fondly, he tells of each of these characters' eccentricities: Turkey becomes increasingly short-tempered throughout the day, and Nippers's indigestion made him less useful in the morning, so everything works out quite well for the narrator. Ginger Nut was a "quick-witted" "lad of twelve" who daily fetched ginger cakes for the others in the office.

Soon, the narrator requires an additional scrivener, and Bartleby is hired. Bartleby seems a quiet, out of the way type so the narrator decides to keep him on his side of the office, behind a green folding screen. Proudly, the narrator writes, "And thus, in a manner, privacy and society were conjoined."

At first, Bartleby is a good worker, whom the narrator describes as seeming to "gorge on...documents," not seeming to pause even for eating. When one day the narrator asks if Bartleby will participate in reviewing three copies to make sure that they are consistent, Bartleby refuses with his famous "I would prefer not to." Subsequently, Bartleby refuses a number of other tasks in the same way, and this throws the narrator into a speculative confusion, going through various feelings of frustration, pity, fear, and anger--yet, the narrator is unable either to remove Bartleby from his office nor to force him to do work that he would prefer not to do. Eventually, Bartleby ceases to do any work at all (the narrator suggests that his vision fails him) and becomes a "fixture" in the narrator's office, and indeed, seems to be living at the office.

The narrator's attempts to get rid of Bartleby repeatedly fail: his bribes, and finally his supposedly ingenious plan of "assuming" that Bartleby will leave (essentially, telling Bartleby that he will have vacated at the end of a certain time) all fail. Finally, the narrator is driven to leave the office himself, but of course, public officials and the new tenants of the office track him down to complain about Bartleby's strange, immovable presence and apparent uselessness. In the end, Bartleby is forcibly removed and brought to the Tombs (a prison), where the narrator goes to visit him. The narrator pays a grub-man so that Bartleby will be provided for, but Bartleby refuses nourishment. Bartleby says a few cryptic lines to the narrator: "I know you...and I want nothing to say to you." Soon, Bartleby dies, his body found against a wall in the garden.

This strange history of Bartleby concludes with a bit of history that the narrator later discovers about Bartleby: that he had previously worked in a dead letter office.

Approaching Bartleby is quite daunting, as volumes have been written on him. Of the story, contemporary of Melville, the poet Richard Henry Dana wrote, "It touches the nicer strings of our complicated nature"--at the heart of "Bartleby" is a daunting mystery of human nature. Why does he refuse, and what does Melville seek to convey in a narrative in which the premises seems to be that basically nothing happens?

Without having the time to attempt anything close to a comprehensive critical review of what has been said about Bartleby, I will instead focus on a particular recent reading of Bartleby by Cornelia Vismann in her book Files to which I ascribe. Vismann locates "Bartleby" within this history of chancery courts in England, which historically served the function of countering inequities of common law. Vismann's reading of Bartleby is remarkable for its ability to account for so many different of the cryptic aspects of Bartleby; it's comprehensive explanatory power makes it particularly compelling.

In brief: Vismann traces the decline of chancery courts in the 1850s as the immediate backdrop for Melville's story. As these courts disappeared, so too did the profession of "law-copyists" or "scriveners." "The Lawyer's Story" too was about one of the "last copyists" and Vismann also cites this as likely inspiration for "Bartleby." Vismann points out the historical associations between chanceries, the work of "canceling," and a certain humanistic dimension. Specifically, chancery courts were also known as courts of equity, which derives from a Greek word which contains of meaning of mercy. Thus, as Vismann summarizes, "the crucial point is that the discretionary power is not to be left to some court machinery; it has to be enacted in person."

This context enables Vismann to then read Bartleby's negative statement to be a statement of cancelation, which protests against the increasingly mechanized world of nineteenth-century legal systems. Vismann writes: "Bartleby epitomizes the transition to clerical work devoid of any human factor, that is to say no chancery in the face of a mechanized bureau." Thus, Bartleby (whose very name echoes the legal "bar" and signifies barriers/limitations) enacts resistance, by cancelation, against this "mechanized bureau." Indeed, Bartleby is obsessed with walls and barriers--he both faces a wall in the office, and finally dies propped up next to one. A negative preference is yet another "barrier" which causes an annulment of whatever order precedes it, and in doing so, does the lost work of the chancery. In Vismann's reading, the lines of Bartleby sleeping "with Kings and Counsellors" and the "Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!" line at the very end make perfect sense. The pathos evoked by this final outburst mourns how Bartleby has finally canceled himself--the chanceries too, have canceled themselves and hence also the "human" face of the legal system.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman by Washington Irving

The Sketch Book was first published in seven numbers/installments in the United States before being published in two volumes in London (1819-1820). The generally enthusiastic reception of Irving's sketches in England was unusual, since at the time British opinion of American literature was pretty low. Irving's sketches were formally innovative and successful--he is credited by literary historians as being the first American author to make a living as a professional author. In particular, as Irving explicitly makes reference to in a short essay concluding the second volume of the London edition, his intent was to create pieces that didn't necessarily hang together as a whole, but which were heterogeneous in nature. Irving's logic was that his miscellany was "written for different humours" and that his end was that "it should contain something to suit each reader."

