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Comparative Humanities Un d e r g r a d u a t e

J o u r n a l

Vol. 1 Spring 2013


Comparative Humanities Undergraduate Journal Spring 2013 Vol. 1

Editor-in-chief Carlton Fleenor Submissions Editor Meredith Ramey Managing Editor Vinny Giordano Copy Editor Laura Becht Production Editor Genevieve Franco Assistant Production Michael Le Editorial Staff Jeffrey Diamond Max Miroff Derrill Hagood Amanda Schiano Emily Lowman Julie Snyder


Contents American Studies Signification and Potentiality: Spaces of Cultural Resistance in Toni Morrison’s Jazz “Désirée’s Baby”: The “Color Line” Versus Local Color

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Cultural Studies “In the Name of Psychological Survival”: The Modern Move from Denial to “Terrible Honesty”

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English Literature Brumal Affinity: Winter and the Fallen Condition in Elizabeth Gaskell

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Form and Content in the Modern Novel: Examining a Complementary Relationship

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Gender Studies The Internalization of Cultural Ideals: A Psychoanalytical Approach

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Invert as Transitional Figure in Narrative of Lesbian Desire

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From the Editor: Welcome to the Comparative Humanities Undergraduate Journal, the first academic journal for undergraduate scholarship in the Humanities at William & Mary. While the “Humanities” is a rather broad term, we understand a submission to be a part of the Humanities if its subject is related to the modes of inquiry emphasized in English or Literary and Cultural Studies classes at William & Mary; in other words, a submission needs to present original, critical insights into the processes that drive the author’s chosen text(s). Works that can be critically examined by authors include literature, film, television, videogames, photography, art, and other cultural texts. This journal is inspired by the UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal, a student publication that showcases undergraduate scholarship in comparative literature from around the world. I wanted to bring a similar periodical to the William & Mary campus that, instead of focusing on a single discipline, provided a representation of the current state of the Humanities at William & Mary, a portrait of the “différances” in discourse that define our institution’s disciplines in relation to one another. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading the first issue of CHUJ, and are inspired to submit your own work to our Fall 2013 issue. Carlton Fleenor


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Signification and Potentiality: Spaces of Cultural Resistance in Toni Morrison’s Jazz Jason Durso

On the surface, increased publication of marginalized literature signifies a growing acceptance (although the word tolerance is more apt) of “other” groups outside the dominant and the normative. There is a hidden implication though, one which reveals itself through our criticism: such literature frequently conforms to the dominant paradigms, from which the reader can make definitive statements about the “meaning” or “purpose” of its constituent parts and thus, the work as a whole. This general complacency of readership and critical analysis has the effect of denying creative faculty while seemingly praising its presence. If a piece of literature actually attempts to construct an alternative paradigm and thereby disrupt conventional notions of meaning and purpose, the standard critical response is to identify the familiar and disavow the importance of the dissimilar. This article will focus on criticism of Toni Morrison’s 1992 novel, Jazz, which challenges the reader and critic to abandon standard notions of modernity as a tautological point of conflict, while it presents marginalized perspectives through


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which tragedy and mourning generate political awareness and individual autonomy. I submit that the novel aims to create spaces of potentiality rather than affirmative meaning in order to escape the sterilizing nature of modern critical analysis. The inability to effectively describe Jazz as a system of plot points challenges those traditional critical theory practices which turn to story and character analysis as their primary modes of categorization. The narrator remains anonymous throughout the novel, constantly shifting between diegetic, metadiegetic, and extradiegetic modes while remaining in the first-person perspective. Without ever entering into the action, this narrator recounts the story of Joe and Violet Trace in their Sisyphean struggle for autonomous action. Joe is having an affair with a young woman named Dorcas, and neither Violet nor Alice Manfred--Dorcas’ aunt and legal guardian--are aware. When Dorcas loses interest in the affair and pursues younger men, Joe confronts and murders her on a crowded dance floor. Though surrounded by other people, “nobody actually saw him do it, and the dead girl’s aunt didn’t want to throw money to... cops when she knew the expense wouldn’t improve anything” (Morrison, Jazz, 4). Violet attends Dorcas’ funeral and cuts the dead girl’s face open, paradoxically leading to a potentially redemptive friendship with Alice. Throughout the novel, Morrison moves from character to character, exploring their perspectives without ever losing the detached, unnamed first-person narrator. This entire plot is revealed to the reader within the first six pages of the novel’s 2004 publication, which is two hundred and thirty pages long. Some critics erroneously assume this means that the book’s central purpose is to explain why the plot happens by way of interpreting character “subtext.” For example, take this excerpt from Barbara Williams Lewis’ “The Function of Jazz in Toni Morrison’s Jazz”: “Joe, Dorcas, and the narrator form an ensemble that tells us exactly why Joe shoots Dorcas and why she chooses to die, although the psyche behind the why is far beyond the realms of my psychoanalytic expertise” (279). Lewis not only assumes that the novel seeks to explain the why, she does so despite an inability to find that meaning herself. Furthermore, it forces Morrison’s postmodern text into the myth of modernity; she assigns the text an ineffable, permanent meaning outside of


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itself and then identifies “expertise” as the limiting factor in reaching that meaning. The seeming opposition in modernism between humanity and the foundation of being is a distinctively white, masculine, and Romantic structure. Assuming the value of presence over nonpresence, totality over incompletion, and universality over heterogeneity, critics of modernist literature operate within a tradition which “generated a paradoxical tendency toward homogeneity of perspective” (Stow, 682). Even as authors increasingly expose conflict and difference, theorists suppress those conflicts or seek to resolve them in order to categorize the literature and then assign value to the work based upon how effectively it communicates those categories to the reader. The postmodern author rejects modernity’s notions of permanence, totality, and logocentrism in favor of temporarily, fragmentation, and contingency. Since writing has the illusion of permanence, a conflict arises for the modern critic between the signifying text and the signified temporality. Frequently, the critic resolves the perceived tension by establishing a permanent referent for the signifier, as evidenced by Lewis’ attempt to explore the meaning of “Jazz” as Morrison’s title. She turns to the Dictionary of Word Origins for a definition: “[jazz] can mean a number of things... affairs, nonsense, bureaucratic red tape, sex... and especially gossip or signifying, which is precisely what our narrator does” (277). On this etymological basis, she concludes that the narrator is simply a rumormonger. Such a dismally shallow interpretation exemplifies Morrison’s assertion that “criticism as a form of knowledge is capable of robbing literature not only of its own implicit and explicit ideology, but of its ideas as well” (Playing, 9). Lewis ignores jazz as a medium of social change--which would allow her to consider alternative perspectives--and defines it according to a reference manual written within her own ideology. Contingency is the primary missing element in Lewis’ analysis, as she ignores the differences between her perspective and the marginalized perspective, superimposing her analysis as the dominant point of reference. Jeffrey Folks, in his work Ethics in Modern and Postmodern American Narrative, suggests that “the long term effect of subordination [on the


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minority] is to silence their voices and... nullify their wills. In a destructive dialectic, colonial alienation displaces the wound of powerlessness into other forms of control” (174). Joe and Violet, for example, respond to their powerlessness in violent, unproductive ways; Violet’s violent episodes, Joe’s killing of Dorcas, and even Alice’s initial reactions to Violet are desperate attempts to find some means of control or dominance. None of these actions actually contribute to any individual’s sense of freedom, due to an oppressive overarching system which fails to notice their presence. Despite knowing that Joe killed her niece, Alice perceives the city justice system as being uninterested in black-on-black crime. If any of the characters hope to find a sense of individual liberty, they must seek alternative forms of autonomy. In precisely the same way, Morrison must find a way to situate her work outside of the European tradition in order to challenge modern criticism’s assumed textual and political dominance. Simon Stow’s article, “Antagonistic Homegoing,” identifies distinctions between the Romantic and African American responses to tragedy and examines the ways in which these two modes are correlated to political perspective. In his analysis, he shows the Romantic tradition of mourning as striving to represent a totalizing community outside of political discourse. Consequently, marginalized voices are forcibly silenced and absorbed into rhetoric of national unity and same-ness. The African American response is radically different: Tragic public mourning—understood as response not condition—is, in contrast, pluralistic, critical, and self consciously political. It is built on, and generative of, an agonistic understanding of democracy in which conflict and disagreement are recognized as central to democratic politics. In this model, all parties to a disagreement recognize that there is no rational final solution to their conflict (Stow, 682). Within a democratic structure, consensus, compromise, and resolution are logocentric ideals; paradoxically, they are contingent upon their absence, their not-being-present at any specific instance. That space of conflict, the differance marked by traces of consensus and compromise, is the space of potentiality. Constantly in negotiation,


