Tag Archives: romance

Sir Walter Scott – Waverly (1814)

Important as, in many ways, the frist historical novel. It tells the story of Edward Waverly, a rich, quixotic Englishman who finds himself involved in the failed Scottish uprising of 1745. The subtitle, “tis sixty years since” pins down the specific time and place of the story, which toggles between ROMANCE AND HISTORY. Late in the novel, after the Scottish forces attempting to restore Charles Edward to the throne are virtually vanquished, Waverly reflects, “with a sigh, that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history had now commenced” (414 Penguin). The play between romance and history is crucial, and Scott is self-conscious about the creation of a literary artifact that positions itself as a Romantic intervention into a history that has already been told, officially. Despite the radical possibilities of imagining history otherwise, the romance of Scottish Highlanders is represented in the text as a representation, a painting that Waverly treat as a health sublimation of passion that he can dis-identify with even while drawing from it as a resource for his life as rich, vaguely conservative Englishman.

This isn’t to say that Scott is entirely conservative, or an English nationalist. Throughout, he portrays a gallantry and chivalry that transcends the disputes separating the Hanoverian and Stuart interests. Waverly can recognize in Colonel Talbot a physiognomy of nobel bearing even though he is his enemy.

Towards the end of the novel, Scott will rather clumsily insert his theory of narrative development, arguing for the novel’s great powers of characterological description. Scott will typically pair up characters similar enough to evoke their differences. Thus two small town officials–the politician Melville and the clergyman Morton–are both shown to be sympathetic, well-meaning interpreters of the law, but one is pessimistic while the other is more optimistic with regard to intention and human nature.

Charles Waverly can be connected to the long line of quixotic protagonists, from Quixote himself, to Crusoe, Catherine Morland, all the way up to Lord Jim. The chapter called “castle-building” is a good place to start conversations about architecture in relationship to imagination and history.

Further, one could say that the whole novel si a way of making it possible for Waverly not to be held accountable for his experiences. The sheer amount of luck, money and political maneuvering that allows him to be both Scottish and English, rebel and conservative, beings to point to the moneyed foundations of aesthetic experience tout court (connecting all the way with Forster’s “islands of money” on which the Schlegel sisters sit).

Read Scott in contrast to Austen. The former came to be considered a somewhat sloppy entertainer, while the latter was exalted as paragon of formal control. The former is more content, fact-based, while the latter was psychological, critical. in the former, there is a proliferation of languages and styles, while in the latter there is just Austen’s steady and refined free indirect discourse. But both can be seen as critics of Romanticism in certain ways: Scott levies a pretty serious critique of individualism along with social and political uprising. This pairs with Austen’s critique of sensibility in the character of Marianne Dashwood, etc.


Robert Louis Stevenson – The Master of Ballantrae (1889)

A sprawling jumble of things are crammed into this pretty stellar novel: adventure, family saga, historical fiction, pioneer exploration, buried treasure, etc. Centers on the Durie family, comprised of the father Henry (Lord of Durrisdere), his second son Henry (the current Lord), and his first son James (The Master of Ballantrae). The tension between the two sons is the main plot-mover, which is narrated almost entirely by Mackellar, a servant in the house of Durie. He is drawn rationally and morally to the cerebral but week Henry, but is drawn affectively to the morally corrupt, romantic “master of the arts and graces,” Katherine, a wealthy Scotitsh noblewoman, marries Henry despite loving James. James (who is presumed dead) returns to the house of his fathers, despite being a wanted man in Scotland,  after traveling on a pirate ship with the Irish Jacobite Francis Burke (some of the narration is pulled from his MS). After insulting his brother one too many times, they have a duel, where James seemingly kills him. But he doesn’t die. He escapes and travels throughout the orient, mostly India, where he picks up the Indian servant Secundra Dass. He returns and Henry and his wife (and two children) go to New York. Mackellar watches over James, but they eventually follow. Once there, James leads an expedition to recover the treasure he buried after escaping from the pirate ship with half the booty. An attempt to take the treasure all for himself, he buries himself alive. When Henry, refusing to believe that his brother has died, journeys back to his grave, they find Secundra Dass digging him up (he has learned to swallow his tongue). He comes to life for a single moment, and Henry and James die simultaneously. Mackellar writes their epitaphs, which reveal his conflicted sympathies.