The deliberately miscellaneous nature of The Sketch Book makes it difficult to summarize, so it might be most useful to present a few of the more memorable ones which might typify others. The following categories I have created to give a sense of the thematic range of work which occurs in The Sketch Book but are by no means exhaustive.
Books/Authorship/Literary Endeavor
Many of the sketches wrestle with the question of literary and critical production, specifically with how to produce work of value when so much has come before. In several of the sketches, Crayon comments on his own inability as well as lack of desire to engage in such endeavors. His project, by contrast, is to record his own passing observations and imaginings without such an overblown goal as to produce work that would have an impact on posterity. In "The Art of Book Making," Crayon wanders into the library at the British Museum and points out the poor scholar who was "constructing some work of profound erudition, that would be purchased by every man who wished to be thought learned, placed upon a conspicuous shelf of his library, or laid open upon his table--but never read." In this same sketch, Crayon fancies a vision of these scholars as thieves, stealing bits and pieces of old author's words (metaphorized in his vision as bits and pieces of old author's clothes). Clearly, such endeavors seem fruitless to Crayon. In "The Mutability of Literature," he seems to pose a solution which might soothe anxiety over the prolific amounts of work produced by the press: In an imagined conversation with a quarto published by Wynkyn de Worde in the Westminster Abbey library, Crayon instructs the quarto in the value of producing works solely for one's own time and reveals that the notion of "purity" in language and literature to be false. Finally, as the sketch "English Writers on America" reveals, these anxieties Crayon expresses over scholarly and literary production have much to do with America's place as a growing literary nation. In this sketch, Crayon addresses Americans, telling them not to feel overwhelmed or beaten down by the snarky English critics. Instead, America ought to be the birthplace for a new, sincere kind of writing, which takes the best and the most ideal from it's "fountainhead" (England) but exorcises it of its modern day "sarcasm."
Despite Crayon's views on the need to "write for one's time," he also believes that this doesn't exclude the possibility that there might be certain authors whose works will stand the test of time because of their universal humanity. Shakespeare is one such example. In "Stratford on Avon," Crayon embarks upon a poetical pilgrimage to the bard's hometown, seeking out his grave, connecting the landscape with various fictional scenes (e.g., the forest setting of As You Like It), and also with scenes from Shakespeare's own life. In particular, Crayon imagines a supposed incident of Shakespeare stealing deer from the grounds of the affluent Lucy family and needing to face the head of the family for his crime. Crayon's imaginative reverie connected with the "idea of Shakespeare" is clearly pleasant and salutary. In "Boar's Head Tavern, East Cheap," Crayon embarks on a similarly poetical pilgrimage, seeking out the location of Falstaff and his friends' merrymaking. Crayon is at first insecure about his amateur appreciation of his kind of "research," comparing the amount of eulogy and research done on Shakespeare to the many honorariums mounted for saints at a Catholic church. Soon, however, it becomes clear that Crayon's "research" is quite different from that which might be conducted by scholars of Shakespeare, the amateur's appreciation melds the characters from fiction and history and delights not in manuscripts but in relics: a tobacco box which displayed Prince Hal and Falstaff, and a goblet dating back to the time of Henry IV. This kind of research is clearly pleasurable, in contrast to the dusky, dry type of research performed by scholars in libraries.    
