Jun 22, 2012

Brief notes on "Araby"

James Joyce's "Araby" is a tale told by a man or young man looking back on his childhood, we assume. What lessons do you think this man has learned from the experience he tells of in this story? 

Is he bitter? Is he disappointed? Is he sad? Is he angry? What or whom is he angry at? What or whom is he anguished about? 

I see a two part answer:

1. He is anguished about his world, the community around him. In what ways has his community (family, friends, society) let him down? It throws up every obstacle in his path to prevent him from achieving his desires. A useful exercise is to examine the text for examples. You will find that Dublin is not a world conducive to romance. 

2. He is also angry and anguished at himself. Why? For being duped by fantasy, by his illusions of heroism, his ideals of romantic love. He's been seduced by adoration and veneration for a girl who hardly knows him. He's seduced by the musty books left by the dead priest who used to occupy his house, by associating erotic love with religion. He realizes, that there is nothing exotic about Araby. There is no magic there. There will be no realizing of his dream. He has been deluding himself. 

What kind of a man makes these conclusions later in life when looking back on his childhood? What sort of character do you think this man is now, at the time he tells the story? The narrator has become one of the Dubliners, one of the drab, pointless figures portrayed in these stories. The spark he once had as a child, the spark of love and hope and anticipation has been snuffed out. And he's bitter about it. He's angry. He's lost hope. 

How do we know this? We don't with certainty. But ask yourself, why would an adult write about his experience in this way, come to that conclusion? Does he have to be so hard on himself, so hard on his fellow city dwellers? He could look back on this experience and laugh it off as a charming little childhood experience. If he were an optimistic, "never say die" sort, he wouldn't have let this setback stop him at all.  But no, the sense of place here, the environment seems dead set against him, and judging from his conclusion, the environment won the battle and the war. 

This brings up the notion of conflict in fiction. Much great literature is about conflict, struggle. Literature can be better appreciated and understood as dramas arising from conflicts. 

The conflict in a story, poem, or drama can take many forms: 

  • person vs. person
  • person vs. environment: (place, community, gods, fate, destiny, society)
  • person vs. self (struggling against interior forces)

Out of that struggle, we see characters winning, losing, coping, enduring, etc. A wide range of human responses to these struggles. That's what the stories are about. An ambiguous work of literature will be rich in implications as to how the characters deal with these conflicts. 

In "Araby" our protagonist comes out on the losing side of his battle with the environment. He learns an important life lesson, yet maybe he has lost more than he found. At least, this is an arguable point. 

At what price do we gain bitter wisdom about the real world? 

Jun 21, 2012

Quick intro to poetic meter

Common metrical feet in English verse

A metrical foot is a pattern of syllables, most commonly two or three syllables. A pattern of unstressed (u) and stressed (/) syllables, that is. Unstressed syllables sound weak, stressed syllables are stronger, louder, more accented. 

Here are the essential feet for English poetry with examples:  

The iamb: u / - To be or not to be , [that is the question]
The trochee:  /  u Tyger, tyger burning bright
The anapest: u u / I must finish my journey alone
The dactyl / u u Picture yourself on a boat on a river 
The spondee / / - See me, heal me, touch me, feel me
A masculine ending is when a line ends on a stressed syllable. 

A feminine ending: when a line ends on an unstressed syllable. 

Scansion means identifying and counting metrical feet in lines of poetry to determine patterns and variations. Scanning a line means marking up the stressed and unstressed syllables and splitting the line into metrical feet. 

Dimeter 2 feet
Trimeter 3 feet
Tetrameter 4 feet
Pentameter 5 feet
Hexameter 6 feet

Caesura is a pause or natural break point in the middle of a line. Sometimes it is indicated with a punctuation mark, sometimes not. If you read aloud, you'll hear where the pauses want to fall. 

Keep in mind, poetic verse will exhibit many variations from the metrical form it follows. That is normal. Just develop your ear for the pattern, and then observe how the lines can be made to fit it. If you really want to get fancy, start listening to the poem's sound and rhythm, and observe how the variations in meter often echo the sense of the line (semantics). 

That is all for now. 

Notes on "The Cask of Amontillado"

"The Cask of Amontillado" is a murder story – a tale of a "perfect crime." The narrator Montressor is our murderer and he is taking revenge on Fortunato. why? For revenge. He has suffered a "thousand injuries" but worse yet, he has been insulted. Is this enough of a reason to murder somebody? Probably not. But it makes for good fiction.

What is Montressor's greatest sin? Pride? A thin skin? He is determined not to be wronged with impunity. Fortunato must pay the price. Some of his character traits: deceptive, a liar, a man of premeditated calculation, proud, satisfied with his intellectual superiority, smug, clever, tricky. we assume he is wealthy, from a wealthy family. lives in a mansion somewhere in Europe (Italy? France? Spain?) We come to know this character through his actions, his own admissions, and his way of talking. 

Why is this crime so ingenious? 

(1)He hardly lays a hand on Fortunato. In fact, Fortunato unwittingly leads himself into the trap deep within the catacombs underneath the Montressor house. 

