Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Analysis of Dubliners in the context of Modernity and the Surreal

I’m going to talk a little bit about the book in general and then move to look at what I think are its two most important chapters: Eveline and The Dead in a bit more detail. Dubliners, published in 1914, is made up of 15 chapters which are in themselves separate stories. Written in a naturalistic style, the book serves as a map of middle class Dublin. It’s not a Dickensian novel with a great number of characters whose lives intersect, but each story takes place in Dublin without impacting upon the other stories. Thus, just through the structure of the novel, Joyce highlights the alienation central to bourgeois society. These characters aren’t even aware of the existence of the characters of the other chapters, nor do they particularly care a great deal about those who are a part of their story.
Joyce wrote Dubliners when Ireland was struggling to create a definitive identity – the nationalist movement was at its peak, but unity within Ireland would be required to succeed in breaking away from British control. Clearly change was needed, and radical change at that. The majority of the stories in the book highlight the cyclical nature of life in Dublin at the time. Eveline longs to break away from her life of domestic drudgery, but avoids doing so at the very last minute, Jimmy from “After the Race” spends his time get into more and more debt and making the same bad choices as he did when he was a boy, and so on.
Joyce appears to be calling for traditional Irish class-structured society to be overhauled. This is incredibly potent in “The Dead”. Gabriel is the only character in the novel to voice his frustration with the current state of things when he exclaims “I’m sick of my own country, sick of it”. He speaks out about the new educated generation who are going to be a force for change in the country. When he does this, the distinction between him and the traditionalists and him and radicals is made clear: he makes a speech about this new generation of new principles, but condemns it as a movement away from traditional values such as hospitality. However, by voicing this movement in itself he raises awareness of it to both the reader and his own audience. Importantly, Gabriel chooses this speech so that it will be appropriate for the members of the class which he understands to be beneath him. Thus, perhaps Joyce is indicating that this “new generation” is vital for the working class to see progress happen. At this point I think the reader has to ask him or herself whether this “new generation” is to be found in the book. The youngsters we meet are often unable to throw off the weight of societal expectations and the influence of their elders. For example, the first person narrator in “the sisters” has an unexplained relationship with a priest, who is evidently a very influential force for the young boy. Perhaps one could read into this the “hyper-education” which Gabriel speaks off. The boy has learnt about a great many religious doctrines as a child and questioned them – this could lead to deeper questioning as he grows older and the potential to throw off religious concerns.
The other story which I’m going to talk about in a bit of detail here is “Eveline”. On a purely structural level, this story is striking and marks a dramatic change in the progress of the book. It’s the first story with a third person narrator, the first to focus on a female protagonist, and the only story to have an eponymous protagonist. Ironically, Eveline herself is a rather selfless figure, abandoning her hopes of love and happiness abroad in order to look after her family. Unlike Gabriel, Eveline is a figure of stasis in the novel. She has the chance to escape Ireland, and in fact knows that her life will only progress if she goes there, yet she is held back by the bonds of tradition. In this way I think we can see Eveline as a synecdoche for Irish unionists, and her father as a figure for tyrannical Britain. She seeks to break away from this domineering presence who has been abusive in the past, but clings to the pleasant memories of the past and fears abandoning her former life for the sake of independence. The reader is aware that she is making a mistake – she sacrifices her freedom because she deems her father not responsible for himself and her family. Her life of endless repetition of submission serves as a warning for the people of Ireland.
Now I’m going to talk a little bit about the book in relation to the reading we’ve done over the past two weeks. A quote from Marinetti’s “The Futurist Manifesto” struck home about what Joyce appeared to be getting at: “up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility” – Joyce revolts against this (although not quite in as extreme a manner as Marinetti does) as Dubliners points out the flaws in the cyclical state of literature. Gabriel, who is arguably socially awkward and unaware of class friction and the endless movement which is part of the modern world, is also behind in his appreciation of art. In the Cubist manifesto, Apollinaire states that “real resemblance no longer has any importance”. However, Gabriel talks about painting an accurate portrait of his wife, calling it “Distant Music” as that is what she is listening to at the time. He has no interest in understanding the woman behind the surface, and so has no desire to create something abstract or surreal. Perhaps one could describe Gabriel as making a move towards surrealism as his story begins to draw to a close. Here we have him unable to combine his thoughts, or dreams, with the reality before him: he sees only the reality and only wishes to express that. When he finally talks to his wife and starts to get to know her, he gains an appreciation of the thoughts in her mind. At this point fears arise, seemingly from his unconscious, about not being the “best” man in her life. As they start to overcome him, he begins to slip into a dream-like world, in which a “vague terror” seized him and he begins to “pass boldly into that other world”. If we are to assume that he is not dying, then it makes sense that this “other world” is the state of dreaming, or a kind of voyage into his unconscious. He feels his “identity” dissolving almost before his eyes as this occurs. Here I believe for a brief time Joyce’s writing can be described as surreal. He has somewhat achieved a union between dream and reality in which nothing is known, and everything is immaterial.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Trip to the Home of Shakespeare

(Shakespeare's last house)

I realised that, as a third year English Lit student at Warwick, it's pretty shameful that I haven't been to visit Shakespeare's home in Stratford-Upon-Avon (which is just a relatively quick train ride away). So, a group of us who studied Shakespeare last year set off full of excitement. As you would expect for October in England, it rained on us. All day. But the gaudy lights of the massive fair we stumbled across in the centre of the town cast away the damp blues and created a brilliant atmosphere.