Crayon clearly has a vexed relationship with superstition and romance. At times, Crayon distances himself from the gullibility of believing in local superstitions, but at other times, he seems to have no qualms in becoming caught up in the charm of superstitious lore. Certainly, he holds up his own usage of a sort of "romantic imagination" in observing his world to be particularly salutary in a world increasingly caught up with erudite production.One way that this vexed relationship seems to be worked out is that the most potentially romantic stories of the supernatural, "Rip Van Winkle," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and "The Spectre Bridegroom" are (double, since Crayon is already Irving's narrator) framed stories. Crayon doesn't tell the stories--the former two stories are found in the papers of the early Dutch chronicler, Knickerbocker, and the latter story was overheard by Crayon at a Flemish Inn. In each story, too, there is always the possibility of a mundane explanation for what the characters have perceived to be supernatural events: Rip was "out of his head"; Brom Bones was playing a trick in order to run Ichabod Crane out of town, pretending to be the headless horseman himself; and in "The Spectre Bridegroom," it is revealed to all that the bridegroom is not in fact a spectre but the friend of the groom posing as the groom. These details further add to the blurring of lines between belief and non-belief, which as I will argue in the approaches section, might enable readers to make the choice for themselves.
Idealization of Rustic Life
Crayon repeatedly idealizes rustic, agrarian life. In "Rural Life in England," he contrasts the affective bonds between people in agrarian settings with the indifference of metropolitan life. As a "gentleman" himself, Crayon likes to point out that the "fondness for rural life among the higher classes of the English" has been particularly salutary to the nation because these higher classes often mix and mingle with the lower classes in the country, smoothing over the rough edges of class distinction in the city. In "Rural Funerals" Crayon idealizes a pre-linguistic, poetical sentiment which inheres in rural graves "written" by flowers. These remarks of Crayon speak back to the assumptions that literacy necessarily means progress and consistently reflect Crayon's dislike of erudition.
Crayon is particularly fascinated with antiques and relics, not for what they are, historically, but for their imaginative value. The contemplation of relics (for example, in "Westminster Abbey") and how "man passes away" bring Crayon to a poetical, romantic melancholy. In "London Antiques," Crayon fancies that the pensioners at the old charter house are actually mystical scholars but his imaginative vision is no less exciting and affecting once he has realized the truth. With relics and antiques, it matters less what they are and more what they might allow the imaginative individual to dream up.
For Crayon, Christmas is a time of healing: "We feel more sensibly the charm of each other's society, and are brought more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment." These affective bonds, however, are not forged out of religious feeling but out of tradition (the most dour character in these sketches is the parson, whose erudite arguments are horribly out of date, Crayon points out that the parson argues against straw men). For "Christmas Eve" and "Christmas Dinner" Crayon accompanies an old friend to his family's home in the country and experiences the comforts of traditional English food and hospitality. The squire invites those of the lower class to partake in the food and festivities (Crayon acknowledges the difficulties of classes mixing, but nevertheless clearly praises the squire for such efforts).
Native American History
In two sketches, Crayon attempts to paint a portrait of Indians as noble savages, essentially accepting the notion that Indians were closer to natural man and thus, often a little bit of education and civilization would actually make them less noble. Crayon writes a revisionist history of King Philip's War in "Philip of Pokanet," justifying his war against the whites as justified and deeply moral, and rescuing him from dominant accounts which emphasize his barbarity.
**Irving's "Christmas" sketches and also his "Stage Coach" sketch which tells of people traveling to see family via the stage coach seem clear sources for Dickens. Like Irving's sketches, Dickens's "Christmas Dinner" emphasizes the affective healing of tradition: "feasting, quaffing, frolicking, and good cheer" as William Hedges puts its. Harper's called him the "laureate of English Christmas." Additionally, like Irving's "Stage Coach" sketch, Dickens's "Hackney Coach Stands" similarly uses how transport brings networks of people together, which then allows the narrator to focus on telling and/or imagining stories about them.

