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Thursday, July 30, 2009


Holgrave is a descendant of the Maules, a rival of the Pyncheon family in the beginning of the novel, and a resident in the Pyncheon house with Hepzibah and Clifford. Though only 22 years old, he has already been a schoolmaster, salesman, political editor, and, at the time the novel takes place, daguerrotypist. He has also studied dentistry and mesmerism. Hepzibah suspects him of engaging in the "Black Art" and distrusts his questionable companions but allows such a "lawless person," as Phoebe terms it, to live with her because she "suppose(s) he has a law of his own." (Chapter 5)

Holgrave is a man who refuses to embrace the past, characterising it as a dead body one is forced to carry around. For him, the past has a haunting presence, which he illustrates with the following example:

"For example, then," continued Holgrave: "a dead man, if he happens tohave made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his own; or, if he die intestate, it is distributed in accordance with the notions of men much longer dead than he. A dead man sits on all our judgment-seats; and living judges do but search out and repeat his decisions. We read in dead men's books! We laugh at dead men's jokes, and cry at dead men's pathos! We are sick of dead men's diseases, physical and moral, and die of the same remedies with which dead doctors killed their patients! We worship the living Deity according to dead men's forms and creeds. Whatever we seek to do, of our own free motion, a dead man's icy hand obstructs us! Turn our eyes to what point we may, a dead man's white, immitigable face encounters them, and freezes our very heart! And we must be dead ourselves before we can begin to have our proper influence on our own world, which will then be no longer our world, but the world of another generation, with which we shall have no shadow of a right to interfere. I ought to have said, too, that we live in dead men's houses; as, for instance, in this of the Seven Gables!"

Holgrave dislikes the Past because he believes it has undue influence on the Present. This idea is expressed by Hawthorne in his preface when he states that the sins of one generation visit the next. According to Holgrave, man tries to escape his past all the days of his life. For this reason, Holgrave suggests that all public buildings should be torn down and rebuilt every 20 years, as a sign to mankind to grasp new ideas and reexamine one's morals. Additionally, each generation should build its own house, instead of having houses pass down. Holgrave's aim in saying this is to allow each generation to start with a clean slate and not have to face ghosts of the past.

Holgrave himself is haunted by his past and his family's feud with the Pyncheons. His family history with wizardry shows its influence in his experimentation with mesmerism, though unlike his ancestors, he did use the art for evil. Further, Holgrave's personal history of various occupation displays the lack of value he places in lineage; he's determined to make his own way in life and not rely on genealogical connections, placing him in opposition to the customs of the Pyncheon line.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hepzibah/Phoebe comparison

After describing the history of the Pyncheon family, Hawthorne introduces us to the matriarch of the family, Hepzibah, in chapter two. She is just waking up, preparing to face "a day of more than ordinary trial," in consequence of having to open a cent shop. Upon waking, she releases "heavy sighs" of "lugubrious depth," the only other sounds being the "agony of prayer," consisting of "now a groan, now a struggling silence," and the "creaking joints of her stiffened knees." Presently we hear her struggle with her "old-fashioned bureau" as well as the "rustling of stiff silks" as she heads toward the "dingy-framed toilet glass." She is "clad in black silk" with a "long and shruken waist." Everything in the room is offensive to the sight, such as the worn carpet and ugly chairs. Hepzibah is reluctantly to face the day ahead.

There is a stark contrast in the lever of Phoebe, who is a much younger and prettier cousin of a branch of the family that resides in the country. She has come to visit Hepzibah and, after spending her first night in the house, wake up at the beginning of chapter five. As she awakes, a "glow of crimson light" fills the room as the "dawn kissed her brow." Unlike all of the noise involved when Hepzibah awoke, Phoebe "quietly awoke" and looked outside to see a rosebush. Phoebe's room is just as dusky as Hepzibah, but because Phoebe is one of the "favored ones to bring out the hidden capabilities of things around them," she is able to add her own touch to the room. Whereas Hepzibah was reluctant to face the day, Phoebe hurries outside to gather roses to place in here room. By the addition of roses as well as the movement of furniture, Phoebe succeeds in adding an "inscrutable charm to the room, which Hawthorne recognizes as "now a maiden's chamber."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hepzibah and the House

The titular edifice is an old house built about two hundred years before the action of the novel begins. By the time story opens, the house is "dilapidated and rusty visaged" (chapter 4). Interestingly, the house is described as having "a human countenance." The "impending brow brow of the second story" gives the house a "meditative look." The long history of the house causes it to resemble "a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and somber reminiscences" (chapter 1).

