Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Recent Reads--Jane Austen

As you know from my last post, school is done for the semester. As a habitual reader, I find it strange to not constantly have some book in my purse, so I borrowed Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) from a friend and bought Persuasion. Yes, I'm going on a Jane Austen reading spree. I decided to go on the Austen-fest after reading both Sense and Sensibility and Emma one right after the other, and loving both immoderately.

Austen is stereotyped as a chick-lit writer, or as a writer who only talks about family and marriage and the troubles her characters get into because of both. However, I'm a firm believer that Austen is much smarter than that. Her books may appear to be books about young ladies getting married off to live in happiness and fortune, but they also contain so much more.

I'm in the middle of Northanger Abbey right now, and it's a witty, sarcastic, fantastic novel. Catherine Morland stars as the heroine of this not-so-Gothic Gothic novel. Austen plays on the conventions of the Gothic novel, dismantling them and exposing them as silly, irrational, though interesting . And when she launches into a several page defense of reading novels (those sensational things that most ladies of good breeding would never admit to reading), the reader and scholar in me admits that there is so much thematically to her writing.

I'll post again when I'm finished.

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Excerpt of My Final Paper

Because I worked really hard on it, I wanted to share my favorite excerpts of my paper:

The Bride of Lammermoor: An Introduction

As with many of Scott’s novels, The Bride of Lammermoor begins not with the central story but with an introduction or a frame tale. Here, Peter Pattieson, the fictitious writer of The Tales of My Landlord tells the sad story of his friend, Dick Tinto. Tinto begins his artistic career as a sign painter (5-6). Following his aspirations, Tinto later attempts to enter the art scene but dies in obscurity as a failure (9-10). Following Tinto’s brief history, Pattieson describes a debate he had with Tinto about the representation in the novel—a theme that carries throughout The Bride. Tinto criticizes Pattieson for creating characters who “make too much use of the gob-box” (10) to which Pattieson retorts, “how is it possible for an author to introduce his personae dramatis to his readers in a more interesting and effectual manner…?” (11). He then follows with the argument that Tinto “confounded the operations of the pencil and the pen” (11) [1]. Following the debate, Tinto takes out a sketch, thinking that in a flash of insight Pattieson would immediately understand the story he tries to tell on canvas (12-3). Tinto is disappointed, declaring, “I would swear you had been born blind,” (13) and then reveals the subject to a tale told to him by an “aged goodwife” that Pattieson uses as the subject for The Bride (14).

The exchange between Pattieson and Tinto reveals concerns about oral history and modes of representation that Scott explores throughout the novel. The story of Edgar Ravenswood and Lucy Ashton comes to its audience through Pattieson, who in turn received it through Tinto, who got it from a local woman when he went to see the ruins of the castle that is part of the tale’s setting. The provenance of how the story gets to Pattieson connects the reader to the Scottish oral story-telling tradition that Scott was fascinated with as both a writer and historian. As the material for The Bride of Lammermoor was passed down orally to Scott, it was indebted to the Scottish story-telling tradition. Both before and after the publication of The Bride, he repeatedly told the story orally, as if to maintain a sense of the work as a story told not described (Lamont 117). The oral nature of the original tale weaves its way into the composition of The Bride in Scott’s use of dialogue: his characters tell us the story through their conversations, the act of speaking gesturing toward oral story-telling. He also incorporates moments of oral history through the characters of Caleb Balderstone, who refers to the family’s history and the prophesy about the last Ravenswood (139), old Alice Gray, who is “queen of gossips, so far as legendary lore is concerned” (30), and even Ailsie Gourlay who tells Lucy tales to further break her mind (240-1). When at one point the tale dips into a moment of irrationality, the narrator comments, “We are bound to tell the tale as we have received it” (187) further underscoring the tale’s origin as a passed down, oral tale. Scott concludes the penultimate chapter by referencing the source legend: “[T]hose who are read in the private family history of Scotland during the period in which the scene is laid, will readily discover, through the disguise of borrowed names and added incidents, the leading particulars of AN OWER TRUE TALE” (262).