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never resolved, always contingent upon conflicting perspectives, it reveals resolution and structure to be temporary, illusory havens from inevitable difference. Bell Hooks describes this space as the margins: I was working... to identify marginality as much more than a site of deprivation... it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance. It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of a counter hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of a marginality one wishes to lose, to give up, or surrender as part of moving into the center, but rather as a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers the possibility of radical perspectives from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds (341). On this basis, I suggest that when criticism fails to engage in hermeneutical dialogue with marginalized perspectives, the motivations are political. This results in the sterilization not only of the literature, but also of criticism as a potential space for political discourse. A distinction therefore exists between criticism as a form of knowledge and criticism as a process, in which the play of negotiation is preferable to the finality of resolution. Lewis’ definition of “jazz” was accurate on one count--it has no single, affirmative meaning. Though it is tempting to consider jazz as a specific genre, no set of rules can effectively contain all of the complexities of jazz music throughout American history. Nor can any qualifications can positively link Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Parker, and Chick Corea within a single musical framework, as Jazz has historically been a response to the sterilizing musical and societal societal structures imposed upon a population. “Every musical performance,” says the ethnomusicologist John Blacking, “is a patterned event in a system of social interaction, whose meaning cannot be understood or analyzed in isolation from other events in the system” (227). This allows an alternative definition of “jazz,” in which jazz is the process of musical negotiation, constantly assigning structure to itself in order to generate the potential for conflict. “The innovation of Jazz,” Wynton Marsalis tells us on


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Ken Burns’ Jazz, “is that a group of people can... negotiate their agendas with each other, and that negotiation is the art” (Burns). Jazz is a self-conscious play of contingency between the performer and the structure that creates the space for performance. The musicians negotiate their agendas not only with one another, but also with the listener, the composer, and the political reality which suppresses marginalized representation. Jazz sheet music--also known as “charts”--is neither prescriptive nor descriptive. As opposed to standard European musical notation’s tendency towards increasingly complex symbols, jazz notation represents as little as it possibly can while still providing musicians with shared referents--tempo, melody, chord changes, and the rhythmic feel. Within this established structure, musicians have both enormous freedom of self-expression as well as an obligation to engage in negotiation with the other band members. Composer, musician, and listener occupy an equal plane of self-aware contingency and do not engage in hierarchical categorization beyond claiming that the music itself--the act of negotiation-- is the unifying point at which jazz both generates and is generated. The European tradition constructs a hierarchy, prioritizing the composer’s “intentions” over individual musicianship. Authority is assumed to belong to the composer, and so the common defining measure of prowess in traditional European musical traditions is the accuracy with which someone is able to play a particularly difficult piece without “errors”: deviances from the imposed structure. With the exception of minor ornamentation, creative power belongs to composers alone, and musicians are rendered impotent as they consent to act as the unconscious negotiation between composer and listener. Jazz musicians differ from this paradigm to the degree that they are self-conscious negotiators. Staying within the composer’s limitations, they transform the familiar into the unfamiliar and unpredictable. If the listeners are able to recognize the destruction of same-ness during a jazz performance, they grant themselves the authority to express their subjective and personal reactions as distinct from the majority consensus. Rather than attempting to merely satisfy or entertain, the effective jazz musician engages the listener and invites them to join in on the play of signifying. Morrison, in her introduction to Jazz, claims that she didn’t want the


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novel to be “about” jazz, but rather to “become” it (xviii). This, combined with an understanding of jazz as the self-conscious play of contingency, offers critics the framework for a new paradigm of interpretation. Just as jazz musicians seek to engage their listeners with new musical ideas, Morrison offers new historical interpretations in the empty space of marginalized peoples. “My job becomes how to rip that veil drawn over... any marginalized category,” says Morrison, “ for, historically, we were seldom invited to participate in the discourse even when we were its topic” (“The Site of Memory”, 302). Critic Lawrence Hogue finds this problematic, claiming: “we do not get an affirmative jazz or postmodern alternative to the objectification and commodification of African American life in the city. Instead, we get loss and a nostalgia for a rural black folk culture... The city does not offer hope, fulfillment, and salvation for these blacks. Salvation for urban blacks is the rural south and its folk culture” (178-179). Hogue’s analysis fails to consider the importance of whose nostalgia is represented in the text as well as the political significance of revelation. Of course, Hogue is far from the only critic who seeks to establish a positive reading. Rather than seeing the South or rural culture as the escape from modernity, Lewis claims that “Jazz thematically represents a contrast of good and evil. Everything everybody does in this book can be excused, in effect, because it is the music that makes them do it... the community needs a scapegoat, someone or something upon which to unload their burden of guilt. Music serves this purpose” (276). This drastic oversimplification implies that the book apologizes for some underlying ethnic guilt, and that jazz music (and, by her own logic, Jazz) is a method of escaping some horrifying diasporic identity. Both critics presuppose not only a locus of salvation, but also the need for one. Their claims are diametrically opposed, since Lewis claims that the City is this locus while Hogue finds it in the rural South. While Lewis is either unaware of or unconvinced by the importance of contingency to politically charged fiction, Hogue does acknowledge the novel’s historical contingency when he says, “they left the rural South and migrated to the urban North, where they were affected more directly by industrial capitalism and modern American mass culture,” and that


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“Morrison neglects the systemic linkage between industrial modern society of the 1920s and peripheral rural capitalism... [she] views the crises of modernity... solely within the white European-North American moment” (179-180). This analysis does have some justification within the narrative, but Morrison herself acknowledges these connections in an interview with Carolyn Denard: “There is some modernity and some grasp that the South holds more than any other place. Although I understand the nostalgia about it being everybody’s past, and the good old days... [the South is] where the modern experiment begins, oh yes, there’s no doubt about that” (15). Morrison’s intention does not assume its presence in the text, of course, but it does suggest the possibility of unconventional narrative technique. An examination of the narrator’s role in telling the story aids this alternative interpretation. Katherine Mayberry’s article, “The Problem of Jazz in Toni Morrison’s Jazz,” provides the framework: Traditional narrative can be regarded as a literary inscription of the dominant values of a hierarchical system: like the culture in which it evolved, traditional narrative is based upon a series of discriminatory logics that empower a dominant voice to promote, demote, include, exclude, and finally, at the end, to emerge victorious over the other voices or characters of the narrative... but even those narratives like Morrison’s... are not entirely free of these ideological implications (298). The narrator in Jazz, like the novel itself, does not seek to operate outside of the ideology entirely. To do so would engage in a conflict with modernity, ultimately reaffirming its presence without providing any alternative mode of interpretation. Instead, the narrator--the structure--is shown to be unreliable, self-contradictory, and a product of the characters, rather than the other way around. Marginalized voices assume authority over the narrative without either accepting or denying its presence; rather, they signify within the structures imposed upon them by the composer--Morrison--and thus generate individual autonomy despite the restrictions placed upon them. The reader sees two radically different images of the South. Violet remembers the brutality of sharecropping, the constant threat of oblivion,


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and her mother’s suicide. In contrast, Joe’s vision contains the nostalgic ideal for Hogue’s interpretation. Joe is frequently shown to have wildly distorted views of his own past, such as his assumption that he has the power to control at what points he undergoes dramatic change. Combining Joe’s voice with the narrator’s voice does not give him any control over the narrative, though, which suggests that this “Southern ideal” is intentionally placed within the text to signify Joe’s personal inability to operate outside of the modern ideology. Further evidence for this assertion lies within the text: “Convinced that he alone remembers those days, and wants them back, aware of what it looked like but not at all of what it felt like” (Jazz, 36). It is Joe, not Morrison, who sees the South as an escape from modernity. Returning to the South would relegate Joe and Violet to working for the city, as opposed to working within it. It would also render them unseen. Hogue seems to think that Morrison offers “the social spaces where African Americans have refuge from objectification and commodification, spaces where they can escape representation by the dominant society” (180). This contradicts Morrison’s goal of revealing, which objectifies, commodifies, and represents these social spaces. Perhaps it is the narrative’s focus on tragedy and mourning which leads to Hogue’s interpretation, since the Romantic view of tragedy implies a sort of catharsis and the novel offers none. It is not unreasonable to see this passive representation as a form of political inaction, but Stow explains that the African American mourning tradition has been politically empowering: The stories that we tell about the dead help shape policies and political outcomes (Edkins 2003)... Embracing the tragic led the nation to engage with some of her most pressing political problems; rejecting it led her to suppress them... For African Americans, tragic public mourning played a significant role in establishing a sense of community and resistance central to the struggle for emancipation and civil rights (Roediger 1981, 171). Yet, its absence from the public sphere in postbellum America helped deprive them of their constitutional freedoms. More recently, its continued absence