Comparatively, Hawthorne uses similar words and phrases when describing the house and Hepzibah. The latter, "our decayed gentlewoman" (chapter 3), has a "rigid and rusty frame" (chapter 2) while clad in a "rusty blacksilk gown" (chapter 15). The former is "a rusty, crazy, creaky, dry-rotted, dingy, dark, and miserable old dungeon." (chapter 17) Hepzibah, the "mildewed piece of aristocracy" (chapter 3), is "decrepit and dusky" (chapter 5) while the house has "dusky windows" (chapter 5) and "dusky gables" (chapter 6). The scowl of Hepzibah can be compared with the "meditative look" of the house.

Hawthorne personifies the house in Hepzibah. She is sixty years old and is isolated from the rest of humanity. Her nearsightedness has given her a scowl that scares people away and causes her to be viewed as bitter. Due to her deep poverty, she is forced to open a cent shop in part of the house, an unsucessful venture. Her lack of beauty and grace is offensive to her sybarite brother Clifford.

Like Hepzibah, the house is old and worn down. It is no longer located in the fashionable part of town and sticks out like a sore thumb, with its "grime and sordidness" (chapter 9) surrounded by newer houses. The atmosphere of the house has a negative affect on cousin Phoebe, who is bright and vivacious upon arrival but, as a result of her stay in the house, "her petals sometimes drooped a little, in consequence of the heavy atmosphere about her" (chapter 9). Both the house and Hepzibah repel association.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American author born in Salem, Massachusetts. Before gaining fame as a writer, Hawthorne worked in a Customs House, which collected taxes on imports and exports. When he was fired as surveyor after the 1848 Presidential election resulted in a change in Administration, he began to devote himself fully to writing, producing his best-known novels in 3 successive years (The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance).

The House of Seven Gables (1851) is based on Hawthorne's family history. Hawthorne's great-great grandfather was a judge in the Salem witch trials, and according to a family legend, a woman sentenced to death during the trials cursed the Hawthorne family. After the death of the judge, the family remained in obscurity until Nathaniel Hawthorne distinguished himself as a writer. In his preface to the novel, Hawthorne states that he seeks to illustrate "a moral; — the truth, namely, that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief." The novel depicts the decline of the Pyncheon family due to a curse.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Characterization in Our American Cousin

Our American Cousin is a comedy of manners that pokes fun at British mannerisms and American words and phrases. Lord Dundreary is an English aristocrat in the play who was originally intended to be a minor character but whose role was expanded by the English actor E.A. Sothern. Dressed in a "long, full-length coat with vest, cravat, collar, monacle, droopy moustache, massive mutton-chop whiskers and hair neatly parted down the middle*," in addition to his bushy sideburns, Sothern fully embraced the role, which allowed Taylor to make fun of the British aristocracy. One of Dundreary's principles faults was his inability to communicate clearly. He repeatedly confuses words (such as wigs and wings) and at one point messes up a joke in an exchanged with Florence:

Dundreary: When is a dog's tail not a dog's tail? [Florence repeats.]
Flo Yes, and willingly.
Dun When it's a cart. [They look at him enquiringly.]
Flo Why, what in earth has a dog's tail to do with a cart?
Dun When it moves about, you know. A horse makes a cart move,so does a dog make his tail move.
Flo Oh, I see what you mean--when it's a wagon. [Wags the letterin her hand.]
Dun Well, a wagon and a cart are the same thing, ain't they!That's the idea--it's the same thing.

In addition to this, Dundreary has a lisp ("suppothe"). English, as well as American audiences loved Dundreary's character.

