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Matthew Arnold

“Function of Criticism at the Present Time” (1864)

The introductory piece to his collection Essays. In it he develops the term disinterestedness as the crucial attitude that the critic takes up in relation to objects in order to see “how they really are.” Elsewhere, he talks about seeing things really and whole. He describes the difference between epochs of concentration and epochs of expansion. Criticism functions within epochs of concentration (like the one after the French Revolution) in order to see beyond them. Criticism, therefore, is a type of avant-garde that strives to know the best that is thought and known–or what he will later call “culture.” The critic must cultivate disinterestedness by staying aloof from the practical view of things. It is this “a slow and obscure work,” very much akin to waiting, reamining poised and flexible. The critic must be cosmopolitan, but within the confines of Europe, which Arnold sees as a coherent cultural whole. In epic in which true criticism is not possible, criticism is the highest form of creation. Indeed, we will never reach the promised land where criticism is no longer necessary: we can only “salute that promised land from afar.”


Culture and Anarchy (1869)

Culture has three different meanings: 1. Different cultures, etc, i.e. the terms set by cultural studies. 2. Name for representations by which culture makes sense of itself, i.e. anthropology. 3. Relationship to cultivation, the possibility within society for it to perfect itself. This can be related to Raymond Williams Culture and Society, where society is the Bethamite “collection of parts,” and culture is the Coleridgean organic narrative. Or, this is seen in Burke, between the landed interest (the earth, continuity soil, etc.) and the moneyed interest (exchange development, etc.), or in terms of Disareli, who proposed the concept of “Two Englands,” and upper and a lower, who’s disparity could be solved by a sort of symbolic feudalism that would sustain technological development but maintain the paternalism of feudal England. One can think of Middlemarch, when the machine breaks and progress stops, as the ludic counterpoint. Tennyson and the Apostles proposed myth as an organizational method for ordering social units. Barret Browning presented the presented in an archaic mode, vital mode, a system so capacious that observation would not be a form of dissection: All this leads to Arnold’s poetics: trying to understand poetry as an opposition that is not one: epics of expansion and epics of concentration. This relates to other modes of historical explanation:

Reflection/Sensation (Hallam)
Objective/Subjective (Browning)
Natural/Transitional (JS Mill)

“Sweetness and Light” is an argument for the political necessity of men of culture. After the iron force of adhesion (religion) has begun to yield, we need to begin to think about what order will take its place. importantly, then, culture is not only about seeing or watching, but also about desiring culture to prevail and integrate into everyday life of the masses. Culture is not an individual project: it is necessarily collective, drawing others along. People often confuse culture (the true end of a nation) with “mere machinery” such as health, money, industry, etc. No, even religion is a form of machinery which culture must supersede if it is going to play its true role. Like the critic, men of culture are not saliently active, but they “prepare currents of feeling.” Culture, in short, is the pursuit of perfection FOR ALL, and by “humanizing knowledge” the rather elitist trappings of Arnold’s argument make a bid on equality.

The Study of Poetry (1880)

Arnold wants to avoid both historical estimation of poetry and personal estimation of poetry–the former over-rates the poem by seeing it as a manifestation of a nation’s historical development; the latter over-rates by coloring the poem with our own interests, likings, etc. Poetry, “which is thought and art in one,” should be assessed according to their poetical quality, a ridiculous but very  common tautology (169). Poetry differs from history in its possession of “truth and seriousness” (169). The rest of the piece thus excerpts from Chaucer, Wordsworth, Pope and Dryden, using short, unexamined citations to stand in for a theory that has very little substance. Claims that we start our affiliation with personal, which is then checked by the historical. He then ends, in classic Arnoldian fashion, with a panicked portrayal of the present time:

Even if good literature entirely lost currency with the world, it would still be abundantly worth while to continue to enjoy it by oneself. But it never will lose currency with the world, in spite of momentary appearances; it never will lose supremacy. Currency and supremacy are insured to it, not indeed by the world’s deliberate and conscious choice, but by something far deeper,–by the instinct of self-preservation in humanity. (184)

Very curious placement of poetry as somehow written deeply into the instinctual processes of species development. One wonders then how poetry distinguishes itself from mere natural development–perhaps the claim is that nature and history produce and excess that stands in tension with it–and then we’re close to Nietzsche and Marx. Interesting contrast with Mill, who believes in an oscillating history, between organic and critical. Is it that nature and history are always pregnant with a poetry that comes too late…? The Arnoldian penultimate? Anyway, just one moe instance of self-preservation being aligned with rather than opposed to art.


Emily Brontë – Wuthering Heights (1847)

Lockwood moves to Thrushcross Grange as a tenant of Heathcliff. Nelly, his housekeeper, tells him the story of his landlord, Heathcliff. Already, to start, an imbedded narrative.

