Reflecting on My Literary Autobiography Considering Potential “Hidden Subjects”

In this blog post, I will comment on my first blog post, my literary autobiography, and consider the cultural factors that could maybe be “hidden subjects.” I’ve made comments below each section using superscript numbers to reference each comment. This was a very interesting exercise. Before I got started, I didn’t think there were going to be a lot and I found 10. There are likely more that I’ve overlooked. Interestingly, I didn’t comment on the section where I describe the books that are important to me.

How did I start reading?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading, really. I can remember the first book I ever treasured. In preschool, our teacher gave each of the children a small, pocket-sized book1. My book was a copy of the fairy tale, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. I can’t recall the illustrator or publisher as, sadly, I no longer have this cherished childhood item. I do remember how proud I was of this book and how much I loved the story. I think my love of reading began before this; but, this is a pivotal moment in my literary history. In this same preschool, I also went to the public library2 and obtained my first library card. This memory is cemented in my brain. I could not believe that I could take home any book I wanted, as often as I wanted, for FREE! After getting my library card, I would beg my mother to bring us to the library as often as possible. I’m not sure at exactly what age I was permitted to start going by myself; but, once given this freedom3, I would ride my bike to the library, take out the maximum number of books allowed with a children’s library card, fill my bike basket, and return 2-3 weeks later for more. I remember the library made a special allowance for me to have an adult library card so there was no cap to the number of books I could take out and so that I could take out books from the young adult section before the age of 13. Reading was and is one of my greatest pleasures. My mom is a big reader4 as well and she allowed me (rightly or wrongly) to spend hours upon hours reading in the summer rather than playing outside. I remember getting Pizza Hut Book-it5 certificates for a free pan pizza for every 5 books I read and reading so many that I got certificates for my younger sisters as well. I also remember receiving the entire series of Sweet Valley Twins6 books as a Christmas gift one year and that being one of the greatest gifts I’d ever received. I’m quite nostalgic thinking about the joy that books/reading brought to me as a child.

1Print books were the only way of reading at the time. For children’s literature, I think, print is still a primary source of reading material. But, the lack of iPhones and iPads may have impacted my fascination with reading.

2The public library as an institution as changed a lot since the 1980s. Schools still take field trips, but the focus of my trip was purely to get a library card and introduce to the idea of using the library as a resource for books and the occasional movie. I think, today, I classroom field trip the library would cover a lot more ground.

3Two things strike me about this sentence. First, it is interesting to note that “stranger danger” was entering the conversation around child-rearing at this time. That is a hidden subject in this sentence. I was not allowed to ride my bike very far on my own and my mother had to be sure that I fully understood the potential dangers. Second, I rode my bike a lot as a kid. Bike riding is something that is very much a part of American childhood. Riding a bike is, for many children, the first taste of independence. Even within a limited radius, riding your bike is something you can do away from your parents’ eyes.

4Interestingly, my mother was a homemaker. After reading Rachel Aslop’s chapter on ethnographic methods, I now see a hidden subject in this statement. Reading was freedom for my mom, time to herself, away from her kids and maintaining the house. It offered her an escape. I know this because she has said this. I never once thought of her reading as an act of rebelling against what a domestic woman should do. Truthfully, I don’t think my mom thought of this in this way. She just thought of it as her own time; but, the act of knowing she deserved her own time is something that I think is specific to the 1980s.

5I know this program still exists because I saw their booth at the National Book Festival. However, I don’t think it is as pervasive as it was in the 80s and 90s. For one, Pizza Hut’s financial status has plummeted and they have closed a lot of their locations. Also, there’s been a focus on encouraging healthy eating in our children and Pizza Hut is not healthy. At this time in American history, Pizza Hut was a big deal. They held kids’ birthday parties and there as a Barbie that worked at Pizza Hut.

6The Sweet Valley series is a very specific late 20th-century reference. The book series represented a nuclear family of almost truly 2.7 children – 1 boy and twin girls (obviously 3 children, but interesting that 2 of the 3 were born at the same time. Both parents worked and this not questioned. And they lived in sunny California in an upper middle class-wealthy neighborhood (there were several characters that were very wealthy). This idea of American life was very much the norm for the 80s and into the 90s.   

