Tag Archives: college

How to write a successful (MA) English Literature graduate application letter

3 Apr

 

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Although colleges will ask you for a personal letter to assist in their selection process this is not in fact what they are looking for. They are looking to create a fit; an appropriate connection; the correct person for the available college resources. This means that the applicant needs to be aware that their letter of intent, rather than a personal statement, should be a carefully crafted document in order to illicit interest and most importantly, to simplify the selection committee’s choice. For example, rather than ramble on about your love affair with books and literature, direct instead your letter towards a specific period and department. By engendering the letter towards available programs and possibly known professors the applicant will significantly increase their chance of selection. Remember there are hundreds of applications, therefore, your job is to make the task of the selection board that much simpler. By offering direction rather than vague notions of literary allusion the candidate will not only stand head and shoulders above the multitudes but will significantly increase their chances of selection. Do not be fooled by the title of “personal statement”; do not reveal the deepest darkest corners of your soul but rather illuminate your writing with practicality. They want you in their college. They just need a little help in finding the right fit. The idea is to temper your own experiences and educational aspirations to available resources. Once again – as you have heard a thousand times before – be eloquent, be bright; use prose ” that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention” but keep it simple. George Orwell said that “good writing should be like clear glass.” Keep this in mind when penning your piece and for goodness sake keep it relevant. It may be a personal statement but it is definitely not all about you. It’s about the college and your own place within it. Make sure that you fashion your words to fit the institution and department of your choice. Craft your letter carefully to dovetail the available pigeon holes. Good luck to you.

The following is my own letter which was instrumental in my successful selection to the Masters program at ASU.

               I came of age in the 1980s in the north of England, a particularly austere period for what had been – until that fateful decade – the manufacturing center of the known Universe. Steel, ships, coal, railway carriages and chocolate where all produced within a hundred miles of where I grew up. The possibility of work after graduation was unquestionable; guaranteed employment for life. When I finally left comprehensive education, unemployment in east Yorkshire was higher than it had been in the 1930s and the aforementioned industries had all closed down and disappeared. Britain was no longer the engineering hub of the world but instead had become a land decimated and divided by greed and governmental neglect. Naturally I’m talking about the Thatcher years, when Margaret decided that there was no such thing as community – despite being the daughter of a grocer – and that Britain was a nation of individuals. Greed was the watchword of the hour and money poured into the south via the City and out of the north via asset stripping – the sale of machinery and associated jobs – and shipped abroad. The north was obliterated.

               The protests that arose to confront the tyranny and self-serving policies of the Tories gave rise to a form of literature which has abided with me ever since; the literature of the politically isolated and disenfranchised. When men are idle and families starving their minds turn to other things and often, as in the case of the striking miners, to the pen as well as the placard. Margaret Thatcher if nothing else was a terrific muse and her self-absorbed largesse reinvigorated the literature of the working class. One only has to think of the politically charged music of Billy Bragg and The Smiths, Bleasdale’s “Boys from the Black Stuff” and Franc Roddam’s “Aufwiedersehen Pet.” This voice, although pertinent, is not specific to the then newly unemployed of the eighties and can be found throughout literary history. Literature has always been a reactionary medium of political discourse reflecting the concerns of working people and quotidian politic. It’s this voice that interests me and wish to pursue. It is after all, the abstract and brief chronicler of our time.

               It’s the retrospective of history that allows one to reflect upon the inequalities of our own contemporary world and therefore, it’s the period of the Renaissance and in particular the writers and poets of the sixteenth century, that I wish to pursue. Given this tumultuous period of religious upheaval, the awakening of what would become the modern mind and the foundation of what we today call western society, I want to further my understanding of how the literature of the period underpinned the attitudes and frustrations of the masses; what it was they understood to be representative of their own disenfranchisement and how they formulated their grievances through the satirical and polemic. To comprehend the essence of quotidian sixteenth century society and attempt to appreciate the level of public dissatisfaction necessary to subvert what was ostensibly a police state. Their ineffable ability to show case injustice and malcontent whilst – and not always successfully – evade the censorious eye of the regime. Ultimately through the study of Renaissance Literature I hope to further acquaint myself with those, who dared to imagine that mere words on a page could alter that which was intolerable or unjust. It’s the voice of the everyman and the politically disenfranchised who documented inequitable and oppressive circumstance – exposing the injustice of modernity – which draws me. It’s the working man’s hand that I wish to grasp from the pages of plays and poems to supplement my own experience of what is ultimately the human condition; the centuries of subjugation and struggle which today are as pertinent to a 21st century society as they were to the groundlings at “The Globe.”

                As an undergraduate at ASU I have studied under Professors Corse and Fox and would be delighted to be able to continue to do so. In particular my sixteenth century satirical studies with Professor Corse were extremely instrumental in my desire to pursue this particular vein of socio-polemic literature. Likewise Professor Fox – whose encyclopedic understanding of Shakespearian literature and diverse contemporary authors was beyond illuminating – excited my interest in the social and political undercurrents of the English Renaissance. The chance to study with either of these professors in order to increase my knowledge in the field of Renaissance literature and literary satire would be beyond gratifying.

               As with all choices there’s always more than one reason why one makes certain decisions and as the product of my own experience, electing to pursue an MA at ASU is no different. Not only will it enhance future employment possibilities, it will, more importantly, advance my own creative writing ambitions and lend itself to my desire to continue my education once completed. If the strikes of the eighties taught me anything it was the importance of education and a necessary ability to adapt. Modern America is no different in many respects from rural Yorkshire and the jobs which exist today – as I have witnessed at first hand in an ever diminishing manufacturing sector – may not be here tomorrow. Forewarned – as the adage goes – is forearmed.            