(2) He uses his understanding of Fortunato's character as a weapon against Fortunato. He plays upon Fortunato's pride – his knowledge of wine, his competitiveness with regard to Luchresi. Montressor often gives Fortunato the opportunity to turn back. He warns him of the dampness, the nitre (potassium nitrate; saltpeter, the chief constituent of gunpowder.  It is a white efflorescence which forms on new or damp walls, caused by saltpetre working through to the surface.) (para 35).

(3) Timing. Montressor chooses a perfect time to commit the crime. Carnival season. It's a mad time. People are out drinking, being festive, wearing costumes. Disguised. This enables him to don a disguise of his own (para. 23).  Also, Fortunato is drunk, more easily manipulated.  Montressor has managed to empty his house of all servants (para 24). He has a perfect alibi. He does not physically harm Fortunato. The only force he uses is when he chains him to the wall. After that, he sets to work on building a wall, leaving Fortunato to die a long and agonizing death. He has entombed himself and Montressor buries him alive. 

How is the story told? As a confession. Is there any point where Montressor experiences pangs of guilt or uncertainty about his work? 

Style and Interpretation
Is Montressor a reliable narrator? The reader becomes quickly aware of the fact that Montresor is not a reliable narrator, and that he has a tendency to hold grudges and exaggerate terribly, as he refers to the "thousand injuries" that he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato. "...[B]ut when [Fortunato] ventured upon insult, [Montresor could stand no more, and] vowed revenge." 

Stuart and Susan Levine, editors of The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe: An Annotated Edition, do not view Poe's story as just a clever tale of revenge, but instead, see it as an anti-aristocratic commentary. "Resentment against aristocratic 'privilege' of all kinds reached a peak in Jacksonian and post-Jacksonian America....Poe's tale is related to innumerable articles in American magazines of the period about the scandalous goings-on of continental nobility." (Levine 454, 455) 

"The Cask of Amontillado" is a carefully crafted story so that every detail contributes to "a certain unique or single effect." Irony, both dramatic and verbal, plays an important role in this process. Dramatic irony (the reader perceives something that a character in the story does not) occurs when the reader becomes painfully aware of what will become of Fortunato even though the character continues his descent into the catacombs in pursuit of the Amontillado. Poe further adds to this effect by calling the character Fortunato (who is anything but fortunate), and dressing him in a clown or a fool's costume since Montresor intends to make a fool of him as part of his dark plan.

There are numerous examples of verbal irony (character says one thing and means something else) within Montresor's words. Montresor expresses concern about Fortunato's health, and several times he suggests that they should turn back for fear that Fortunato's cough will worsen as a result of the cold and dampness of the catacombs. One of the most memorable lines of the story is given by Montresor in response to Fortunato saying, "I will not die of a cough." Montresor says, "True--true...." Other examples can be seen when Montresor toasts Fortunato's long life as well as when he says that he is a mason, but not in the sense that Fortunato means. "In pace requiescat!" ("Rest in peace!") is the last irony of a heavily ironic tale. "In pace" also refers to a very secure monastic prison. 

By the end of Poe's story, Montresor has gotten his revenge against unsuspecting Fortunato, whose taste for wine has led him to his own death. Once again we are reminded of the coat of arms and the Montresor family motto. The insignia is symbolic of Montresor's evil character, who like the serpent intends to get revenge.

The story is a psychological portrait of a criminal mind. It permits readers to imagine what it is like to think like an evil person. 

Discussion questions: 

Did you derive enjoyment from this story, and if so, did you feel guilty about it? 

Is "The Cask of Amontillado" a parable of the artistic process? Does this murderer see himself as an artist or artisan? 
The author leads his audience into a world constructed with the sole purpose of imprisoning and entombing its victims. Part of the success of this entrapment lies in the fact that the audience/victim is the agent in his own destruction, in effect imprisoning himself.  Although I would not press this symbolism too far, I do think you can make some parallel associations between the role of the artist and the role of the murderer in this story.  Poe as Montressor. 

Jun 20, 2012

Notes on Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"

Don't be intimidated by William Faulkner. He may be difficult, but he is worth the effort.  "A Rose for Emily" teaches well and fosters lively discussion. 

The bulk of Faulkner's work consisted of a group of interrelated stories and novels about a fictional county in Mississippi, tracing its cultural history from the time of the Civil War through the 20th century. In that fictional world, Faulkner explored many themes, among them the disintegration of the old antebellum south in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the impact of modernity on rural culture and rural identity, racism, gothic perversion, family history, family feuds, and family legacies.

Who are the key characters in "A Rose for Emily"?

Emily Grierson
Negro manservant
Homer Barron
Emily's Father
Colonel Sartoris
Cousins from Alabama

In "A Rose for Emily" we have a story about a woman, Miss Emily Grierson, one of the last holdouts of the "old south." When she dies she is respected by the men of the town as a "fallen monument." When alive, in the town's eyes (and this is a story told from the first person plural perspective – the point of view of a collective "we"), Miss Emily "had been a tradition, a duty, a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town." 

Emily is, in short, a living relic of bygone times. But the town has changed around her. How so? Faulkner cites the trappings of modern industrial life – garages, cotton gins, wagons, gasoline pumps, tax bills, paved sidewalks – and they have "encroached" upon the neighborhood and its "august names". 