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has helped shape American memory of the struggle for civil rights in a manner detrimental to African American political concerns (693). Jazz tells stories about the dead, but it is also self-consciously fictional. Applying a critical perspective to the novel as a whole empowers the reader to examine the potential effect on potential people while remaining aware of historical contingency. In turn, this generates an awareness of historical inequality that may otherwise have never been revealed. Morrison provides a paradigm of large-scale social transformation by adopting a new form of mourning, one which recognizes tragedy as a condition as well as the potential for political signification. This is promising for Stow: African American responses to loss still constitute one of the last best hopes for inculcating a tragic perspective... Such a tragic approach might have saved the nation from the consensus-driven and romantic responses to loss whose “United We Stand” mantra demonized those who dared to question the drive towards war (694). Responding to loss means nothing less than to signify upon it, to turn an empty space into potential. Awareness precedes the potential for response, though, and Jazz fosters this awareness. To fully understand the connection of Jazz to jazz music, I turn again to Blacking: “music making can be an indispensable tool for heightening and transforming consciousness as a first step to transforming social forms” (232). Surely this is what Morrison expresses when she writes, “The right tune whistled in a doorway or lifting up from the circles and grooves of a record can change the weather. From freezing to hot to cool” (Jazz, 51). Jazz has particular relevance for the critic as well; it exists as a potential space for our own signification and assigned meaning. Jazz gives “the critic permission to be self-conscious about the ways her historical, cultural, and personal identities are involved in, implicated through [the intersection of text and reader]...the ways our personal and collective identities are mapped through our engagement with texts”


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(Mayberry, 308). Jazz does not attempt to apologize, as Lewis fallaciously asserts. Nor does it offer an escape from modernity, as is Hogue’s claim. Rather, it incorporates the margin, the reader, and challenges the basic notion of textual omnipotence.Without recognizing the critic’s ability to create, change, or destroy the meaning of the critical object, we risk becoming part of the dominant culture which represses and sterilizes marginalized literature. Critics who embrace this awareness assume the role of a jazz musician, signifying upon structures to generate the unexpected, ultimately revealing themselves as negotiation.

Works Cited: Blacking, John. Music, Culture, and Experience. University of Chicago Press, 1995. Print. Denard, Carolyn. “Blacks, Modernism, And The American South: An Interview With Toni Morrison.” Studies In The Literary Imagination 31.2 (1998): 1. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. Burns, Ken. Jazz. PBS, 2001. Film. Devaux, Scott, and Gary Giddins. Jazz. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2009. Print. Folks, Jeffrey J. From Richard Wright to Toni Morrison: Ethics in Modern and Postmodern American Narrative. Modern American Literature: New Approaches (MoAL) 25. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2001. Print. Hogue, W. Lawrence. “Postmodernism, Traditional Culture Forms, And The African American Narrative: Major’s Reflex, Morrison’s Jazz, And Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo.” Novel: A Forum On Fiction 35.2/3 (2002): 169-192. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.


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Hooks, Bell. “Marginality as Site of Resistance.” Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Culture. Eds. Russell Ferguson, and Martha Gever, and Trinh T. Minhha, and Cornel West. New York, NY: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990. 337-340. Text. Kariel, Henry S. The Desperate Politics of Postmodernism. University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. Print. Lewis, Barbara W. “The Function of Jazz in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. Ed. David L. Middleton. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997. 271-282. Print. Mayberry, Katherine J. “The Problem of Narrative in Toni Morrison’s Jazz.” Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. Ed. David L. Middleton. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997. 283-296. Print. Morrison, Toni. Jazz. New York: Vintage International. 1992, Print. Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1992, Print. Morrison, Toni. “The Site of Memory.” Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Culture. Eds. Russell Ferguson, and Martha Gever, and Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West. New York, NY: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990. 299-326. Text. Stow, Simon. “Antagonistic Homegoing: Frederick Douglass, Joseph Lowery, and the Democratic Value of African American Public Mourning.” American Political Science Review 104.4 (2010): 681-697. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.


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“Désirée’s Baby”: The “Color Line” versus Local Color Hilary Adams

In a 1972 critical essay, Robert D. Arner lauded Kate Chopin’s short story, “Désirée’s Baby,” as “a surprisingly rich and complex story, one of the best of its kind in American literature” (145). Nearly eighty years after the story’s initial publication, Arner was one of the first critics to actually analyze the story in a civil rights context, breaking a decades-long tradition of diminishing the social and racial implications of the story in favor of examining it for its contributions to the literary tradition of local color. At the time of its initial publication in the new and stylish Vogue magazine early in 1893, Kate Chopin’s “Désirée’s Baby” was nothing more than a hopeful attempt by the author to gain access to more prestigious publications. Despite dealing with the normally scandalizing topic of miscegenation in the South, the story was received with no particular outcry from its principal readership, which at the time was comprised of posh New York society women. Chopin’s decision to use this particular publication as a jumping-off point, however, may have contributed to the


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story’s later classification as little more than an exercise in local color. On the other hand, critic Daniel S. Rankin describes it as a window into “the quaint and picturesque life among the Creole and Acadian folk of the Louisiana bayous” (136-37), a trivialization that would ignore or simply deny its quasimoralistic outlook on the problems associated with miscegenation, as well as the violent and unjust relationship between the female slave and her master until the mid-20th century. “Désirée’s Baby” is a tightly woven story concerning the trials of Désirée Aubigny, whose uncertain origins and mixed-race child send her husband, Armand, into a fit of rage, ultimately abandoning her and forcing her to flee from the Aubigny mansion, not to her adoptive mother’s home, but disappearing “among the reeds and willows that grew along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou” (Chopin 256). At the very end of the story, however, Armand discovers in the midst of burning all of her belongings a letter from his mother that reveals that he himself is of African descent. The story was, for a long time after its publication, lauded for its quaint, regional style, yet its more poignant qualities of discussing the problems caused by miscegenation and the question of the color line were nearly always made secondary to this quality of quaintness. As recently as the late 1950s, critics dismissed “Désirée’s Baby” as nothing more than a structured and brilliantly economical – if somewhat contrived – story which they deemed to be truly “characteristic” of Chopin’s work, despite the glaring fact that this was the only one of Chopin’s works which dealt with the subject of mixed marriage (Wolff 124). This response, no doubt, can be directly attributed to the common sentiment amongst Americans at the time which vehemently opposed the idea of mixed-race marriages. Chopin’s own family would most likely have been accustomed to a similar outlook on the topic of mixed marriage; they kept slaves in the family as late as the 1850s. This would have made Armand’s stance much more sympathetic to readers at the time than he is to a modern audience more attuned to civil rights. More recently, however, literary critics have begun to take note of Chopin’s commentary on the blurring of the “color line,” which seems to foreshadow the notorious legislation of one of the most important Supreme Court cases in post-bellum America, Plessey v. Ferguson. In this landmark


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case, the ruling made it deliberately clear that in America, it was no longer a person’s actual physical appearance, but a perceived notion of mixed ancestry, that determined how one was racially categorized. Though Chopin’s renowned skill in depicting local color should by no means be ignored in this story, the modern reader would be better served by understanding the historical context that allows this story to become not only a polemic against the numerous abuses indulged by white male slave-owners, but about the very nature that determines a person’s “blackness.” Much was going on at the time of the story’s publication in the way of delineating race in America, especially in the South, where the emancipation of slaves was met with quantifiable resistance. While Jim Crow laws initially served to segregate transportation and public accommodations for people who were obviously of separate races, scientists and “blood purists” at the time were deeply engaged in the subject of “blood logic,” which determined that whiteness was not only a matter of looking and acting white, but of having no trace whatsoever of “black blood” in one’s ancestry. The ambiguity of racial background and its gendered consequences in “Désirée’s Baby” present readers not only with a piece of sentimental fiction infused with realism, but also with an understanding that more than just serving as a charming, colorful tale of life in Louisiana, this story demonizes Armand for his cruelty, painting him as the only true “black” character in the piece. The imagery in “Désirée’s Baby” holds up a mirror to the respective natures of Désirée and Armand, doing well to foreshadow the “shocking” conclusion. Nearly all, if not entirely all, of the imagery used to describe Désirée is light or white in nature, casting her in a radiance and innocence that seems diametrically opposed to the characterization of her husband. Armand, who the narrator describes as having a “dark, handsome face” and whose home was surrounded by trees whose “branches shadowed it like a pall” (Chopin 254; 252). The cruelty he displays toward his slaves and servants depicts a different kind of “blackness”: that which exists in the soul rather than on the surface of one’s own skin. In this way, readers might interpret the mixed race of the baby as a reflection not only of the pedigree of his father, but also a sort of karmic retribution for his father’s sentiments of racial elitism and superiority.


