Brooding Gloom- Colonizing from London to the Congo

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is well-known for it’s light/dark dichotomy. As I was reading, I also became interested in the way Conrad compares London and the Congo- blurring the lines between the two so that London and civilization becomes just as gloomy, savage and strange as the trip to the heart of ‘uncivilized’ Africa. Some examples:

-“The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.” (17)

-“It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him in the brooding gloom.” (17)

-“The very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.” (18)

-“That gloom brooding over a crowd of men.” (18)

-“And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars. ‘And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.” (19)

It seems clear in the first three pages that Conrad sets up London as darkness just as strange, scary and intimidating as the heart of Africa and the camps there, and the marshes and woods as light- the places unpopulated by people. The Thames is a massive and famous river juxtaposed against the equally massive and famous Congo River. Marlow speaks of the past, when the Romans came to Britain and colonized, and speaks about how “light came out of the river since”  and declares “We live in the flicker– may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.” (20) He praises these people who conquered the land he came from because it happened far enough back to not be a violent and unpleasant memory to him or any of his close ancestors, and imagines a roman commander’s journey up the Thames, describing a trip similar to the one he is about to unfold:

“Imagine him here- the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke… going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages, precious little to eat fit for a civilised man, nothing but Thames water to drink… Here and there a military camp lost in the wilderness… cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile and death– death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here.”  He continues in a monologue that is chilling and revealing, saying “The utter savagery had closed round him- all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries, He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination– you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.” This is all still talk about London, but also a definite reflection on the harrowing journey up the Congo. Then, there is the striking moment when he discusses colonizers and conquerors, saying ” The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

This opening is important because the author is taking a clear stand against Britian and colonialisms. He calls the English out on their imperialism, discussing the sun, the one that never sets on the British Empire, casting a “brooding gloom.” He reminds the British that some time ago they too were “savages” being conquered. London is still a “lurid,” “monstrous,” “dark” place to Marlow and Conrad- but for different reasons. It’s “Crowds of men,” the filth , the embassies with strange people in them, and the greedy hunger to take away land from people who are different.

“Sunny Jim” and Stormy Ireland

Joyce is the product of a troubled Ireland, a repressive religion that he abandoned spiritually but always carried with him in his art, and an inheritor of Irish writers such as “Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats” (5) whom he saw as both venerable authors and enviable rivals. These tensions are ever present in his work, and for a boy nicknamed “Sunny Jim” the darkness and confusion in his works reveals a stormy underside, something that is likely the product of his raising and surroundings.

His disillusion and ambivalence towards marriage and love is seen clearly in “The Dead” and in his love life- In 1904,  “opposed to marriage as a convention, he and Nora left Ireland to live out of wedlock.” (11) The Dead tackles what happens when couples fall out of touch with each other, when the Irish fall out of touch with their present in favor of an idyllic past and an impossible future, and when a man falls out of touch with who he is and puts on a front for his friends and family. The Dead ends bleakly, snow falling and leaving little hope for redemption.

The most poignant moments revealing this tension between love and life come at the end of the story, when he is leaving the party and longing for his wife.

“THere was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something.” (48) He paints a picture of her in her head, and calls it “Distant Music,” but he does not know what she is a symbol of. The reader, however, is clearly supposed to consider it. The Distance between the two is physical and emotional. The Music is being made by another man, though he too, in his own way, is creating art for her- the poetic lines in his head, the picture he mentally paints. Yet, if he never forms it in reality, only mentally, how could she know or appreciate it? On the walk home, it is the same trouble- he wants to display his love for her, he thinks about it every moment, and yet, for some reason, he doesn’t.