Three generations. Catherine and Hindley, children of first-generation Mr. Earnshaw, who finds Heathcliff in the city and resuces from poverty by taking him on as a son. Hindley grows jealous and treats Heathcliff poorly after his father dies, though Catherine remains faithful. Cathy “falls in love” with Edgar Linton (an ineffectual aesthete), who she marries despite loving Heathcliff like a brother. Hindley has a child, Hareton, with Frances (she dies off quickly). Heathcliff leaves and acquires a fortune mysteriously. He returns to Catherine, to find her married to Edgar and living at Thrishcross Grange. He returns to Wuthering Heights and slowly gains control over his enemy Hindley, and degrades Hareton to a savage servant, depriving him entirley of education. Heathcliff seduces Isabella Linton, Edgar’s sister, and retires to Wuthering Heights. He has a child with Isabella named “Linton.” Isabella runs away, dies, gives Linton to her brother, and Heathcliff soon claims his property. Catherine dies while giving birth to a daughter, named Cathy. Cathy grows up and Heathcliff encourages and later forces relations between her and Linton. Heathcliff eventually captures Cathy and Nelly, forces a marriage while Edgar dies. Hindley attempts to kill him, and Hindley eventually dies. Move to time of narration. Lockwood returns to Thrushcross to find Heathcliff dead, Catherine married to Hareton, and Nelly acting as servant. Jospeh, the seemingly deathless servant, is happy that the ancient stock has been restored. Lockwood leaves, wondering what would have happened had he married Cathy.

Space – Domestic, landscape, property lines: all are constantly expanding and contracting, at once permeable and impervious from scene to scene. When Isabel Linton moves to Wuthering Heights, she inhabits liminal spaces, like stairwells. They cannot accommodate her, but at other times, the house seems inordinately large, able to fit Lockwood when in need, etc. Also, Heathcliff can walk right into Thrushcross Grange. Catherine, once within the orbit of the Heights, seems to be inevitably swaloowed by it. Depsite Nelly’ capacity to move fluidly within any situation, she is disturbingly locked down in the end. In short, space is not articulated clearly, precisely or by any means definitively. Contrast to previous representations of space, such as Northanger Abbey, Barchester Towers—each of which include “tours” of old mansions.

Violence – the detailed violence. Blood, sweat, bestial characteristics are conveyed directly, neither by metaphor nor as metaphor.

Physical/Spiritual/Psychological – the three registers constantly combat for causal explication. Cathy’ hysteria could be explained by her pregnancy, which is never mentioned until she is dead. This allows Bronte to draw out the psychological distress, while not addressing biological change and flux..at other times, childhood (psychoanalytic) resources are forgotten and the spiritual, cosmic, demonic is emphasized. This competition can also be read with regard to incest taboo that lurks in Heathcliff and Catherine’s relations. Also, with regard to love (All children love their parents, etc…where the biological comes to stand in for social rupture, but cannot contain or patch up the tear)

Material metaphors – Bronte is constantly using soils, metals and minerals as metaphors for the living, rather than conceptual or spiritual, or anthropomorphic imagery.

Heathcliff as plotter – Heathcliff is constantly literally plotting, and representing the act of plotting to Nelly and others. The convention of the hidden plot is overturned, and rude mechanicals of narrative development is shown to be contrived but nevertheless vicious. Talk about in relation to Trollope’s denigration of plot (a different way of saying “plot” is not important, as well as Peter Brooks’ discussion of active “plotting” in Conan Doyle and other detective fiction. How is Wuthering Heights simply a failed detective story.

Negative Bildungsroman – the crucial development of Heathcliff is veiled. What spirals around this empty center is pure destruction, a portrait of the underbelly of the socially mobile protagonist.

Romanticism/Realism – Heathcliff as the hinge figure between these generic developments. Cf. Nancy Armstrong’s essay “Bronte In and Out of Her Time”: “Capitlaism replaces a bleated feudalism as the chief source of villainy, and competition is treated as a fact of life that converts sentient beings into objects in the marketplace” (371 in Norton edition). Juxtapose the noble savage plot with the socially destructive, dangerous middle class plot. Romantic “individualism” cedes to “collectivity” and tradition at the end, since it serves the interests of the rich (Linton). “If Heathcliff’s first metamorphosis tells us something cannot be spoken if the novel is to remain a novel, then the second uncovers the act of repression that has enabled Victorian fiction to emerge” (177).

