Dryden is Missing

After writing about the18th century  Satirists for the study guide, I think that John Dryden should have been included. He preceded Swift and Pope and set the stage for the emerging popularity of the satire in 18th century England.  Especially Absalom and Achitophel- the political allegorical satire about the crisis of succession in England, which was an attempt to protect the crown from the king’s Catholic brother, attacked many important people. His work was considered both a literary masterpiece and a dangerous political work.

Published in: on March 5, 2012 at 8:52 pm Comments (0)

Barbara’s obsession with Sheba: Sexual or Platonic?

There are a few places in the book where one questions Barbara’s sexuality. One is when Barbara considers how she never would have guessed from Sheba’s reaction that she was engaged in an illicit love affair with a student. She says, “I rather imagined—I dared, that is, to hope—that this high-spiritedness had something to do with me” (133)

There is also a scene in which Sheba comforts Barbara over her suffering cat (185-187). Barbara stares at Sheba’s arms, commenting to the reader about her veins. After noticing Sheba’s arms, Barbara comes up with a strange question, “Did you and your friends stroke each other’s arms when you were at school?” Apparently, Barbara and her friends would stroke each others’ arms. Barbara acts boldly, she says “I had never touched Sheba so intimately before.” The word “intimate” could refer to friendship or sexual relationship but putting “touch” with “intimate” implies sexuality. Sheba is uncomfortable with the “intimate” touch- she tells Barbara- “It creeps me out.”When Connolly calls Sheba, Barbara tells her not to go, and becomes incredibly jealous of Sheba’s lover.

Does this mean that Barbara is a lesbian? Despite strong sexual undertones, I tend to think that Barbara is just lonely and sexually repressed. Interestingly, when Barbara tells her how “lovely” the sensation is, Sheba says, “For a sex-starved thirteen-year old girl, perhaps.” Actions and feelings that are understandable in heterosexual but sex-starved thirteen-year old girl are not acceptable in a middle-aged sinister. (Compare this paradox to the love affair between Sheba and Connolly- again the arbitrary ages make something illicit and “creepy”).

There is much more that characterizes Barbara as lonely in the book. The attraction of Sheba is much more the relationship than it is anything physical. Loneliness and sexual repression blur and produce confusing results.

Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 7:35 am Comments (0)

Mary: Conduct Disorder to Antisocial Disorder- Trajectory of a Psychopath

Mary is a scary character. Her actions are not only those of spoiled child but they indicate a psychological disorder that is far more serious and dangerous. Lillian Hellman hints at the psychological disorder with Rosalie’s comment to Mary: “And who will wait upon you in the insane asylum?” (Act 1, 27).

According to the fourth and current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR)- a Conduct Disorder can be diagnosed using the following criteria (taken from Wikipedia, but also found in the DSM-IV-TR):

A. A repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated, as manifested by the presence of three (or more) of the following criteria in the past 12 months, with at least one criterion present in the past 6 months:

Aggression to people and animals

(1) often bullies, threatens, or intimidates others

(2) often initiates physical fights

(3) has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)

(4) has been physically cruel to people

(5) has been physically cruel to animals

(6) has stolen while confronting a victim (e.g., mugging, purse snatching, extortion, armed robbery)

(7) has forced someone into sexual activity

Destruction of property

(8) has deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage

(9) has deliberately destroyed others’ property (other than by fire setting)

Deceitfulness or theft

(10) has broken into someone else’s house, building, or car

(11) often lies to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations (i.e., “cons” others)

(12) has stolen items of nontrivial value without confronting a victim (e.g., shoplifting, but without breaking and entering; forgery)

Serious violations of rules

(13) often stays out at night despite parental prohibitions, beginning before age 13 years

(14) has run away from home overnight at least twice while living in parental or parental surrogate home (or once without returning for a lengthy period)

(15) is often truant from school, beginning before age 13 years

B. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

C. If the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.


It seems likely that Mary could be diagnosed with a conduct disorder.

