Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Woolf's Short Stories

One of my initial reactions to Virginia Woolf’s short stories is a bit of confusion! I remember feeling this same way as I read Mrs. Dalloway! Shortly into Woolf’s stories I realize my confusion, and return to the beginning of the story. For me, these short stories are evident of some of Woolf’s first experiments in of circular story lines and stream of consciousness. “A Haunted House” is a perfect example of this experimenting. The story is very intriguing, though I cannot pinpoint what exactly is happening. It seems that the narrator is jumping in time and space much in the way Eliot does his poetry, especially in “Portrait of a Lady.” In one moment, the reader is identifying with the speaker who seems to be the new occupants of the house, while in the next it feels as if the speaker is the previous owner. In “An Unwritten Novel” the same stream-of-consciousness and ambiguous narration occurs. This short story is particularly interesting however, because it seems as if it could be a precursor to Mrs. Dalloway. I suppose it is the author, perhaps Woolf, speaking to her characters, as she creates them and their situations. Once again, time and space are being challenged and explored through a circular narrative. Also, in “An Unwritten Novel” there seems to be a focus on distinctions between the urban and the natural world. As setting of “The Haunted House” seems to be separated from the urban cities and away from the chaos that is throughout “An Unwritten Novel.” “Monday and Tuesday” seems to weave the two distinctions together with the heron weaving through the urban setting “lazy and indifferent” (18), and the fleeting characters are overly concerned with trivial things unable to notice the heron. “A Unwritten Novel” begins with the predicaments of the urban world, as the writer’s character is troubled by all that may appear in the Times, and there is the looming presence of war. Another element that struck me as I was reading was Woolf’s focus on women. Though this may not necessarily be a modernist characteristic, it is definitely a clear concern for Woolf. “The Society” (while not assigned) is an interesting play on an allegory of a group of women. “The Mark on the Wall” reminded me a bit of the Charlotte Perkins Gilmore and “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The story seems to explore the difference in the way women process thoughts or go about the creative process. Though there is no final action of the character going mad, the woman of the story obsesses over this mark in the wall, which in turn allows her to muse over a range of topics that could be possible inspiration for writing. Unlike the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” who was prevented from writing, this narrator is free to flow from topic to topic in her mind, and return when she determines the time to return is appropriate. The stream-of-conscious flows through this story making it appear to be a very feminine attribute of the narrative process.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prufrock and His Problems

James Torrens' essay "Eliot's Essays: A Bridge to the Poems" relates some interesting correlations between our previous class discussion and this weeks readings. As we talked about the Modernists' struggle with Romanticism, particularly Eliot's, Torren's essay in many ways kind of subtley insinuates more correlations. I have always found Eliot's essay "Hamlet and his problems" amusing simply because I also don't really like Hamlet! I have always been baffled as to why the play is rated so highly among Shakespeare's other plays. Hamlet annoys much in the way I would think the character of Prufrock would annoy me if he were to be a character in a play!

It does seem that Prufrock is a sort of satire on the Romantic character or even on a character similar to Hamlet. Also, as Torren's writes, "'Prufrock,' like Hamlet, can be interpreted as a 'form of emotional relief' for the author" (48). If Eliot is relieving his own "problems" through Prufrock, it is interesting the romantic nature of the character. Eliot and the others Modernists clear aversion (except of course when they're not being clear), to the Romantics plays out well within the character of Prufrock. If the speaker of the poem is Prufrock, his inability to make decisions and his fear of growing old, reiterate Torrens' interpretation of Prufrock as "the hyper-self conscious modern, [who] would love to be heroic-to be both the romantic hero and the philosophical hero raising the great questions about human aloneness before the Absolute" (48).
But, alas, he can't make up his mind!

The epigraph from Dante’s Inferno suggests further suggests Prufrock’s indecisiveness between the romantic hero or the philosophical hero. The speaker is telling his story, though only under the pretense that his story will not ultimately be told, because as he knows, stories never return from the hell he is in. Yet, he likens himself to John the Baptist (though not as a prophet), and Lazurus, raised from the dead (and can return and tell his story). This is Prufrock, (or possibly Eliot’s) “decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” Prufrock begins with a story that he wishes not to be repeated, though in a matter of minutes through the poem, he is the varying storytellers. Prufrock appears to paralyzed by his romantic tendencies, though he is telling his story through tradition, and through the story of others before himself. Prufrock may actually be able to achieve what Hamlet could not according to Eliot, the objective correlative. Shakespeare failed by making Hamlet the character too much of his own emotion and self. Eliot, ( or so he thinks) achieves through Prufrock and his “love song” the objective correlative of perhaps his own emotion. Shakespeare tried to create a separated emotion but Eliot achieved this, as Torrens’ calls it a “form of emotional relief” for the author. I can’t help but think when I read particular criticism by Eliot of another author such as Eliot or Shelley, how he fails to realize at times his own similarities. Eliot wants to hate the Romantics, yet he creates a character in Prufrock that is arguably, much like himself. Eliot seems through Prufrock the one that cannot “emerge from the pain of mere velleity” (Torrens 48).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

As if it couldn't get Better Than Ezra Pound

I always thought Ezra Pound was the most annoying author I had ever come across in my literary studies. Something about the way Pound set out to explain what "good literature" is and how he writes "good literature," and his blatant elitism just never set well with me.

I stand corrected. T. E. Hulme is my newest "most annoying author ever." Pound is in close second.

"Romanticism and Classicism" definitely illustrates where Pound may have gotten many of his ideas for "A Retrospect." What struck me most about Hulme's essay is the amount of politics interwoven throughout it. I know that artists, poets, and critics alike certainly have political opinions, and certainly make no reservations about expressing them. However, Hulme's essay really seems focused on connecting the political association with the authority of a particular genre, and as he says, he "makes no apology for dragging" it in (Hulme 94). Hulme's methods for arguing against Romanticism are very dogmatic and not the least tactful. Hulme's description of Romanticism is very problematic and it almost seems laughable when his arguments for the traditional or classical view are legitimate because, hey, the Church has been classical with their "sane...dogma of original sin" (Hulme 95).

The place of the literary critic with both Hulme and Pound is problematic as well. For Hulme, it seems that the literary critic, or intellect concerned with the work of art, is simply not capable of representing what Coleridge called the "vital." I take this to mean that the critic or intellect cannot put into words the "thing" or image. Pound is all over the place where the critic is concerned. By setting up what criticism is not (and then of course beginning his criticism with the very thing he negates), Pound mentions the importance of the older generation on the poet. we are to assume he obviously doen't mean a romantic! as well as, "pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work" (Pound 60). I would be very interested to know who exactly Pound found "notable" authors!

Hulme and Pound bring emotion up often. Both Hulme and Pound clearly believe emotion is important to poet and his/her poetry, though they obviously defer with what emotion is or should be where the Romantics are concerned (at least they want to). Pound seems to think most emotion is a "sham" and the emotion that comes from satire is far preferable,though he ends his essay with the section titled "Only emotion endures" (67). I realize that Modernism is, or was intended to be, a complete and radical break from the Romantics, but so much of what Hulme and Pound seem to be diverging from, is present even in their own criticisms. It seems Pound especially, is splitting hairs with what Wordsworth or Coleridge sought from poetry. Poetry as a "spontaneous overflow of emotion recollected in tranquility" may not be what Pound has in mind (certainly not the spontaneous judging from "A Retrospect"!), but Pound and Hulme definitely agree that Poetry is that of emotion.