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SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
Rice University MS-46
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Anne K. Mellor
Abstract: In Jerusalem, Blake fully solved the problem posed by The Book of Urizen and the Tate Gallery colorprints of 1795, namely, how can a potentially divine man live within a finite, bounded body or social role without corrupting his infinity? By developing the implications of his early image of "the human form divine," Blake found in the bounded figure of Christ the fusion of the finite and the infinite, a fusion which is both a mode of vision (the "Divine Analogy") and a mode of existence (the forgiveness of sins). The structure and illustrations of Jerusalem embody this fusion. The first chapter presents the image of the human form divine which Albion (mankind) has rejected. The next three chapters portray the perversions of the human form divine (respectively, the abuse of the body; of the mind, including the emotions; and of the imagination) which Albion's fall has caused. The last chapter ends, of course, with a triumphant poetic and pictorial affirmation of Albion's capacity to reunite his four Zoas and to become the human form divine.
R. F. Storch
Abstract: "Simon Lee," "The Idiot Boy," and "Peter Bell" are experiments in comic tone. Wordsworth's playfulness enables him to annex new characters and fields of experience to serious poetry. By mocking the reader's sense of decorum he urges him to expand his sensibility, both literary and social. At work in this playfulness there is an intelligence not only analytic but also comprehensive. Wordsworth's social criticism is far more radical than is eighteenth-century satire. He uncovers the inadequacy of conventional feelings and reveals the permanent forms of human nature. These poems, therefore, are not misguided attempts at simple-mindedness, but challenging exercises of the intelligence and experiments in carefully controlled tones. The same kind of intelligence, to which many readers are not sufficiently alive, is at work in Wordsworth's greatest poetry, too.
Richard D. McGhee
Abstract: Wordsworth's "Vernal Ode" (1817) illustrates his artistic concerns during the transition from his period of undisputed achievement to his later period of more doubtful qualities. This poem reveals Wordsworth's increasing tendency to shift his perspective from a view of the things of this world to a view of the things of the next world as they are communicated through the experience of apocalypse. The structure of the poem turns upon the point of apocalypse. First, there is a "naturalistic apocalypse," in which natural limits dissolve into a vision of eternity. Then there is an "apocalyptic naturalism," in which natural forms embody the values of transcendental vision. The "Vernal Ode" shows, then, through its form and themes, that Wordsworth's later poetry seeks to reconcile his spiritual aspirations with his love for the beautiful forms of earthly nature.
Donald H. Reiman
Abstract: Harold Bloom has read Keats's late poems as naturalistic, finding in them an acceptance of death and all mortal limitations; on the contrary, the paramount characteristic of those poems is that they probe the tragic implications of the mutability of all mortal existence, including the human imagination. Though the great odes explore aspects of this problem, Lamia embodies most fully Keats's later vision. The opening lines of Lamia emphasize the mutability of the gods as creations of the human imagination and thus set the love of Hermes for the nymph in Part I into a context of "mythological history," like that described by Oceanus in Hyperion, in which the gods are as mutable as men's conceptions of them. There is neither hero nor villain in Lamia: Keats is merely exploring the humanistic paradox in which all man's gods and ideals are subject to flux and change because they are products of the human mind—and are all the more vulnerable to change or destruction because they are recognized to be so. Without evidencing any positive "acceptance," Lamia delineates a universe in which all absolutes have been relativized.
Kerry McSweeney
Abstract: Present in a number of the 1866 Poems and Ballads are Swinburne's first non-dramatic statements of the themes and concerns that were to be developed more fully and somewhat more positively in his later poetry: natural process and its relation to man; death; and poetry's value in a world of change and mortality. Some poems show isolated instances of these concerns; "The Sundew" and "Itylus" present them more fully. In "Hymn to Proserpine," "Anactoria," and "Laus Veneris" these themes are more completely articulated. The first is Swinburne's most pessimistic statement on human life and poetry's value. But the other two poems, despite great obstacles, conclude by affirming poetry's value and nature's healing qualities, and both show a stoical determination to accept the circumstances of one's life as tolerable, whatever they may happen to be.
Thomas P. Wolfe
Abstract: The distinctiveness of Persuasion lies in Jane Austen's mode of dramatizing the consciousness of the heroine, Anne Elliot. Technically, this involves a close identification of the narrative point of view and tone of voice with Anne, so that much of the action of the novel is mediated through Anne's consciousness. Thematically, it involves an antagonism, to a degree unprecedented in her fiction, between personal and social values. The values of the self are associated with qualities of mind—a rich sense of the past in Anne, and a vaguely defined imaginative energy in Wentworth—that are difficult for Jane Austen to dramatize in any conventional public activity. The narrative problem becomes most clear in the latter half of the novel, where, in the process of bringing the hero and heroine together, the controlling voice becomes dissociated from Anne, and often takes on a melodramatic tone that is incongruous with the texture of values in the first half.