Not only does the first chapter bring up oral history in relation to The Bride, but it also centers on the question of representation in a novel: should an author describe a tale pictorially (Tinto’s preferred method) or use dialogue to tell the story? Though Pattieson agrees to tell the story using Tinto’s mode, The Bride still contains scenes that consist mainly of dialogue. The frame tale sets up the scenes of description against the scenes of dialogue to call the reader’s attention to the contrast between the two forms of perception and representation. A pattern emerges as certain associations are attributed with images: paintings, people, and settings—static entities without dynamic qualities or capacity for change—while narrative implies action, ability to change, and come to terms with the shifting world. One scene that comically contrasts the image with speaking or doing occurs when Ravenswood and Bucklaw approach Wolfscrag, the Gothic tower, and attempt to gain entry from Caleb Balderstone:

The timorous glance which [Caleb] threw around him—the effect of the partial light upon his white hair and illuminated features, might have made a good painting; but our travelers were to impatient for security against the rising storm to permit them to indulge themselves in studying the picturesque. (61)

Scott implies that while there are many things in the world that might make a good painting, pictures are second in importance to acting or speaking; lines of dialogue immediately follow the example of the picturesque[2]. Several critics have explored the implications of Scott’s contrasting these two ways of representing the world:

Scott uses Lucy Ashton’s silence and its tragic outcome to demonstrate the inappropriateness of applying the methods of painting to narrative, and to show that the static, pictorial mode of perceiving and imaging constitutes a fatally isolating manner of private representation. (Butterworth 1).

Scott uses dialogue to produce a living scene, while the pictorial aspect is nothing more than a static frame that traps characters and readers in a dangerous mode of thinking (4). One example of the dangers of conceiving the world in terms of images is the perceptions Edgar Ravenswood and Lucy Ashton have of each other, which Scott carefully puts in pictorial terms.

Lucy Ashton and Edgar Ravenswood’s perceptions of each other are in terms of images: Lucy sees in Edgar Ravenswood the figure of the chivalrous knight who saved her life, a picture straight from her private romances (41-5), while Edgar perceives Lucy also as an image, his reflections on their meeting placing “before his imagination a picture of the most seducing sweetness (70). When he encounters her as the masked huntress, he is “struck…absolutely mute” by her graceful form (84). Lucy later is only able to speak “in broken accents, of the delight with which she beheld the complete reconciliation between her father and her deliverer” (136). When Ravenswood enters Ravenswood Castle as the guest of Sir William, he sees the portraits of Lucy’s dour, puritanical ancestors and begins to rethink his perception of Lucy; however, she later enters the room and chases away his gloomy thoughts with her image: “[Lucy] seemed to be an angel descended on earth, unallied to the coarser mortals among whom she deigned to dwell for a season. Such is the power of beauty over a youthful and enthusiastic fancy” (148). Perceptions thus based cannot last long, and as the two lovers spend more time with one another after becoming engaged, they realize the images they have of each other are flawed: Edgar fearing that Lucy is too easily influenced, and Lucy believing that Edgar might regret his attachment to her because of his pride (Scott 163-4). Scott demonstrates that an attachment formed by relying on ones perceptions or created fictions is dangerous, and in The Bride, it leads to tragedy.

In the end, the inability of Lucy to speak seals her fate and the tragic outcome of the story. “Lucy Ashton cannot function in the world and her inaction, her inability to become more than the image of light that she and others fancy her to be contributes materially to the tragic outcome” (Butterworth 6). Tinto’s sketch, a static image of failed communication, is the climactic moment when Ravenswood returns to determine Lucy’s constancy, and she, unable to articulate her desires and be more than a picture, is lost to her lover by her inability to speak out (Scott 252). Her madness upon stabbing Bucklaw is punctuated by her speech—“So, you have ta’en up your bonnie bridegroom” (260)—whereupon she falls into a state of insensibility and dies “without her being able to utter a word explanatory of the fatal scene” (261). Pattieson may have agreed to follow Tinto’s methods in the narration of The Bride of Lammermoor, but ultimately Tinto’s method of representation and perception is flawed and leads the lovers to destruction (Butterworth 5).