                Today I live in Phoenix with my wife and children, having settled here over ten years ago and operate a business on the west side of town. On first arriving in Arizona, after buying our home, I sent photographs to my family in England, justly proud of my new found materialism. My father looked at the photographs and, ignoring my possessions completely, focused on the blue sky. The new car and house might just as well not have been in the pictures. One can understand that living on a windswept island where we have more words for inclement weather than the Inuit have for snow, that the glimpse of an azure blue sky framed by palms trees might be appealing. Needless to say it wasn’t long before he boarded an aeroplane to visit us and enjoy for himself that with which he’d been sorely tempted. Phoenix, just as he discovered, is my home and therefore, ASU my college of choice.

 

1939 – TROUBLE AT MILL

6 Aug

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WYLER’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS

The assertion that a film fails to represent a book or doesn’t do it justice is not a new one and is common, especially when a production purports to accurately portray literary provenance. The process of embellishment or the reimagining of character or plot from canonized literature often leads to a faux representation that viewers accept as a true rendering of the author’s work, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Invariably a director will apply his own interpretation to that which doesn’t require gilding. Although we’ve come to regard film as art we must not delude ourselves that they – just as novels – are written for a market in the hope of profit and not just for aesthetic purposes. Although this may sound cynical let us consider how often we’re regaled with box office receipt figures rather than accounts of artistic merit and directorial accomplishment. Such is the case with the 1939 production of “Wuthering Heights” which although can be forgiven for its technical failings due to its contemporaneous – although surprisingly award winning – cinematic ability, we cannot so easily dismiss the license that was taken by Wyler with Bronte’s novel. The film although claiming to a be “a faithful adaptation” by the New York Times reviewer Frank Nugent is nothing more than a romantic period-piece designed to elicit the most bums-on-seats in order to garner the greatest profit for Sam Goldwyn. Anybody who has read the novel will recognize instantly the flaws in the film and will undoubtedly register a deep dissatisfaction after viewing it.

“Wuthering Heights” although it contains a love story is anything but and instead is a novel of agonizing desperation, revenge and societal machination; the microcosm of a small community who represent the hegemonic traits of larger class culture. Its principal characters are of course flawed and rather than accepting that which will bring them eternal happiness are instead bent on self-aggrandizement and the destruction of those perceived to have done them wrong. The rub of course and the denouement, is the realization that which they have lost was not the fault of others but theirs alone. The character of Heathcliff as we read him in the novel and the visualization of the character in the film are worlds apart and although sharing certain traits are conspicuously different; that which we discover through the mind’s eye thanks to Bronte’s writing is manifestly absent in the visual rendering.

Heathcliff is played by Lawrence Olivier who unfortunately lacks the grit and grime one would associate with such a robust character. In recent years in other productions of the story the character has been played by men more fitting to the role; one thinks of Tom Hardy’s 2009 portrayal which was far more realistic in terms of Bronte’s descriptions. In clipped English tones “Larry” – contrary to the uneducated stable boy Bronte describes – becomes that which he accuses Linton of being; a “whimpering milk sop.” In the film it’s the “pasty faced” Linton (David Niven) who initially seems to portray a man of substance and not Heathcliff and of – continuing in the tradition of class hegemony; at least in the beginning of the film – possessing inner strength.

Bronte paints Heathcliff as an enduring soul, one who despite his once elevated position under the care of old Mr. Earnshaw submits to the despotic behavior of Hindley. He isn’t the self-reflecting, submissive stable hand that Wyler portrays, but a survivor who chooses his own destiny and eventually succeeds in his plan to destroy all who’ve treated him ill. The scene where Heathcliff slaps Cathy is plagiarized from the one in the novel where he attacks Linton when he first meets him as a boy. Successively we’re reminded in the novel how weak Linton is and yet the director chooses to reverse character stereotypes. Perhaps this was done in order to garner sympathy for the leading man who – despite which ever camera angle is chosen – has the cleanest, most carefully manicured hands of any stable hand! 

For obvious run reasons the director chooses not to show the adolescence of the characters but instead portrays them as young adults. The first meetings between Linton, Heathcliff and Cathy occur originally when they’re children. The illusions of grandeur that Cathy decides to adopt are slowly ingrained into her over the years through the obvious wealth and kindness of the residents of Thrushcross and therefore the fabrication of the ball earlier in the film is merely an expedient.  Perhaps a similar simulation of time passing as utilized in “Citizen Cain” would have been more expedient, as the viewer is left struggling to construct a realistic time frame between one incident and another. Here the characters lose significant depth as it’s the experiences they have as children that cement the animosity – particularly in Heathcliff – of their adult years.

The continuous portrayal of Heathcliff and Cathy at Penniston Crag are also beyond the scope of the novel as are their surreal declarations of love. In the novel the relationship is understated to the point where Cathy first expresses her love of Heathcliff to Nelly and not the boy. Again this lends a simpering edge to Heathcliff that is incomparable and completely out of character. Further, Heathcliff’s confession that he tried to escape to America, but instead jumped overboard, is a complete fabrication and deliberately puts the power of the relationship – in the tradition of fin ‘amors – in the hands of Cathy. When Heathcliff leaves the house he disappears into the night to mysteriously return a changed man. There are no thoughts of Cathy in his head only those of revenge. The director turns Heathcliff into an indecisive, when in the novel he proves to be a man of action and self-determination.

“Wuthering Heights” to my mind and also comparable to the writing of its author, is a mean, austere bastioned, stone building that was built to endure the inclement weather of the moors. Instead it’s revealed by the director to be a clean, well lit, orderly home. In my own imagination I envision the rooms as cramped, the house to be in disorder and in general disarray. There’s no impression of a Yorkshire farm house and instead one is cheated of imaginary creation with what is obviously a film set. Contemporary sets, thanks to the shrinkage of technology and the ability to utilize existing locations, offer a more realistic experience to the viewer. Bronte does a fantastic job of visualization in her descriptions and to have read the book and to have visited her location – if only in the mind – was far more satisfying than the faux décor of a Hollywood stage.

