I’ve been reading some Sir Walter Scott lately. Any serious reader of 19th century literature has to have at least cursory knowledge of Scott’s writing, as his influence on pop culture and his writers of the age like Goethe, Eliot, and Austen was immense. As I was reading through Ivanhoe, specifically the part where Rowena’s room is described I got the strangest feeling of deja vu.
Following a hunch, I dug out my copy of Poe’s Ligeia and found what I was looking for. Rowena’s room, which is a highly symbolic element of Ligeia and is the site of major plot events, was heavily borrowed from Rowena’s room in Ivanhoe.
It’s no secret Poe took influence from Scott in the creation of his Rowena. He very much intends to make use of the “girl next door” vs. “femme fatale” trope that Scott uses masterfully with the mild-mannered Rowena and dangerous Other, Rebecca. But, the question I asked myself as I started comparing the passages is, what is Poe taking from Scott, and in what ways is he extending Scott’s imagery and ideas? Continue reading
“How life is strange and changeful! How little a thing is needed for us to be lost or to be saved!”[i]
Twist endings to stories, apart from their entertainment value, are interesting because they always have a specific moral attached to them. One could say this of the ending to many stories, but twists seem to send home particularly strong messages. Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” for example, shows what happens when we don’t follow directions, what happens we mess with nature, and why we should never step on butterflies. Ever. Even if butterflies are creepy. Continue reading
“The Story of an Hour” is an excellent example of the idea that you don’t need to be wordy to get your message across. This succinct little story critiques the state of marriage in the late 19th century, showing the detrimental effects of power imbalance in relationships. Upon receiving news that her husband is probably dead from a railroad accident, Louise Mallard locks herself in a room where she doesn’t cry from grief, but exalts in the idea that she is finally free of the ol’ ball and chain. At the time, women were meant to be the “angel of the household.” In marriage, you are expected to become a domestic goddess, staying virtuous and in the kitchen. It was also very fashionable for women to be considered frail or delicate, and if they were rich enough, should busy themselves with sewing, music, or drawing, letting the servants do all the work, lest it strain their poor, hysteric nerves. Chopin is speaking out against this mentality, driving home the message that emancipation is preferable to staying in a stifling marriage. I wanted to offer a quick analysis of major themes and symbols in the text within this entry. If you haven’t read the story already, it is only 3 pages long, and you can access it here. Continue reading
Roger Chillingworth is easily my favourite character in The Scarlet Letter. His creep factor is off the charts, and I don’t mean because of his age or because he is not able-bodied, it is more his ability to always be lurking around in the weirdest places that always gets me, especially when he orchestrates a way to sail on the same ship as Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale when they’re thinking of leaving Boston. However, Chillingworth plays an interesting role in the text; he is not merely a classic mustache-twirling villain. This rumination on Roger Chillingworth is a section taken from a larger piece I’ve been working on regarding Hawthorne and the demonic. I thought it worked well as a self-contained piece too, so here it is! Continue reading
Before there was Fight Club, Edgar Allan Poe was publishing multiple stories featuring main characters with alter egos. The trope of physically representing different aspects of the mind is by no means new, and certainly did not originate with Poe. However, he definitely seems to express old tropes and genres with a special kind of style. As numerous other Edgar Allan Poe critics have mentioned before, Poe loves to fixate on certain themes within his writings. In several tales, he regales us with allegorical tales of psychic civil war between passion and reason, usually resulting in the elimination of one of these parts of the psyche by the tale’s conclusion (he is just all about murder). This theme of the conflict between passion/inclinations/baser desires and reason/morality/intellect is by no means unique, but certainly a strife that resonates with readers. Beyond wanting to write appealing stories (Poe has been called a hack by some, I say give him a break, the man needed to make a living), this conflict aligns itself with Poe’s conception of poetry and literature. The primary focus of poetry for him is Beauty (elaborated on in “The Poetic Principle”), not passion or instruction and so any character who becomes too focussed on bodily desires, as William Wilson with his lust for the duchess must be eliminated. It also doesn’t hurt that Poe’s writing is super brutal: if he was alive today he would definitely be in a metal band. I want to look at three of his tales in particular that grapple with the fight between passion and reason: “William Wilson”, “The Black Cat”, and “The Cask of Amontillado”.
Of all the varied types of cultural creations, such as visual art, literature, music and the like, I find fashion to be so interesting because of its immense practicality. Defying Oscar Wilde’s mandate from the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray that, “all art is quite useless”[i], fashion is living, useful art: you wear it on your body so that you don’t die from exposure/get charged with public indecency, as well as expressing a particular statement. Is that statement as complex or varied as something that you could express in a painting or poem? No, probably not. Nevertheless, certain types of clothing and styles make meaningful statements about your beliefs, mood, or the type of person you would like people to see you as. The creation of clothing can also be an empowering act, something that Nathaniel Hawthorne picks up on in The Scarlet Letter. Despite his gendered description of sewing as “almost the only one within a woman’s grasp”,[ii] (give him a break he was writing in the nineteenth century), sewing within the novel is a means of Hester Prynne gaining some power in the community, as well as serving an important symbolic purpose of exposition of sin. This is a tiny meditation mainly on the chapter “Hester at her Needle”, but I’m sure my assessment of sewing extends to other parts of the text.
The Scarlet Letter should primarily be understood as allegorical, but it is also a historical romance, and because of this, there needs to be consideration of the historical context. Historical romances do not merely act out a quest or adventure but displays the beliefs and conditions of the time in which it is set, providing the author with a vehicle for criticism, satire and a greater poetic license within the tale. Considering The Scarlet Letter takes place in seventeenth-century Puritan Boston, there would inevitably be the mention of witchcraft. The Scarlet Letter does not directly focus on Salem witchcraft, especially because Hawthorne set the novel pre-witch craze in America but the novel is deeply influenced by the theme[i]. The internalised pattern of witchcraft was effected on a much larger scale in the cultural representation of women in general[ii] and this is evident within the characters of Mistress Hibbins and Pearl. However, Roger Chillingworth is also associated with necromancy in the novel, indicating that Hawthorne was not necessarily making a comment on gender through his incorporation of supernatural elements. By setting The