The quote at the top of the page was one of the most interesting things I saw in the Shakespeare Centre. Hidden amongst innovative sculptures and paintings of the infamous playwright himself from all over the globe, this served as a reminder of the long-lasting cultural impact Shakespeare has had. Although I knew that some of these were down to him I had no idea that he'd formed this large a part of our vernacular. 

The houses themselves were beautiful. The detail and care in which the people who worked there spoke about and looked after the furnishings of the house was just astounding. Plus Stratford itself was just adorable. I'm always a fan of old houses. Even if we did end up lunching at Zizzi's, looking at all the little independent restaurants just added to the atmosphere. Our last stop was an old-fashioned sweetshop. Who isn't a fan of these? You walk in and the shelves are lined up to the ceiling with jars of a huge array of sweets. Heaven.

Anyway, if you're thinking of going, or are just a fan of Shakespeare I'd highly recommend it. They've got a whole host of little activities to keep the kids entertained as you explore the houses, Plus the giftshop has everything any self-respecting bookaholic who likes Shakespeare would love (I had to restrain myself from buying a Shakespeare advent calendar - where else would you find that?!)

Steph x

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Review of The White Devil

Let's be real, who wouldn't love a seventeenth-century play brimming with allusions to prostitution, witchcraft and downright misogyny? This quote I believe helps bring to light the paradoxes at the centre of the play. On the one hand, fortune is necessary - she has the power to control lives and does so unheeded. On the other hand, she might leave you with some nasty surprises (and yes, as with most plays of this era, that probably means syphilis). 

I'm not sure whether studying Shakespeare last year has swayed my opinion, but I really think that seventeenth century literature gets a poor reputation as being incredibly dry. The likes of Middleton, Shakespeare and even John Webster at points can be humorous. Having said that, it did make me feel a bit like a 40-year-old crazy cat lady laughing at Middleton last year. Personally, my favourite laughable part of The White Devil was the reference to poisonous Spanish "farts". Although I'm not an especial fan of juvenile humour, I was quite startled to come across it in this centuries-old play. I'm still unconvinced as to whether it makes me revel in the fact that simple humour has stuck around, or despair that we haven't really progressed from finding the word "fart" funny.

Moving on from the humourous aspect, I found the misogynistic elements of the text rather interesting. It is never truly clear whether Webster is handling Vittoria's case as something which supports female empowerment, or degrades it. The scene in which Vittoria's arraignment is described explores this most thoroughly. I wish I had enough space to quote the whole description of whores made by the lawyer, but alas its glorious length is a bit too, well, lengthy. Anyway, to summise, everything which the lawyer states whores are Vittoria is able to simply refute. However, in the refutation of this she alludes to her promiscuity. In this scene the reader is shown that Vittoria is able to speak Latin. She is also eloquent enough to hold a strong argument. During this period female eloquence of speech and licentiousness were deeply connected. Thus the very fact that she speaks is a paradox to her pleading that she is not the lusty creature that she is accused of being.

What were your favourite parts?

Steph x

Friday, 3 October 2014

Review of Rip Van Winkle

First of all, I again apologise at my tardiness in reviews and generally writing anything for this blog at the moment. Uni's been so hectic this week, I've barely had a moment to read. Fortunately, I was asked to read Rip Van Winkle by one of my university professors. As it's so short and easy to read I was able to finish it in about half an hour (thankfully as it seems I've hardly had time to sit down, let alone read this week). Now as I've lived in England my entire life, I'm not entirely up to speed with the whole American Revolution. Bar the fact that you know, England = bad, United America = good. Who says primary school history doesn't get you anywhere eh? Anyways, I've been doing a bit of catch up in that department this week by reading the Declaration of Independence, among other theoretical excerpts from the period. 

Basically when I was reading this I got the feeling that I've heard this quote before. However, I've never read Rip Van Winkle, nor did I feel as though I've heard someone speak it to me. I've been given the impression that Rip Van Winkle is a really big thing out in America, but I've never seen a film based on it, nor read the story. Perhaps the cultural impact of the text in America has permeated to England somewhat, and I may have seen an adaptation as a young child - who knows.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed reading this. It was very interesting in light of my new knowledge about the American revolution (albeit very, very limited). If you dont know already, the story goes as thus: an idle man wanders up into the mountains one day. He meets some strange people who are bowling. He drinks a drink with them and falls asleep. When he awakes he is an old man and his town has changed completely. Though he think he only slept for one night he has actually slept through the entire revolution.

Although the whole story had a bit of a Disney-esque unreality to it, what the writer really wanted to express rings through clear. Having to explain in detail why and how the man slept for so long would have detracted from the point of the text a bit. I think it raises some incredibly important questions: was America really any different after the revolution? Is it just a question of a new coat of paint on an old regime or do the differences lie deeper?

Have you read it? What do you think?

Steph x