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Chopin chooses her words carefully, however, with respect to the two characters that readers expect to be colored: Zandrine and La Blanche. Both women seem to be of mixed race, with Zandrine being described as “yellow” – which at the time was a term used to describe a light skinned black person, rather than its modern implication referring to someone of Asian descent – and La Blanche, whose very name is indicative of her light complexion. La Blanche’s description, however, is used by Armand to vilify his wife when she attempts to defend herself against his accusations that she is not white: “‘It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! … And my skin is fair,’ seizing his wrist. ‘Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand,’ she laughed hysterically. ‘As white as La Blanche’s,’ he returned cruelly…” (Chopin 255). It seems readily apparent that Armand’s conviction of his own “true” whiteness – along with the pride he takes in his family’s name and position in Louisiana, not to mention the common practice of ascribing to one’s wife the “flaw” that mars her child, known by the common exhortation, “Cherchez la femme” – blinds him to the possibility that he himself was the carrier of the black gene (Peel 228). Several clues within the story hint to the likelihood of illicit dalliances between Armand and La Blanche, whose resulting progeny Armand would have expected to be mixed anyway because of La Blanche’s mixed background; this fact, however, only makes the appearance of Désirée’s baby all the more haunting for him, which readers may readily construe as Chopin dealing justice for Armand’s cruelty. Chopin concerns herself not only with the plight of women at this time with regards to racial classification, but with the universal blurring of the color line, as evidenced by her “surprise” ending with Armand discovering his connection to “the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery” (256). Yet given the manner in which Armand is characterized in the story, perhaps this final discovery is less a “surprise twist” and more a vital insight into what Chopin construes to be a more figurative definition of blackness. Armand’s “tainted” ancestry as it reveals itself in his child should not be regarded as mere fact, but as a physical signifier of his cruelty to his slaves or, as Ellen Peel calls it, “another instance of poetic justice, the return of the oppressed” (228). Arner makes a similar point, indicating that by the end of the story, “the victimizer [Armand] ends up the victim of his own inflexible


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inhumanity,” and that his “passionate intensity and his pride in possession [of Désirée] make him a willing agent of his own destruction” (140-141). In conclusion, Chopin’s use of local color in a piece of “regional” fiction, though highly skilled and important to address as a significant contribution to its genre, does not – and should not – preclude readers from understanding and appreciating Chopin’s deeper message about the ambiguity and duality of the “color line” and the injustices suffered by people of mixed race at the time. This work precedes its time as far as the handling of its sensitive subject matter, and should be read from a modern, post-civil rights standpoint in order to fully grasp its importance as a piece of quasi-moralistic, historical fiction.

Works Cited: Chopin, Kate. “Désirée’s Baby.” Southern Local Color: Stories of Region, Race, and Gender. Ed. Barbara C. Ewell and Pamela Glenn Menke. Athens, 2002. 251-256. Arner, Robert D. “Pride and Prejudice: Kate Chopin’s “Désirée’s Baby”.” Critical Essays on Kate Chopin. Ed. Alice Hall Petry. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1996. 139-146. Chopin, Kate. “Désirée’s Baby.” Southern Local Color: Stories of Region, Race, and Gender. Ed. Barbara C. Ewell and Pamela Glenn Menke. Athens, 2002. 251-256. Peel, Ellen. “Semiotic Subversion in “Désirée’s Baby”.” American Literature 62.2 (1990): 223-237. Rankin, Daniel S. Kate Chopin and her Creole Stories. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1932. Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “Kate Chopin and the Fiction of Limits: “Desireé’s Baby”.” The Southern Literary Journal 10.2 (1978): 123-133.


Comparative Humanities Undergraduate Journal

Cultural Studies


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“In the Name of Psychological Survival”: The Modern Move from Denial to “Terrible Honesty” Julia Powers

Before the 1920s, Ann Douglas writes in “White Manhattan in the Age of ‘Terrible Honesty,’” denying the difficulties of reality was an acceptable and even common way to live. T.S. Eliot, she reports, called this denial “makebelieve,” defined as “open falsification in the name of psychological survival” (Douglas 32). But what, in fact, best promotes psychological survival – denial or honesty? Either policy would be in some way terrible, with denial bringing terrible consequences and honesty revealing terrible truths. Sigmund Freud argued in favor of terrible honesty and, in so doing, “called an entire generation to the task of ruthlessly interrogating past and present lies. No group responded more eagerly to his call than the white urban American writers of the 1920s” (Douglas 31). Two particular American writers of the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway and Nella Larsen, responded to Freud’s call in unusual ways. Hemingway’s 1925 short story “Big Two-Hearted River” and Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing use main characters that practice denial rather than “terrible honesty” and face consequences such as self-contradiction


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and procrastination, thus supporting Freud’s assessment of the necessity of terrible honesty. A first consequence of denial that Hemingway and Larsen present is self-contradiction. This can either come across as a character experiencing one emotion while reporting another or as a character reporting one emotion before then promptly reporting another. In “Big Two-Hearted River,” the title alone sets the stage for self-contradiction, depicting a “two-hearted” river perhaps symbolic of a bifurcated self. The story repeatedly describes the main character Nick as happy, although he is in fact lonely and burdened. For instance, “he was happy” but adjusts his backpack and “still, it was too heavy. It was much too heavy” (Hemingway 164). In that same paragraph, Hemingway says that Nick’s “muscles ached and the day was hot, but Nick felt happy” (Hemingway 164). Nick’s reported happiness in this paragraph seems contrived for two reasons. First, repetition of the word “happy” is so insistent that it seems Nick is trying to convince himself and the reader of Nick’s happiness. Second, each usage of the word “happy” is contradicted in the same sentence by the words “heavy,” “ached,” and “hot.” By trying to convince himself and the reader of an evident falsehood, Nick practices denial and experiences self-contradiction. In Larsen’s Passing, the main character Irene also experiences selfcontradiction, expressed in similarly short, blunt sentences. Suspicious that her husband is having an affair with her friend Clare but trying to convince herself otherwise, Irene says that “It hurt. It hurt like hell. But it didn’t matter, if no one knew. If everything could go on as before. If the boys were safe” (Larsen 147). The next paragraph consists of only three words, “It did hurt,” and the following paragraph concludes the chapter by saying “But it didn’t matter” (Larsen 147). What’s more, the reader turns the page to begin chapter two, expecting a scene change, and reads: “But it did matter. It mattered more than anything had ever mattered before” (Larsen 148). In a very short space, Larsen presents a change of mind from “it hurt” to “it didn’t matter” a total of five times, repeating the conjunction “but” three times along the way. Repetition again, just as in “Big Two-Hearted River,” underscores Irene’s effortful attempts to convince herself and the reader that she feels one thing “but” works to feel another. And Larsen’s intentional