Everything in the movie is extraordinarily clean, from the hands of the stable boy to the farm yards themselves. Even the skies above the moor are of a perfect hue offering a surreal experience to the viewer. Rather than the claustrophobia of inclement weather, the sun ridden grasslands of northern England seem boundless juxtaposing the lives of its inhabitants – particularly within the four walls of “Wuthering Heights”- which are rather more limited. Although a willing suspension of belief is necessary to enjoy most films, the advent of realism with the popularity of color film has allowed a director to more accurately portray his own artistic vision. The choice to shoot the movie in black and white was not necessarily a good one as the portrayal of the countryside in color would have added to the depth of the movie. Instead the falling action is over shadowed; creating a shallow and lifeless environment populated by wooden figures. What was also noticeable was the attire of the actors who appear to be dressed in anti-bellum American clothes instead of the more traditional flat-capped country attire of a nineteenth century rural environment.

Because the director has chosen to make the character of Heathcliff weaker than his literary contemporary we are constantly put in a position where we can observe his inner turmoil; to perhaps understand the emotional man behind the perceived rough exterior. In particular the stable scene where Heathcliff thrusts his hands through the window in frustration is particularly poignant. Almost revisiting the sickness of Catherine at Thrushcross, Heathcliff throws himself on to a bed of straw in a dirty old stable, mirroring the frustration of his unrequited love. Rather than a man of fortitude we discover a character that has more in common with Bronte’s Linton than Wyler’s leading man. This scene of pathos fails to garner our sympathy but rather, compounds the obvious weakness of the character and showcases the sickness of love.

In all the movie fails to replicate the written word and would leave any ardent follower of Bronte disappointed and unsatisfied. Even taken outside of the novel, the story line is weak and the characters tin-cut. That it is of any worth at all is as an example in the progression of film history and the diverse representations the novel has endured through the decades. If the story of Heathcliff was based only on Wyler’s movie then he would have been nothing more than a disposable love interest and not the giant of literary history that he is. Written as a Byronic hero, Heathcliff stands head and shoulders above an ill-chosen, ill dressed, poorly accented cast, in what was clearly a studio production of a made for profit motion picture.

MEN OF ENGLAND…

14 Jul

imagesBASTILLE DAY: July 14th 2015.

“THE PROFUNDITY OF IDEOLOGY IS IMMORTAL”

“If you find yourself in the majority , you should reconsider your position.”

Mark Twain

Men of England, wherefore plough

For the lords who lay ye low?

Wherefore weave with toil and care

The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save

From the cradle to the grave

Those ungrateful drones who would

Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge

Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,

That these stingless drones may spoil

The forced produce of your toil?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,

Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?

Or what is it ye buy so dear

With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow, another reaps;

The wealth ye find, another keeps;

The robes ye weave, another wears;

The arms ye forge, another bears.

Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:

Find wealth—let no imposter heap:

Weave robes—let not the idle wear:

Forge arms—in your defence to bear.

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells—

In hall ye deck another dwells.

Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see

The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

With plough and spade and hoe and loom

Trace your grave and build your tomb

And weave your winding-sheet—till fair

England be your Sepulchre.

P.B.S

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GEWITTER – The Tempest

9 Jul

caine

A Rendering of “The Tempest”.

It’s 1918; the First World War is coming to an end. After five years of bloody attrition Europe has been obliterated and trenches stretch from the North Sea to the Alps. Despite the millions who’ve already died, small pockets of fighting still persist in a land ravaged by shot and shell.

In a forward listening post – separated from the German trenches by barely a hundred yards – two British officers stand watch. Their orders are to raise the alarm in the unlikely event the Germans try to make a desperate, last-ditch effort. The soldiers stand ankle deep in mud and filth and peer with their binoculars over the sand bagged trench. As they stare into the early morning mist a biplane – although in radio contact with the officer in charge – buzzes unseen above the clouds. The radio crackles – a static voice breaks the silence – and suddenly the ground in front of them comes alive. An artillery barrage erupts upon the enemy lines, sending huge columns of mud and debris into the sky. The elder of the two men reaches for his cigarettes, smiles and waits for the guns to abate.

The film is set during the First World War. The character uniforms are those of the protagonists of the period, the location the trenches of Flanders. The scenario touches on the events of the “Tempest.” The premise is that a small group of German soldiers evacuating from the front lines are caught in the final barrage of the war. Despite casualties the men manage to escape but because of the mist and the utter desolation of the environment they become increasingly disoriented. This leads to their desperate quest to escape the dangers around them and their eventual encounter with the British.

Rather than just another well-worn, mud-drenched soldier epic, this particular film will be filmed with lashings of psychological fantasy where each soldier is drawn, despite his personal demons, to relive episodes of his pre-war existence. These episodes will be similar to the scene in “The Shinning” when Jack Nicholson walks into the ball room at the Overlook Hotel, which although supposedly empty, is filled with the ghosts of a bygone era. The men will all experience surreal episodes that will make them question their sanity, as well as the nature of perceived reality; an allusion to the absurdity of the carnage experienced during the war.

After all, what could be more absurd than total annihilation?

Character List

Major P.

 Michael Caine – who else?

The Major is a sympathetic realist in his fifties who although, battle hardened, clings to the notion of a universal morality; that there’s more to life than blood and bullets and that by living one day at a time and soldiering to the best of his ability he will eventually earn the right to return to his beloved England.

Leftenant Graves.

Jude Law

Graves is a public school boy – that’s English public school – who thanks to conscription has been forced into the ranks during the final months of the war. A good looking boy from a well-to-do background who, although maintaining the pretense of a stiff upper lip and filled with faux “Boys-Own” bravado, is on the point of mental break down. Hand tremors and occasional outbursts are softened by the affection he holds for the Major who – through their shared experience and his protection – he’s come to appreciate as a virtual father to him.

 There’s a nagging question of barely-perceptible homosexuality, but this is never satisfactorily resolved.

Ariel

Is a disembodied voice that alternates from person to person. The spirit is the pilot in the unseen aircraft, the voice on the end of the telephone and the static in the radio. There is constant contact between the Major and the entity with regard to the observation, discovery and eventual capture of the enemy. The voice is everywhere and nowhere; the ghost in the machine and yet Major P’s only contact with the outside world.