“There was grace and  her attit

Research Post- Reviewing Three Articles on The Awakening

In “Taking the Waters” Tara Parmiter argues the connection between Edna’s travel to Grand Isle and the mid to late 19th C. medical practice of sending the sick of the upper and middle class to the sea for a ‘change of air’, ‘healing properties’ in the water and  less demanding social and physical life. Parmiter claims that Edna’s time by the sea reveals how unhealthy her town life is, and the oppressive social and cultural air she finds back in New Orleans becomes so sickening to her she returns to Grand Isle at the end of the novel, where “Edna chooses to commit suicide as the ultimate treatment for her depression and physical exhaustion, “taking the waters” to an extreme…. In other words, what Chopin accomplishes in The Awakening is a reconception of the traditional quest for health at the summer place, using Edna’s vacation by the seaside to comment both on the limitations of the domestic sphere and on the assumption that the summer place can offer a cure for a woman’s malaise. ” (2) What’s interesting to me about this article is that touches on a popular issue in mid to late 19th c. women’s literature- madness and it’s treatment by sending the woman “to the sea”- out of their day to day lives, saving some social face and making a big, medicalized deal out of women’s, children, the mentally handicapped and the elderly’s physical and mental health issues in a way that was less likely to happen to men. Examples of this include Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s  The Yellow Wallpaper.
  • Parmiter, Tara K. “Taking The Waters: The Summer Place And Women’s Health In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” American Literary Realism 39.1 (2006): 1-19.
In Kathleen Streater’s “Adele Ratignolle: Kate Chopin’s Feminist at Home in ‘The Awakening'” she argues that Adele Ratignolle offers a quieter, more realistic feminist possibility as a foil to Edna Pontellier’s ‘wanting her cake and eating it too’ feminist attitude and desires, which are so powerful and overwhelming for her time and society they eventually lead to her destruction. In contrast, Adele Ratignole subversively exhibits a great deal of choice and autonomy, and is misunderstood by Edna as a caricature, a “mother-woman” or “angel of the house,” itself an antifeminist characterization: “Adele’s position as a feminist is difficult for some readers to discern, and this difficulty betrays the double-bind women often find themselves in: to become a wife and mother is, on some level, to capitulate one’s self to patriarchal systems, but this should not render a woman’s feminism suspect — and yet it so often does.” (406) This article interests me because there are many different ways to be a feminist- feminist mother, feminist artist, feminist leader, etc and this is a fresh and nuanced reading of Chopin’s work which offers a deeper discussion of feminism’s role in women’s lives at the time.
  • Streater, Kathleen M. “Adele Ratignolle: Kate Chopin’s Feminist At Home In “The Awakening..” Midwest Quarterly 48.3 (2007): 406-416
In Sara Tewelde-Negassi’s “The Denotation of Room…”  she examines women’s need for personal spaces that allow emotional and intellectual stimulation, using Virginia Woolf’ “A Room of One’s Own” and Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” in order to discuss the physical and mental spaces necessary for a women’s development, and the destructive and tragic consequences that come from being denied that space, including mental stagnation and suicide. She claims:”the main aim of this article is to deconstruct the idea of the room both in a physical and metaphorical sense. Woolf’s thesis will be applied to the life of Chopin’s Edna Pontellier to show how exactly the notion of the room is able to influence and to shifta woman’s personality; a personality which was developed within the confines of a patriarchic society.” This article interests me because i am not afraid of Virginia Woolf, and I love the idea of examining spaces and their contexts. For my final project, this article and “Taking the Waters” could both contribute a great deal to the discussion of female and male, wealth and poor, and healthy and unhealthy spaces in the novel.
  • Tewelde-Negassi, Sara. “The Denotation of Room and its Impact on the Construction of Female Identity in Kate Chopin’s the Awakening.” Gender Forum.45 (2013): 1
I think I’m more likely to choose ‘Taking the Waters’ for the upcoming midterm assignment. I’m writing on the medicalized approach to women’s health for another class, Intro to Lit Theory, and this article could be helpful to me for both of my classes final papers.

Oh, Sister: Eagleton’s Marxist Comparison of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

Through a great deal of anecdotal evidence and lived experience, I have formed the opinion that biological sisters in most societies will never exist as separate entities with their own strengths and merits, but will always be viewed through a lens comparing each to the other. Edith is more plain than Mary in Downton Abbey. Mary Kate is the funnier Olson twin. And, in Terry Eagleton’s view, while Charlotte Bronte’s literary masterpiece Jane Eyre merely “constitutes Victorian bourgeois consciousness” in it’s “aesthetically appropriate form” her sister Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights “represents a more penetrative, radical, and honest enterprise…a finer artistic achievement.” (395) Eagleton feels that Emily’s work is more realist in it’s display of the “fundamental contradictions” present in the pursuit of love and passion vs. survival and comfort. (396) So, ignoring the struggle to gain an education in the blank and depressing boarding school Eyre is shipped off to, the moral quandary of trying to avoid living in sin with Mr. Rochester and putting up with his crazed wife in the attic or  remaining as a ‘kept woman’ who would be comfortable, loved and engaged in meaningful work raising the impish Adele, choosing the struggle to go out on her own once again and earn her bread virtuously, and her heroic return to care for the crippled and struggling Rochester who insulted her by lying to her and trying to trick her into bigamy or keep her as a mistress, he sees a lesser internal struggle between what Eyre desires and what she thinks is right- her love and passion vs. her desire for survival and the comfort of having stood by her morals. In contrast, Eagleton claims Catherine and Heathcliff’s selfish, destructive and dependent behaviors which poison life at Wuthering Heights well into the next generation displays a greater internal struggle between love and survival, passion and comfort, though for the star-crossed lovers, none of these things are sustain ably achieved in their lives.