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sentence, paragraph, and even chapter structure in this section conveys that Irene not only contradicts herself but does so in a jerky manner, lurching the reader abruptly back and forth between moods with each sentence, paragraph, and chapter. What about these passages prove that Hemingway and Larsen are for “terrible honesty” and against self-contradiction? First, their narrative styles align with the tendencies of “terrible honesty.” Douglas reports that “exponents of ‘terrible honesty’ were drawn to the reductive mode as the quickest route to certainty; they prided themselves on seeing through things, discarding the deceptive appearance for the underlying reality” (40). As such, Hemingway uses short sentences such as “He was happy” and “He was sleepy” that get straight to the point about how Nick feels – or at least claims to feel (164, 169). Second, Nick and Irene’s self-contradiction poses problems for the reader and for the characters themselves, setting up the authors’ anti-self-contradiction stance. Literarily, self-contradiction produces an untrustworthy character and psychologically it would produce cognitive dissonance within that character. The character and the reader alike must struggle to identify the character’s true sentiments – a struggle that would not occur under a policy of “terrible honesty.” A second consequence of denial that Hemingway and Larsen present is procrastination, the refusal to efficiently or even ever address internal or relational tensions. We see this especially in the conclusions of “Big TwoHearted River” and of Passing. In “Big-Two-Hearted River,” in which water symbolizes the unconscious self, going deeper into the water would be an act of “terrible honesty” while putting off that exploration would be an act of denial. Nick, it seems, opts for procrastination. For, Hemingway writes: “Nick did not want to go in there now. He felt a reaction against deep wading with the water deepening up under his armpits….In the swamp fishing was a tragic adventure. Nick did not want it. He did not want to go down the stream any further today” (180). Repetition of the words “did not want” three times in this passage illustrates Nick’s adamant refusal to explore the depths of the river or the depths of his self. Additional repetition of time words in this passage such as “now” and “today,” coupled with time word “days” in the short story’s last sentence, “There were plenty of days coming when he


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could fish the swamp,” convey that not only is Nick presently fearful of depth but he is temporally procrastinating exploration of that depth (Hemingway 180). Since Nick fishes only in shallow water and “there were plenty of days coming when he could fish” deeper water, the reader is left not knowing whether or not Nick will ever fish that deeper water. But the reader should suspect, based on this snapshot of Nick’s life, that he may never fish the deeper water. In Passing, as Irene continues to fret about her husband and Clare, Larsen says that “she did not look the future in the face. She wanted to feel nothing, to think nothing; simply to believe that it was all silly invention on her part. Yet she could not. Not quite” (Larsen 150). Just as Nick could start to face internal tension but “did not want” to do so, Irene also could start to face relational tension but “could not…quite” do so (Hemingway 180, Larsen 150). The wording “could not…quite” suggests procrastination because it conveys partiality, suggesting that Irene may be capable of some initial stage or stages of facing the future but incapable of full-fledged “terrible honesty.” The novel’s concluding scene contains partiality but not “terrible honesty” as well. For, one second Clare was standing by a window but the next she had fallen out of the window; first Irene’s hand was on Clare’s arm but then “what happened next, Irene Redfield never afterwards allowed herself to remember. Never clearly” (Larsen 176). Again, time words such as “never afterwards” convey Irene’s control over time as she indefinitely procrastinated facing the facts of what happened to Clare. Modifying words such as the adverb “clearly” convey Irene’s partiality rather than “terrible honesty” as she could not quite face the future and she could not clearly remember what happened to Clare (Larsen 150, 176). Irene’s procrastination of remembering what happened to Clare destines her for trouble. Douglas suggests that “ignorance is definitely not bliss; sooner or later ignorance will get you in big trouble – and probably sooner” (34). This warning leaves the reader of Passing with a foreboding sense that, just as Nick may never fish his deeper water, Irene may never allow herself to recall what happened to Clare. As Nick and Irene illustrate, the practice of denial does not address internal or relational tensions with any semblance of clarity, timeliness, or


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totality, making “terrible honesty” a more beneficial policy. It may seem an odd, roundabout strategy for Hemingway and Larsen to portray characters who did not practice the very policy that the authors wanted to promote. But, had Hemingway and Larsen portrayed main characters that faced their “past and present lies” with “terrible honesty,” readers may have missed the consequences of denial and therefore missed the importance of honesty (Douglas 31). By portraying Nick and Irene’s denial and consequential self-contradiction and procrastination, concluding their stories with tones of uneasy, unfinished mystery, Hemingway and Larsen in fact supported “terrible honesty” in the name of psychological survival.

Works Cited: Douglas, Ann. Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995. Print. Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Finca Vigía ed., 1st Scribner trade pbk. ed. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print. Larsen, Nella. Passing. New York: Arnor Press, 1969. Print.


Comparative Humanities Undergraduate Journal

English Literature


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Brumal Affinity: Winter and the Fallen Condition in Elizabeth Gaskell By Elizabeth Tompkins

Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing is heavily infused with natural imagery; the settings of her novels and stories are as important and influential as her characters, and Gaskell lingers on them, “so unobtrusively…that one hardly realizes, except in retrospect, how essential a part they play” (Jung 75). It is her “instinct for composition” which allows this; she adds a “sense of movement” (Jung 75) to her scenery that turns it into a living, breathing entity, inseparable from her characters and their lives. Gaskell drew inspiration heavily from William Wordsworth; in fact, according to an essay by Irene Wiltshire, “One of the most unequivocal opinions Elizabeth Gaskell expressed about another writer may be found in a letter to her sister-in-law in 1836. Writing from her uncle’s farm at Sandlebridge, she said, of Wordsworth, ‘my heart feels so full of him I only don’t know how to express my fullness without being too diffuse’” (Jung 73). Gaskell expresses this admiration continually in the romantic overtones she incorporates into her writing.


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Gaskell’s novels and short stories would be hollow without the rich sensory description she provides of the natural environment, which continuously evokes the underlying emotions of her characters, “so effortlessly that it is easy to underestimate how much each owes to the other… unobtrusively or simply by implication, she indicates the correspondences between them which give another dimension to her descriptions” (Duthie 24-25). It often serves to emphasize or reinforce the moods and mindsets critical to the plot. The vivid imagery of the elements can also be viewed as a sort of “sub-text of imagery and dreams,” illuminating the repressed content that “cannot be acknowledged in the ideological surface of the novel”—for example, female sexuality (Stoneman 66). Seasonal distinctions and influences become a critical point of contact between the elements and the characters. As Duthie states, “It is a commonplace that there is a natural affinity between spring and a youthful happiness, or between autumn and melancholy, but a commonplace which has always inspired poets, because it is a matter of universal experience” (26-27). Whether it clashes or syncs with the individuals that coincide with it, the seasons are accepted as a vital component shaping these human lives. The dichotomy of the winter landscape in Gaskell’s novels and short stories is consistently eerie—her characters admire and fear it in turns. Evoking a barrage of imagery, from the beauty and purity of a fresh coat of snow to the imposing, merciless cold, it is a literary force which is consistently and unfailingly linked to Gaskell’s fallen female characters. They are often both haunted by and drawn towards the white expanse of untouched snow. The brumal imagery may very well be a manifestation of the complex nature of fallenness itself. In particular, winter seems to be linked with a patriarchal society, repressed female sexuality, and a certain status quo in which females are passive and pure. Elizabeth Gaskell’s affinity for linking her characters—particularly female ones—with the winter landscape seems to show distinct facets in her different stories. In her 1852 short story “The Old Nurse’s Tale,” winter is lethal. Furnivall Manor is haunted by the ghosts of a women and daughter that were locked out in the snow to die, as well as by the spirit of Lord Furnivall, who forced them out into the cold upon discovering the existence


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of the illegitimate child. The ghosts appear most unmistakably on winter nights that echo the night on which the child and mother froze to death. Hester, the old nurse who narrates the short story, notes that “[a]s winter drew on, and the days grew shorter, I was sometimes almost certain that I heard a noise as if someone was playing on the great organ in the hall. I did not hear it every evening; but, certainly, I did very often … but most of all on winter nights, and before storms…” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales 291). It was on a “fearful night” such as these that Lord Furnivall discovered “that his daughter had disgraced herself ” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales 24). Gaskell’s description of that fateful night is one of sounds: “[A] great and violent noise was heard, and the old lord’s voice above all, cursing and swearing awfully, and the cries of a little child, and the proud defiance of a fierce woman, and the sound of a blow, and a dead stillness, and moans and wailings dying away on the hillside!” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales, 24). This passage is starkly contrasted with the description of the child-ghost “beating against the window-panes, as if she wanted to be let in,” for even though the girl seems to be exerting all her efforts to “wail and cry” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales 24), no sound can be heard. Miss Maude and her child were thrown out of doors on “that wild and fearful night”, into an inhospitable winter landscape—with snow falling “fast enough to blind any one who might be about” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales 28)—which mirrors the unforgiving nature of Lord Furnivall and, perhaps more deeply, the punitive views of a patriarchal society bent on identifying and persecuting degeneration in females. The law of God is here replaced with the unbending laws of nature. Sin and depravity are subjected to the iron hand of a winter night. Here, Gaskell’s winter is a type of hell for the woman and her child, evoking the innermost circle of Dante’s Inferno, where the very worst sinners are encapsulated in ice. Miss Maude and her little girl are eternally trapped in the blizzard which killed them. Young Rosamond is repeatedly tempted by the ghost of the little girl who froze to death in the snow. The child tries to lure her outside by evoking sympathy from the living girl, appealing to Rosamond to save her from a fate that cannot, in actuality, be undone. Leading up to her first encounter with the spirit, Rosamond and Hester go to church and come out to find snow “soft, thick,