German Soldiers

Schmidt, Gruber and Schuhmaker

 Liam Neeson. Tom Hardy. Peter Falk.

The soldiers are foils to the British characters; Neeson to Caine and Hardy to Law.

Falk is the chorus and embodiment of Trinculo and Stephano and offers comic relief.

Hardy like Law is a young man drawn into conflict and the pseudo love interest in the never declared homo-eroticism.

Neeson is just as grizzled as Caine; a man who’s been forever changed by what he once perceived as a just crusade.

Various walking shadows

Every good war movie needs a few death scenes!

Psychological episodes

•        Falk lost in the mist turns a corner and suddenly find himself on the “Reeperbahn” in Hamburg. Girls and good times are everywhere and we experience the surrealism of pre-war Europe.

•        A monster made from the corpses of all the dead of all the wars rises from the mud. Barbed wire hangs from its body. It chases the soldiers and although never catching them is constantly an entity at the corner of their eye and a perpetual threat.

•        Law meets and chats with an airman who – to everybody apart from himself – is obviously a ghost.

•        Caine finds himself – fishing rod in hand – at the edge of a mud filled crater reliving civilian life.

•        Neeson reencounters his wife who was killed in a bombing raid by the British at the beginning of the war; the reason he joined the army in the first place.

•        Random vehicles are seen to drive through the trenches, ice cream vendors appear alongside other tradesmen. The occasional prostitute is seen leaning against the side of the trench.

The idea is to create sheer terror with absolute ridiculousness. The trenches aren’t just filled with the dead but also their memories. The Trenches as it were are;

“  ….full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Denouement

The men finally unite after their horrors whilst lost in the trenches.

 Law and Hardy have their brief, yet obvious moment of affection.

The men despite their different uniforms and political ideology come to a tacit understanding of universal brotherhood.

As the radio sputters to the sound of victory the air is filled with the roar of twelve-cylinder-Fokker- aero-engines. Machine gun fire rips through the trench killing them all.   

The radio breaks into a music hall ditty.

The camera pans the bodies and lingers briefly on the outstretched hands of Law and Hardy.

The trench slowly transforms into the Reeperbahn which Falk witnesses – cigar in mouth – in his last living, breathing moments.

The paradox of reality and dreams is left unanswered.

The Intent

Although the film parodies the book there is no intention of staying absolutely true to it or of using Shakespeare’s language. Although there will be allusions to the play – possibly in conversations between Law and Caine – there will be no direct link to it. The intent is to subvert the original play and at the same time doggedly adhere to it. By relating to it in the loosest of terms and without obvious reference the allusion will be maximized.

Do I have to mention that my idea is protected by copyright and that I’m also available for shooting next week?

THE MARX OF EMPIRE – DRACULA

14 Jun

MARX

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” opens on the heath with the three wicked sisters and the immortal line “something wicked this ways comes.” Stoker borrows the idea in his portrayal of the three voluptuous women at Castle Dracula and without direct allusion allows his readers to conclude the same. Arata suggests that something indeed is arriving and instead of a Scottish King with a crisis of ambition it’s the end of empire and the dilution of the British soul. This ignorant implication is not only one that was incorrectly applied to the Victorian period but is a contemporary fear attributed to British tabloid xenophobia as an alleged consequence of membership of the European Union: modern federalization which will enable a huge influx of Eastern Europeans into Britain. Scaremongering politicians allege – as Arata does – that open border policy – alluded to in Arata’s treatise on Dracula  – has created a contemporary Transylvanian exodus of alleged millions that mirrors to some degree Stoker’s one man on a boat scenario in Whitby Harbor, accompanied by several tons of earth. This is of course without merit.

     The idea that the British are a pure bred race has always been anathema and is generally a foreign misperception that although Britain is an island – a sceptered isle – it’s somehow the source of some original seed. One only has to look at the history of Britain to understand that the concept of a melting pot, which America so readily adopts for itself, applies equally to the British. After centuries of invasions by Saxons, Danes, Goths, Romans, Normans and not forgetting the Scots – Celts – who famously, unlike their Irish neighbors who prayed on their knees, preyed on their neighbors. Political and social turmoil throughout the centuries has seen countless inundations of refugees to its shores; in particular during the reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century with the usurpation of Protestantism over the hearts and minds of the islanders and the juxtaposition of Catholicism on the Continent. Britain has always been about place not race where within a generation those who have chosen to come to the country adopt its attitudes and language and as multicultural as the country is – even during the period Stoker was writing- there is a unity that tethers the country more efficiently than genetic glue. One only has to observe the names and faces of the England football squad to understand that Britain is not about being a white protestant born within the sound of Bow Bells. To make this analogy a Victorian one, Arata conveniently forgets that Victoria herself was born of Germans and therefore of German lineage who spoke German, who married a German and who was the head of the Saxy- Coburgs. What Arata also neglects is the link between the European Royal families and their lineage that descends from the Romanian. He, not unlike Professor Mellor, cherry picks his causation and wrongly applies his defense.

Britain was not a country filled with racial tensions as he suggests and fearful of alien exsanguination, as for century upon century and principally because of Empire, the nation had become adjusted to the idea of the foreign – other – and the benefits the Empire brought with it, rather than a fear of foreign inundation. There are countless examples of, rather than wishing to travel to England, those countries that fell under Empire wished to emulate the practices of the British and apply those in their own countries. The empire didn’t encourage immigration however, it did promote Britishness and all that it entailed

To suggest, “Stoker thus transforms the materials of the vampire myth, making them bear the weight of the culture’s fears over its declining status,” is asinine. Famously Daniel Defoe wrote ‘The True Born Englishman” in 1701 which completely mocks the notion of racial purity and therefore Arata’s misinformed contention. This satirical poem was written to defend the coronation of a Dutch King and to defend the House of Orange “against xenophobic attacks and to ridicule the notion of English racial purity.” Defoe writes:

“A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction,

In speech an irony, in fact a fiction.

A banter made to be a test of fools,

Which those that use it justly ridicules.