What books have been important to me?

So many. As I mentioned above, as a kid, the Sweet Valley Twins series was very important to me. My childhood had some challenges, and books were my escape. Books I read as a child and in middle grade, were very important to me. Some of my favorites were:
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli – I grew up in Philadelphia (where this book takes place) and in a racially diverse neighborhood, so I was very drawn to this book.
The Giver by Lois Lowry may have been the first book to challenge my analytical muscles. The themes of this novel are relevant for anyone and that Lowry created this for young readers is extraordinary.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite books. I had a paperback copy that I read so many times, I lost the front cover. I related to Meg more closely than any character I’d read before.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is, I think, my favorite novel. My first time reading it, I was too young and didn’t have any guidance. I read it on my own in seventh grade because my older cousin was reading it in high school and it was lost on me. I read it again junior year of high school and, with the help of my English teacher and the discussion with my peers, grew to love the story and even the verbose nature of Dickens’ writing. I read it again as an undergrad and it was then that I grew to appreciate the work as a true masterpiece. Miss Havisham is my most favorite literary character of all time.
I am also a huge fan of short stories. Some important pieces, for me, have been: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin (her novel, The Awakening, as well) and stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

Have I had struggles with reading?

7Yes. As I mentioned above, my first reading of Great Expectations was difficult. I didn’t have the patience for it and my brain hadn’t been adequately trained yet to understand syntax and to analyze the work. I also struggled with Shakespeare when I first read his works. I was also terrified of poetry at one point. I took a course with an amazingly patient professor as an undergraduate, who forced me to shake off my fears and would not allow me to say I “didn’t get it.”

7Something that is hidden here is a comment on my elementary and secondary schooling. It was not good. Great expectations should have been a part of the curriculum earlier in my academic career and I should have been introduced to poetry in a way that would not have required be to fear it in college.

What kinds of libraries have I used?

I have used public/free libraries, student reference libraries, online reference libraries, and the online free library, Overdrive.8

8The fact that Overdrive exists now is a hidden subject. Access to library resources without having to access the brick and mortar library is something unique to today.

What kinds of reading have I done for different kinds of projects / purposes?

I was an English major with minors in Psychology and Sociology as an undergrad. I read a ton of literature and critical responses to literature in a well-rounded curriculum9. I also read psychology textbooks and non-fiction sociological pieces. Post-college, my professional readings have largely been on advances in healthcare technology and, in the last 7-10 years, on policy changes10. This has largely been to keep me conversant in topics vital to my clients’ needs.

9A hidden subject here is 1) the liberal arts education and 2) Ben Franklin’s philosophy on education. I went to the University of Pennsylvania, which grew out of Franklin’s academy.

10A hidden subject here is the conversation around healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act and, in general, American politics.

Interviewing

In reading Gabrielle Griffin’s chapter on interviewing in Research Methods for English Studies, the thoughts diverged into two separate directions. I was at once drawn to the obvious connections between the Granta interview with Toni Morrison as well as the contrast between this chapter and our earlier reading of Catherine Belsey’s chapter on textual analysis, especially the references to Roland Barthes’s essay on “The Death of the Author.” I was particularly interested in the “Interviewing Authors – the Conventional Way” and the “Transcribing Interviews” sections of Griffin’s chapter as it relates to the Granta interview. And I was interested in how the editors of Research Methods for English Studies chose to place the textual analysis chapter just before this chapter. This placement makes me assume the contrast is evident.