1. She often bullies and intimidates others. She intimidates Rosalie into moving her stuff to her new room and she bullies Peggy into giving her all of the money Peggy had saved.

2. She has been physically cruel to her friends Peggy and Evelyn-

“MARY makes a sudden move to her, grabs her L. arm, and jerks it back, hard and expertly. PEGGY screams softly. EVELYN tries to take MARY’s arm away. Without releasing her hold on PEGGY, MARY slaps EVELYN’s face. EVELYN backs away, begins to cry.” (30)

–          The word “expertly” implies that this is not the first time Mary has engaged in such behavior.

3. Mary often lies to get out of obligations. She lies to Lily Mortar about the flowers and she lies to her grandmother about Karen and Martha in order to get out of her punishment for lying about the flowers. Karen asks her, “Why, for example, do you find it necessary to lie to us so much?” (14)

4. Mary ran away from school.

5. Mary is often truant from school. Karen says to her “If you feel you have to take a walk, or you just can’t come to class, or that you’d like to go to the village by yourself, come and tell me—I’ll try and understand” (14) This implies that these are things that Mary does.

6. The disturbance in behavior does cause impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

7. Mary is only fourteen- not old enough to be diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a step farther than Conduct Disorder (also from wikipedia but taken from the DSM-IV-TR)

Diagnostic criteria:

A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:

  1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
  2. deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
  3. impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead;
  4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
  5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
  6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
  7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;

B) The individual is at least age 18 years.

C) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.

D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.


While not old enough to be diagnosed with Antisocial Disorder (formerly known as Psychopathic or Sociopathic disorder), Mary’s disregard for the feelings of others, and her lack of regret for the damage she causes hint at a chilling future for Mary if her grandmother does not act soon.

“Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt, says [expert, Robert Hare. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others.”


This sounds exactly like Mary. Yikes.

Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 2:30 am Comments (0)

Prospectus Draft Reflections

First of all, I want to clarify that after completing my prospectus draft, I may have actually changed my mind. There are two main ideas circulating in my head right now and I’m not sure which one I’ll pursue.


Topic 1:

I would like to focus on the way novelists portray the effects of what I will term “political gossip” on society. Using Max Gluckman’s discussion of gossip’s role in sustaining and identifying a community, I plan to explore the negative effects political gossip has on the individual and the community. When gossip is given a “higher purpose” in the form of informants and spies, suspicion, betrayal, and alienation are never far behind. Among texts that I plan to use in exploring this idea are Barry Unsworth’s Pascali’s Island, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, Reza Kahlili’s A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, and perhaps the young adult series by Ally Carter that revolves around a girls spy school including the novel I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You.


Topic 2:

I would like to explore the way in which spy and informant novels, as discussing “political gossip,” highlight the narrative drive. The human drive to create a narrative or story arc to otherwise random events and people finds its peak in gossip narratives, especially those of political gossip. I plan to discuss the narrative drive in the terms of Deleuze and Guttari’s essay on the rhizome. The narrative drive represents arborial attempts to create order from otherwise rhizomatic happenings. I hope to show, as well, how the authors play with these ideas in their various styles- for example, presenting information to the reader in a way that will force the reader to come to premature conclusions, highlighting the falsity of arborial assumptions of a story arc. Among texts that I plan to use in exploring this idea are Barry Unsworth’s Pascali’s Island, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, Reza Kahlili’s A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, and perhaps the young adult series by Ally Carter that revolves around a girls spy school including the novel I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You.



1. I found the topic description followed by the research questions to be a good way to organize my ideas.


2. The most frustrating aspect of the assignment was coming up with actual questions. I have ideas, but coming up with specific questions with which to explore them is more challenging.