The first chapter certainly introduces themes about the completing forms of perception and representation; however, Pattieson (and most likely Scott) is also mocking Tinto and his position. Pattieson’s portrayal of their debate is ironic because Pattieson describes it using dialogue.[3] Pattieson undermines Tinto’s argument even as he asserts it, and Pattieson implies that the scene would be not be as effective (or interesting to a reader) written any other way. Additionally, when Pattieson does use descriptive language instead of dialogue, he paints a picture of Tinto’s contortions to show his sketch in various lights and distances, completing the description by commenting that Tinto “ended by spoiling a child’s copy-book which he rolled up so as to serve for a darkened tube of an amateur” (Scott 12). The image of Tinto is comic, and Pattieson seems to comment that there are better uses for a child’s copy-book then a tube for an amateur artist’s sketch for a painting that will never be realized. Pattieson further mocks Tinto by describing his life and subsequent failure as an artist (that would contribute to his early death) first, and then revealing to the reader why Tinto is even in the chapter, as the source of the story. Pattieson gently pokes fun at his friend and his friend’s flawed views on art, and he shares the joke with his audience: Tinto sought to be a great artist with his theories on art and failed, and Pattieson seeks to tell a story with his own dialogic mode of representation and succeeds. The unrealized, sketch version of the tale will remain rolled up in a child’s copy-book, but the fully realized, narrative version will be the one that is “seen”.

[1] Millgate comments, “Tinto has none of the instincts of a historian” (179).

[2] This moment is also ironic because, as a reader quickly learns, Caleb’s comical figure would not make a good painting.

[3] James Chandler also points out the irony of this moment: “It is a simple fact, but one strangely overlooked in the commentaries, that every point that Tinto registers is his critique of what might be called Pattieson’s dramatism is itself represented in the dramatic mode” (76). However, Chandler goes on to discuss the dialogue in terms of captions and scenes and doesn’t seem to attribute any thematic significance to the irony that he notes.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Facts: Sir Walter Scott

Did you know...
  • ...that Walter Scott contracted polio when he was 18 months old? He walked with a limp for the rest of his life (probably one reason why the Romantics loved him--they loved people with limps).
  • ...that Scott's great-aunt Margaret Swinton, a source for many of his stories including The Bride of Lammermoor was hacked to death by a crazed woman servant?
  • ....that when Scott wrote The Bride of Lammermoor he thought he was dying, so the novel is uncharacteristically dark, pessimistic, and Gothic in nature.
  • ...that Scott wrote The Bride of Lammermoor (and several other works) under the pseudonym Jedidiah Cleishbotham? (somehow, no one was fooled...)
  • ...that Scott is considered the father of the historical novel?
  • ...that Coleridge HATED Ivanhoe and The Bride of Lammermoor? He called them "wretched abortions", although he liked the witch women in The Bride.
  • ...that Scott wrote 27 novels in about 15 years, writing 3 all in 1819 alone--also publishing other works and serving as a Clerk of Session for the Scottish Court, and as a Sheriff. Oh, he also literally worked himself to death, after continuing to write after suffering from 4 strokes.
  • ...that he quit writing poetry after Lord Byron came on the scene and displaced him as the reigning top poet in England--seriously, he read Byron's work and decided that Byron was talented, so he turned to writing novels.
  • ...that he loved and appreciated Jane Austen's work, unlike many contemporary male authors.

I think that's all the random facts about Walter Scott I have floating around in my head.

Monday, December 04, 2006

It's Been A While...

Ok, so I'm not so good with keeping this thing updated. But that's ok. I'm in the last push before the end of the semester, and I have in my head several good posts about writing academic papers, being an academic, and the fact that there are way too many crappy articles out there.

But those will be for another day. I just wanted to let you all know that I have not dropped this blog.