The transcription of the Granta interview was appealing to me even before reading the Griffin chapter. The choice of Mario Kaiser and Sarah Ladipo Manyika to print the transcription of the interview is very intriguing. As Griffin notes “the (intended?) impression is one of the interviewer’s objectivity” and “a sense of the editor’s and author’s words speaking for themselves and presenting a, or the, truth.” (Griffin 181) I was intrigued by Griffin’s next comments that attempt to make a counter argument to this idea. Griffin mentions the effects of the interview process itself as well as how in interviews she read and how the introductions often make note of the living spaces of the interviewees and conducting the interviews on their turf. Kaiser and Ladipo Manyika introduce their interview in much the same way. They met with Morrison in her home and adhered to her concessions (limited to no photographs, but concessions nonetheless). They even describe the home, more specifically photographs in the bathroom, in their introduction. This sets the tone of the interview.  Griffins notes there is a difference between using interview transcription for use in research as opposed to for publication and states that “often only fractions of the textualized interview will appear in published articles or books.” (Griffin 194) In thinking about the Granta interview, I wonder what elements of the interview were cut out and the editorial choices that went into designing the final presentation.

I have discussed Belsey’s chapter on textual analysis and her reference to Barthes in a previous post. I was immediately reminded of this when reading the interviewing chapter given how completely contradictory they are. In one chapter, you have the idea that text should stand on its own and the reader should not be influenced by the idea of the author’s motivations and in the very next chapter, the idea of interviewing the author to gain a more personal perspective is introduced. I can only assume this was intentional on the part of the editors. Otherwise, I would assume that textual analysis would have been positioned much earlier in the book given that as Belsey states “while research entails unearthing information, it is the textual analysis that poses the questions which research sets out to answer.” (Belsey 171) If it is a close examination of the text that incites questions that require deeper analytical methods, one thought would be to present this chapter first. But, when thinking about interpreting the text on its own versus the motivation of the author it is perfectly positioned next to the interviewing chapter. Belsey does not suggest that we ignore the author’s motivation, she is referring to Barthes’ work when she discusses this idea. For me, I think it’s important to take Belsey’s concept of analyzing the text with as little presupposition as possible first and then to, if able, consider an interview with the author. This was the interview does not color your initial reading/interpretation. The interview can serve to support some of the ideas or questions that come up in textual analysis.

Works Cited

Belsey, Catherine. “Textual Analysis as a Research Method.” Griffin, Gabriele. Research Methods for English Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. 160-178. Print.

Griffin, Gabriele. “Interviewing.” Griffin, Gabriele. Research Methods for English Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. 179-199. Print.

Ladipo Manyika, Sarah and Mario Kaiser. “Toni Morrison in Conversation” Granta Magazine. 29th June 2017. Web article. https://granta.com/toni-morrison-conversation/

Reflections on Leading Class Discussion

On Monday, October 21st, I prepared questions and led the class discussion of the first part of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.  Overall, I thought the discussion went well and I’m content with the questions I proposed. One big takeaway for me is that while preparation is key, prepare for the unexpected. While I knew that one of my classmates would be missing from the discussion, I had not anticipated a second classmate would also be missing. For an already small class, this is a significant reduction. I was experiencing slight nervousness but once I realized that the number of participants in the discussion had been reduced so significantly, my nerves became increasingly agitated. I became even more nervous when we set-up the virtual classroom so that the others could still participate. I don’t know that I would have done anything differently; but, I have learned to be a bit more flexible.

Aside from nerves, the other observation I have on preparedness is that I had anticipated certain reactions or responses to my questions. I felt this was needed in order to anticipate whether my questions were sufficient to lead an entire discussion. However, in doing this, I worry I steered the direction of the conversation to my interpretation of the text. I do not think that I did this for every question; but, I do think I did this for one question.

The one thing that I would have changed is the phrasing of my last question around the research methodology. I tried to link this to the text and I do not think this was necessary. I would have proposed a more general question around the oral history methodology. This is where the conversation went; but this is not how I wrote the question.

Lastly, I really wanted to be a part of the discussion because I really love this novel. And, while the reduction in class size a first provided some anxiety, it was also beneficial as it allowed for me to be a more active participant in the conversation. It’s hard to tell because we can’t observe the unknown, but I think i may have struggled to sit out the conversation if there were more active participants. I obviously cannot say that with certainty; but, I felt I restrained myself with only 2 discussion companions and can only assume I would have felt more restrained.