Asa Trenchard, the American cousin from Vermont, struggles at times communicating with his British counterparts, as shown in the following exchange with Binny, the family servant:

Bin Will you take a baath before you dress?
Asa Take a baath?
Bin A baath.
Asa I suppose you mean a bath. Wal, man, I calkalate I ain't going to expose myself to the shakes by getting into cold water in this cruel cold climate of yours, so make tracks.
Bin Make what?
Asa Vamose!
Bin Make vamose!
Asa Absquatulate.
Bin Ab-- what sir?
Asa Skedaddle.
Bin Skedaddle?
Asa Oh! get out.

Asa manages to confuse the Brits in the play with many of his words and phrases such as "darned old shoat," "you're small potatoes," and "a regular snorter." One of the funniest exchanges occurs during the first meeting between Asa and Dundreary and Asa expresses his surprise at Dundreary's appearance with the following exclamation: "Concentrated essence of baboons, what on earth is that?" Additionally, when a female character insults his manners, he responds with, "you sockdologizing old man-trap," likely the final words Lincoln heard before he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. The comedic value of Dundreary and Asa are what made the play a success.

*This quote is from http://www.josephhaworth.com/ea_sothern.htm .

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our American Cousin

Our American Cousin is an 1858 play by British playwright Tom Taylor (1817-80). Though best known today as the play President Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre, the play was very popular in England and America when it debuted. Taylor had a interest in dialects and the inspiration for the play came from American visitors during the Great Exhibition of 1851. One of the main features of the play is the use of American words and phrases by Asa Trenchard, the titular figure, and the British dialect of Lord Dundreary.

The play opens in England at Trenchard Manor, the home of Sir Edward. Asa Trenchard, a representative of the American branch of the family, arrives in England to accept an inheritance left to him by his uncle. The family agent, Mr. Coyle, arrives to tell Sir Edward of the latter's impending financial ruin, but a plot is discovered in which Coyle has lied to Sir Edward in order to secure Edward's daughter Florence as his wife. Florence, however, has her sights set on Harry Vernon, whom she cannot marry until he gets a sailor position.

Meanwhile, Florence introduces Asa to his cousin Mary, the rightful heir to his uncle's fortune, which he releases to her control. Asa falls for Mary, proposes to her, and helps to expose Coyle, while Lord Dundreary helps Harry secure a position. In the end, everyone is happy and the Trenchards avoid financial ruin.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Great Exhibition of 1851

In 1851 London became the center of the world. From May to October 1851, an international exhibition, officially called "The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations," took over London, with over six million visitors from all over the world. The building of railroads in the previous decade enabled people to travel to London much easier. The Crystal Palace (pictured above) was the central location of the exhibits, which featured displays from such places as the United States, China, India, Australia, various parts of Africa and all of Europe. Exhibits included fashion, art, machines, inventions, furniture, and jewelry.

As a result of the Exhibition, the population of London tripled over the next 50 years. New structures, such as Big Ben (pictured above) were built. A subway was constructed in 1854, and cities were modernized with new plumbing. The term "Victorian" began to be used popularly to describe the era, a period of pride for the English. English society was transformed as a result of the exhibition.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Autobiographical features of TBRG

Wilde was uniquely qualified to write TBRG because of his experiences in Reading Prison. He draws on these experiences when describing the cell as a "foul and dark latrine" with the "fetid breathe of living Death" pervading the jail, the inmates "each in his separate Hell." Wilde places himself as a narrator who identifies with the poem's subject, with whom he describes himself as "two doomed ships that pass in storm." Despite the fact that Wilde is eventually released, he encountered his death when he met Bosie. That phrase augurs that Wilde will not be as productive in his art as he was before his prison stay.

Wilde inserts into the poem his personal story when he states "For he who live more lives than one/More deaths than one must die." Wilde lived many lives. He had a literary career before his marriage, had a married life that produced two children, had a secret life that altered his married life and led to his relationship with Bosie, and established his literary fame with his plays of the 1890s. Each of these lives died when he went to prison, as he was cut off from the rest of the world. Only his relationship with Bosie was reestablished once he left prison. Wilde felt the weight of these deaths, which were responsible for the fact that this ballad was the only work he produced after he served his sentence.