Voice vs. wirting: can think of as elaborate competition for mastery between Mackellar’s “will to narrative” and the protean capacities of the Master charm, elude and evade any sort of simple representation by way of song, polygotism, etc. The final engraving could be read as MacKellar’s final victory, but the tune of his intended story has changed so much that the Master appears to have rewritten the story. Also, the tombstone will hardly ever be read, hidden as it is the in the American widlerness.

Life and Renewal: A pretty damning critique of 19th century tales of renewal. Can compare to Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, where drowning in Thames becomes the means for narrative rebirth. Or even to the end of Mill on the Floss, where the two characters are sublimated into some sort of aesthetico-natural landscape. Not so here. James keeps coming back to life, but to end…he cannot successfully write himself into a lineage or a history that would make such rebirth socially payoff--and their being swallowed by the American landscape seem less a moment of aesthetic colonization, than the withered failure of a line.

Servant narrator: Mackellar can be read in conjunction with Gabriel Betteridge (Moonstone) and Nelly Dean (Wuthering Heights). They became useful means (devices) for refracting the differences of their masters–for instance, that one need choose between two masters becomes an issue because it is shot through the consciousness of Mackellar. He not only struggles between two masters, but also between modes of narration: between the tragic decline of the House of Durie and the more sympathetic-practical modes of realism. And there is a related tension between tragedy and the story of the story itself, which constantly threatens to fracture that tragic glaze.

The Master: As much as we are supposed to sympathize with the Master, we should also recognize that Stevenson is hollowing out the trope of the Byronic hero–or at least disassociating the literary heroism from political constancy (James gets immunity in Scotland by becoming a political spy for England).

Inheritance and history: In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff interrupts the family chain of inheritance, which is then restored in the end. But here the family line is “interrupted” by none other than the heir himself.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – The Blessed Damozel (1850)

The blessed Damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her were seven.

The opening stanza sets out many of the major tensions that will frame the rest of the poem: between heaven and earth, depth and surface, stasis and motion. One can think of the gold bar as having a reference to the gold standard that England had recently adopted in 1844–as a universal metric for literal exchange, it allows for the figural exchange between these various oppositions. Indeed, the painting “The Blessed Damozel’ has a gold bar running right through the middle of it, separating the flattened portrait of the lady (a face that according to Christina Rossetti was exchangeable with all of the other portraits in Dante’s studio because he only used one or two models) with the ostentatious depth of the “squashed” scene on the bottom.

144 lines in 24 six-inch stanzas. The striking symmetry of the poem itself rides the line between perfection and pure exchangeability. This is of course what Adorno has to say about the artwork as the ultimate or super-commodity–that which is universal and universally exchangeable.

Time: It seems to the Damozel that she has been in heaven for only a day, which is somehow the same as thousands of years. On earth, of course, time is felt.

The language is meant to be simple and natural, an application of pre-Raphaelite principles to poetry. it therefore verges on the sentimental.

In the final stanza, the speaker uses parentheses to insert his factual declaration of sensation: I saw her smile, I heard her tears. That this enters parenthetically points to subordination of these sensory aspects to a form that flattens sensation, impression, reflection, etc. Sensation would rupture the poetic contract that keeps the real and the aesthetic in two distinct realms.

Thomas Hardy – Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)

Gabriel Oak’s dog chases his herd of sheep off the side of a cliff. Oak goes on the road and happens to pass by a huge fire in hay-field. He helps and asks the owner if he can comeone as a shepherd. It happens to be the farm of Bathsheba Everdene, to whom Gabriel had proposed marriage before he lost his sheep. She hires him.  Meanwhile, Boldwood tries to court her, but she rebuffs his advances. When Oak chastises her for this, she fires him, but rehires him when she needs his help saving her flock from “the bloat.” The seducer Sergeant Troy comes to town and beings to court Bathsheba, who falls in love with him despite her better judgment. It turns out that he actually loved her old servant Fanny Robbins, to whom he had proposed marriage but through a mix-up she had stood him up at the altar. He doesn’t accept her apologies. Troy and Bathsheba fin her on the road, and Troy gives her money, promising more in a couple days. She barely makes it to town, with the help of a dog. She dies. Bathsheba suspects Troy (Oak knows about everything all along) and keeps the coffin, which contains Fanny and her infant, in her house. Troy returns and tells Bathsheba that he will never love her. He leaves. Bathsheba promises to marry Boldwood in six years of Troy does not appear, but on the eve of the promise’s consummation, Troy returns to interrupt Boldwood’s Christmas party. He shoots Troy and tries to kill himself, but is prevented. He is saved from hanging by his friends, and is just imprisoned. Gabriel tenders his resignation, but then decides to stay, proposes marriage to Bathsheba, and they marry.