Overall, my reflections can be summed up as being prepared is incredibly important; but, it is equally important to be flexible. Prepare for unexpected deviations and be flexible in allowing the discussion to flow organically.

 

Oral History and Song of Solomon

In Penny Summerfield’s chapter on “Oral History as a Research Method” in Research Methods for English Studies, she describes oral history as having become distinct from ethnography and the oral tradition in the 1960s due to “the radical social history movement” and states that “oral history can contribute to the recovery of histories that would otherwise remain hidden.” (Summerfield, 48-49) Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon seems like the perfect novel to read alongside this chapter on oral history. Though we haven’t yet read the chapter on ethnographic methods, we can see the influence of African American folklore in Song of Solomon. Many critics, including Dr. Laura Jo Dubek, who’s article “‘Pass It On!’: Legacy and the Freedom Struggle in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon,” discuss Morrison’s references the myth of the flying African. In reading Song of Solomon and the Summerfield’s chapter on oral history, it is hard, for me, to really distinguish oral history from oral tradition as a research method. The best source for oral history research would be Morrison herself. In the Dubek article, she does reference a few quotes from Morrison, but this is not an interview with Morrison or anyone. Another possible source for oral history would be individuals that lived through the civil rights movement. Dubek references allusions to the civil rights movement, suggesting that the protagonist’s nickname, “Milkman,” is a reference to “Martin Luther King: MLKman” and makes connections to his mother and Rosa Parks (Dubek 95-96). Interviews with Morrison and others that lived through the 1960s could further elucidate these connections.

Dubek’s article does not leverage an oral history method directly but the connections she makes lean on prior use of an oral history method. Dubek is an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University with expertise ins African American Literature and Civil Rights Literature. She published this article in The Southern Quarterly in 2015. The article focuses on three main themes in Song of Solomon: song and music, connections to the Civil Rights Movement, and the myth of the flying African. Dubek makes connections to oral and written history and also discusses how oral history and tradition are leveraged within the novel itself.

The importance of the spoken (or sung) word is pervasive throughout the Song of Solomon. In the novel’s opening text, we learn how the spoken word leads to legislative change. When Ruth’s father, Milkman’s grandfather, moves to Mains Avenue his patients start referring to the street as “Doctor Street” and as more and more black people move to the street, they use “Doctor Street” as their address. This drives local representatives to post notices that the road “had been and would always be known as Mains Avenue and not Doctor Street.” (Morrison, 4) Dubek refers to this in her article and makes connections to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. Dubek notes that Ruth’s father would have moved there the same year as this ruling and this, along with the “consternation of the city legislators,” provides that connection (Dubek, 93). I think this also emphasizes the importance of the spoken word. The spoken reference to “Doctor Street” was so prevalent that people began using it for official purposes, leading legislators to take action. This action is in a written form, posted notices, that allows for misinterpretation. Rather than solidifying the name “Mains Avenue,” the posters provided the means to interpret the use of “Not Doctor Street” as an official name. The misinterpreted written word emphasizes the importance and strength of the spoken word.

The strength and power of the spoken word are expressed through names in Song of Solomon as well. Our protagonist is given his nickname through the use of spoken language. His official name and the written record of his name is Macon, but we primarily see him referred to as Milkman. Milkman’s paternal grandmother’s name is not spoken, suggesting that withholding the spoken word is powerful as well.

Milkman uses an oral history method to learn about his own story and that of his ancestors. On his journey south, he meets old men that knew his grandfather and listens to the stories they share about him. As Dubek notes, the sharing of these stories provides a benefit to both Milkman and the men reminiscing and being reminded of their youth (Dubek, 98). This also emphasizes the importance of the spoken word. For Milkman these talks provide him with information to which he would otherwise not have access. For these men, these talks give them purpose and allow them to remember their youth.