How does Emily react to this encroachment of modern life? By retreating into the confines of her house. It happens in stages. First, when her father dies, she is seen less and less. When her sweetheart the Yankee Homer Barron is gone, she's seen even less. And in the last ten years of her life, no one but her African American manservant has seen her at all. 

While the modern world steadily encroaches on this sleep southern rural town, Emily Grierson is steadfastly clinging to the past. She refuses to pay her taxes, for three days she denies that her father is dead, she gives the ladies of the towns lessons in the art of china painting, she keeps her manservant as a virtual slave, and, as we discover by the end of the story, she has murdered her true love and kept his dead body in an upstairs bedroom, where she slept next to him. 

Why did Emily murder this man? In part, because her "old south" identity could not allow her to marry a Yankee, a representative of modernity (remember he's the foreman responsible for paving the town sidewalks). Her attraction to Homer, and their parading through town in a buggy on Sunday afternoons has become a scandal in the town. Some in the community think it's a disgrace. Relations from Alabama are called in to talk sense to her. Shortly thereafter, Homer is seen by one of the neighbors entering the house, and he's never seen again. 

Emily's necrophilia is symbolic, is it not? She's sleeping with a dead man, trying to preserve an era that has died with the civil war. Her whole way of life is like the rotting corpse in the bedroom, and yet she is unwilling to give it up. And, her old way of life prevents her from allowing Homer to live.  It's a story about clinging to the past in the face of change. 

This is a story about concealment. Faulkner deploys some interesting narrative tactics to conceal the horrifying revelation until the very end of the story. If you back track through the story, you'll find all sorts of clues, evidence that a crime has been committed.  

How does the story tinker with plot? What "A Rose for Emily" makes clear is that a story can have two independent narrative lines. One is the literal chronology of events as they occur in the fictional space (Russian formalism calls this fabula). The second is the narrative order in which those events are revealed and told in the story (Russian formalism calls this sujet or syuzhet).  There is a lot of skillfull jumping around in the way Faulkner recounts the tale. He feels absolutely no need to tell you things in chronological order. 

Here is an exercise that works well in a classroom: Plot the two narrative lines in this story. Map them and compare how the order events as revealed varies from the chronological order of events. 

How does this story telling technique enhance your reading experience? For one, it creates a sense of mystery, of suspense. It also mimics the way the community assembles a coherent narrative to explain what is going on. Scattered observations separated by years must be assembled and reordered and associated for any sense to be made of the factual details. The story is about the community's growing awareness – it is connecting the dots, making sense of a life that has been largely concealed from view. We might compare this to other forms of social narrative construction, e.g. journalism, detective work, gossip. 

The technique of concealment also relates to the way Faulkner reveals action. He doesn't always tell you directly. He shows you the effect and lets you determine the cause. Examples: the iron gray hair on the pillow, the indentation on the pillow, the purchase of arsenic poison, the smell around the house, the fact that the Negro servant leaves and never comes back after Emily's death. In isolation these facts have little meaning. Together, they add up. 

This is a story about community responsibility – about the collective "we" watching over neighbors, gossiping about them, caring for them, and ultimately blinding themselves to some stark realities out of a sense of decorum, politeness, gentility. Nobody really dares to intrude into Emily's world. They restrict themselves to observation from the outside. 

In terms of setting, we can think of the town as a character, both as an influence in the story and as a method of storytelling. What influence do the townspeople exert over Emily? Observe how they apply social pressure – they spy on her behavior, out of a curious mixture of compassion, perverse fascination, and suspicion. 

These casual notes are merely starting points for exploration. Treat yourself to this story and discuss away in the comments.... 

Jun 19, 2012

Some notes on Hedda Gabler and A Doll's House

The article “Miracle and Vine Leaves: An  Ibsen Play Rewrought” by Arthur Ganz, PMLA, 94.1 (Jan. 1979), 9-21 is quite useful for discussing and writing about both Hedda Gabler and A Doll's House. I recommend it highly. (You can find it in the JSTOR database).

Some highlights from Ganz's article:

“…[A]t quite different stages of his career Ibsen has written the same play or, more precisely, that he used again in Hedda Gabler the same pattern of action and character relationships that he had employed eleven years earlier in A Doll’s House.” (9)

Some shared plot points between the plays: “threats of blackmail, a secret declaration of love, a struggle between rivals for professional power, a fatal document concealed from its owner, a woman resolved on suicide…” (10).

Ganz sees the plays meeting on a shared theme: the common aspirations of Nora and Hedda.

“Both heroines dream of achieving self-realization by seeing an admired man perform an act of extraordinary courage. In each play the failure of the man to do what the heroine desires precipitates her decisions to take her destiny into her own hands and separate herself drastically from the life she has previously known” (10)
“Both works are finally about a transcendent quest for the self, about creatures hemmed in by social circumstance and the limits of their own natures who yet are committed absolutely to a vision of fulfillment — of a self fully known, fully gratified, unimpeded by the bounds of common reality” (11).