D. J. Dooley
Abstract: Some years ago, Joseph E. Baker pointed out that Vanity Fair was enriched by being set in a very old moral tradition. But his statement "The novel elaborates a conception Thackeray found in Bunyan..." needs to be qualified; nor is the moral tradition as homogeneous as he makes it appear to be. Vanity has different senses in Ecclesiastes, Augustine, and Bunyan; and "Vanity Fair" does not mean exactly the same thing for Thackeray as it did for Bunyan. Thackeray explores the operations of many kinds of vanity—excessive love of self, the values of the fashionable world, inordinate ambition, the pursuit of such apparently legitimate goals as a happy marriage and a stable family relationship; some of these involve subjective moral evil, but some do not. Thackeray was sometimes the censorious moralist, but generally he attributed far more importance to earthly things than did Bunyan or the author of Ecclesiastes. When he jumped out of bed and ran around the room shouting "Vanity Fair!" he had found an excellent organizing concept for his masterpiece, but it would be fallacious to assume that he had also found a clear and unambiguous moral perspective.
Irving S. Saposnik
Abstract: Although Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the most popular of his stories, it has paid the price of its popularity. Originally written as a fable of Victorian anxieties, it has been distorted into a myth of good-evil antithesis, a simplistic dichotomy rather than an imaginative exploration of social and moral dualism. The story is actually the most sophisticated of Stevenson's narratives. London is the geographical location because it best represents the center of the normative Victorian world. The major characters are all professional gentlemen because their respectability provides the façade behind which their essential selves are allowed to masquerade. The central issue is the necessity for moral and social flexibility in a society which dictates rigidity. Henry Jekyll's experiment to free himself from the burden of duality results in failure because of his moral myopia, because he is a victim of society's standards even while he would be free of them. Jekyll attempts to unleash the Hyde in him not because he wishes to give all of himself free expression, but because he wishes to live more comfortably with his peccadilloes. By carefully juggling the literal and the symbolic, Stevenson details the emerging influence of Hyde, the amoral abstraction who takes possession not only of Jekyll's being but of many a reader's imagination. Hyde so dominates the popular mind that Jekyll's role has been all but obscured. In order for the story to become fully meaningful again, their true identities must be restored.
Wendell V. Harris
Abstract: Pater's modification and Wilde's rebuttal of Arnold's doctrine that the object of criticism is to "see the object as in itself it really is" are not simply eccentric or whimsical reactions. Both apparently recognized that, as the contexts in which the slogan is developed and expanded make clear, Arnold had not faced the question of how artist or critic can get beyond or behind immediate individual impressions. The relativism of all perceptions and impressions stated in the Conclusion to The Renaissance implies the aesthetic doctrines developed in the Preface and the essay on "Style" which define beauty in terms of the artist's individual vision and "truth" in terms of the relation between the work of art and that individual vision. Wilde, going a step further, questions whether the critic can see a work of art any more than any other object "in itself." Arnold's airy dismissal of metaphysical questions thus takes its revenge. Pater and Wilde followed Arnold in placing enormous value on criticism and culture; but the resolutions they find to the unanswered metaphysical problems raised by Arnold's adjuration to "see the object as in itself it really is" define the grounds of their apostasy.
Eugene L. Williamson
Abstract: Matthew Arnold's "Westminster Abbey," though not great art, is biographically interesting. The elegy memorializes the life-long intellectual friendship between Arnold and Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815-1881), the biographer of Arnold's father. Initially a disciple of Thomas Arnold, Stanley later became eminent in his own right as an ecclesiastical historian, biblical commentator, and controversialist. During the nearly two decades that he was Dean of Westminster, Stanley extended his reputation as a liberal savant and as leader of the Anglican Broad Church party. Especially at the outset of his career, Matthew Arnold took Stanley's opinions about literary matters seriously; later years brought exchanges between the two mainly on religious questions. Each man tempered praise of the other's writings with occasional sharp criticism. Stanley protested some of the less apposite thrusts in Arnold's prose. Arnold questioned Stanley's view that speculative freedom was compatible with clerical orders and called his confidence in the efficacy of latitudinarianism "illusory." Nevertheless each man approved the efforts of the other to write biblical criticism which was both edifying and attentive to the Zeitgeist; each regarded the other as an ally in the fight against bibliolatry and Philistinism.
A. Dwight Culler

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