Tag Archives: religion

Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited (1944)

In two parts, framed by a prologue and an epilogue that depict Ryder at war, having returned to Brideshead in order to repurpose it as a military base. Main themes include memory, war, religion, and painting. Sebastian Flight is the lovable drunkard with whom Ryder class in love as a young man at Oxford. But Sebastian slowly goes to waste and exits the novel almost all together. he dies off screen, or does not, one is not sure. His sister, Julia, takes center stage in the second half of the novel. Ryder, now a successful painter of houses and married to Celia, falls in love with Julia while on a boat. They become lovers, but when she returns to the Catholic faith at the end of the novel, Ryder and her (despite both getting divorced for each other) decide not to get married.

Curious book to put into dialogue with The Return of the Solider and other novels that mourn the loss of innocent after World War I. Here, it is War World II that triggers a memory that returns to that pre-war state. The portrait of Oxford is a bit anachronistic, compressing the days of Richards and Empson with the days Pater and Wilde. Anthony Blanche is the token “aesthete,” and Ryder finds himself caught up in a new decadence that will string between the two wars. The wars themselves seem to squeeze together to the degree that intervening years are reduced to a couple of family squabbles: Julia says famously, “I see the past and future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” Indeed, the finance capital vulgarians like Rex and the regressive Catholics like the Marchamids seem to be the only options for Julia and Ryder: they are therefore both unhappy at the end.

Use the meal with Rex to show the differences between Ryder’s older continental proclivities and Rex’s modernizing impulses, etc.

The novel gives the lie to the narrative that would reconsolidate England after the war. There are folks like Rex, who is similar to the Dalloways in his relationship to industry, his desire to ignore the war. The Marchmaid family, on the other hand, are trying to live an existence that belongs to another century. It isn’t that this lifestyle is unfit for 20th century, but that it in fact self-destructs: modernity must be described as “uneven development” with regard to its secularizing drive, etc.

As the war approaches, there is a moment in which Julia and Ryder, on the boat, no longer speak in their voices, but in the voices of the English who wish to deny that war is coming. They repeat in almost stichomythic fashion a battery of cliches about how the Germans have no money, etc.

Ryder is a painter of architecture. His painting can be seen as a synecdoche for Waugh’s mode of writing. He prefers drawing buildings that show the encrustations of each age–showing how each has made use of the building. Brideshead itself is shown repurposed multiple times, and the closing scene is of a lamp meant to be purely symbolic of epic and tragedy, hanging in a chapel, now burning in prayer for all the solders in France, etc. Relate this to Larkin’s poem “High Windows,” where he claims that each generation needs to find its own limits, and that there is not a single lyric voice that can consolidate their various attempts at self-transcendence.




T.S. Eliot – The Four Quartets (1936-41)

Ongoing post:

Frist the title–each poem is a quartet, but the whole thing is also a quartet of sorts. If the whole thing is a quartet, then the “four” is tautologous. Throughout the poem, Eliot will play with tautology, equivalence and difference: ends are beginnings, etc. Also, the “quartets” have five parts each, like the Waste Land. Could the think of the larger four as subsuming the individual fives: from synthesis and progress, to symmetry and order, etc.

Burnt Norton

“All time is unredeemable”: what “might have been” can only be registered as an echo in the rose garden–the past, present and future are one solid whole, which we cannot comprehend, but that nevertheless determines our existence. Past and Future press so hard one on the other that there is room “for little consciousness.” The presentness has a spatial analog–the stillness in the midst of a swirling world. This limited epistemological envelop comprises the limits of our language: poetry, for Eliot, is always too late, and words, once established, will never stay. Art, in other words, is subject to the processes of life and decay that our bodies are subject to.

East Coker

A more earthy section, that talks about seasons while trying out various styles of poetry (Olde English, Vorticists) before admitting that these are all just attempts that always fail. Living “entre les deux-geurres,” Eliot claims that every attempt at poety is a new and fresh attempt bereft of former accomplishments–“a raid on the inarticulate with shabby equipment.” Curious, given the resonance of  The Waste Land throughout. The past, even if does not stay put as a tool for use, reamins that from which we cannot escape even as we continue to lose it.