Torvald's supposed act of sacrifice would testify to his courage, love and devotion. It would also glorify Nora’s own life and self (and the sacrifices she had already made on his behalf). After her epiphany, she realizes that this task must be undertaken by herself. 

When Hedda asks Lovborg to kill himself beautifully, “she is demanding that he perform a similar transformation for her, that he miraculously alter her from a woman who can only bore herself to death to an exultant creature who has known, even if only vicariously, joy and power” (11). 

Both Nora and Hedda long for the extraordinary, the miraculous, and they think that they can attain these by proxy, vicariously, through the men in their lives. 

The shared bangs at the end of both plays — slamming door and pistol shot — signal “the end of a life of dependence and deception” (11). 

Both heroines’ suicides (one contemplated, the other achieved) incur similar responses: Krogstad says “people don’t do that sort of thing, Mrs. Helmer.” Judge Brack says, upon seeing Hedda’s dead body, “people don’t do such things.”  These lines constitute a motif in Hedda Gabler. Who are these “people”? The vox populi, the normal, the mundane ways of the middle classes. 

We might wonder why Ibsen re-wrought the Doll House material in this later play, and why the atmosphere becomes “crueler, more mordant, far more mysterious” (11) in Hedda.

We might also investigate the transformations undergone by characters between plays: Nora / Hedda, Krogstad / Lovborg, Torvald / Tesman, Dr. Rank / Judge Brack, Kristine Linde / Thea Elvsted. 

For instance, with the Kristine/Thea pair: we move from maturity, self knowledge, practicality, ruthlessness, to timidity, innocence, devotion, and sincerity. 

The relationship pairing of Kristine/Krogstad with Thea/Lovborg has undergone transformation too. The first pair is based on honesty, frankness, sincerity, certainty; the second on affection, inspiration, contempt, lack of confidence, mistrust. Note also Thea’s quick turnaround in Act 4. In devotion to Lovborg’s memory, she is already moving in on Tesman by helping to reconstruct the missing manuscript, and one can already sense the coming of an intimate relationship between them, a hint that Hedda instantly foresees. Ibsen depicts Thea’s adaptability and tendency towards self deception as character flaws. 

The Dr. Rank / Judge Brack pair: Rank’s corruption is fobbed off on his father’s dissolute past. Rank’s amorality is discrete, concealed, suggested, but he never presses his advantage. In Brack, we have outright corruption. Brack boldy insinuates himself into the triangle and dominates Hedda through blackmail. 

The Torvald / Tesman pair: we have a transformation from a domineering, self-satisfied prig to a more amiable, industrious, pedantic, kind provider.  There are, however, some shared features. Both husbands are “upwardly mobile.” Both are on the brink of career advancement and financial security. Both take pride in their roles as providers. Both are peeved at the threat to their entitled position in society (Krogstad’s familiarity at work, then his blackmail efforts; Lovborg’s intellectual rivalry for professorship and status). Both are hastily restored to “normal” when the threat to their success is removed. 

The Krogstand / Lovborg pair: the transformation is one of added mystery and self-destructiveness in Lovborg. Krogstad, like Kristine, is harsher, clearer of mind and purpose. Lovborg is murkier, richer, more elusive. Both characters have lost social respectability. They are rogues, renegades. Both are seeking to reboot their lives, restore their reputations, live a cleaner, more respectable life. Lovborg’s intentions, however, are less clearcut. He has greater doubts, doubts which Hedda manipulates to tragic ends. 

Nora/Hedda:  Some points of comparison. Nora uses her sexual charms to manipulate; Hedda is sexually recessive. Both are beautiful women. Nora uses her power to get money and stall for time; Hedda uses her power to control another human’s destiny. The stakes are higher. 

We could argue that Ibsen’s vision has darkened over time. In moving from Nora to Hedda, the theme of self-fulfillment has been transformed from a heroic act of liberation with the promise of self-transformation, to a tragic, corrupt, impulsive act of escape, verging on nihilism. If Hedda’s move toward fulfillment results in suicide (Lovborg and hers), we may begin to wonder, what’s the point, and is self-realization all it’s cracked up to be? 

“The ‘miracle’ that Torvald is to perform and the crown of vine leaves that Lovborg is to wear are to have similar effects on the women who contemplate them. For each of them this act — carried out on her behalf or under her influence — is to justify a life of restraint, conventionality, sacrifice, secret repression. It is to offer a moment of transcendence that constitutes and adequate fulfillment of life and self” (18).

Hedda, unlike Nora, “has not sacrificed her self by acting against the most significantpart of her own nature; she has merely restrained impulses” (19). “The sense of transcendent power and beauty that she longs for is inseparable from the fierceness and self-absorption of the Dionysiac frenzy. Ibsen knows that the dream of fulfillment cannot be exultant without being cruel, cannot be heroic without being destructive, for only in the darker recesses of the self can the aspiring energy be found…. Hedda’s vision of vine leaves and ecstasy, though it tells us little of her life of furtive voyeurism, says much about the aspirations toward beauty and violence that lurked beneath them. Like Nora, Hedda must ultimately accept the loss of her dream — no Dionysiac hero will perform a miraculous act on her behalf — and assume the burden of self-realization; like her creator, it is she who must shape a drama in which beauty and violence achieve a final form” (19). 