Wilde wrote "I know not whether Laws be right/Or whether Laws be wrong." These lines challenge the nature of his conviction. Though homosexuality was illegal in England, Wilde questions not only the law but also the harshness of his punishment. But Wilde uses a premediated murder, though beautifully drawn, to illustrate that the laws may be too harsh, which challenges the reader and goes against his natural senses. While the poem is written to honor CTW, it also allows Wilde to criticize the judicial system as well as prison conditions, all while serving as a cathartic experience for Wilde himself.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Use of color in TBRG

In TBRG, Wilde's use of color is a prominent feature of the poem. In relation to the prisoners, the most prominent color used is grey. CTW is described as not wearing a "scarlet coat" during the murder but walks the grounds of Reading Prison for six weeks in a "suit of shabby grey." He gazes wistfully at the "leaden sky" which after death changes to a "tent of blue." His fellow prisoners are "grey figures" who pray the night before the execution. The grave dug especially for CTW is described as a "yellow hole." The use of these colors create a gloomy and lifeless atmosphere in the prison for the prisoners, who are no longer men but "souls in pain."

The prison officials, on the other hand, tend to be described using more striking imagery. The chaplain is "robed in white" while the Governor is dressed in "shiny black," though having a "yellow face of Doom." The judge who sentenced CTW is described as a "man in red," signifying that CTW's blood is on his hands. Finally, the gallows have become the "blackened beam."

The above painting is "Past and Present I" (1858) by Augustus Egg.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

CTW as a Christ figure

Despite the fact that CTW killed his wife, Wilde portrays his crime as something not any worse than that of which every man is guilty.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

Yet, Wilde goes further with his portrayal and elevates CTW to a Christ figure. As Alkalay-Gut points out in her essay, the last line quote of above suggests that despite the fact that every man is guilty, CTW, like Christ, suffers punishment for all mankind. "The murderer allowes himself to be punished for a universally shared sin and suffers the most, knowing he is suffering for the others as well." (p. 352) CTW has become the sacrificial lamb chosen to die, a role he embraces by submitting to his fate.

He does not stare upon the air
Through a little roof of glass:
He does not pray with lips of clay
For his agony to pass;
Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek
The kiss of Caiaphas.

Instead, he is described as "light" and meditative:

And strange it was to see him pass
With a step so light and gay,
And strange it was to see him look
So wistfully at the day,
And strange it was to think that he
Had such a debt to pay.

Being described as having a "debt to pay" shows that he has an obligation to mankind. He is "resolute" and unafraid of death, stating that "he was glad/The hangman's day was near."

Ultimately, therefore, the murder of his wife was an act of love. Alkalay-Gut identifies the juxtaposition of the words "loved" and "murdered" in the opening stanza ("The poor dead woman whom he loved/And murdered in her bed") places murder as "a virtually natural outgrowth of love." Furthermore, Wilde's use of the present tense in the line "Yet each man kills the thing he loves" shows that murder did not result in an end of the love of "the thing." Instead, love has been enhanced by the murder.

The above painting is "Light of the World" (1851-3) by William Holman Hunt

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Written in 1897 after leaving the eponymous prison, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (TBRG) describes the final days of Charles Thomas Wooldridge, a trooper in the royal guards sentenced to death in July 1896 for the murder of his wife. Wooldridge and Wilde likely met while the two served their respective sentences in Reading Gaol. Wilde did not witness the hanging but must have seen the hangman. In his poem, Wilde describes the conditions of the jail in which he was imprisoned and the man to be executed.

Ellman points out that TBRG follows a similar theme developed in Wilde's 1881 poem Humanitad, which contains the following lines referring to Christ:

And we were vain and ignorant nor knew
That when we stabbed thy heart it was our own real hearts we slew.

"Humanitad" like TBRG is made up of six-line stanzas, though the rhyme scheme is different. Seamus Heaney has said that Wilde abandoned his aesthetic principles in the poem, but another writer describes him as embracing the aesthetic in writing about murder. It proved to be Wilde's last work of significance.

Works to be quoted: Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellman
The Thing He Loves: Murder as Aesthetic Experience in "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" by Karen Alkalay-Gut
The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures by Seamus Heaney

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Christ in De Profundis

In De Profundis Wilde once again writes about Christ, "the most supreme of individualists" (p.168) because of his focus on the soul. Man must be in full possession of his soul in order to "Be thyself," the message of Christ as described in The Soul of Man. Once again, each man is to live for himself and for the prosperity of the soul. "When he says, 'Forgive your enemies,' it is not for the sake of the enemy, but for one's own sake that he says so." (p.170) And it is through this emphasis on the soul that Christ was able to sympathize with others. "He realised in the entire sphere of human relations that imaginative sympathy which in the sphere of Art is the sole secret of creation." (p.165) The realization of this kind of sympathy opens the soul to creativity.