3. The main question I have right now is- “Which idea actually interesting/innovative and which is more original?”


4. When do I have to actually narrow my focus? If I have two ideas that I’m considering pursuing- can I just continue reading more books and articles for a bit and see which one I have more

Published in: on November 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm Comments (0)

Sin in Salem

What I find fascinating the Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is the punishing power of a belief in sin. While Hester’s community ostracizes her and forces her to wear the scarlet letter A for committing adultery, it is Hester’s belief in her own sin that punishes her. Instead of moving back home to London or to another community in the New World, Hester chooses to stay and bear her alienation. She imagines her daughter, Pearl, to be simultaneously a demon child and a perpetual punishing reminder of her sin. She dresses Pearl in scarlet finery to be the human manifestation of the scarlet letter A. In addition to Hester, Dimmesdale punishes himself because of his belief in his own sin. Unable to speak his sin, he inscribes it in his flesh.


Another interesting point was that while the community will have nothing to do with Hester and she serves as a warning to prospective sinners, Hester’s weaves her sin into the clothing the community buys from her. Hester’s services are in such demand that the community is forced to buy their special-occasion clothes and gloves from Hester. While brides are never allowed to wear her clothes for fear of spreading her sin, babies, the dead, and officials all wear clothes sewn by Hester. Sin is an usnpoken underpinning of their society. Hester sees this also when she encounters sympathetic looks and intuitions that others in her community have sinned.

Published in: on November 7, 2011 at 7:30 am Comments (0)

Tall Dark and Handsome: On the Appeal of Mr. Knightley

I know that Jane Austen’s works are literature to be discussed analytically in academic discourse, so as such I will attempt to analyze- objectively and academically- why Mr. Knightley is such an appealing man (appealing, yet not ideal).

1. He finds faults in her– Emma says, “Mr Knightley loves to find fault with me” (9). The narrator tells us that he was “one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse.” He never flatters her.

Why this is appealing:

Flattery, or gallantry, is a norm of behavior in Emma. Mr. Elton uses it in his attempt to woo Emma and Frank Churchill uses it to deflect suspicion of his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax by encouraging all to assume he is courting Emma. Flattery is easy- once you learn the rules. However, flattery can often assumed to be a false statement intended to sway ones affections. False statements, when recognized as such, cannot but be a turn-off. Of course, genuine admiration, when vocalized appropriately, is always appreciated.

What’s intriguing about Mr. Knightley is that he does not flatter Emma. Many people in love tend to overlook the faults of the object of their admiration. Then, they are unhappily surprised when the veneer of love fades slightly and the faults appear on the surface. Mr. Knightley knows Emma and her faults. Instead of ignoring them, out of love, he encourages her to improve herself. He criticizes her behavior when he deems it necessary. Yet, implied in his criticism is his appreciation of her. To me, the most romantic moment of the novel is when Mr. Knightley tells Emma that her joke at Miss Bates’ expense was “badly done.”  In society, one does not tell people one cares little about what their faults are. He knows that his criticism is likely to upset Emma and endangers his hopes for attaining her affections, yet, he must do it because he loves her.

I do not mean to say that in order to be appealing, one should criticize. The criticism is only possible because of their close family relationship and his having known her for her entire life. Beware of overestimating your relationship.

2. He’s a gentleman without being too overbearingly nice- Unlike Frank Churchill or Mr. Weston, Mr. Knightley’s manner is not one of excessive familiarity or overbearing niceness. Yet, he is unfailing in his goodness of character. When Harriet Smith is slighted by Mr. Elton, Mr. Knightley, though not inclined to dance, asks her.

Why this is appealing:

His sensitivity to the feelings of others is unparalleled by any of the other characters. Some people are “nice” and overbearing. He is sensitive to the feelings of others, and as such, most of his goodness comes from the desire to prevent people from feeling neglected or ill-used.

3. As part of his sensitivity- his sensitivity to her family- ie. her father.

4. His love grows out of friendship. There’s something appealing about someone appreciating you as a person and then growing to love you as opposed to “lust at first sight.”

5. He is universally admired. There is no character in the entire free-indirect-discourse of the novel who imparts any negativity on his character.

Perhaps, however, it is not just the man himself who is appealing, but their relationship. The intimacy of their relationship that arises from years of friendship and then realizing that “that’s just love sneakin’ up on you” (Bonnie Raitt).