Work Cited

Ganz, Arthur. “Miracle and Vine Leaves: An  Ibsen Play Rewrought” PMLA, 94.1 (Jan. 1979), 9-21.

Jun 18, 2012

Quick Ibsen bio

A condensed biography of Henrik Ibsen

(source: wikipedia)

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828 –1906) was a 19th-century Norwegian playwright of realistic drama. He is often referred to as the "father of modern drama." His plays were considered scandalous to many of his era, when Victorian values of family life and propriety largely held sway in Europe and any challenge to them was considered immoral and outrageous. Ibsen's work examined the realities that lay behind many facades, possessing a revelatory nature that was disquieting to many contemporaries.

Family and youth

Henrik Ibsen was born to a relatively well-to-do merchant family, in the small port town of Skien, Norway. Shortly after his birth his family's fortunes took a significant turn for the worse. His mother turned to religion for solace and his father began to suffer from severe depression. The characters in his plays often mirror his parents and his themes often deal with issues of financial difficulty as well as moral conflicts stemming from dark secrets hidden from society.

At fifteen, Ibsen left home. He moved to the small town of Grimstad to become an apprentice pharmacist and began writing plays. In 1846, together with a servant, he fathered an illegitimate child, whom he later rejected. While Ibsen did pay some child support for fourteen years, he never met his illegitimate son, who ended up as a poor blacksmith. Ibsen went to Christiania (later renamed Oslo) intending to matriculate at the university. He soon rejected the idea (his earlier attempts at entering university were blocked as he did not pass all his entrance exams), preferring to commit himself to writing. 

His first play, the tragedy Catiline (1850), was not performed. His first play to be staged, The Burial Mound (1850), received little attention. Still, Ibsen was determined to be a playwright, although the numerous plays he wrote in the following years remained unsuccessful.

Life and writings

Ibsen spent the next several years employed at the Norwegian Theater in Bergen, where he was involved in the production of more than 145 plays as a writer, director, and producer. During this period he did not publish any new plays of his own. Despite Ibsen's failure to achieve success as a playwright, he gained a great deal of practical experience at the Norwegian Theater, experience that was to prove valuable when he continued writing.

Ibsen returned to Christiania in 1858 to become the creative director of Christiania's National Theater. He married Suzannah Thoresen the same year and she gave birth to their only child, Sigurd. The couple lived in very poor financial circumstances and Ibsen became very disenchanted with life in Norway. In 1864, he left Christiania and went to Sorrento in Italy in self-imposed exile. He was not to return to his native land for the next 27 years, and when he returned it was to be as a noted playwright, however controversial.

His next play, Brand (1865), was to bring him the critical acclaim he sought, along with a measure of financial success, as was his next play, Peer Gynt (1867), to which Edvard Grieg famously composed the incidental music. Although Ibsen read excerpts of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and traces of the latter's influence are evident in Brand, it was not until after Brand that Ibsen came to take Kierkegaard seriously. Initially annoyed with his friend Georg Brandes for comparing Brand to Kierkegaard, Ibsen nevertheless read Either/Or and Fear and Trembling. Subsequently, Ibsen's next play Peer Gynt was consciously informed by Kierkegaard.[3][4]

With success, Ibsen became more confident and began to introduce more and more of his own beliefs and judgments into the drama, exploring what he termed the "drama of ideas." His next series of plays are often considered his Golden Age, when he entered the height of his power and influence, becoming the center of dramatic controversy across Europe.

Ibsen moved from Italy to Dresden, Germany in 1868, where he spent years writing the play he regarded as his main work, Emperor and Galilean (1873), dramatizing the life and times of the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate. Although Ibsen himself always looked back on this play as the cornerstone of his entire works, very few shared his opinion, and his next works would be much more acclaimed. Ibsen moved to Munich in 1875 and published A Doll's House in 1879. The play is a scathing criticism of the blind acceptance of traditional roles of men and women in Victorian marriage.

Ibsen followed A Doll's House with Ghosts (1881), another scathing commentary on Victorian morality, in which a widow reveals to her pastor that she had hidden the evils of her marriage for its duration. 

In An Enemy of the People (1882), Ibsen went even further. In earlier plays, controversial elements were important and even pivotal components of the action, but they were on the small scale of individual households. In An Enemy, controversy became the primary focus, and the antagonist was the entire community. One primary message of the play is that the individual, who stands alone, is more often "right" than the mass of people, who are portrayed as ignorant and sheeplike. 

As audiences by now expected of him, his next play again attacked entrenched beliefs and assumptions—but this time his attack was not against the Victorians but against overeager reformers and their idealism. Always the iconoclast, Ibsen was equally willing to tear down the ideologies of any part of the political spectrum, including his own.

The Wild Duck (1884) is considered by many to be Ibsen's finest work, and it is certainly the most complex. It tells the story of Gregers Werle, a young man who returns to his hometown after an extended exile and is reunited with his boyhood friend Hjalmar Ekdal. 