The Dry Salvages

Draws attention to the changes of the human–not the same when they leave the station, etc. Focuses on image sof water and the sea. Despite being composed while being bombed, the poem is surprisingly hopeful. Connect imagery of boat and drowning to the the “Death by Water” section (the poem that wasn’t written), but also to the image of the boat guided by the craftsman at the end of the Waste Land.

Little Gidding

Circularity and fire are brought together in this final poem, that connects with imagery from Burnt Norton. The image of stillness in the middle of a circulating world is born out as paradigmatic poetic practice. it maintains the tension that runs throughout the poem: between time utterly lost and time redeemed, etc.


humility of thought (cf. Heidegger)

stillness in circle (cf. Yeats)

circular exploration (cf. Molloy)

inter-penetration of the seasons (cf. The Waste Land)

experimental nature of all language (M-P, Ulysses, early modernism)

the little space for consciousness (between past and present)



Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure (1895-6)

Hardy’s last novel is also his most dense, sparse and brutal. Country bumpkin Jude Fawley (pun on folly) aspires to be an Oxford don, but because of liquor and a weakness for women, as he calls it, ends up marrying Arabella Donn (yes, pun intended), who snags him by lying about being pregnant. Their marriage breaks up over the slaughtering of a pig: Jude refuses to bleed it slowly because of his affection for animals.  Arabella moves to Australia, and Jude moves to Christminster, where he studies hard plies his trade of stone-cutting; he is refurbishing the inside of a cathedral, much like Hardy himself did. He meets Sue Bridehead, a cousin, whom is Aunt Drusilla has expressly told him to avoid. According to her, there is a curse ont he family that makes all wedlock something to be avoided. Jude unintentionally brings her together with his old idol Richard Phillottson, whom Sue agrees to marry. But not before she breaks out of her training school to meet Jude, etc. etc. She marries him but is immediately unhappy, as Jude knew she would be. She leaves with Phillottson’s consent and goes to Jude. But they don’t marry. Arabella has returned (a drunken night ended in Jude sleeping with her once again), and though she is married to a certain Cartell, she informs Jude that she had a child from him, whose name is Father Time. Sue and Jude raise him. They are happy for a while, but never get married (for a fear of the legal bond that would destroy their natural love). Cast out by society, they return eventually to Christminster, where they can’t fin lodging. Father Time (little Jude) kills Sue’s two children and hangs himself because they were “too menny.” Sue goes crazt and becomes religious. She remarries Richard. Jude eventually remarries Arabella. Jude dies, and Arabella is looking for a new man before he is cold.

Critique of the bildungsroman: In short, a systematic subversion of the meritocratic presumptions of the 19th-century bildungsroman.

The letter killeth: This is referring to the letter of the law, but it reverberates in two other significations: Jude carves letters, he etches things like the ten commandments in stone [not sure to connect this..perahps through ideas of permanence?]; Sue writes through letters that express her more free self…that is, her letters allow for the sort of split personality that gets their tragic romance off the ground.

Natural vs. Legal vs. Spiritual: The rather simple notion of a contract in Casterbridge is complicated here. According to the demands of the plot, it functions in one of these tree ways: it effectively empties marriage of its symbolic status and it becomes a device for refracting the various social and religious dogmas that exist in the text.

Fate/Tragic: Yes, Jude and Sue do seem to be beaten about by external circumstances, but they also have an awareness of the tragic from which the consciously draw to make sense of their circumstances. Locating the cause and effect is difficult (making this a proto-modernist text), because the textual allusiveness takes on a force that becomes constitutive of plot itself. Jude exclaims that Sue is “enslaved to forms,” and while that applies, the moment to her rigid adherence to religious forms, it could apply, also to the early moments in the text, when her unconventionality is precisely that which the 19th-century novel needs in order for it to grind along and grind down those excesses necessary for conclusion.

Architecture: The normal descriptions of the Wessex landscape give way, in this novel, to a focus on architecture–above all, architecture in transition. Most obviously, cathedrals are being retrofitted in gothic fashion (Sue wishes Jude had been trained in the classic way–can relate this Ruskin, how the democracy of the Gothic has itself become a form that can be imposed, artificially, on the crumbling remnants of a social order.) But domestic interiors also have an incongruous feel: oak wainscot contrasts with the brass bed stand and the birch furniture. The two styles “nod to each other across three centuries upon the shaking floor” (282).

