Wednesday, 12 November 2008

E&R 5: The Romantics

I have read:

- The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake
- Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth

I enjoyed all three pieces immensely, but my favourite is perhaps Tintern Abbey. I am surprised at my own decision here. Kubla Khan boasts fantastic language and imagery, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is incredibly appealing in its philosophy of passion and its audacious contradiction of orthodox Christian teachings. Tintern Abbey, on the other hand, is very subdued, measured and meditative. Perhaps it feels - ironically, given its subject matter - the least self-centred of the three poems. Though it essentially an extended self-reflection, Wordsworth discusses himself as constituted and subsumed by something greater; nature, and the sublime. He shares none of Blake or Coleridge's concern to paint himself, the poet, as a grand visionary.

A Close Analysis of Tintern Abbey (the first three stanzas)

The opening lines - "FIVE years have past ... and again I hear | These waters" - introduce immediately Wordsworth's central themes; nature, and the passage of time. The three occurences of "five" do as as much to stress the poet's sense of time past than the mentions of summers and winters to which he attaches them.

The entire poem is suffused with a steadiness emanating from the blank verse, and a gentleness induced by the constant assonance. Again, in the opening stanza, "waters" echoes "winters", and "mountain springs" is complemented by "murmur".

The second and third stanzas confirm the somber tone of the first, with repeated allusions to isolation; "secluded scene", "deep seclusion", "quiet of the sky", "unripe fruits ... loose themselves", "by his fire | The Hermit sits alone", "lonely rooms", "little, nameless, unremembered, acts | Of kindness and of love".

The idea expressed in the third stanza of nature's power to suspend the observer's physicality and release their "living soul" is accompanied by several meditative repetitions which work to lull the reader into a similar state; "blood", "blessed mood", "the power | Of harmony"/"the deep power of joy".

Thursday, 30 October 2008

E&R 4: 18th Century Rights

The 21st Century conception of ‘rights’ as individual freedoms rather than social responsibilities owes much to 18th century thought (e.g. Locke and Paine) and political developments (e.g. the English Bill of Rights, the American Declaration of Independence, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens).

Thursday, 23 October 2008

E&R Week 3: 18th Century Texts Online

Interesting texts on ECCO:
- Defoe, Daniel, The Complete Family Instructor
- Defoe, Daniel, The shortest way with the dissenters

- Collins, Anthony, A discourse of free-thinking
- Williamson, James, An argument for natural and revealed religion: in which the principles of freethinkers are examined

Interesting trials on The Old Baily website:
- Ordinary's Account, 24th May 1725 (including Jonathan Wild)

Thursday, 16 October 2008

E&R Week 2: 'Yes, I know how to use the library'

To research a project on some aspect of the 18th century I would first consult broad overviews of the subject, probably on the internet, enabling me to identify more specific areas of interest to investigate.

If I were to choose the American War of Independence, for example, these are the books I would take out:
- Alden, John Richard, A History of the American Revolution : Britain and the Loss of the Thirteen Colonies (London: Macdonald, 1969)
- Conway, Stephen, The War of American Independence 1775-1783 (London: E. Arnold, 1995)
Conway, Stephen, The British Isles and the War of American Independence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
- Middlekauff, Robert, The Glorious Cause : The American Revolution 1763-1789 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985)
- Wright, Esmond, The War of American Independence, (London: The Historical Association, 1976)

Monday, 13 October 2008

Short Stories: Angela Carter

I have just read 'The Courtship of Mr Lyon' from 'The Bloody Chamber' by Angela Carter.

Not a big fan, to be honest. Was immediately turned off by the prose, which somehow manages to be both incredibly pretentious and excruciatingly plain; "the hedgerow glistened as if the snow possessed a light of its own; when the sky darkened towards evening, an unearthly, reflected pallor remained behind upon the winter's landscape, while still the soft flakes floated down" ... I mean, what? People just don't think like that. I don't recognise any humanity in that at all. Bear in mind that the above sentence is describing a particular character's point of view as she looks out of the window; "Hmmm.. yes, that hedgerow is glistening rather a lot tonight; its almost as if the snow has a light of its own! And gosh, check out that unearthly, reflected pallor ... that's the unearthliest reflected pallor I've seen resting on a winter landscape in quite some time!"

Carter just about manages to trade on the magic of the original; her final sentence, leaping into present tense, effectively communicates blissful timelessness of a classic fairy tale ending: "Mr and Mrs Lyon walk in the garden; the old spaniel drowses on the grass, in a drift of fallen petals". However, she also drags a lot of the irritating traditional folksy moralising with it. The lion will die because the little girl is growing up vain and forgetting about him! Vanity = BAD. Love for weirdo possessive aristocrat = GOOD. And worse, Carter continues the age-old peddling of that superstitious myth that we must fear, and place out trust, in the law of nature and the spiritual powers that be. Yergh.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Short Stories

I have just re-read Jorge Luis Borges' 'The Library of Babel', a pdf of which can be found here.

I love this guy. In almost all of his short stories he pulls off this incredible trick of taking an impossible starting point, but then exploring its implications in such detail that you completely forget the fragility of its foundations. His stories a like a perfect sphere in that respect; they only touch the ground at an infinitely small point, but never-the-less form an immaculate whole in themselves. It's like when physicists talk about maths being beautiful; Borges makes that maths literary.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

E&R Week 1: Preconceptions of the 18th Century

The 18th Century represents a bit of a gap in my vague, broad strokes understanding of history. On the one side is the 17th Century, which in my head is all about the Civil War, and Catholics vs. Protestants etc. On the other is the 19th Century, which basically consists of lots of smudgy black and white photography, Jane Austin novels, Charles Darwin & Karl Marx. How the gap was bridged, I have no real idea.