Interestingly, late in his career Ibsen turned to a more introspective drama that had much less to do with denunciations of Victorian morality. In such later plays as Hedda Gabler (1890) and The Master Builder (1892) Ibsen explored psychological conflicts that transcended a simple rejection of Victorian conventions. Many modern readers, who might regard anti-Victorian didacticism as dated, simplistic and even clichéd, have found these later works to be of absorbing interest for their hard-edged, objective consideration of interpersonal confrontation. 

Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder center on female protagonists whose almost demonic energy proves both attractive and destructive for those around them. Hedda Gabler is probably Ibsen's most performed play, with the title role regarded as one of the most challenging and rewarding for an actress even in the present day. There are a few similarities between Hedda and the character of Nora in A Doll's House, but many of today's audiences and theater critics feel that Hedda's intensity and drive are much more complex and much less comfortably explained than what they view as rather routine feminism on the part of Nora.

Ibsen had completely rewritten the rules of drama with a realism which was to be adopted by Chekhov and others and which we see in the theater to this day. From Ibsen forward, challenging assumptions and directly speaking about issues has been considered one of the factors that makes a play art rather than entertainment. Ibsen returned to Norway in 1891, but it was in many ways not the Norway he had left. Indeed, he had played a major role in the changes that had happened across society. The Victorian Age was on its last legs, to be replaced by the rise of Modernism not only in the theater, but across public life.

List of works

    * 1850 Catiline (Catilina)
    * 1850 The Burial Mound also known as The Warrior's Barrow (Kjæmpehøjen)
    * 1851 Norma (Norma)
    * 1852 St. John's Eve (Sancthansnatten)
    * 1854 Lady Inger of Oestraat (Fru Inger til Østeraad)
    * 1855 The Feast at Solhaug (Gildet paa Solhoug)
    * 1856 Olaf Liljekrans (Olaf Liljekrans)
    * 1857 The Vikings at Helgeland (Hærmændene paa Helgeland)
    * 1862 Digte - only released collection of poetry, included "Terje Vigen".
    * 1862 Love's Comedy (Kjærlighedens Komedie)
    * 1863 The Pretenders (Kongs-Emnerne)
    * 1866 Brand (Brand)
    * 1867 Peer Gynt (Peer Gynt)

    * 1869 The League of Youth (De unges Forbund)
    * 1873 Emperor and Galilean (Kejser og Galilæer)
    * 1877 Pillars of Society (Samfundets Støtter)
    * 1879 A Doll's House (Et Dukkehjem)
    * 1881 Ghosts (Gengangere)
    * 1882 An Enemy of the People (En Folkefiende)
    * 1884 The Wild Duck (Vildanden)
    * 1886 Rosmersholm (Rosmersholm)
    * 1888 The Lady from the Sea (Fruen fra Havet)
    * 1890 Hedda Gabler (Hedda Gabler)
    * 1892 The Master Builder (Bygmester Solness)
    * 1894 Little Eyolf (Lille Eyolf)
    * 1896 John Gabriel Borkman (John Gabriel Borkman)
    * 1899 When We Dead Awaken (Når vi døde vaagner)

Discussion questions for Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Here are a few prompts for discussion or journal writing....

If you were the narrator, how would you have handled Bartleby's situation? is the narrator responsible for Bartleby's fate? 

Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? 

Characterize the narrator: good qualities, bad qualities, weaknesses, and narrative reliability. Does he change by story's end? 

What is significant about setting the story in Wall Street? 

SYMBOLISM & Other interpretations

What is Bartleby symbolic of? 

Walls, walls, and more walls. Explain the symbolism of the walls, screens, etc.

Is Bartleby a critique of capitalist society?

Is it Melville's semi-autobiographical tale of artistic resistance to commercial conformity?

Is it about the inability and impossibility of mutual understanding? 

Does Bartleby expose the ideology of individual freedom (and self reliance) as myth? 

What happens to individuals when they assert their will (positively or negatively) in ways that conflict with social norms of behavior? 

Discuss amongst yourselves in the comments....

Jun 17, 2012

A Selection of Medieval Courtly Love Poems


Arnaut, Daniel. Complete Works.
Bernart de Ventadorn. "When I see the lark beating." trans. Craig E. Bertolet Poetry Chaikhana.

Giraut de Bornelh,. "Reis glorios." Poetry Chaikhana.
Chaytor, H.J. The Troubadours, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1912.
Guilhem IX of Poitou. "Joyous in love, I make my aim" trans. J. Lindsay. Poetry Chaikhana.

Arnaut Daniel

The firm desire that enters

The firm desire that enters
Can neither be taken from my heart by beak or nail
Of that liar who loses his soul through speaking evil,
And since I dare not beat him with either a branch or rod,
I will in some secret place, where I will have no spying uncle,
Rejoice with my joy, in a garden or in a chamber.

But when I am reminded of that chamber
Where I know, to my sorrow, that no man enters
And which is guarded more than by brother or uncle,
My entire body trembles, even to my fingernail,
As does a child before a rod,
Such fear I have of not being hers with all my soul.

At least in body, if not in soul,
Let her hide me within her chamber;
For it wounds my heart more than blows of rod
That her slave can never therein enter.
I will always close to her as flesh and nail,
And believe no warnings of friend or uncle.