The University: Needs to be contextualized within Hardy’s own personal history: an auto-didactic that could never quite shake off the image of the rustic…he would try to write urban novels only to be driven by the market to stay within the confines of his Wessex.

Animals: Both Sue and Jude are kind to animals (birds, pigs, rabbits), which distinguishes them most clearly from Arabella, and her father, who run a pork business. The obvious reading is that it demonstrates Jude and Sue’s desire to extricate themselves from the cycle of nature that characterize the “quite desperation” of all those that blithely accept the conventions foisted on them by “culture.” Yet, in so doing, they implicate themselves in a different cycle of literary reduplication that condemns them to misery–moral: resisting the cruelty inherent to man’s existence will just make you the object of that very cruelty. 

Loving-kindness: The term that Hardy associates with the sort of lowest common denominator of human sympathy–and capacity to narrate–in his 1922 poetic “Apology.” In the context of Jude,

Gerard Manley Hopkins – Poems

Hopkins died before most of his poems were published. Not until 1918 did his friend Robert Bridges come out with an edition that includes what are considered his greatest works, those written between 1876 and his death in 1889. In the Preface to that collection, Hopkins described the difference between running rhythm (common rhythm) and sprung rhythm–the latter being more natural because closer to speech–it is identifiable by stresses coming together. Pure sprung rhythm cannot be counterpointed. The claim for its naturalness derives from the argument that the impulse (in all but the most “same and tame” poems) to invert and vary something like iambic pentameter eventually leads to sprung rhythm.

The most sustained example is “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” a poem comprised of 35 8-line stanzas, with alternating rhymes, and varying length. In the fifth stanza he introduces the crucial idea of instress, which is able to translate in its wholeness the “inscape“: that which makes some individual thing beautiful:

Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

The poem as a whole is a meditation on the experience and meaning (perhaps lack of meaning) of divine violence. He correlates the inexplicable wreckage of a ship full of nuns with the brutal ascetic requirements of religious devotion:

Thous art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

The syntactical intensity of the poem is literally compounded by an overflow of hyphenated words–flint-flack, black-backed, white-fiery, whirlwind-swiveled all from stanza 13perhaps miming the “make words break from me here all alone” in stanza 18. The poet wonders whether all of this violence (aesthetic, physical, historical) is somehow perversely pleasing to God, likening it a “harvest.” The concluding stanzas show his indebtedness to the aesthetic theories of Walter Pater, but in Hopkins they are rendered overtly religious:

Now burn, new burn to the world
Double-natured name
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne.

Pretty stunning stuff. Talk about Christ, the notion of failure as success and the connection between religious and aesthetic sacrifice.

“God’s Grandeur” is a Petrarchan sonnet that works out the triple-implication of the first line, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God“: economic, imperative, electric. Hopkins bemoans “trade” which seems to overdraw its account by extracting to much “oil” from the “soil.” The wonderful line–“Generations have trod, have trod, have trod“– syntactically mirrors the sort of repetitive nature of man’s dependence on natural resources. Despite this greed, “nature is never spent.” It remains charged with grandeur, and we are charged to recognize it as such.

“Pied Beauty” contrasts the variety of God’s creativity with the homogenizing drive of human work, “plotted and pieced.” The form of the poem: 10 1/2 lines or a Curtal-sonnet acc. to the Preface. Like the full sonnet, it attempts a fusion of opposites, but in condensed form: listing off binaries–swift, slow; sweet, sour–before positing a God whose beauty is beyond all change–that is, these variations are able to coexist in nature.

“Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves” and “To what serves Mortal Beauty” are two later poems displaying Hopkins at his most experimental. Both have long lines, sometimes twenty syllables, with graphic caesurae in each line. The former ruminates on the forms of destruction wrought by death: in general, the apocalyptic vision is one of division and forgetfulness, “disremembering and dismembering,” which leads to moral and aesthetic reductionism: “black, white; right, wrong.” This leads to an internal, subjective dimension, in which thoughts are turned one against another. Interesting to contrast this world of division to the organic variety (not totalizing) of earth’s natural state. The latter poem answers the title’s question: “See: it does this: keeps warm men’s wits to the things that are.” There is a danger inherent to form, however: “the O-so-seal-that feature” that Hopkins correlates with pride, domination, and the harmful reduction of nature’s infinite variety. He proposes something very much like recessive action: “Merely meet it….then leave, let that alone.”