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 3:51 am Comments (0)

From Answer to Question

Some questions that may have preceded Dillon’s essay:

1. Why does the novel give little importance to the events of the Haitian revolution and intersperse short snippets of the horrors into the more emphasized daily gossip and scandal of the colonial society?

2. Why was the novel ignored for such a long period of time?

3. Does the novel fit Cathy Davidson’s critical model- novel as metonym for national conflict?

4. What other model might replace it?

5. What is the meaning behind the military diction in the novel?

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 12:51 am Comments (0)

Clara as Sansay’s Transgressive Self and Mary as Sansay’s Moral Conscience

Michael Drexler, the editor of the critical edition of Leonora Sansay’s Secret History; or The Horrors of St. Domingo we read, informs us that the letters in the novella are based on actual letters written from Leonora Sansay to Aaron Burr. A few epistles of their correspondence were reproduced in the appendix of the critical edition and a brief comparison yields some interesting insights.

Drexler writes that “Clara” of Secret History was at least in part an invention to allow Sansay to write about herself” (223)

I argue that Clara is not only a fictional character meant to take the place of Sansay to save face or for any other artistic purpose because Clara appears already in the letters Sansay writes to Burr- she writes, “and here commences the adventures of Clara—do you recollect her? that Clara you once lov’d—She came to St domingo about the time I did…” Clara is a persona Sansay creates in her letters to Burr for one of a few possible reasons:

1. Clara is a nickname Burr used for Sansay during their affair.

2. Sansay uses the name “Clara” to save her reputation in the event that her letters are seen by the public (which they are today).

3. And this is the one that I’ll be using for my analysis-  that Sansay created Clara as a persona for her transgressive self.

To begin with, Sansay says to Burr “that Clara you once lov’d”- she uses the transgressive persona to discuss her relationship with Burr because it continued on after Sansay was already married- hence it was an adulterous transgression.

With regards to the experiences of St. Domingo, Sansay writes “[the captain general] came, and here commences the adventures of Clara” (225) That is, once the general arrives, once Sansay becomes involved with him, it is necessary to invent Clara. It is Clara, not Sansay who “was almost naked” (226) and who answers the general’s letters (228) (though according to Mary in Sansay’s epistolary novella, Clara does not answer these letters- interesting change I won’t dwell on here).

Mary, however, does not appear in Sansay’s letters. In Sansay’s letters it is Leonora Sansay who describes “Clara’s” exploits and defends her or passes judgment. However, she creates a new persona, Mary, to serve this purpose in her novella. Mary takes on a different character- more extreme in her criticism and defense; she becomes the embodiment of Sansay’s conscience.

Against the supposed criticism of Burr that Mary shares only stories relating to Clara, Mary writes, “I have no adventures” (89)- implying that those who adhere to morality do not have any fun.

Most interesting in this analysis is the exchange at the end between Mary and Clara- between Sansay’s moral conscience and her transgressive persona. In leaving her husband, a major transgression, Clara abandons Mary, the “conscience” who is now stuck with her husband. Clara and her conscience are separated because Clara has done something incredibly transgressive. The letters between the two are the reconciliation of the conscience to the transgressive character, the struggling between the transgression and the conscience- and the attempt to reunify them, to restore the balance.

Works Cited

Sansay, Leonora, and Michael J. Drexler. Secret History, Or, The Horrors of St. Domingo; And, Laura. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2008. Print.

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 1:29 am Comments (0)

Religion in Plague Society

The trigger for this next blog came from reading Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year over the Jewish New Year. One of the passages in the day’s liturgy comes from a poem thought to have been written in the 11th century:

“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning…”

Religion and the Plague

The narrator suggests that many people understood the plague to be a Divine Judgment- “a Messenger of his Vengeance,” “…a loud call… to Humiliation and Repentance” (166) – and that at the height of the misery, “good people began to think, that God was resolved to make a full End of the People in this miserable City” (88). The narrator himself decides to remain in London, despite the opportunity to flee, because of a belief that he would receive divine protection (11).  Yet, the narrator often regrets his decision, not out of rejection of Divine providence, but out of a growing realization while God has caused the Plague- people are the ones through whom it spreads (166).