Even the sister of my uncle
I never loved so much, with all my soul!
As close as is the finger to the nail,
If it please her, I would be in her chamber.
It can mold me to its will, this love that enters
My heart, more so than a strong man with a tender rod.

Since flowered the dry rod,
Or from Adam descended the nephew and uncle,
There never was such a love as what enters
My heart, dwelling neither in body or in soul
And wherever she may be, outside in the street, or in her chamber,
My heart is no farther than the length of my nail.

As if with tooth and nail
My heart grips her, holding as the bark on the rod;
To me she is joy's tower, palace, and chamber
And I love neither brother, parent or uncle
So much; and I will find double joy in Paradise for my soul
If a man blessed for good love therein enters.

Arnaut sends his song of nail and uncle,
By the grace of her who has, of his rod, the soul,
To his Desired One, whose praise all chambers enters.

If love were so bountiful in gifting me with joy
as I am to it in having a firm and sincere heart,
I wouldn't mind to run my weary days
my love's so high that hope lifts and steadies me;
and when I ponder how her value's overwhelming
much I love that I dared just to want her,
since now I know that my heart and my feelings
will make me do, as is their use, a bountiful conquest. 

And I don't care if I have to wait for long
because I have reached and hold such a rich place
where her fair words keep me full of joy;
and I'll keep on until I'm interred,
since I'm not one to leave gold for lead;
and since there's nothing in her to be improved,
I'll be her obedient servant
until, kissing, if she pleases, she clothes me in her love. 

A happy waiting refreshes and relieves me
of the heavy sighs that grieve my sides,
lightly I get the pain and the suffering, and bear it,
since, as far as beauty goes, the others are in a chasm,
and the fairest seems to have fallen
lower than her, and it is true, to the eye of the one who sees her,
since she has all good virtues: knowledge and wisdom
reign in her, and none is missing. 

Since she's so precious, do you think my desire
will fade, or part or waste?
I won't be hers, nor mine own, if I leave her,
let him who showed up in the shape of a dove help me!
In all the World there's no man of any name
to crave so well a great good
like I do her, and I don't care
for the slanderers, to whom lover's harm is joy. 

False slanderers, may fire burn your tongues
and may you lose both your eyes to cancer;
horses and brands are lost for your cause,
you that place love so down that it barely keeps from falling entirely:
may God confound you!- and I can tell you why,
because you make the lovers curse and hate you;
it's an evil star that keeps you ignorant
the more you are scolded, the worse you get. 

Lady Better-Than-Good, don't be loth:
you'll find me all hoary and still loving you,
since I have neither heart nor strength to free myself
from my firm will, which is not like a bowl of glass:
when I wake up and when I close my eyes to sleep,
I remain yours, as when I rise or lie down;
and don't think it'll abate my longing:
it won't: I feel it now in my head. 

Arnaut has waited, and will wait,
since by waiting, a wise men achieves a noble victory. 

I only know the grief that comes to me,
to my love-ridden heart, out of over-loving,
since my will is so firm and whole
that it never parted or grew distant from her
whom I craved at first sight, and afterwards:
and now, in her absence, I tell her burning words;
then, when I see her, I don't know, so much I have to, what to say. 

To the sight of other women I am blind, deaf to hearing them
since her only I see, and hear and heed,
and in that I am surely not a false slanderer,
since heart desires her more than mouth may say;
wherever I may roam through fields and valleys, plains and mountains
I shan't find in a single person all those qualities
which God wanted to select and place in her. 

I have been in many a good court,
but here by her I find much more to praise:
measure and wit and other good virtues,
beauty and youth, worthy deeds and fair disport;
so well kindness taught and instructed her
that it has rooted every ill manner out of her:
I don't think she lacks anything good. 

No joy would be brief or short
coming from her whom I endear to guess [my intentions],
otherwise she won't know them from me,
if my heart cannot reveal itself without words,
since even the Rhone, when rain swells it,
has no such rush that my heart doesn't stir
a stronger one, weary of love, when I behold her. 

Joy and merriment from another woman seems false and ill to me,
since no worthy one can compare with her,
and her company is above the others'.
Ah me, if I don't have her, alas, so badly she has taken me!
But this grief is amusement, laughter and joy,
since in thinking of her, of her am I gluttonous and greedy:
ah me, God, could I ever enjoy her otherwise! 

And never, I swear, I have liked game or ball so much,
or anything has given my heart so much joy
as did the one thing that no false slanderer
made public, which is a treasure for me only.
Do I tell too much? Not I, unless she is displeased:
beautiful one, by God, speech and voice
I'd lose ere I say something to annoy you. 

And I pray my song does not displease you
since, if you like the music and lyrics,
little cares Arnaut whether the unpleasant ones like them as well. 