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and deep beneath our feet, as we tramped home … with the moon, and what with the white dazzling snow” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales 293). The scenery is beautiful, even enchanting, but later that evening, when Rosamond leaves the manor to follow the ghost-child up to the Fells, the winter turns against her and Hester. It becomes a hostile environment, “bitter cold; so cold, that the air almost took the skin off my [Hester’s] face” (295). As with many ghost stories, the victims of an arguably unjust crime come back to lure others to the same fate, finding themselves trapped in an afterlife that fills them with indignation and spite. The scariest element of this tale is the fact that Rosamond’s innocence does not necessarily grant her immunity from the powers of the ghosts, which show as little mercy as they received when alive. Moving away from the Gothic motif, Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 short story “Lizzie Leigh” opens with a sharp juxtaposition: the death of a husband and father on Christmas day. The loss of a loved one coinciding with a day usually evoking joyful togetherness, “the very contrast between the time as it now is, and the day as it has often been, gives a poignancy to sorrow – a more utter blankness to the desolation” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales 249). Mourners are drawn out of the comfort of their homes in a funeral procession, and once they’ve departed, Mrs. Leigh can be found “[gazing] out, long and wistfully, over the dark grey moors” (250). The bleak landscape holds many layers of meaning for so short a piece. There is the obvious links it bears with death, but death here has a double-meaning, for it also refers to the complex and symbolic ‘death’ of Lizzie. She is dead to her family in the sense that she fell, that she was disowned by her family, and that she disappeared. As Mrs. Leigh is the one who gazes out at the snow, Gaskell likely wishes to associate the woman’s emotions with the natural imagery. Her loneliness mirrors the bleakness of the deserted moors; she is not only in mourning for her dead husband, but fearing and yearning for her daughter. The snowfall which coincides with the funeral is described as heavy, and it’s even said that the “black storm-laden dome of heaven lay very still and close upon the white earth … and the great white flakes which came slowly down were the boding forerunners of a heavy storm” (Gaskell, Gothic Tales 251). The proximity of a dark heaven and the associated imagery is


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redolent of punishment, justice, and guilt. The fact that Mr. Leigh has finally expressed his forgiveness of her fallen daughter on his deathbed sets the stage for Mrs. Leigh’s quest to reclaim her lost Lizzie. It is this quest to which these aforementioned “great white flakes” are a symbolic harbinger. However, the frozen moorland before her is treacherous, reflecting the opposition she will face as she searches for her fallen daughter. Male characters tend to be associated with “harshness and lack of compassion,” such as Lizzie’s older brother, Will, who “only slowly relents toward her,” and the father of the woman who looks after Lizzie’s child, who “remains unsympathetic to her” (Matus 114). Also, it is only on his deathbed that Lizzie’s father can grant her forgiveness, even though at that point he likely suspects he is forgiving a girl who has already died—this is an example of the clash between “female love and forgiveness” and “a male-centered view of sin and retribution” which frequents Gaskell’s work (Matus 114). It is Mrs. Leigh, an honorable woman who is first shown wistfully regarding the shadowy moors, that shows the greatest agency, who takes on the desperate quest of reclaiming her lost daughter, and who ultimately succeeds in bringing back Lizzie, though her illegitimate child is lost in the process. Gaskell’s infamous 1853 novel Ruth gives a new complexity to the relationship between the woman-destined-to-fall and the winter landscape. “Ruth is the most sensitive to natural beauty of all the Gaskell heroines” (Duthie 28), and thus the most sensitive to the fallen condition. The reader’s first glimpse of her finds her enchanted by a January night which her coworkers abhor: “Ruth Hilton sprang to the large old window, and pressed against it as a bird presses against the bars of its cage… everything was covered with the deep snow which had been falling silently ever since the evening before” (Gaskell, Ruth 4). It is important to note that at this stage, Ruth is in “an all-female world,” isolated from the male “by the surrounding winter landscape which dissuades the girls from venturing out” (Matus 56). As in “The Old Nurse’s Tale,” winter is a threatening force, representing containment for the girls. It is of narrative significance that Ruth is the only one who struggles against this symbolic cage. According to Deirdre d’Albertis, one of Gaskell’s motivations in writing Ruth was to combat accepted categorical standards for what qualified as


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prostitution—in general, female sexual conduct. Ruth is meant to be the anti-prostitute; though she is inevitably thrown into a situation of sexual transgression, her innate purity calls into question her sinful actions. Gaskell continues to emphasize Ruth’s innocence and victimization, ultimately calling into question the defining traits of the fallen woman. In particular, Gaskell draws a social distinction between Ruth and the common prostitute, who is “unequivocally marked as a sinner for Gaskell—more than unwomanly, less than human” (51). The prostitute is one for whom sexual transgressions are linked with economic exchange. In the case of Ruth, Gaskell makes a point of focusing on the particularity of the girl’s experiences which lead her to become perceived as fallen. In doing so, Gaskell positions herself between an existing moral code for the regulation of sexual behavior and scientific attempts to anatomize the unchaste woman’s social, physical, and psychological milieu. Thus, in a novel about fallenness, the author declined to represent the scene of her heroine’s sexual ignition, the one act most often designated as integral to Victorian social definitions of ‘prostitution.’ (d’Albertis 75) In eliminating this scene, Gaskell gives a structural foundation to what remains a philosophical debate on whether or not Ruth should be considered fallen. The character Esther in Mary Barton, a true prostitute in the eyes of Gaskell, says “The colder, the bleaker, the more stormy the night, the more certain you will be to find me” (Gaskell, Mary Barton 189-190). The January night which Ruth gazes upon, though quite bleak in the eyes of the other girls, is somehow beautiful and alluring to her: “Ruth pressed her hot forehead against the cold glass, and strained her aching eyes in gazing out on the lovely sky of a winter’s night. The impulse was strong upon her to snatch up a shawl, and wrapping it round her head, to sally forth and enjoy the glory” (Gaskell, Ruth 5). Even as a young child, she would “run up the lane all the way to the mill, just to see the icicles hang on the great wheel” (Gaskell, Ruth 5) and would prefer to stay out in the cold than return inside to the fireside and to her mother.


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Ruth’s ability to venture fearlessly into the snow and return unscathed is remarkable, particularly in a Gaskellian novel. Rather than hellfire, Gaskell’s test of purity is a merciless winter night—sinners freeze rather than burn for their transgressions. Where Miss Maude and her child were cast out into the snow only to suffer death at the hands of a merciless judge— nature, taking on the role of the God of male-dominated societal norms— Ruth goes willingly out into the cold and returns invigorated, rather than crushed. Gaskell “personifies the abstract notions of good and evil in terms of an analogy between body and soul. Ruth, as a fallen woman, represents physical decay and corruption but her soul is pure and innocent” (Jung 99); thus, if winter represents the harsh morality of patriarchal society, than Ruth is meant to be a woman toward whom it bears no ill will. It is a symbol of her purity that she does not fear the cold, that she can withstand it, and that she can find it amenable to her unfallen personality. Ruth does fall, though. The novel is a moral tale, but it proposes, “not only that fallen women can be saved, but that women who appear fallen in the eyes of society may in fact be virtuous” (Matus 54). Ruth falls, but she is not “fallen”. She is distinguished from her literary peers, from the common fallen woman, by her innocence. This innocence melts away with the appearance of warmer weather. Though most essayists focus on how Gaskell links Ruth with images of freshness and springtime, it seems that these images are really more closely linked with the rakish Bellingham, her corruptor, and thus stand as metaphors for Ruth’s sin. The first imagery of warmth in the novel appears in the scene where Ruth first meets Bellingham: “Outside all was cold, and colourless, and uniform, one coating of snow over all. But inside it was warm, and glowing, and vivid; flowers scented the air, and wreathed the head, and rested on the bosom, as if it were midsummer” (Gaskell, Ruth 14). Much can be said about the use of space in this scene: Ruth literally moves from the winter setting into the summer setting. On a deeper note, she moves from a state of repressed sexuality, sexual ignorance and passivity into the world of men and manipulation. It’s important to note that she was forced there by Mrs. Mason, because this element of duress reinforces