Preliminary notes

Time: Hardy frequently contrasts rustic time with city time, granting the peasant a “Present” which can encompass “three-or-four-score years”: “The citizen’s Then is the Rustic’s Now” (127). Also, Gabriel’s watch is able to mark the minutes with precision, while the hour hand slips around. There is thus a middle zone between exactitude of a time that would extract a labor down to the second [see EP Thompson on time and labor], but also a radical relativity of those minutes in relation to the entirety of the day. [Can also see in this an adumbration of Murphy’s internal sense of time…the hour striking between 20 and 30, for example.] How can we also see this as a potential solution to the problems of timing in Hardy’s novels? At the same time, perhaps, such inattention is the condition for their emergence.

Labor vs. pleasure: The terms used for describing the “substantial” relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba:

Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality, (348)

Curious when read in light of “realism” more generally, since the novel itself verges on the board of realism and fantasy. The melodramatic ending turns the novel into a thriller more than some “naturalist” or even Eliotic portrayal of authentic psyches. But it is also another moment in which manner and matter becomes a problematized binary.

The little Valentine: one of the many “weird scenes” in this novel. Bathsheba finds a post card and just randomly sends it to Boldwood without thinking: the tragedy ensures. Another weird scene is when Fanny is dragged to town on the back of a dog. Relate to te weirdness of the boots in Tess, or in the barn with the bull in Casterbridge.

Joseph Conrad – Lord Jim (1900)

Marlow tells the story of Jim, whom he first sees in a court room, being tried for jumping off the Patna even though the Patna did not sink. Jim is torn up over this because he has romantic ideals that he tries but cannot fulfill–but it’s actually not so clear, since at times it seems that it is simply Marlow attempting to write Jim in to a heroic story. Jim is disgraced but Marlow and his friend Stein get him a job on the island Patuma, which is wehre he become “Lord Jim.” He rids the island of competition, meets a woman named Jewel, and is well liked and respected by all the natives. However, some guy named Brown shows up and tries to take the island over. Jim drives him away, but Brown manages to sabotage a group of islanders before leaving, killing the king Doramin’s son. Jim resigns himself to his fate, and his shot by Doramin.

The epiphany in Conrad, and the impossibility of representation. Contrast the following descriptions of Jim’s face with the knoweldge conveyed in Kurtz’s “the horror!” What is the different statuses of knowledge? In Lord Jim, the chinese box narration withholds clarity all together, retrospective and otherwise:

To watch his face was like watching a darkening sky before a clap of thunder, shade upon shade imperceptibly coming on, the gloom growing mysteriously intense in the calm of maturing violence. (chapter six)

The muscles round his lips contracted into an unconscious something violent, short-lived, and illuminating like a twist of lightning that admits the eye for instant into the secret convolutions of a cloud. (chapter ten)

He heard me out with his head on one side, and I had another glimpse through a rent in the mist in which he moved and had his being. (chapter eleven)

It is hard to tell you what precisely she wanted to wrest from me. Obviously it would be something very simple—the simplest impossibility in the world; as, for instance, the exact description of a cloud. (chapter thirty-two)

A good opportunity to talk about narrative vs. story, and about the readerly contracts necessary for creating a distance between the narrative and the story. So Marlow keeps saying “one of us” (connect to Forster’s ONE and Ford’s GOOD PEOPLE) as a way of implicating the reader in the Western tradition of the quest, for example:  Marlow is attempting to show the reader that that narrative is appropriate to the story.