A metaphor invented to express

A man a-kin to all the universe.”

     Arata claims that Stoker’s writing – especially Dracula – is central to the concept of reverse colonization and sites his various works to justify his argument. Is this really true or are we reading the novel with 21st century sensibilities and applying the principals of political correctness or rather social compartmentalization? How can one possibly decry the foreign entity of Dracula and yet accept the foreignness of Van Helsing a Dutchman and his extremely enunciated accent. Is this a case of Dutch good and Romanian bad; can we possibly distinguish between separate and distinct nationalities?  What of the American and his state of the art Winchester rifles and his indelicate slang? Again is would seem obtuse to welcome one without the other. What is more apparent throughout the novel is the difference in class as oppose to difference in race, a concept that Americans seem to find hard to understand. In a nut shell, if one is not born to a certain lineage then one will never belong. In Dracula the foreigner is exulted whilst the lower classes and indigenous populations are ridiculed.

     The great homogenizer in Britain is not money but blood. This given the Count’s penchant for that most sanguine of beverages would have been a better argument; that Dracula by drinking the blood of mortals is diluting class boundaries and destroying aristocratic hegemony. One only has to read the descriptions of the ordinary folk to understand how Stoker considers his few central characters to be of better breeding than the masses and therefore worthy of fawning respect. This is particularly apparent towards the end of the novel with the search for the coffins and the pursuit of Dracula back to Romania when we meet working class people who are continuously – to the point of overt repetition – derided for their physical status, the nature of their lowly employment and their barely comprehensible accents. According to Stoker, they’re always thirsty and in need of alcohol and easily won over with money; the commodity they the proletariat, despite the fact that they are the workers, don’t possess. Stoker stridently elevates the hegemonic principals of class distinction as even Dracula is praised as coming from an ancient family; a “distinguished” man who just happens to live in a castle. Despite his debauchery he is still one of them.  One could argue that revolution which once again was rearing its head – especially in the East – was a serious concern to the ancient dynastic families who because of their blood line alone held the delicate balance of power in Europe and therefore, the reason why sanctity of blood is so important to the central theme of “Dracula.”

     Money and race play no part in aristocracy nor do they affect ancient lineage. One must therefore conclude that “Dracula” isn’t about the destruction of empire and the influx of the foreign, but the dangers presented to the tenuous nature of centrally held power by dilution and the fear of the inevitable demise of false class consciousness.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS – “ELEMENTARY GOTHIC MY DEAR WATSON”

6 Jun

GOTHGGG

“When the sublime is impossible Watson, then only the Gothic is possible”

      Bronte’s novel is everything one would expect from a Victorian Gothic; a third party fireside tail related by a servant who can only reveal that which she believes to be true. This lends the story a mythical quality as the falling action is merely perceived truth, as we never truly see into the minds of the protagonists. Set in a bleak Yorkshire landscape an ancient house, that dates back centuries, is battered by the elements on a wind riven, snow gusted promontory, arousing both the sinister and melancholy. Small enclosed windows allude to ominous shadowed interiors shielded by a stalwart stone construction that has allowed the house to endure the passing of countless seasons. Wuthering Heights is no castle but with a maze of wooden stair cases, dark hallways and locked rooms it is a foreboding location. The atmospherics are enhanced by a room, in which nobody is allowed to sleep, that conceals long forgotten books containing clues to the families strange and dramatic past. To compound the horror and suspense there is the foreshadowing of names penciled into a window frame. From the outset the reader is acquainted with a supernatural dread and an expectation that worse is to follow. This suspicion is confirmed by the appearance of the ghost at the window and perhaps more disturbing, the figure of Heathcliff barging through the door “with candle wax dripping off his fingers” who then pulls open the casement windows to scream insanely at the tempest raging outside. One might be forgiven, that rather than a sedentary Northern English farm house, that one had entered a lunatic asylum. From the uncanny and mysterious, to the downright diabolical, the novel contains it all; including obligatory, incomprehensible yokels. Bronte brilliantly achieves an element of the unheimlich; the ghost at the crossroads, the hanging dog, the sounds of horse’s hooves and unseen riders escaping into the night all margin the immediate and thrill the reader. Could anything be more Gothic? 

         We join Lockwood in what should be a familiar domestic setting but instead find ourselves in an alien and uncanny environment; the novel immediately sets the reader ill at ease. The assumptions made by Lockwood regarding the interfamily relationships presented to him are all incorrect and so, like him, we stare around a room at a group of characters of whom we know absolutely nothing. The rapid confusion of shared and similar names adds to the initial disorientation of both the reader and unwanted guest. Who is who, and why on earth would Lockwood decide that he needed to revisit a house that was initially so inhospitable to strangers? Bronte places her reader at a deliberate disadvantage so that from the outset they are back-footed, causing them to suspect the worst of what is obviously a dysfunctional situation and search for the natural yet nonexistent clues in an attempt to comprehend what is clearly incomprehensible. This oppressive if dynamic suspense is neither welcoming nor does it encourage one to read further and yet, the introductory intrigue is so dense that one is forced to plough through the chapters at a blistering rate in an effort to garner clarity. “Wuthering Heights” is a novel which at every twist and turn reveals or rather conceals yet another hidden truth. Just as Lockwood is eager to hear the fire-side gossip of Nelly Dean, the reader too is on tenterhooks to discover whatever truth she may reveal.

        Thrushcross Park and marriage to its owner gives Cathy the ability to save the man she herself cannot save; a manifestation of true love where one lover cares more for their partner than they do for themselves. Cathy surrenders her own feelings for the benefit of Heathcliff – by marrying Linton a man she doesn’t really care for and who is the antithesis of the childhood friend – who’s been brutally crushed by Earnshaw to the point where only the memory of her erstwhile companion is left. Despite the financial benefits of her union with Edgar she’s optimistic that her elevated position will rescue Heathcliff from his untenable existence. Recognizing that they’re kindred spirits, she realizes that they can never be together as due to the lack of care and education at Wuthering Heights – enjoyed whilst favored by Earnshaw senior – Heathcliff is doomed to a life ignominy and misfortune. It’s only upon his escape and return to the moors that she begins to question her own position.