Giraut de Bornelh 

Reis glorios / Glorious king
trans. Craig E. Bertolet

Glorious king, true light and clarity,
Almighty God, Lord, if it please You,
Be a faithful aid to my companion,
Because I have not seen him since the night came,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, are you sleeping or awake?
Don't sleep any longer, but softly rouse yourself,
For in the east I see the star arisen
Which brings on the day, I know it well,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, I call you with singing:
Don't sleep any longer, because I hear the bird sing
Which goes to seek the day through the woods,
And I fear that the jealous one may attack you,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, go to the window
And look at the stars in the sky;
You will understand whether I am your faithful messenger:
If you don't do this, it will be to your harm,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, since I parted from you
I have neither slept nor risen from my knees,
Instead, I have prayed God, the Son of Saint Mary,
That He might give you back to me in loyal companionship,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair companion, you begged me not to go to sleep
Out there on the steps,
But instead to keep watch all night until dawn;
Neither my song nor my company please you now,
And soon it will be dawn.

Fair sweet companion, I am in so rich a place
That I wish it would never be dawn nor day,
Because the noblest lady ever born of mother
I hold and embrace; therefore, I don't care at all about
The jealous fool nor the dawn.


So through the eyes love attains the heart:
For the eyes are the scouts of the heart,
And the eyes go reconnoitering
For what it would please the heart to possess.
And when they are in full accord
And firm, all three, in one resolve,
At that time, perfect love is born
From what the eyes have made welcome to the heart.
Not otherwise can love either be born or have commencement
Than by this birth and commencement moved by inclination.

By the grace and by command
Of these three, and from their pleasure,
Love is born, who its fair hope
Goes comforting her friends.
For as all true lovers
Know, love is perfect kindness,
Which is born - there is no doubt - from the heart and eyes.
The eyes make it blossom; the heart matures it:
Love, which is the fruit of their very seed.

- Guiraut de Borneilh (c. 1138-1200?) 

Guilhem IX of Poitou

Joyous in love, I make my aim
trans. J. Lindsay

Joyous in love, I make my aim
forever deeper in Joy to be.
The perfect Joy's the goal for me:
so the most perfect lady I claim.
I've caught her eyes. All must exclaim:
the loveliest heard or seen is she.

You know I'd never base my fame
on brags. If ever we're to see
a flowering Joy, this Joy, burst free,
should bear such fruit no man can name,
lifting among the others a flame
that brightens in obscurity.

Bernart de Ventadorn

When I see the lark beating
trans. Craig E. Bertolet

When I see the lark beating
Its wings in joy against the rays of the sun
That it forgets itself and lets itself fall
Because of the sweetness that comes to its heart,
Alas! Such great envy then overwhelms me
Of all those whom I see rejoicing,
I wonder that my heart, at that moment,
Does not melt from desire.

Alas! How much I thought I knew
About love, and how little I know,
Because I cannot keep myself from loving
The one from whom I will gain nothing.
She has all my heart, and my soul,
And herself and the whole world;
And when she left, nothing remained
But desire and a longing heart.

I have never had power over myself
Nor been by own man from the very hour
When she let me see into her eyes,
Into a mirror that pleases me so much.
Mirror, since I saw myself in you,
I have been slain by deep sighs,
That I have lost myself just as the handsome
Narcissus did in the fountain.

I despair of ladies;
I will never trust them again;
As I used to defend them
Now I shall abandon them,
Because I see no one who does any good for me
Against her who destroys and confounds me,
I fear and distrust them all,
Because I know very well that they are all alike.

She really shows herself to be a woman in this,
My lady, for which I condemn her;
Because she does not want what she should want,
And what she shouldn't do, she does.
I have fallen on an evil grace,
And I have indeed acted like the fool on the bridge
And I do not know how this happened to me,
Unless I tried to climb too high on the mountain.

Mercy is indeed lost,
And I never knew it,
Because she, who ought to have most of it,
Has none, and where will I look for it?
Ah! It would never seem, when looking at her,
That she would let this love-sick wretch,
Who will never be well without her,
To die, without helping him.

Since these things will never bring me good from my lady,
Neither prayers, pity, nor the rights I have,
Nor is it a pleasure to her
That I love her, I will never tell her again.
Thus I part from her and give her up.
She has slain me, and through death I will respond,
And I go away, since she does not ask me to stay,
Wretched, into exile, I know not where.

Tristan, you will have nothing more from me,
For I go away, wretched, I know not where.
I will withdraw from singing and renounce it,
And I hide myself from joy and love.

Discussing "A Country Doctor" by Franz Kafka

Kafka's story raises more questions than it answers. The questions and suggestions below are intended for teachers, students, or book discussion groups…. You might want to share your thoughts in the comments. 

Is this story a dream narrative? The plot turns on surreal events. Is the story an example of surrealism? Does it anticipate the surrealistic movement in 20th century art or conjoin it?  To answer these questions, you might identify the elements in the story that make the story veer away from realism towards surrealism. 

Where and why does the story shift from past to present tense? 

What about the country doctor as a literary character? What are his traits, habits, tendencies, preferences, needs? 

The story seems to beg for symbolic interpretation, just as one would interpret dreams in a Freudian or Jungian context. How would you explain the symbolism of  the doctor, the horses, Rosa, the groom, the boy, the parents and sister, the school choir and teacher, the priest?

Are the different characters symbolic of different sides of the self? 

Look for clues concerning sexuality.

Look for clues concerning religious symbolism.

Is there philosophical symbolism present in the story? 

Can the story be interpreted as an allegory of scientific man?

Can the story be interpreted as an allegory for the artist?