E.M. Forster – A Passage to India (1924)

Englishwoman Adela Quested and her incipient mother-in-law Mrs. Moore are hanging about in India while Adela tries to decide whether she wants to marry the hyper-nationalistic and dull Ronny Heaslop. Mrs. Moore runs in Dr. Aziz and sparks up a friendship. Aziz is also friends with Cyril Fielding, a Brit who is about as friendly and cosmopolitan as one could imagine. Aziz invites them all to the Marabar caves, partially to satisfy Adela’s craving to see “the real India.” While there, Mrs. Moore is stricken with claustrophobia, and the echo “Boum” in the cave, obliterating all forms of linguistic differentiation, is so great that she doubts her Christianity–that is, her country. Adela and Aziz press on with a guide. Adela wanders into a cave and the same echo is so great that she thinks Aziz has attempted to rape her. She flees. Aziz is arrested when he returns by train. Cryril defends him. When Mrs. Moore apathetically expresses her belief in his innocence, Ronny sends her back to England; she dies during the voyage. During the trial, Adela realizes that it was only an echo, not a rape. Aziz is free and everyone parts. Eventually Cyril Fielding returns with his new wife to visit Aziz in the hindu town where he now lives. Both are still friends, but because of the colonial relationship, the sky says, “not yet.”

“Except for the Marabar Caves–and they are twenty miles off–the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary…” So the novel opens. Two things: the urban India is rigorously dull in the narrator eyes–a narrator that frequently slides into extensive descriptions of India life in the present tense, much like the narrator of Howard’s End did 14 years earlier with regard to London. So while there is center-periphery divide (told through the eyes of the characters, mostly) the narrator reproduces many of the local divides (country/city, upper/lower) that exist in both England and India. The narrative effects are drawn to overtly:

Most of life is so dull there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. (132)

Yet this precedes by a few pages the incredible (discredible?) echos that drive Mrs. Moore and Adela into hysteria. Perhaps the hysterics are caused by the echo’s truth revealing function with regard to the narrative’s stance towards national and religious difference:

The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. “Boum” is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or “bou-oum.” or “ou-boum,”–utterly dull. (147)

“Dullness” thus becomes a linguistic, existential and national character–and the blending of these three registers is in itself dull. Can think of the echo as a too perfect mimesis, subverting the claims for English superiority that are insisted on throughout. Note that it is precisely the threat of “miscegenation” that gets the English folks all up in arms about Aziz–another potential “dullness.” When Fielding returns years later to see Aziz, they get into a minor boat crash: “That was the climax, as far as India admits of one” (315).

Aziz’s concluding assertion of national independence (the outburst is sort of ridiculous) is registered (by the sky) as the precondition for an interpersonal connection. An ethics of difference or something of that sort.


Yeats – The Second Coming (1921)

One of the last poems in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), “The Second Coming” opens with an image of a gyre ceding unifying strength to a centrifugal force coming from an unidentifiable force.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is looked upon the world.

This scene of chaos flows into a plea that borrows its tone and semiotics from Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush”: “Surely some revelation is at hand; / Surely the second coming is at hand.” This anticipation is answered by an image (reminiscent of “Ozymondiaz”) of a creature half-lion, half-man, “[Slouching] towards Bethlehem.” The reference to Chist’s birth is peculiar because it is triggered by modern events that seem to render that event suddenly timely….that is, the history of the western world (Stephen’s “nightmare from which I am trying to wake) suddenly makes sense because it is retrospectively written as a history of disaster culminating in the mass destruction of the frist world war. There is revelation here (unlike in Hardy), but it is only showing that our future is a past that we have failed.

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Connect this with untimeliness in general: how poetry (and all other forms of knowing) comes too late. Untimeliness.  Also, the imposition of a question at the end. Why? Track the tortured interrogative in Yeats (“No Second Troy”)

Connect rocking cradle to “a terrible beauty is born.” Connect this with the language of reproduction and birth that runs throughout Victorian and Modernist literature, especially as it relates to culture and nationalism.