Heather Glen argues in “Emily Brontë” (2005) that we should not read Wuthering Heights as an isolated work fo genius that somehow stand outside of all traditions, but rather as a sophisticated literary work that engages various traditions–especially the ballad form as inherited by Scott. Read this way means refusing the sort of carless construction that characterizes Ruskin’s gothic (Charlotte said that it was “wrought from no model…a colossal, dark, and frowning, half statue, half rock.” For instance, Nelly Dean recalls Scott’s servant-narrators (contrast with Thackeray and Collins servant-narrators), but she is put into tension with Lockwood, the urban “tourist” whose latinate interest in the conventionally romantic contrasts with Nelly’s direct and matter-of-fact of spoken words. Glen contrasts the novel with both Agnes Grey and the Professor (with which it was supposed to be published in three volumes): the others focus on subjectivity in terms of self-help and autobiography, whereas Wuthering Heights takes on the larger stakes of primitive violence and the shared conditions of romantic disappointment. Further, rather than charting out memory’s relation to the construction of the subject, WH registers the past as a shock that cannot be fully sublimated or represented. Thus not so much interested in “the vagaries of individual subjectivity” but in a condition “we all share” (188). Nature itself seems to participate in this condition: birth, death, renewal, spring, decay, all happen with an objective vividness unmatched in the other Brontë novels.

Charlotte Brontë – Villette (1853)

Boring. Lucy Snow, after spending time with her cousins “Brettons” and Polly, and caring for a dying Mrs. Marchmont (gets some money from her husband in the end), leaves England and goes to a school for girls in Villette, France. Mme Beck runs the place and M. Paul Emmanuel is the main Professor. She meets Dr. John, who is actually Graham Bretton. He is in love with bitchy Ginevra Fanshawe, but gives her up eventually and has a brief friendship-affair with Lucy. But he eventually marries Polly, and the two are very happy. She falls in love with M. Paul, but not before having a lot of strange encounters with a shadowy nun who turns out to be Ginevra’s lover in disguise. Beck and Pere Silas, a creepy Catholic priest, both try to prevent the marriage (jealousy and moralism being motives). Lucy wakes one night and has a crazy opium trip while walking around the town of Villette. She eventually is given a new school by Paul, but he leaves for the West Indies and most likely dies, though the ending is ambiguous. Awful, boring book. Ugh.

Psychology – Secrets don’t drive plot, but are rather meant to indicate psychological aberrations, etc. Question whether this is different in degree or kind from the withholding of secrets in other narratives (since it is always being told retrospectively, there is always some withholding involved). At any rate, it’s clear that character supercedes plot in this novel. This relates to more general themes of concealment. Relate to Fosco’s discussion of the perfect crime, Sherlock Holmes deliberate withholding of evidence from Watson (likewise Sergeant Cuff), and draw final contrast with Jane Eyre, in which Jane finds out things at the same time as the reader.

Negative construction of hope – Look both at the passage about being home with her family (one might as well believe that it was a happy time…track how the tenor of the metaphor shifts from being a ship to being on a ship)

Also, in the end, it’s the ship that we are allowed to believe makes it back to England but KNOW has actually crashed with M. Paul on it. What is the status of hope, knowledge, and belief, especially in the context of a book about faith, etc.

A deliberate playing with conventions – note the three different story lines in which Graham, John, man who sees Lucy to girls home, can all be a part. Lucy withholding her knowledge that it IS Dr. John is crucial for the preservation of these plots.

Why is it called Villette? A primitive form of the objective correlate, in which a neatly defined gepgraphical space is necessary to contain the otherwise boundless movments of a psychological ego. Yet, when Villette is “discovered,” some sort of congruence between self and world is withheld entirely.

Surveillance (Beck, Paul, Lucy herself) compare this to Jane’s capacity to be a spectator

Anthony Trollope – Barchester Towers (1857)

Septimus Harding’s daughter Susan is married to archdeacon Grantly (whose father, the Bishop, recently died). His other daughter, Eleanor, had married John Bold, who is dead, but she has a child. Mr. Slope, a chaplain to Dr. and Mrs. Proudie is the primary antagonist, embodying everything about the church that is back-handed and hypocritical. Dr. Proudie is inept and weak-willed, is ruled by his wife when he is not ruled by Slope.

Slope falls in love with Signora Neroni, who is part of the Stanhope family. She is a crippled femme fatale that married an Italian Prince of some sort. She demands that a couch be ready for her at all times and is likened to an immobile spider. Her brother, Bertie, is a loafer with no prospects. Along with Bertie and Slope, Mr. Arabin, a studious clergyman from Oxford, all try to woo Eleanor, who is the central heroine of this novel, along with her father, who is a strangely passive anti-hero. Not-taking is his credo…cf. ALF Open Secrets. [Compare with Vanity Fair “without a hero”]

Also of importance is the Thorne family living at Ullathorne. They are old gentry committed to merry old England, intimating a time before religious squabbles. Miss Thorne is a “druid,” and dreams of Sir Walter Scottesque events (that go horribly wrong). One senses their dominance, which is trumped only by Lady de Courcy, who enters the scene, intimating even grander titles. A similar escalation of power occurs in the conclusion, when the mystery of perferement spreads from the small town of Barchester to a “carpet in Windsor.”  The point here is that greater powers are maneuvering (or at best ignoring) the internal combustion of Slopes, Proudies and Grantlys.