       Selfish regret and egotistical revenge exhibited by both protagonists late in the novel lend clarity to the true natures of Cathy and Heathcliff. Cathy clearly on a path to self-enrichment has finally bitten off more than she can chew and despite her avarice discovers that her fatal flaw is her love for the Byronic hero Heathcliff. Unfulfilled by material acquisition the objects of her desire – be they physical or emotional – always seems to inflict distress on those supposedly closest to her. After barely a thought to Heathcliff – except the terse explanation that he is now beneath her thanks to his neglected education – her few weeks at Thrushcross awaken her inner narcissist and after sampling the good life abandons everything she allegedly holds dear in order to maintain it. No longer the wild, care-free, moor-roaming child she’s quixotically content to enjoy the confines and luxuries of the grange. Rather than a portrayal of a capricious child we are offered the mind of a devious anti-heroine who doesn’t give a damn about anybody else except herself. Her explication on the notion that marrying Heathcliff would degrade her speaks volumes and yet she is frivolous with her Husband’s affections in her continued correspondence with him. Cathy cares about one thing and that’s Cathy. If anything she mirrors Heathcliff more in later life than she did in her youth as she contends her “lovers” one against the other. Cathy has nothing to lose and everything to gain from their rivalry. Should Heathcliff have killed Linton then Thrushcross would have been hers. Her husband prevailing on the other hand changed nothing. It was only the unforeseen effects of weak constitution coupled with pregnancy and exacerbated by her hysteria that eventually killed her. This mirroring is seen in the Heathcliff’s marriage to Isabella whose only design is to put him one step closer to owning Thrushcross and destroying those – as he’d already done at Wuthering Heights – he considered to have done him ill. One could almost believe that the love they purportedly share for one another is secondary to their ulterior desires. Theirs is a dysfunctional attraction which ultimately destroys the lives of those around them as well as their own.

      The sentiment of nature versus nurture was a key question in Frankenstein: whether or not the creature was truly terrible or made so by circumstance. This applies equally to the Heathcliff character who for all intents was an innocent – foundling child – who receiving the love of old Earnshaw thrived and when abused by Hindley became the black-hearted villain and seminal destructive force in Wuthering Heights. The notion of “other” is ubiquitous as reactions to him despite his physical differences were dependent upon those who both loved and hated him. Instead of analyzing the notion of “other” in Heathcliff, perhaps we should consider the discrepancies in his nurturing. Was it “other” that made him different or the perception of him – as either a blessing or a threat – by those with whom he interacted? Heathcliff is a product of the limited society he enjoyed and therefore judging him a villain by his degree of “otherness” would be mendacious.

      Alternatively one could debate the notion of free will and that by choosing to follow the path he did, is responsible for his own actions. In the vein of Eastern spiritualism one has to experience the darkness in order to appreciate the light. The idea that the consciousness grows form each experience clearly does not appear to apply to Heathcliff and therefore one has to conclude that his lack of humanity is innate. Attempting to perceive Heathcliff as a victim and therefore forgive his indiscretions is disingenuous of the consummate villain that he is.

A PASSAGE TO INDIA – MODERNISM AND “OTHER”

13 Dec

A Passage to India and the Question of Difference

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The turn of the twentieth century ushered in the ghost of an institution that if not deceased was certainly dying. The esteem of Anglo largesse and of global control was in its death throes and rather than succumbing to a quick and painless demise, Britain would endure until the last gasps of Rule Britannia had been wrung from its Hydra like necks. Britain was bereft, bankrupt and morally destitute, having outstayed its welcome in so many far flung outposts: occupied lands that were slowly becoming conscious of the fact that they could govern themselves and no longer required the heavy imprint of the British boot or the nursemaid of Imperialism. The sense of burgeoning modernity, and the twilight of Empire can be found in the work of modernists writers such as E.M. Forster who, although deprecating, had sufficient style to not speak overtly ill of the dead. His novel A Passage to India is reminiscent of a guest who having overstayed his invitation still elicits fond memories despite the knowledge that he’ll never be welcome again. Forster’s prose style, though not polemic, is representative of anti-colonialist sentiment. As such his novel, in the modernist style, contributes a pessimistic view with regard to nationalism and an awareness of the necessity for change: “a progressive attitude that advocates societal reconfiguration and a conscious recognition of the reevaluation of Western culture.” (Lackey.4) His subtle denunciation of preceding tradition and the recognition of “other” is what make him a modernist.

            Rudyard Kipling when countering antidisestablishmentarians argued that in order to guarantee the freedoms of collectives such as the Bloomsbury group (of which Forster was a member) it required an Empire with a strong international presence, to protect their artistic sensibilities. George Orwell likewise, although a little later, said that “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” This sort of empirical rhetoric is not lost on contemporary politicians either, who claim that in order to preserve democracy and personal freedom a degree of  autocracy is necessary: political jargon which insinuates that the innate rights to free thought and intellectual liberty  only exist thanks to the existence of an authoritarian body . The Bloomsbury group protected by those “rough men” didn’t agree and instead declared the tenets of their collective as anti-militaristic, anti-clerical and the Empire as anathema. Contrarily they celebrated the values of the aesthetic, friendship and personal pleasure. Forster himself verified these conclusions in a personal statement when he wrote, “should I have to choose between betraying my country or betraying my friends I hope that I should have the courage to betray my country.”  Although derogatory towards what Kipling declared as the “Chosen Race” – the Anglo Saxon – the attitudes of Forster and the other members of the collective was also a modernist one. The Bloomsbury’s saw Kipling “as a stalwart of the establishment [who used]… his aesthetic to communicate the mystical truths of an authoritarian political system.”(Lackey. 3) However, Forster outlines his own attitude to nineteenth century colonial influence and his disillusionment with the manufactured belief in the superiority of race and the inappropriate colonialist morality of Britain. The novel Passage to India embodies “the modernist shift away from authoritarianism and the rejection of other.”(Lackey. 13)