Stein and the butterflies, rendered as aesthetic objects. Talk about Jim as a butterfly of sorts.

The trope of the abyss: here it is first and foremost an abyss of non-meaning. Track how this differs from both New Grub Street and Howard’s End.

Tennyson – Shorter Poetry

General: Tennyson graduates form sensibility in Poems, Chiefly Lyrical to critique of sensibility (realism) in Poems (1832) to something like national poet in In Memoriam (writing to an audience) and finally to something like an Arthurian  bard in  Idylls of the King.

“Supposed Confessions” (1830) – Iambic tetrameter with heavy caesura. Expresses poet’s anxiety over the weight of natural decay and death. Tracks the emergence of “This excellence and solid form / of constant beauty.” Ends with a  romantic outburst: “O weary life! O weary death!” What makes it different is the way in which it is a “vacillating state,” not one easily defined according to  chronological status…Life is not measurable in terms of a single life. Relate both to definition of Victorian age (in term of the life of Queen Victorian), and the objectification of life in both EB Browning and Dickens.

“The Kraken” (1830) – A sonnet with fifteen lines. Rhyme scheme is sorta Petrarchan, but with variations. The sestet is extended into seven lines and is therefore able to squeeze in a couplet. It returns to the sounds and images of the opening quatrains in such a away that it forestalls development, confirming the elusiveness of the sea-beast that is less visible than the various polypi that crowd the vision. The image of coming to the surface only to die (“In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die“)  connects with the larger trope of belatedness that runs throughout Victorian poetry, but here in 1830, it is particularly poignant–Tennyson has somehow missed the Romantic movement (Byron dead, etc.). The surface/depth image also marks out a mode of representation AND interpretation that distrusts surface and appearance. Connect with Carlyle’s belief that all surface is (a very important) deception.

“The Lady of Shallot” (1832/1842) – The 1842 collection is obsessed with the excluded middle between sensation and reflection. Whereas Wordsworth claims primary sensation inheres in rocks, stones and trees, Hallam (and later Tennyson) will claim that by unlocking the Real (something deeper, psychological) we can then be granted access to these sensations “primary sensations”…but they are always mediated by a reflective process.

Crazy rhyme scheme: AAAABCCCB. The narrative is: Lady of Shallot is in her room,weaving, while looking at her mirror  which reflects the outside world. But when she hears Camelot sing “Tirra Lirra” she turns from her mirror, looks down to Camelot:

Out flee the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The lady of Shalott

Here Lady Shalott’s “I am half sick of shadows” leads her to forgo the modes of representation that bind her to a detached mimesis–the cracked looking glass therefore looks forward to both Wilde and to Joyce. In the fourth part, her name gets converted into the graphic symbol on the side of the boat (she is not longer the maker of textiles, but is herself textualized), on which she is passing to Camelot. Indeed, we can imagine this journey from Shallot to Camelot as as running against the grain of the rhyme: “Camelot” and “Shallot” are the ‘B’ rhymes for the rest of the poem. What it takes to get from B to B is the formal mechanical rhyming, almost mind numbing…the expectation of “lot” at the end each stanza has become engrained. Yet this mechanical propulsion forward (rhyme) is contradicted by the action being described (journey down river)..from Camelot to Shalott.  The inadequacy of the form to the content is mirrored by the inadequacy of Arthurian romance itself, when Lancelot casually dismisses the death of the Lady with “She has a lovely face.”

“The Two Voices” (1842) – a long poem (460 lines or so) comprised of tercets of all rhyming endings. Think of as response to Pope’s Essay on Man, but one that is so mechanical that it undercuts itself. The question: What will happen if Tennyson keeps writing like 1830 while in in 1842—along the way, begins to critique sensibility.

“The Palace of Art” (1832-53) – A compartmentalization of aesthetic history. Tennyson wrote: “It is the most difficult of all things to devise a statue in verse.” And “When I first conceived the plan of the poem, I intended to have introduced both sculptures and painting into it.” There is an accretion of images that forces a rather strained comparability between everything and everything else, thereby threatening identity. The logic of the “Or” is introduced, a sort of bad seriality, interchangeable. After romping through the many wonders of the aesthetic, the nameless “She” that stands in for art itself undergoes a slef-imposed diminution, seeking redemption by casting off the opulence of the palace in favor a rustic cottage “Where I will mourn and pray.” But the last stanza asks that the palace not be torn down: “Perhaps I may return with others there / When I have purged my guilt.” The aesthetic can remain despite the withdraw of the subject…..