Dubek opens her article with a quote from Morrison relating African-American novels to music. Morrison reflects on the fact that black music, by the time Song of Solomon was written, was no longer exclusive to black people as other people have appropriated the style. Morrison claims that the novel is a way that black people can reclaim that voice that is exclusively theirs. This idea is emphasized by the focus on song and music in Song of Solomon. The beginning of the novel alone provides evidence of the importance of song and music. First, we start with the title and the word “song.” Then, just a few paragraphs into the novel, we see Pilate singing the “Sugarman” song. At the first break in the novel, we leave Macon Dead, Milkman’s father, listening to Pilate, Reba and Hagar singing and the music soothes him. As the novel progresses, we learn more about Solomon and his song, we learn why Pilate is always singing, and we learn of a character named Sing. Song and music are strong themes in the novel and it’s through this little bit of oral history, Dubek’s quote from Morrison, that learn about some of the motivation for this.

Works Cited

Dubek, Laura. “‘Pass It On!’: Legacy and the Freedom Struggle in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” The Southern Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2, 2015, pp. 90–109. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mlf&AN=2016380532&site=ehost-live.

Summerfield, Penny. “Oral History as a Research Method.” Griffin, Gabriele. Research Methods for English Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. 48-68. Print.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Signet, The New American Library, Inc. 1978. Print.

Reading and Repeating Bring Darcy and Lizzy Together

I struggled with unifying each of the readings for this week’s discussion. I’m eager to hear from our guest lecturer in class, as Deegan’s summary of digital humanities in Research Methods for English Studies was just that, a summary. I was able to glean the overarching concept of the use of digital research methods, but I would have liked to have seen more examples. To Deegan’s credit, her topic is more expansive and, as she mentions in her introduction, a still changing field. Because the topic is so broad and Deegan was responsible for one chapter in a larger text, she had to write at a much higher level. The additional readings she suggests will be useful in providing a deeper understanding of the methods in digital humanities. The Lynch article leveraged digital methods as well as archival methods and was a good way to see the output or product resulting from these methods. For me to best understand this research method, I think I will need to learn by seeing and doing.

I couldn’t help but think of our Canvas portal when reading “English Research Methods and the Digital Humanities.” The Lynch article, the Michie article, articles from previous weeks’ modules, and the adaptation videos are all available from the same source (for us students, through the curation of Dr. Peebles). This is an example of the ways in which digital resources enable the study of literature.

Though I struggled with tying together each of the readings this week, the final volume of our main reading, Pride & Prejudice, is one of my favorite things to read.  Austen’s use of dialogue and subtext is powerful. And the fact that Lady Catherine’s intrusion results in exactly the opposite of her intent is brilliant. Because we are privy to Elizabeth’s internal thoughts, we as readers, witness firsthand the change in her opinion of Darcy and her growing love for him. So much occurs in these final chapters, but all the events lead to the union of Darcy and Elizabeth. Lydia’s plotline is nearly catastrophic, but it serves as an opportunity for Darcy to serve as a rescuer and ultimately seal Elizabeth’s opinion of him as more than favorable. Much like his initial departure, Bingley’s returning to Meryton and rekindling his romance with Jane is owed to Darcy in his attempt to fix what he may have broken. Lady Catherine’s visit serves as the final element in uniting Darcy and Elizabeth. If she hadn’t visited, Elizabeth may not have hoped that Darcy still loved her and had she not recounted her visit and Elizabeth’s reaction, Darcy may not have hoped that Elizabeth’s feelings had changed.

And it was interesting to read this in concert with the Lynch article, particularly the “Reading and Repeating” chapter. Lynch refers to Elizabeth asking Darcy to “account for his having ever fallen in love with her (Austen 260, Lynch 218).” But the entire volume relies on reading and repeating. The volume begins shortly after Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy is altered by the knowledge gained from her reading his letter. She repeats some of the contents of this letter to her aunt and uncle when they recall her previous condemnation and her reporting of his behaviors toward Wickham (Austen 174). Later, Elizabeth reads a letter from Jane providing the details of the Lydia/Wickham scandal, and Elizabeth repeats this to Darcy. Once Lydia’s reputation is salvaged, Elizabeth regrets having told Darcy (211-212) as now that her reputation is saved, no one other than those originally aware, would know. However, as she will later learn from reading a letter from her aunt, if she hadn’t read and repeated Jane’s letter, Darcy would not have intervened and Lydia would have been ruined. Had Elizabeth not read and repeated her aunt’s letter to Darcy, while profusely expressing her gratitude, Darcy may not have been convinced of Elizabeth’s changed opinion and Elizabeth may not have known that he did this all for her (250). Reading and repeating drive the narrative in the novel.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016. Print.