            “A Passage to India is the quintessential novel of modernism in its exaggeration of other;” (Lackey.12) the revelation that a brown skin and a warmer climate do not conclude social inferiority or the right of another culture to usurp and use the other for its own benefit as a matter of preordination.  The essence of the story “stages …“an attack on difference,” which makes it “that archetypal novel of modernity” (Moffat. 109). The authoritarianism of British empiricists was vested uneasily in the premise that the English were superior and that theirs was the white man’s burden with the divine obligation to elevate the other races. Given the dwindling prominence of the British Empire during the early part of the twentieth century when Forster wrote his novel, the prevailing attitude towards the colonies was one of racial segregation and moral superiority. This was hardly surprising given that the archaic class system of the British had been embraced with the recognition of the medieval estates of being and their associated feudalistic form of governance. What was known as class distinction in Britain had simply morphed into color segregation in India.

            “Forster’s primary achievement in the novel is the articulation of “an experience of alienation expressed in the impossibility of reconciliation”(Moffat. 112) This is a modernist trope that until the appearance of his novel had rarely been read and those subjected to colonialism had lacked a sympathetic voice. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Europeans on company business in Africa exploit both the indigenous population and the natural resources for corporate gain. Although we bear witness throughout the novel to the hostility and rank exploitation of the natives, there is an expectation of acquiescence by the protagonists given their myopic color-coded barbarism. The Africans are never given a voice and are simply faceless shadows that impede the progress of industrialization and hinder the rescue of the mysterious Kurtz by the novels central character Marlow. The brutalization that takes place between the colonizers and the Africans is matter of fact and is merely the accepted cost of doing business. The novels misdirected ending, with a guilt ridden colonizer returning the letters of his dead colleague to his fiancée, puts emphasis on the value of racial purity. Kurtz despite his own brutality is mourned by the book and never a second thought is given to those natives who suffered defending what was rightfully theirs. The conflict in the story is between Marlow and his employer and is never one of conscience, whilst the only humanist quality, yet another modernist identifier, is when Marlow switches his allegiance from the company to his fellow European Kurtz. Forster’s novel delves deeper than this and we are allowed to look in the segregated world of Empirical India and witness the duality of attitudes of both the oppressed and the oppressors. Although there is an obvious notion of cognitive dissonance on the part of both parties with regard to Anglo-Indian political class and caste, Forster has the esthetic sensibility to create real people with human emotions, rather than stock, colonial characters. Forster, unlike Conrad’s stereo-typical imagery of the African, gives India an identity, not just a geographical location.

            Forster’s Indians show emotion, human weakness, ambition, lust and even fear. The figure of Doctor Aziz embodies all of these attributions and rather than a two dimensional tin-cut figure, he is a very real person. Typically the oppressed colonial was stereotyped by color and accent with perhaps a flourish of raw emotion towards his colonial master. One is reminded of the novels of Rider Haggard and Jules Verne and their descriptions of the faithful man servant, or rather the human sacrifice that dies willingly to preserve the pre-conceived notion of British purity. Rather than the preservation of flesh it is the admiration for it that is constantly on the doctor’s mind and his futile pursuit of female relationships with local women and admiration for his white superiors. Aziz we know is a widower, a man who doted on a wife who died in childbirth whilst bearing him a son. Forster’s description of Aziz’s loss lends the character an empathy that evokes reader sympathy when the doctor eulogizes his dead wife, “A piece of brown cardboard and three children – that was all that was left of his wife. It was unbearable, “How unhappy I am…never shall I get over this.”(58) Instantly Forster changes Aziz from a character to that of a fully fleshed human being; an identifier that the Indian is no longer a shadow, but an entity made new according to the axiom of modernism expressed by the modernist Ezra Pound. The native is transformed and the reader can never again see him simply as a phantom. Forster is careful not to paint his character as a plaster saint and we soon learn that without his wife he has sought occasional solace with the whores in Delhi.  This discovery of the “man” is not the readers alone, but is also that of Mrs. Moore; an English woman who has come to India to visit her son, whom Aziz meets serendipitously at a mosque. Mrs. Moore surprised by the meeting converses with him in a way to which he is clearly unaccustomed. “I think you are newly arrived in India,” says Aziz, “…by the way you address me.”(19) Clearly Aziz finds it unusual to be spoken to by a white skinned woman as though he was an equal. Forster is attempting to break down the barriers of multiculturalism by engendering conversation between two supposedly inequitable races. The affinity for Aziz by Mrs. Moore is obvious and later Forster speaks through her as she addresses her extremely prejudicial son. “India is part of earth… and God has put us on earth in order to be pleasant to each other…to love our neighbors and to show it…he is omnipresent even here in India.”(53) The promotion of human relationships and the value of friendship are ripped straight from the Bloomsbury manifesto where the assumption of other is anathema to the collective.  Rather than one of Conrad’s savages Aziz is an educated, linguistically capable human being and barring his cultural difference would not have been out of place at the Chandrapore Club with the other professionals. Modernism reveals the human being and dismisses the pre conceived notion of cultural disparity.

            The interaction with Mrs. Moore at the ruined temple acknowledges a human side to India that 19th century Britain was unfamiliar with. The irony is that the disparagement of modernism for realism is erroneous, as through the advent of stylistic change a much more honest picture of the world is painted. Forster’s novel adds legitimacy to characterization and one could argue that instead of breaking with realist tradition he was in fact improving the genre.