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Gaskell’s relentless argument in favor of Ruth’s unbroken innocence. When Ruth goes away with Bellingham and winter turns into spring, the girl becomes more objectified, sexualized, and preyed upon. She goes out of the inn to enjoy the weather, and her casual, unobtrusive strolls around the grounds cause men to comment on her beauty, women to condemn her actions, and even children to strike her! These are all marks put upon her— Ruth does not act in any particular way to elicit them. Ruth is “startling” in that it incorporates sexual elements into sequences of innocent imagery without breaking this imagery with “the sexual act” itself (Stoneman 66). For example, Ruth is consistently given, adorned with, and associated with flowers. These are seemingly-innocent symbols of sexuality, and appear in the greatest concentrations when Ruth is at the inn with Bellingham, in her most sinful condition. It’s interesting to note the prevalence of white flowers: the “snowy white” camellia given to her by Bellingham, “white-scented stars” of Jessamine, snowdrops, and especially the “stately white lilies, sacred to the Virgin” (Gaskell, Ruth 20, 176, 8). Gaskell cleverly allows Ruth to take on connotations of fertility and an Evelike propensity for sin, as evidenced by the flowers, while still retaining the marks of an innocent nature, as evidenced by the references to winter, the color white, and the Virgin. The use of summer imagery climaxes in the scene in which Bellingham adorns Ruth with flowers: When he came back he took off her bonnet… and began to place his flowers in her hair. She was quite still… with a peaceful composure… She stood in her white dress against the trees which grew around; her face was flushed into a brilliancy of colour which resembled that of a rose in June; the great heavy white flowers drooped on either side of her beautiful head, and if her brown hair was a little disordered, the very disorder only seemed to add a grace. She pleased him more by looking so lovely… But when they left the wood, and Ruth had taken out her flowers… She became pensive and sad. (Gaskell, Ruth 74-75)


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Though Ruth has been transformed by Bellingham into a nymphet for the purpose of his own pleasure, she manages to retain some ‘whiteness’, which contrasts starkly with the surrounding nature and her own flushed skin. How beautiful—and yet how sinful!—she looks in this scene, compared with her simple and blissful ignorance on the winter night which opens the novel. Though Gaskell’s fallen women vary in their degrees of actual and perceived guilt for the states in which they find themselves, it seems that Gaskell consistently links them with winter imagery. From Miss Maude, who met a gruesome end after being forcibly trapped outside in a raging blizzard, to Lizzie, whose mother recalls and longs for her while regarding the shadowy winter moors; to Ruth, who is drawn by the sight of a pure coat of snow. These women are all incredibly multi-faceted individuals. Like the winter landscape, their personalities and lives contain both beautiful and terrible elements. All are characterized as deviant, and all share the damning symbol of an illegitimate child. Gaskell’s tales are never short on some type of justice. In “The Old Nurse’s Tale,” both mother and child meet a cruel end, but there is no sense of finality to it, for they return as ghosts to haunt the living. In “Lizzie Leigh,” the sinful Lizzie receives her due punishment with the death of her child, a tragedy which she mourns for the rest of her days. There is a sense of triumph in the case of Ruth, where “so-called deviancy becomes a catalyst in liberating her from the biased attitudes of Victorian society” (Jung 105). She turns patriarchal ideology on its head by remaining arguably innocent in spite of her sinful actions. Though she dies, she earns respect as a pure woman and redeems her child from a lifetime of prejudice.


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Works Cited: d’Albertis, Deirdre. Dissembling Fictions: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Social Text. 1st ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Print. Duthie, Enid. The Themes of Elizabeth Gaskell. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980. Print. Gaskell, Elizabeth. Mary Barton. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1906. Print. Gaskell, Elizabeth. Gothic Tales. London: Penguin Books, 2000. Print. Gaskell, Elizabeth. Ruth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. Jung, Sandro, ed. Elizabeth Gaskell, Victorian Culture, and the Art of Fiction. 1st ed. Gent: Academia Press, 2010. Print. Matus, Jill L, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print. Stoneman, Patsy. Elizabeth Gaskell. 2nd ed. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2006. Print.


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Form and Content in the Modern Novel: Examining a Complementary Relationship Elizabeth Tompkins

In a modernized world where individuals feel a sense of being unhinged from the natural world, the bourgeois novel rises as a manifestation of this alienation. It is a container and conveyer through which the tragic themes of the bourgeois life under industrial capitalism can be transmitted. Its beauty lies in the manner in which the ambitions of its form parallel the ambitions of its content. One of these ambitions is the attempt to evoke meaning where it cannot be found. This applies to both the real world—in which people have become so ostracized from their true nature that they are all but consumed by the reified world—and within the constraints of the novel itself, which is composed purely of artifice. The modern authors— such as Flaubert and Kafka, who will be examined here—are seeking a sense of totality which cannot be found in their lives or in the textual form, so it is molded out of description, out of plot, and out of stylistic devices that are part of a sort of glass pane through which the novel’s content is regarded. Meaning ends up being manufactured rather than evoked.


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Within the content of the bourgeois novel, the formation of meaning requires social mapping of relations between characters, institutions, and the physical environment. Again, the necessary conceptualization of totality falls short here; the fact that the writers have, at best, a flimsy grasp of organic totality results in an inability to describe it in any terms other than reified ones. The resulting society and institutions described in bourgeois novels are bound by impersonal and abstract concepts. The strongest and most pervasive of these is obviously money, the culprit of the invasive feelings of alienation which result, ironically, in the creation of literature that preserves its image. The bourgeois novel attempts, but consistently fails to find, the answer to what Georg Lukacs’ “Integrated Civilizations” proposed as the critical question: “how can life become essence?” (30). He said, “When the soul does not yet know any abyss within itself which may tempt it to fall or encourage it to discover pathless heights . . . Being and destiny, adventure and accomplishment, life and essence are then identical concepts” (30). This sense of clear totality, which can be found in Homer’s epics, had been completely lost by the 19th century. Characters’ true desires are displaced in the bourgeois novel; both they and the novel itself become preoccupied with things, with components of the so-called “second nature” of manufactured materials created by industrial capitalism. This obsession produces no real pleasure, and their environment inevitably serves as an antagonist rather than a means of fulfillment, distracting them from others. Ultimately the atomized individuals are left alone with only their thoughts to socially engage them. These patterns of displaced desire, material obsession, and alienation occur simultaneously in countless passages of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, perhaps the greatest example of the bourgeois novel. One of the most vivid instances occurs during the ball at Vaubyessard: Emma, on entering, felt herself wrapped round as by a warm breeze, a blending of the perfume of flowers and of the fine linen, of the fumes of the roasts and the odor of the truffles . . . the cut crystal, covered with a fine mist of steam, reflected pale rays of light . . . the statue of a woman, draped to the chin, gazed motionless on the crowded room . (Flaubert I, VIII)


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This passage is incredibly eerie, a virtual natural landscape produced by commodities. The “warm breeze,” “perfume,” “mist,” and “rays of light” all convey a sense of the natural, but a clearly artificial sense (Flaubert I, VIII). The novel suavely accepts this “second nature,” as does Emma. It seems as though the novel and Emma are united in an obsession with things. For Emma this artificial world elicits physical pleasure: she “shivered all over” when she tasted the champagne (Flaubert I, VIII). Madame Bovary shows a preference for commodities over humans when it eschews the guests for “the statue of a woman” (Flaubert I, VIII), which ironically is described as watching the throngs of people which the novel is ignoring. There are pages and pages of description of the expensive, fine-quality foods and trinkets decorating this palace, but there are only brief mentions of the other guests, in curt snippets such as “The ladies afterwards retired to their rooms to prepare for the ball” (Flaubert I, VIII). As realism ensnares the scene while pushing the human element out, the people “become dabs of colour in a painting which rises above a lifeless level only insofar as it is elevated to an ironic symbol of philistinism” (Lukacs, “Narrate” 115). The setting derives importance from artifice, creating an illusion of constancy, as though the beautifully laid out ballroom will still be there long after the guests have left. The admiration of the products of industrial capitalism is simply a means of keeping attention at the level of the surface and touching only the shallows of content. Going any deeper into the psyche behind the objective reality would result in the disclosure of the system’s flaws, as well as its repressed desires. The chaotic feelings of atomization beneath the surface of the bourgeois novel, smothered by reification and ambiguity, do surface in reactionary or compensatory manners—in Madame Bovary, through melodrama; in The Trial, through paranoia. Caught in an opaque world, Emma Bovary searches for some sort of transcendence through excess of emotion, of comprehension, and of action. Melodrama for her is a naïve illusion of a world that can be simplified into good and evil, true and false, love and hate etc. She disdains the inscrutable in others and the actuation of interiority in herself, endeavoring instead to obtain a flawless continuity between her exterior—her expressions, her actions, and her reactions—and