Deegan, Marilyn. “English Research Methods and the Digital Humanities.” Griffin, Gabriele. Research Methods for English Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. 218-245. Print.

Lynch, Deidra Shauna. “Jane Austen and the Social Machine.” The Economy of Character. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press. 207-249. Print.

 

 

 

Pride & Prejudice, Numbers & Words, and Bingley’s Four or Five Thousand

I found this week’s chapter from Research Methods for English Studies, “Numbers and Words: Quantitative Methods for Scholars of Texts” by Pat Hudson very interesting. I, like Catherine Belsey, who Hudson had sought out for advice on the topic, did not “even know what quantification” was as it related to literature (Hudson, 134). As I began reading the chapter, I thought that perhaps this method could be leveraged if there was a subject or broad theme of the novel around numerical figures. Hudson’s distinction between method, a tool to gain knowledge, and methodology, a way of thinking about knowledge, helped me to understand how to leverage this method as a tool (Hudson 154). But, reading this chapter along with Linda Slothouber’s essay, “Bingley’s Four or Five Thousand, the Other Fortunes from the North,” helped to provide a tangible example.

In Slothouber’s essay, she starts with a number, the four or five thousand pounds that Mrs. Bennett references as Mr. Bingley’s annual income. This figure along with words she highlights from the text around Mr. Bingley’s leasing the estate at Netherfield and his father having obtained fortune in the North, incite her to question the specific nature of how the late Mr. Bingley came into his wealth. She was able to leverage quantitative methods by reviewing the historic data of type of industries and the number of cotton spinning mills in the North of England to support her inclination that the Bingley’s money comes from the cotton industry (Slothouber 50).

I also found it very interesting that Slothouber leverages both words and numbers is a way very similar to Hudson’s description of the “The Complementarity of Words and Numbers (Hudson 138-141).” In this section of the chapter, Hudson discusses the importance of both reviewing an understating data in the aggregate as well as individual, more detailed accounts. In her essay, Slothouber leverages historic data to identify to prevalence of fast wealth accumulation from cotton manufacturing. She then provides more detail on two specific families, the Akwrights and the Strutts (Slothouber 55-59). The combination of these two methods makes her argument more compelling.

What I really liked about reading Slothouber’s essay is that it enabled me to see the use several of the methods we’ve been learning. This essay showcased how each method can inform another and when combined can help to solidify the researcher’s argument. It seems to me that it begins with textual analysis and asking questions and then leveraging various methods in a nonsequential manner to inform your thesis. This was a really great article to help click those pieces into place for me.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016. Print.

Hudson, Pat. ” Numbers and Words: Quantitative Methods for Scholars of Texts.” Griffin, Gabriele. Research Methods for English Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. 133-159. Print.

Slothouber, Linda. ” Bingley’s Four or Five Thousand, the Other Fortunes from the North.” https://marymount.instructure.com/files/966416/download?download_frd=1

 

 

Pride and Prejudice, Feminisms, and Textual Analysis

I found Vivian Jones’ “Feminisms,” to be an interesting read alongside Belsey’s chapter on textual analysis in “Research Methods for English Studies,” particularly the references to Barthes’ “The Death of the Author (Belsey, 165).” I hadn’t been previously exposed to postfeminism, but I think Jones does a good job of articulating the various political platforms around feminism during Jane Austen’s time and she is able to support her conclusion that Austen’s works illuminate more postfeminist than feminist ideals. But the Belsey chapter had me questioning whether these are in fact Austen’s ideals.