As I mentioned briefly above, the openness to belief or non-belief which characterizes some of the more romance-like, supernatural stories allows the reader control over the work in these sketches. The reader might decide to believe or not to believe, consistent with Irving's aims to appeal to all kinds of readers through his inclusion of miscellany. The multi-leveled framing which frequently occurs in Irving's sketches has the effect of erasing authorship, which in turn seems to elevate readership. In Dickens's Sketches by Boz or Mitford's Our Village, the strong, first-person-plural "we" and respective personalities of "Boz" and Mitford forces readers to take these personas as their guide wherein the morality and ethics of Boz and Mitford become the readers' own. Crayon, too, is not a particularly charismatic narrator--he has no one to turn to for Christmas dinner, and appears to be socially integrated into plans for dinner by a chance meeting. Crayon is an idle, wandering gentleman, a lonely spectator who seems to derive his need for human affect through acts of spectatorship. This places a kind of distance between the reader and Crayon, enabling the content of the sketches to stand alone and thus be independently judged by each reader.

The power of readership seems closely linked to Crayon's literary amateurism. Crayon's appreciation of Shakespeare is a personal one; he is the kind of reader who unapologetically multiplies imaginative associations according to his whim, who singles out certain characters for his affection as if they were friends from his own life. There is nothing scholarly or systematic about his appreciation, and this seems to be what Irving would encourage his own readers to do. The message is that readers ought not to be afraid of their literary amateurism--on the scale of the nation, perhaps Irving suggests that American readers and writers both should not be afraid of amateurism, but might even capitalize on this amateurism as sincere and thus having a palliative influence on Old World, European snark.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Elaine Hadley on the Fortnightly Review

I don't usually do posts on the secondary reading on my lists, but Hadley's chapter on the Fortnightly Review in her book, Living Liberalism was a really interesting and useful take on what she refers to as "mid-Victorian liberalism" (really roughly 1860-1880) but refers to the brand of liberalism espoused by Mill, Arnold, G.H. Lewes (George Eliot's partner) and Anthony Trollope, among others. The Fortnightly Review was founded in 1865.

In brief, Hadley discusses two unique features of the publication: its eclecticism of opinion, and its practice of authors signing their names to their pieces. In the high Victorian era, most Victorian periodicals had clear sectarian interests, which the creators of the Fortnightly Review found to be inconsistent with liberal principles of open-mindedness, free inquiry, and diversity of opinion. Relatedly, the proponents of the Fortnightly Review critiqued the common practice of anonymously hiding behind to an editorial "we" as allowing sectarian interests to become more acrimonious, furthering blind partisanship. Thus, the Fortnightly Review sought to include a number of different political and religious opinions in their pages, and also mandated that the authors which they included sign their names to their works.

This all sounds well and good, but as Hadley argues, the Fortnightly Review's liberalism was caught up in a number of potential contradictions. Certain features of the review indicate a strict and not so open-minded formalism at the heart of their editorial practices. John Morley (the second editor after Lewes), would often invoke "fencing" as a metaphor for the sparring diversity of opinion included within the pages of the review; Hadley astutely argues that this metaphor signifies sparring which isn't so much real fighting but playing by certain, formal rules. Hadley suggests that this kind of formality essentially barred those who would not "play by the rules" from publishing their opinions--specifically, the idea of a "sober medium of black ink and white paper" barred the voice of "masses" who may have been rioting at Hyde Park.

Another important feature of the Fortnightly was its temporality: the publication defined itself against typical dailies and monthlies in order to stand for an ideal that their topics would be timely, but distant enough to ensure rational deliberation. Eventually, economic necessities would force the publication to publish monthly, but it retained its title to continue to signify its separation from what it perceived to be the mainstream periodical press. Hadley explains that this so-called rational deliberation on present-day issues was at the heart of the Fortnightly's somewhat rigid vision for what every white male citizen (the liberal subject) should be doing: cultivating a "disinterested, critical spirit" on important issues of the day.

Other aspects of style valued included a Millian expository style of enunciating the opinions of "others"--a "ventriloquial method" (Hadley's words)--in order to come to a more objective, truthful opnion of one's own. The first person singular of the editorial voice signaled that the editor was going through the ideas of others in his private mind (unlike the "we" which signals a certain taking up of public orthodoxies) which is an important formulation of the liberal subject. In other words, the liberal subject is an individual who is supposed to go through this process of turning over many different opinions systematically in his own mind before arriving at his own, best conclusion. Though the consideration of "diverse opinions" seems liberal, Hadley suggests that the adherence to this formal system of discovering one's own so-called "decided opinion" (term used by the Fortnightly) was rather rigid.

Finally, Hadley spends time, in particular, deconstructing the "signature" in the Fortnightly. The signature tries to get away from the anonymous, editorial "we" but also did not wish to be mistaken for the growing Steadian notion of a celebrity journalist or journalist "personality" (Stead in the second half of the nineteenth century was publishing what was often considered as sensational journalism which exposed sordid social problems in order to call for reform; his own "exposing" of his own personal voice went along with his more sensationalistic style). The signature, in contrast, wished to demonstrate what Hadley calls, paradoxically, an "abstract embodiment"--something which signaled an abstract individuality that was not weighed down with the supposedly unsightly contingencies of everyday concerns (domestic life, for example) but which intimately cultivated opinions in the private space of the mind. Victorian liberals envisioned it was possible, in other words, to formulate these kinds of opinions disinterestedly apart from everyday contingencies that might weigh on the mind.  The signature was thus the "embodiment" of this not-everyday, abstract liberal self, which ironically, as it turns out doesn't differ too much from all the other abstract liberal selves. 

In a word, Hadley argues that the Victorian liberalism of the Fortnightly Review may have allowed for eclecticism, but only a liberal eclecitism (a diversity of content which nevertheless adhered to strict formal processes of cognition).