Aesthetically, these are both beautiful novels. Wuthering Heights is considered more daring in it’s portrayal of human nature, country life, social class, restrictions and revenge. Jane Eyre, though cut closer to the Victorian novel’s cloth of poor girl following her heart to moral superiority and, at long last, socially acceptable love, is no less moving, passionate, socially complex or enthralling. Neither of them are all that realistic- Catherine and Heathcliffe’s spirits serve as book ends to the real action of the plot, haunting the grounds with the memories of their sad, beautiful, tragic love; Eyre after years of abuse and neglect is thrown out in the world and instead of ending up a school teacher, laborer or seamstress, just happens upon a handsome, rich, seemingly eligible bachelor and his adorable little girl secluding themselves from society and yearning for a young, naive, beautiful mother figure and wife to improve their isolated lives. Eagleton is inclined to read Emily’s work as more realistic because he feels one cannot have it all, especially in a system so rigidly designed to keep people in their own social standing and only holding on to their allotted portions in life. However, that does not make Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre more or less of an artistic achievement than the other. It makes them two different achievements produced by two different women with different outlooks on life, whom chance made sisters, and so by some sick twist of human nature we feel compelled to imagine and further a sibling rivalry, characterizing their life and works by who is the more brilliant or artistic one.



Rewriting Assignment

My aim in writing and posting my draft of Emma: Transactions, Translations and Transgressions was to attempt to situate my reflections on Emma into a dynamic ‘discussion starter’ and engage the class in a conversation about Marxist and Moralist readings of the novel.

The strengths of my piece are that it attempts to contrast two often opposing strains of literary criticism in Emma, a very bourgeois novel which is in some ways surprisingly progressive and in some ways predictably conservative.I was able to start a conversation online and continue it in person in class on Emma’s motivations with Josh and Holly, and Irene had some fascinating ideas about her motivations and uses for social power.The limits of my piece are that it lacks direct quotes or much paraphrase which could have strengthened my arguments and are necessary evidence for a longer paper. I also don’t think I fully dived into or understood the Marxist criticisms, sticking mostly to the idea of economic exchange and not the social implications of said exchange.

In considering the social implications of exchange in Emma, the Critical History points out what readers derive from the work- sentimental nostalgia for a “simpler time” where romantic advances took place in parlors and poems instead of brusque texts at 2 a.m, and women were innocent and intricate creatures looking to align themselves and others with love and social standing,not just Gold Diggers looking for Sugar Daddies and Ballers. (408) Of course, life is not quite as bilateral and never was, but people have a weird tendency to take a past they had no experience of and simplify it in order to put it on a pedestal and call it better than today. As for exchange inside the novel, there is not only the exchange of gossip and information, but the exchange or romantic interest and moral instruction. In 1870, Richard Simpson reviewed the works of Austen and wrote they are full of “the platonic idea that the giving and receiving of knowledge, the active formation of another’s character, or the more passive growth under another’s guidance, is the truest and strongest foundation of love.” (qtd. 409) However, these examples of exchange beyond what I had previously written about are troubling, because they are an exchange which happens primarily for a white, middle class, female readership, often with a college degree. Emma offers little to poor women, both in a novel that might speak to or interest them and in the novel’s treatment of Harriet. Emma tries repeatedly to give Harriet a fish and never lets her try to fish for herself, a strategy which would have situated her much earlier in a beneficial marriage to a man she had feelings for, Robert Martin. This misplaced belief that she is doing a charitable service for Harriet by trying to raise her prospects in life while really limiting them can be seen as a critique of the white, wealthy woman’s meddling in poor people’s lives in the name of charity and somehow making those lives worse- for example through legislation and advocacy gone wrong, such as temperance movements and prohibitions. These movements and laws did not prevent any woman’s husband from the melancholy drama of spending his family’s grocery money at the bar, and made alcohol more expensive and still reasonably easy to procure due to how unenforceable bans are, taking more food out of the mouths of poor women’s babes to satisfy their father’s thirst. The Temperance Unions failed to understand the drinking culture many immigrants came from and maintained in the New  World, and instead condescended to pass WASP moral judgement and decision making on people whom they knew little about, and therefore could help little. These examples of the exclusion and misuse of poor women in Emma are just a few that could be cited as part of a Marxist review of the novel.