For her argument, Jones touches on textual analysis, but largely uses biography and discourse as her methods of research. She is making an argument for what kind of a feminist Austen is, so these are both vital methodologies for her. She does, however, lean on textual analysis when presenting her understanding of the connections that others have made to a more feminist (Wollstonecraftian) ideology. Jones references Elizabeth Bennett’s refusal of Mr. Collins’ proposal and her use of the words “elegant female” and “rational creature.” This is the exact terminology Wollstonecraft uses in her Vindication of the Rights of Women (Jones, 359).” Jones goes on to say that Elizabeth’s use of Wollstonecraftian rhetoric and then going on to marry Darcy is evidence of an awareness of feminism but ultimately reasons that equality has been achieved (Jones, 364). This, for me, is a reasonable argument for Elizabeth Bennett serving a postfeminist heroine. However, I’m not entirely sold on it’s supporting Austen as a postfeminist.

Belsey summarizes Barthes as criticizing researches for relying too heavily on the author’s intentions and therefore excluding all possible interpretations (Belsey, 165). It would appear that Jones is exactly the researcher that Barthes references. Jones argues that because Austen is not “overtly polemical”, this is indicative of her being postfeminist (Jones, 363). But I question this. While Barthes’ criticism comes more than 100 years after Austen, his critique stems from the prevalence of relying on the intentions of the Author. My question is: what if Austen did not want to write overtly polemical novels because she didn’t want her personal politics to influence her readers’ interpretations of the text? In that context, the use of Wollstonecraftian rhetoric could be more indicative of Austen’s views aligning more with Wollstonecraft’s. It is Mr. Collins that first introduces this rhetoric by referring to Elizabeth’s refusal as an attempt to increase his “love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females (Austen, 78).” And Elizabeth expands on this language by leveraging Wollstonecraft’s rhetoric to emphasize the seriousness of her refusal, urging Mr. Collins not to see her as “an elegant female” but as a “rational creature (Austen, 79).” Relying on textual analysis, I’d question what it means that Mr. Collins uses the words “elegant female” first. Relying only on Elizabeth’s response might serve to exemplify Elizabeth’s awareness of the rhetoric; however, wouldn’t Mr. Collins’ references to the behaviors “usual to young ladies,” “the true delicacy of the female character,” and “elegant females” indicate the existence of still an inequality or at least justification for Wollstonecraft’s arguments?

I don’t necessarily disagree with Jones; but, it’s interesting to read her argument, which entirely incorporates the author’s motivations into the analysis, in juxtaposition to the references to Barthes in Belsey’s essay.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016. Print.

Belsey, Catherine. “Textual Analysis as a Research Method.” Griffin, Gabriele. Research Methods for English Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. 160-178. Print.

Jones, Vivian. “Feminisms.” Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray and Mary A. Favret. Fourth Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016. 357-367. Print.

Discourse Analysis and Sir Gawain

In reading “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in relation to the “Discourse Analysis” chapter in Research Methods for English Studies, two discourses stood out as pervasive in the poem: Christianity and knighthood/chivalry.

There are references to the Christian religion throughout the poem. The characters wish for God’s favor on each other, there is a setting in a chapel, and there are specific references to both Christ and other figures in the Bible. In the poem’s last fitt, after Gawain is pardoned, he references several men who have also been “beguiled” by women (2415-2428). The poet provides enough context around the fact that these are important figures that fell victim to feminine wiles. But a deeper look at the specific individuals mentioned and their role in Christian discourse provides insight into the seriousness that Gawain attributes to his error. Adam is the first man, Solomon was considered the wisest of all kings, Samson the strongest and greatest warrior, and David a favorite of God’s. The ramifications of their failings are the plight of the human condition for all mankind, death, and loss of significant wealth and honor. When reading these lines with an understanding of Christian discourse, we understand better what Gawain means when he says “these were the noblest of old” and if they can be tricked, he’s okay with being forgiven (2422).

An understanding of knighthood and chivalry provides context around Gawain’s reasoning. As discussed in the BBC documentary, chivalry was everything to a knight and if Gawain hadn’t honored his promise, he would have been an outcast. This context helps to understand the character of Gawain better. This helps to understand Gawain’s motives for going through with his promise but also to understand the shame and guilt he feels about not disclosing the lace garment.