The novel dissects the inner-workings of ecclesiastic strife: between evangelicals and those more sympathetic to papal forms. The narrator, who intervenes constantly with advice and commentary on his trade, seems reluctant, to bring about a conventional ending that nevertheless does occur. There is a disturbing coincidence between traditional hymeneal reconciliation and the settlement of property rights…as if the novel works against what Trollope himself wants to consistently deny—that is, that the good get what they deserve.

Narrator is constantly hedging his authority, drawing attention to his own qualified PERSPECTIVE (105 and 151 with regard to Slope; on 217 “point of view” is mentioned explicitly). Implies the both narrator and the reader hate Slope, thus implicating/constructing the reader. On (198) the reader is described as a tourist and Ullathorne’s windows are talked about at length [connect this with the frame/window scene in Emma]. This also connects with brief discourse on MIMESIS (167), in which narrator claims that no perfect representation is possible. “It is to be regretted that no mental method of daguerreotype or photography has yet been discovered by which the characters of men can be reduced to writing and put into grammatical language with an unerring precision of truthful description.” The concession is to the advantage of the novelist however, since it installs the REAL as something to be represented.

Narrator also draws attention to his role: now “following” a certain character (240); veiling (294, cf. Vanity Fair); narrative temporal constructions, “we must go back a little” (415); the progress and temporal expectation of the reader with regard to descriptive and interpretive labor (458);

The PRESS plays a huge role in arbitrating decisions. The Jupiter is the main organ, though it seems to be fairly disinterested (114). Registered as more powerful than clergy or state in determining popular opinion (at least in the Warden), though finally fails to set up Slope as dean.

PLOT: denigrates plot as most important/determinate feature. “The story shall have lost none of its interest” if you read the last couple of pages. Double-edged: b/c we already know what occurs, or because the knots Trollope ties are sufficiently frustrating to solicit a different type of reading. Novel CONVENTIONS are flaunted throughout: love-making (245)

Inside and outside: wit as a shell, etc. Contrast with “I believe in no belief that does not manifest itself in outward signs (246), as depth reading.

Trollope is prone to introduce his characters show-and-tell style, with plenty of warning that so-and-so is going to be important—unwilling to catch the reader off-guard. See description of Bertie (71)

PROPERTY is a central category. (192 for corn laws, free trade etc. the immaculate 53 that resisted the legislation in 1852)

Much is made of women and their agency. Signora is a Hermioniac statue throughout, tightly sealed impervious and penetrating (83, 85, as spider 242). Much attention given to tears, blushing, color, etc.

Interesting use of domestic space, converting pathetic fallacy into strangley ontic terms: uncomfortable conversation becomes correlated with a cramped drawing room. (84)

Humor works by compressing the grand and the petty. For example, Signora’s demand for a sofa (77) Also (234)

Critique of senseless sermons, platitudes, etc. (46)

A lot of wine is drunk, including champagne, claret, marsala, etc. usually associated with release, festivity, rashness, but also says something about the subject-matter characteristic of Trollope novel: the landed and professional class. (63, 78)

Wages: Money domaintes, much as it does in Vanity Fair, but the stakes are different, more fundamental. Here, the very concept of wage is thrown into question (98), or perhaps it just becomes a question. ??? All this is associated with the NEW (103), “carting away the useless rubbish of past centuries.” Trollope associated this new with a paired down, formless Puritanism. Ironically, Harding refuses the position of dean precisely because he is unable to accommodate the new.

Mentions “pulpy gelatinous matter,” I assume in reference to primordial soup. (160)

David Skilton (2005) points out that Trollope primarily dealt with the professional and landed class: even in his day, critics thought that his novels would be historical time-capsules for future generations. One reviewer described his portrayal of English upper-middling as a “natural history” of social man. The accuracy of his depiction, the concreteness of detail, the attention os mall things make country communities tick, have caused some modern readers to impose the nostalgic gaze on Trollope’s fiction: but Barchester, one should note, is being encroached on by modernity: it exists in the time of the train. Further, his characters are not from the tight enclosure of Southern England, but include people from australia and the other colonies.  Further, the economies of these communities is far from stable: all characters are at risk of sinking into poverty, even if they are able to also socially rise. Trollope is also modern, almost post-modern, to the degree that he is self-conscious about novelistic construction. Henry James called his frequent allusions to the “rude mechanicals” of fiction-making “suicidal.” In this way, the fictional and social convention are shown to just that: fictional, covering over, suturing the rapidly changing structure of Victorian England. Beneath the comedy of manner is the transience of social change.