Emma: Transactions, Translations and Transgressions in the Novel of Manners

Jane Austen’s  Emma details the (mis)adventures of Emma Woodhouse, a meddlesome young lady who’s firmly established social and financial position, narrow realm of experience and sense of entitlement leads her to attempt to manage the lives of her circle. She acts as a social banker, giving and receiving attention, visits, charity, instruction and gossip. She manages the emotional transactions of friendship and courtship; attempts to translate the actions of those around her to others and herself as power plays, romantic advances and submissions; and commits transgressions when these transactions go awry or she misunderstands the actions and words of her friends and acquaintances. However, bankers are the least beloved professionals in the world next to lawyers- Jesus thoroughly disapproved of them (Matthew 21:12-13), and similarly Emma’s mismanaging and cut throat rates for friendship provoke the reader into disliking her. She is demanding, calculating, selfish, and conceited, and her actions are often reproachable. She cannot rest and consider her own character and improving it’s flaws, but must always being trying to improve the character, appearance and situation of those around her. To compound her faults, her father is a milksop so concerned with the digestion of others he appears stingy, frail and entirely obnoxious in his whimpering. Its is shocking given their behavior and personalities that the Woodhouses have so many acquaintances and friends to call on, because they are generous in all the wrong ways (especially with their advice and opinions) and miserly where it least suits them to be.

Yet these tropes are markers of the novel of manners-take the entitled brats of money or aristocracy, set them up to meddle in their small town or social circuit, and either correct them through embarrassing accidents and folly that lead to some social stigma which can be overcome with good humor, loving correction, penance and moral growth; or allow them to make horrid decisions that benefit them materially and rots their souls while they connive and back-stab in a pit of luxury. In Emma, we see the former- she sins again and again with her matchmaking, but finally sees the light and comes to a happy ending with her Mr. Knightly (in shining armor,) and all the other players get the endings they deserve- Harriet marries Mr. Martin, money driven Elton is stuck with social climbing but seemingly coarse Augusta,  Frank and Jane are united as the popular outsiders of the Highgate circle, and Mrs. Weston finally gets to raise her own child with her husband after doing her duty by seeing Emma through her very late blooming into adulthood. However, Emma’s matchmaking only serves to delay everyone’s happy ending, which would have come about in a more natural and less forced way without her interference. She must pay the interests in lost time, mortification and the fluctuations of friendship for her own idiotic maneuvers.

In discussing Emma further with the class I’d like to delve into:

  • why has Austen made her characters in Emma so unlikable, especially throughout the first and second volumes when one should be grabbing the readers attention and trying to get them to care about the main characters. I really couldn’t find any sympathy or interest in my heart for any of their on goings, except pity and secondhand embarrassment for poor Harriet and the feeling that I was always rooting for Knightley to come and put Emma in her place.
  • Emma’s actions as social banker. This is not an action packed novel, and it is humorous in a very dry way, making for a very disinterested reader. Most events take place during walks on country roads and in the parlors of Highgate, Randalls and Donwell Abbey. There is not much to pay attention to or be interested in- it is entirely about social transactions and Emma’s place within them. So why is she afforded so much power as a social banker? It doesn’t add up when she has a weak and widowed father, is 21, unmarried and not very accomplished in comparison with other women of her circle, and her sister is the one more intimately acquainted with London and the British upper middle class.
  • What is the function of marriage in this story? To Emma, it is a cage only meant to enrich or provide social standing to one spouse in exchange for stability, heirs or other benefits until she realizes her love for Knightley. To Harriet, it is the hope for love, a decent name and a real home, that is marred by her richer friends meddling. To Elton, it’s all about the Benjamins. Whats up with all the versatility when it comes to marriage?
  • What is the moral we are supposed to take from Emma’s story? Are we supposed to avoid meddling, or use our embarrassments and moments of gracelessness as opportunities for inner growth? Should we avoid being unmarried young women in the leisure class, which can lead to obnoxiousness? Should we watch out for friends who claim to have our best interest at heart, but are only concerned about social standing and appearances and not our feelings? What is Austen’s point here about manners and people?
  • Why do people like Jane Austen’s novels so much?  I just…. I really don’t get the appeal.