Griffin’s chapter on discourse analysis helped to distill, for me, the methodology. Without being fully educated on discourse analysis and its varieties, I was not aware of how much I leverage this method in my analysis. Having read this chapter, I now realize that my level of analysis has been superficial. This is both exciting and intimidating. It is exciting to start thinking about how to more thoroughly analyze. It’s intimidating to think of how much research can and should be done to be thorough.

Works Cited

“Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period. Volume 1. Third Edition. PDF. 2014. https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.cofc.edu/dist/0/550/files/2014/09/09-04-readings-1789szr.pdf.

“Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.” Translated by W.A. Neilson. In parentheses Publications Middle English Series Cambridge, Ontario 1999.

Griffin, Gabriele. “Discourse Analysis.” Research Methods for English Studies, Second ed., Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 93-112.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (BBC Documentary). Performance and narration by Simon Armitage, The Norman Season, BBC. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74glI1lg1CQ.

 

EN 501_Connections between Fitts (Parts) 1 & 2 of “Sir Gawain,” Green’s Five Fingers essay, and Rose’s Chapter on Visual Methodologies

In reading the three pieces, there are obvious connections between Green’s essay and “Sir Gawain” as Green’s essay is written about “Sir Gawain.” I can see why Rose’s chapter was paired with this poem as there is a lot of visual imagery in the poem. I cannot, however, find a connection between Green’s essay and Rose’s chapter.

Green’s essay is brief and focused. I thought the essay was very well reasoned and researched. Green cites several cases from the time period in which “Sir Gawain” was written that describe the ritual of the glove and the five pennies (Green 18) and it is reasonable to assume the poet would be aware of this ritual. The fact that each champion would donate their 5 pennies to the church in honor of the 5 wounds of Christ (Green 15) is very compelling evidence as the line following the five fingers reference in “Sir Gawain” refers to the 5 wounds of Christ.  Before even reading Green’s essay, I read Gawain as a champion/stand-in for Arthur. For me, that seems evident. Stanzas 15 through 18 of “Fytt the First,” outline the terms of Gawain serving as Arthur’s champion. Though the circumstance is not a trial, the protocol appears to be the same. When reading Green’s essay, it seems logical to compare Gawain to a trial champion and therefore reasonable to support Green’s theory.

Although I found the “Visual Methodologies” chapter in Research Methods for English Studies interesting, I can understand why visual methods are not discussed much in English studies (Griffin 9). The version of “Sir Gawain” that I read did include visual imagery; if there are versions that accompany visual imagery, a compositional interpretation would be relevant. There is so much textual imagery in this poem, however, that I could visualize the scene and characters. From that perspective, I found a compositional interpretation of the text interesting.

I have not exercised the muscles in my brain required to analyze visual imagery and therefore find it hard to make any theories on connections on the imagery. That being said, the poem is saturated with visual language and textual imagery. Color, in particular, is used to a great extent. In the description of the Green Knight, the poet uses various gradients and hues of green for both the knight and his horse. The poet also pairs green with gold in this description. Both green and gold are colors that have been associated with wealth and prestige, so the poet may have used these colors purposefully, as the knight promises treasure to his opponent, if his opponent wins.

It is also possible to make a semiology interpretation of the use of pentangle in “Fytt the Second.” The poet himself provides some interpretation of the image. But, a more thorough analysis could be done. In addition to the poet’s reference to Christian interpretations of the pentagram/pentangle, there are also occult interpretations that were understood and available during the Renaissance. I’ve only read the first half of the poem; but, the fact that Gawain cuts off the Green Knight’s head and the knight survives and rides away, suggests the second half of the poem may contain more mysticism.

 

Works Cited

“Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.” Translated by W.A. Neilson. In parentheses Publications Middle English Series Cambridge, Ontario 1999.

Green, Richard Firth. “Gawain’s Five Fingers.” English Language Notes (2001).

Rose, Gillian. “Visual Methodology.” Research Methods for English Studies, Second ed., Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 69-92.

Griffin, Gabriele. “Research Methods for English Studies: An Introduction.” Research Methods for English Studies, Second ed., Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 1-17.