The book was written in the 18th century about events in the 17th century and along with all of its other purported goals:

a) “represent the Misery of these Times” to the Reader (152),

b) give all manner of suggestions in the event of a future Plague,

it seems to have as well,

c) a religious agenda.

Generally, religious thought pervaded the society conveyed in the narrative and was part of explaining all phenomena. Yet, the narrator addresses atheistic persons both anecdotally and in the body of his text; this points to the existence of atheistic tendencies. The Renaissance and Scientific thought have spread in England. The occurrence of a calamity of as great a magnitude as the Plague invites questions of God- Is there a God? If there was a God why didn’t he stop it? If there was a God, how could he be so cruel? Etc. Etc. It seems that the narrator has taken it upon himself to convey the role of religion and God in bringing about the Plague but also describing the role of religion in the Plague Society. This is to affirm his own faith and also to show how religion remained strong throughout the plague and that defiant atheists were struck down for their blasphemy (58-60), albeit amongst many believers.

Religion in Plague society

Religion plays an essential role in the Plague Society. It provides comfort to individuals- like the Narrator, who spent his time shut up in his house writing “meditations on Divine subjects” (67). Churches provide places of refuge where people come to pray and religious leaders provide comfort. Belief in God provides an explanation for the misery (Divine retribution, wake-up call etc.)

Yet, religion plays a negative role as well. The narrator laments that belief that “God is able to keep us in the midst of Danger” led many to stay in London whose lives would likely have been saved had they fled (170). In Muslim Turkey, where the Plague had earlier hit, predestination led many to forgo precautions that could have saved their lives (11,12). In addition, the narrator criticizes some of the religious leaders for heightening the fear of the people and not encouraging them to pray for mercy (23). Also, gathering in Churches, like any public gathering during that time, served to further spread the Plague.

Like any system of thought or way of ordering the world- Religion provided both Answers and Questions. In a world where Plague was a constant fear, belief and reliance on institutions like Religion and State (of which the narrator also speaks highly for its involvement in maintaining whatever order remained in London) served as constants that the people could rely on.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 2:59 am Comments (0)

Scandal vs. Gossip

“Cecil Graham: My dear Arthur, I never talk scandal. I only talk gossip.

Lord Windemere: What is the difference between scandal and gossip?

Cecil Graham: Oh, gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality…”

Lady Windemere’s Fan– Oscar Wilde (Act 3)


Here, Cecil Graham makes a distinction between gossip and scandal. He presents gossip as “charming”- while scandal is “tedious.” It is interesting that he does not defend himself against an accusation of wrongdoing by presenting his action as ethical; he defends himself against accusations of tediousness by showing his actions to be “charming.” This attitude reflects a hedonistic philosophy that denies or ignores moral dictates and uses pleasure instead of morality as a barometer for human behavior. In fact, it is the very act of injecting gossip with morality that makes it undesirable- that is “tedious.” There should be no criticism of one who simply discussed other people’s actions for the fun of it without implying moral failure. Implying moral failure, however, is tedious and should be criticized.

Even within this paradigm, the question remains, however, whether gossip and scandal can be understood as independent of one another. In a society where scandal (that is moralizing people who turn gossip into scandal) exists, then gossip cannot remain “charming.” Repeating gossip to a moralizing person turns gossip into scandal. This hinges on the question of responsibility. If gossip leads to scandal, is the person who gossiped, perhaps without malicious intent, responsible for the detrimental effects? I would argue that they are. A person who gossips knows that there will be some people who will infuse the information with morality- whether or not the gossiper hirself does. Thus, there can be no neat distinction between gossip and scandal. Perhaps Cecil Graham would admit that part of the “charm” of gossip is that other people find it scandalous.

Published in: on September 25, 2011 at 10:49 pm Comments (0)

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