Ulysses (1842) – Written soon after Arthur Hallam’s death, expressing Tennyson’s desire to move forward despite the death of his friend. Offers a curious pairing with Lotos-Eaters as a portrait of Life. It is imaged in terms of consumption “I will drink life to the lees” (a technical terms that literally means drinking those parts of wine that are usually refined out of the end product). Ulysses refuses to rest, discontent with “Life piled on life,” the redundancy of mere breathing. The final line, however (“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”) with the perfect meter (mono syllables make the stresses incredibly clear, the words lock into the metter) seems to call attention to the very conventions that Ulysses is going forward to fulfill. So ending could be an attempt to synthesize epic adequation, but the potential dissonance introduced into the epic is that Ithaca has itself become conventional, much like the final line is conventional.

The Lotos-Eaters (1832, 1842) – Starts our with a lazy rhyme : land = land. Much of the poem explores the potentially deadening effects of poetic practice:

                                        and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices form the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.

This is the frightening mirror image of Mill’s definition of poetry: overhearing a conversation with oneself. This produces a “mild-eyed melancholy” that is content to have too successfully internalized and then expunged the object of desire. Eating of the Lotos therefore makes good on the promise of the aesthetic as imaged by Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment: the promise of happiness before or beyond the demands of self-preservation and reproduction (this is why some Europeans eat candied violets, he says). Can connect this also with Empson on Shakespeare and Pastoral:

The flower ripens in its place
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil,
Fast-rooted in the fruited soil.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94 describes the flower’s power as inhering in its very vulnerability. Yet here, the imposition of a toil-less existence is explicitly aligned with aesthetic deception and danger. The final section, number 8, bursts into lines with eight feet in order to describe the carnage of a world that the mariners have decided to forget. There is also an excess of three line rhymes (connect to “Two Voices”), which seems to in some ways bridge the deathless repetition of the mild-eye melancholics with the cycles of destruction that characterize life on earth.

This poem raises the question of what sort of work poetry does. Is poetry the absence of work? Connects with something like Lady of Shallot, where the mere rhyming propels us a forward. I Poetry working when it means the most or the least? When we say things without knowing why (the rhyme, etc.)

Yeats – Lapis Lazuli (1938)

From New Poems (1938), this poem’s title refers to a blue rock that serves as the medium of a sculpture given to him by Harry Clifton (to whom the poem is dedicated). Opens with an indictment of detached artists by “hysterical women,” who claims that l’art pour l’art has no place within the context of the impending second world war. Yeats calls for a poetry that engages catastrophe, but refrains from adopting the tragic as its final note. The poem will come around to a “tragic joy” that is achieved in and through the human capacity to create.

The long second stanza talks about Shakespearean tragedy, and introduces “gay” as a crucial word: Gaiety transfiguring all that dread. This gaiety is Nietzschean in its ability to affirm. The poem engages in this affirmation through a rewriting of “The Second Coming”:

All things fall and built again
And those that build them again are gay.

This locates a certain joy amidst the process of historical, political and aesthetic tragedy. The final stanzas describe the Lapis Lazuli sculpture in detail. The importing of an Eastern sculpture directly rewrites Keats “Grecian Urn,” thereby offsetting the Western “solution” of the static truth-beauty onto an Eastern paradigm of Eternal Recurrence. In the temple, where Yeats imagines the “Chinamen” going, they engage in a song of worship, suitably rustic:

Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

The repetition of eyes is curious in the context of modernism’s exaltation of vision as the medium of aesthetic judgment (cf. Conrad, Ford, etc.). Also, the statue which started the revelry ends by producing a song, thus securing for lyric a privileged status. Lastly, ancient and glittering recall Yeats early work: the fish in Wandering Aengus is glittering, and everything is ancient. Here we have a return, a resignation, a joy, one that has been hard won.