Thomas Carlyle – Sartor Resartus (1833-4)


From the Introduction to the Oxford edition (2008):

The fundamental Carlylean doctrines are all articulated, or at least, adumbrated here: the horrors of Utilitarianism; the religious base of society; the pattern of conversion–from everlasting No, through the Center of indifference to the Everlasting Yea–which showed that, in the the words of Thomas Henry Huxley, ‘a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology’; the importance of vocation; the superiority of renunciation to the pursuit of happiness; the moral imperatives of work, duty, and reverence; the need for heroes; and the social vision that saw Britain divided into the two nations of rich and poor.

Anne Mellor presents Sartor  as a ‘self-consuming artifact’ that ‘does not preach the truth, but asks that its readers discover the truth for themselves.’ Sartor Resartus is a fictional work ‘designed to consume itself by revealing the limitations both of its own symbolic language and of language as such. It is intended not as a monument of truth but as a goad to action.’ (English Romantic Irony (1978)

Much depends on whether we share the doubts of the Editor or whether we read those doubts as the result of his miscomprehension of Teufelsdöckh’s system. That system is a paired down version of German Idealism, meant to counterpoint English utilitarianism. Teufelsdröckh distinguishes in Hegelian mode between Understanding (phenomenal, sensory experience) and Reason (noumenal, synthetic thought), which is able to somehow pierce through the mere facts of everyday an understand the Everlasting:

To the eye of vulgar logic,” syas he,” what is man? An omnivorous Biped that wears breeches. To the eye of Pure Reason what is he? A Soul, a Spirit, and a divine Apparition. Round his mysterious Me, there lies, under all those wool-rags, a Garment of Flesh (or of Senses), contextured in the Loom of Heaven; whereby he is revealed to his like, and dwells with them in Union and Division; and sees and fashions for himself a universe, with azure Starry Spaces, and long Thousands of Years. Deep-hidden is he under that strange Garment; amid Sounds and Colour and Forms, as it were, swathed in, and inextricably overshrouded: yet it is sky-woven, and worthy of God. (51)

Throughout, Carlyle is anxious about the soul converging with its digestive counterpart, the stomach. “if man’s soul is indeed…a kind of Stomach, what else is the true meaning of Spiritual Union but an Eating Together? Thus we, instead of Friends, are Dinner-guests; and here as elsewhere have cast away chimeras” (91). So this begins to mark  fine line between the daily requirements of the omnivorous biped and the insatiable consumption (and production) that conditions Industrial Capitlaism:

To me the universe was all void of Life, of Purpose, of Volition, even of Hostility: it was one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-Engine, rolling on, in its dead insignificance, to grind me limb from limb. (127)

Here the utilitarian outlook converges with nihilism in the section devoted to the Everlasting No. From here Teufelsdröckh undergoes his “Baphometic Fire-baptism”  which leads to him becoming a Man. The center of Indifference, strangely, takes up the subject of nascent democracy “in its birth pangs” and “Great Men.” This can be read as moment of historical transition condensed into psychological transformation. The Everlasting Yea is something very much like a full sublimation, wherein “contradiction is solved,” yet the process of completion is strictly negative: “the Fraction of Life can be increased in value not by increasing you Numerator, as by lessening you Denominator” (145). Further, this subtraction seems centered on the subject: “a black spot in our sunshine: the Shadow of Ourselves.” This the is a giving account of one’s investment (and position) in a world that is experiential from the start.

This will all conclude in the tour de force “Natural Supernaturalism” chapter that posits God’s in(ter)vention of Time and Space as natural clothing to all noumenal existence. Basically acknowledges limits as the very things that give us a capacity to experience the world at all (time, space, etc.)…interesting bridge to talking about Hegel and, later, Gadamer.

There is also a parallel between the editorial attempts to gather together Teufel’s papers and any attempt to reconstruct history:

History in authentic fragments lay mingled with Fabulous chimeras, wehre also was reality; and the whole not as dead stuff, but as living pabulum, tolerably nutritive for a mind as yet so poetic. (79)

Also refers to orphan as a loan that needs to be made good on (read as critique of hoe Victorian novels would end up treating the orphan as a means to an end of narrative denouement….