            Outside of the club where the British meet to drink, where Mrs. Moore is embarrassed by the fact Aziz is not allowed to enter, exists a generic landscape that contains a single stereotype. The Aryan brothers are discernable by their dress and mannerisms and not by their individual personalities and exist purely for the viewing pleasure, in their various categories as though they were animals in a zoo, of the newly arrived ladies. The real India it would seem is available but by invitation only. Mrs. Turton reminds Mrs.  Moore that she is, “… superior to them in every way” and, “not to forget it!” (42) This is the essence of other that Forester wants to expose, that empire does nothing to distinguish humanity but rather strips it of all value by turning the Indians into a designated population. The only “worthwhile” community that is given any attention by Forster is that of the administrators; not that of the locals who simply survive on its fringes. Even so Forster’s view of their community is not idealized and we learn how stiff and regimented their lives are within its endemic hierarchy. The administrators eke out their hum-drum existence waiting for pensions and promotions and acting in ways they accuse the Indians of, when taking bribes and aggrandizing  themselves. In effect the empire begins and ends at the doors of the Sahibs. Forster doesn’t portray a Utopian view of British Indian but tells it how it is. A hot, sweaty, sycophantic existence where Britains thrive only by following strict rules and where the Indians, despite their supposed colonization, have more freedom than their European masters. He destroys the myth of the Raj and simply equates it to a pseudo England basking in forty degrees Celsius with only a modicum of tolerated power. The Indians recognized this and Forster enlightens us with what our contemporary culture ineptly terms reverse racism. Aziz and his friends discuss whether or not it is possible to be friends with an Englishman, use racial slurs to deprecate their white skins and revel in the fact that they are misunderstood. “All Englishman,” says Aziz, “are exactly the same, and all English women are haughty and venal.”(27) Paradoxically the Indians are suddenly a reflection of the British themselves and so the misconception of racial segregation is obliterated as Forster weighs both cultures and find them equally wanting. Once again there is an explication that no other exists as attitudes are pervasive and human hypocrisy extends beyond the boundaries of both language and international demarcation. Through the dialectic of the over determination principle both societies are created by contradictions and so exist in relationship to one another in a cultural imbalance of cause and effect.

            In spite of the contemporary, colonial attitudes foisted upon her, Mrs. Moore wishes to explore the unfamiliar; she wishes to discover the true India. Upon leaving the club and entering the decrepit mosque, alone and unescorted, Forster describes that just as Aziz is awed by the site of the river and the brightness of the night sky, so is she. The unfamiliar is once again personified as other and gives reverence once again to Pounds adage of making it new; of walking away from the staid predictability of 19th century realism into the modernist world of the early twentieth century. Perhaps Forster casts Mrs. Moore as the epitome of modernism as she strives to learn more of the unexplored and dares to go beyond the unthinkable. Taking off her shoes she treads fresh footsteps into the dust of the ancient masonry and in doing so denounces the validity of preceding literature and aesthetic traditions; a rejection of the romantic and of Victorian realism. Mrs. Moore is in a space she shouldn’t occupy, in a country she should be in, with a man she shouldn’t be with. There is no sense of the colonizer or the colonized and they converse on terms which exist outside of the moment. This meeting, not unlike the strange unexplained occurrences at the Marabar caves later in the novel is an example of parataxis; a moment which disrupts and fragments conventional sequencing. Rather than the metaphysical it is the social order which is distorted into the unheimlich: the juxtaposition according to Freud between the familiar and the unfamiliar: East meets West and the universe does not come to a crashing end. The fact that a friendship is kindled between the two is implicit criticism of the colonialist attitude towards the Indians that views them as subhuman. “To understand India is to understand the rationale of the whole of creation; but the characters do not understand it, and Forster’s plot makes us ask…whether human faculties are capable of such an understanding at all.” (Christensen. 144) 

            Doctor Aziz is a living representation of India and is a mix of emotions that represents the diversity of the vast land mass that constitutes the continent. A learned man and yet he is subject to flights of emotion, irrationality and childlike naivety. Forster frequently alludes to the real India and yet given that the doctor is an Indian, one would find oneself hard pressed to discover exactly what that is. Instead of an explication of the continent Forster is perhaps suggesting that India and its citizens can’t be tarred with the same brush and that rather than a shade on a map, India is a vibrant country filled with diverse humanity. Once again Forster juxtaposes Conrad’s notion of none human entities when we read in the Heart of Darkness how, “Two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees… his brother phantom rested its forehead… [whilst] all about others were scattered in every pose… as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence.” (127) Conrad dehumanizes those of whom he writes and the men of mud, hidden in the bushes, are simply hues of the jungle which camouflages them. Forster on the other hands paints his characters in vibrant colors and allows them to walk out of the shadow of empire and into their own legitimate space. “Great as the problem of India is, Forster’s book is not about India alone; it is about all of human life” (Christensen.161)

            From the very beginning of the novel we are bombarded with comings and goings of marriages and potential marriages and all the other ephemera of quotidian life. Aziz and his comrades sit at home smoking, eating and playing cards whilst discussing their day. It is the minutia of life  to which Forster eludes; the blandness of the food, the too tightly packed tobacco the impromptu leaving and returning of dinner guests, the arrival of a messenger and the perception of the British from the Indian perspective. Forster is attempting to dismiss the differences between the two by juxtaposing the Indian meal as though they were an ordinary British household. “We are drawn into the Moslem culture of Chandrapore, and despite its characteristic details, it seems no more exotic or alien than, say, the situations of the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice.” (Christensen.156) Forster holds up a mirror and in it we see ourselves. The modernist trope of dismissing other and recognizing similarities rather than differences in an attempt at unification is the underlying message of the novel. Congruent with Bloomsbury modernist ideology Forster espouses the benefits of friendship and dismisses the cultural constructs of nationhood and geographical boundaries.

VVV

 

WORKS CITED

Christensen, Timothy. Bearing the White Man’s Burden and Cultural Differences in E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India. Duke University Press. A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 39, No. 2, Postcolonial Disjunctions (Spring, 2006), pp. 155-178. Print.

 

Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. New York, Brace and Co. 1952. Print.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. NY, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1988. Print.

Lackey, Michael. E.M.Forster’s Lecture “Kipling’s Poems.” Negotiating the modernist shift. Indiana University Press. Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 30, No 3 (Spring 2007) pp.1-11. Print.

 

 Moffat, Wendy. A Passage to India and the Limits of Certainty. The Journal of Narrative Techniques, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Fall, 1990), pp. 331-341. Print