Artists are drawn to Christ because he understands the value of sorrow, which Wilde describes as the only true emotion because it is "the outward...expressive of the inward." (p.160-1) "Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself" and sorrow is the one emotion in which the "soul and body are one and indivisible." (p.160) Sorrow cannot hide its pain, but it is pain that Wilde has learned to appreciate because sorrow is the way to perfection. He quotes from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship in making the point that not knowing sorrow means not knowing God:

Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
Who never spent the darksome hours
Weeping, and watching for the morrow,—
He knows ye not, ye gloomy Powers.
Wilde has come to value sorrow as an integral part of life because without it, "we may really be starving the soul." (p. 162)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tone of De Profundis

De Profundis, the title given to Wilde's letter by friend Robert Ross, is the Latin translation of the beginning of Psalm 130:1, a penitential psalm in which the writer begs God's forgiveness for sin. That is not, however, the tone Wilde uses in his letter. In De Profundis Wilde uses a condescendingly accusatory tone toward the intended recipient. Wilde specifically states, "I will begin by telling you that I blame myself terribly." (p.98) Nevertheless, Wilde goes on to blame Bosie for impeding his creative talents while they spent time together, for his bankruptcy, and his eventual imprisonment. Accepting the blame allows Wilde to remain in control though it is obvious that Wilde has no self-control.

Wilde states that he was unable to complete An Ideal Husband while he was with Bosie, only finishing when Bosie traveled to Egypt. He blames Bosie saying "while you were with me you were the absolute ruin of my art." (p.101) Wilde describes every encounter with Bosie as destructive but still gives Bosie room in his life. Though Bosie's family was rich, Wilde covered all of Bosie's expenses and gave Bosie whatever he wanted, whether in the form of money, food, housing, and travel. These expenses contributed to Wilde's eventual bankruptcy, for which Wilde ultimately blames Bosie. Wilde also accuses Bosie of using him to get back at his father, with whom Bosie endlessly feuded. Bosie encouraged Wilde to pursue the libel case, which led to his eventual conviction and imprisonment. Bosie's hate of his father blinded him to the fact that his miscalculation could harm Wilde. Bosie knew that having a relationship with Wilde would anger and provoke his father to action. Bosie's only concern was that his father would lose money.

Wilde is condescending when he repeatedly states that a relationship with Bosie was a mistake because Bosie was intellectually inferior.

"your lack of any power of sustained intellectualconcentration: the unfortunate accident?for I like tothink it was no more?that you had not been able toacquire the "Oxford temper" in intellectual matters,never, I mean, been one who could play gracefully withideas, but had arrived at violence of opinion merely?that all these things, combined with the fact that yourdesires and your interests were in Life, not in Art, wereas destructive to your own progress in culture as they wereto my work as an artist. When I compare my friendshipwith you to my friendship with still younger men, as JohnGray and Pierre Louys, I feel ashamed. My real life, myhigher life, was with them and such as they." (p. 100)

Bosie was not on Wilde's level intellectually and appreciated the things of life that were of a lower nature. He did not share Wilde's affinity for the artistic life, and this side of himself Wilde was forced to rely on other friendships-Wilde lessens his interactions with Bosie to just friendship-in order to fulfill his intellectual needs. He calls his friendship with Bosie "intellectually degrading." (p. 100) Wilde points out that his time with his friend Robert Ross was not only cheaper but also more intellectually rewarding.

Wilde portrays Bosie as selfish and mentally weak, which is probably true. But it is obvious that Wilde enjoyed the time that they spent together. They had disagreements but Wilde always allowed Bosie back in his life because of the good times they had together. This belief is aided by the fact Bosie and Wilde ended up together once Wilde left prison. Despite the ideas expressed in De Profundis, Wilde can only blame himself for the results of his relationship with Bosie.


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