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her interior emotions, which are consistently grandiose and often the result of sudden, passionate conclusions about the world, ignorantly based on how it appears: “As to Emma, she did not ask herself whether she loved. Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings—a hurricane of the skies, which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf, and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss” (Flaubert II, IV). The trajectory from Madame Bovary to Franz Kafka’s The Trial, a bourgeois novel of the 20th century, reads like the next step in a progression of a steadily-worsening psychological disorder. The paranoia of the protagonist K. is, like Emma Bovary’s melodrama, a symptom of the novel’s ambition to contain bourgeois anxieties in form and content. In The Trial, Kafka has created a twisted world which seems abandoned by God, but which has in place a naturalized, anti-historical legal apparatus that stands as a sort of artificial God. The novel is filled with the allegorical-like, the theology-like, and the parable-like, while lacking the necessary elements for any—meaning, God, and truth. The world is capitalist, yet its citizens crave authority and masochistically submit to it. Guilt—severed from and independent of action—is produced by the legal apparatus, instead of being discovered by it. Only K. seems to have any desire to find understanding in this twisted, surreal world. His paranoia is the surfacing of anxieties about his dilemma, which seems emblematic of the human condition—a hopeless search for comprehension within the labyrinthine bureaucracy of a totalitarian “justice” which simultaneously baits and conceals itself from K. Moving from the content of The Trial to its form, one finds what Lukacs describes as “a kaleidoscopic chaos” where “every epic relationship disappears in the descriptive style” (“Narrate” 133). In a sense the bourgeois style reaches its climax in Kafka: after starting down the road of description, one now reaches the meaningless of things, a novel in which “fetishized objects are whisked about in an amorphous atmosphere” (Lukacs, “Narrate” 133). When K. goes to visit the painter Titorelli, he finds himself in a disjointed mess of seemingly significant, yet meaningless images: This was an even poorer neighborhood, the houses were still darker,


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the streets filled with sludge oozing about slowly . . . in the masonry near the ground, there was a gaping hole out of which, just as K. approached, issued a disgusting yellow fluid, steaming hot, from which some rats fled into the adjoining canal. At the foot of the stairs an infant lay face down on the ground bawling, but one could scarcely hear its shrieks because of the deafening din that came from a tinsmith’s workshop on the other side of the entry…” (Kafka VII) The imagery here is a disjointed mess of images lacking any rational transition from one to the next; the hop from the rats to the infant is particularly bizarre. Made up of seemingly significant, yet meaningless images, it stands as a marker of a historically inevitable scenario. What began as manufacturing meaning through signifiers—a style mastered by writers such as Flaubert—degraded over time into the grotesque, zombie aesthetic present in Kafka. All along the way, bourgeois novels demonstrated camaraderie between form and content, simultaneously working on the reader’s conscious and unconscious to convey the ideology of an era.

Works Cited: Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004. Print. Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York: Schocken Books, 1995. Print. Lukacs, Georg. “Integrated Civilisations,” in The Theory of the Novel, pp.29-40. Boston: MIT Press, 1974. Print. Lukacs, Georg. “Narrate or Describe?” in Writer and Critic and Other Essays, ed. and trans. Arthur D. Kahn, pp.110-148. New York: Merlin Press, 1970. Print.


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Gender Studies


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The Internalization of Cultural Ideals: A Psychoanalytical Approach Victoria Narine

The Victorian era is marked by its strict moral code and sexually secrecy. The literary avant garde of the nineteenth century sought to question the social structure of morality. Because of the Victorian era’s hyperconsciousness of moral deviance and sexual corruption, the literary avant garde ultimately became associated with sexual perversion and grotesqueness. Refusing to adhere to the psychologically binding moral tendencies of the Victorian era, Algernon Charles Swinburne overstepped the boundaries of social normalcy and wrote poetry depicting sadomasochism, necrophilia, and hermaphrodeity. He directly defies nineteenth century standards of sexual and gender conventions by blurring the lines between male and female. Moreover, Swinburne’s poetry assumes the role of autobiography. His courageousness and seeming lack of social decency qualify him as part of the literary avant garde. In his poetry, Swinburne exhibits the complex nature of the sexually perverse and grotesquely unacceptable by writing descriptive and illustrative poetry about the most extreme of social taboos:


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sex. Swinburne’s poems, especially “The Leper,” and “Hermaphroditus” have the capacity to shock readers through their references to varieties of sexual perversions. The loftiness and dense allusiveness of the language, however, disguise Swinburne’s most graphic of sexual perversions, making the true subjects of his poetry ambiguous while still expressing the Victorian ideal of inconspicuous sex. Within these poems, Swinburne’s most controversial immoral tendencies reveal themselves through descriptive images and themes related to the sexually perverse and morally grotesque that question or deny conventional Victorian beliefs regarding gender roles and sexual practices. During the Victorian era, sexuality was restricted to the conjugal family who “absorbed it into the serious function of reproduction” (Foucault 3). The conjugal family imposed itself as a model of proper sexual behavior, established the norms of sexuality, and silently yet powerfully denounced sex as anything other than strictly procreative. The only locus of sexuality allowed to be made public was the parents’ bedroom: “The rest had only to remain vague; proper demeanor avoided contact with other bodies, and verbal decency sanitized one’s speech” (Foucault 3). The conjugal family was granted authoritative power to define and regulate sexuality and determine what was socially acceptable and morally deviant. Labeling sexuality as socially deviant, and granting the conjugal family authoritative power to define sexuality as strictly procreative led to a culturally imposed repression. In The History of Sexuality: Volume One: An Introduction, Michael Foucault distinguishes between prohibition and repression. Rather than simply prohibiting the exposure of sexuality via penal law, Victorian society used shame, public humiliation, and ostracism to silently yet powerfully control the masses. In “Three Essays on Sexuality,” Sigmund Freud describes shame as a barrier against the sexual drive – “a defense against the wish to see and be seen” (Nichols 114). Authoritative social forces manipulated the socializing tendencies of the superego, emblazoning on the subconscious the unconventionality and deviance and exposed sexuality. According to Foucault, the Victorian era “imposed its triple edict of taboo, nonexistence, and silence” (Foucault 5). Swinburne defies Victorian conventions of morality and exposes his


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sexuality through his poetry, publicizing his sexual deviance and moral grotesqueness. The publication of his poems grants Swinburne psychological control over the signifying authoritative forces in society. Foucault says “if sex is repressed, that is, condemned to prohibition, nonexistence, and silence, then the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberate transgression” (Foucault 6). Swinburne places himself outside the scope of power. He upsets established law. Swinburne’s poem, “Hermaphroditus,” figuratively emphasizes his capacity to remove himself from the suffocating constraints of the Victorian moral code and place himself outside of the reach of arbitrary authoritative social forces. “Hermaphroditus” contrasts thematically with typical love poems from the Victorian era. Rather than describing heterosexual love, Swinburne writes about the intense love relationship between Hermaphroditus and the nymph Salmacis. The two lovers bypass the emotional tension and pain associated with separation by fusing with one another to form a double-sexed body. The mere notion of a double-sexed body not only works against Victorian standards of appropriate sexuality but disavows scientific developments of the nineteenth century that advocated for a greater amount of sexual differentiation based on biological findings. Swinburne’s poem revolutionizes the common conception of love during the Victorian era by completely rejecting gender divisions. Theoretically, in “Hermaphroditus” Swinburne introduces the avant garde idea of asexuality. In this context, asexuality can mean denote gender equality or represent two physical beings with unidentifiable sexual characteristics, if any sexual characteristics do exist at all. Hermaphrodeity relates to the defiance of traditional gendered norms in terms of physical characteristics and genderspecific roles. Swinburne slyly questions the relevance of gender in a love relationship. He reacts against the culturally imposed repression by deviating from the traditional definition of romantic love. In “Hermaphroditus,” Swinburne implies that the only love that can exist for a physically asexual creature is blind love. Because of the prohibitive tendencies of Victorian culture regarding atypical sexuality, the love relationship in “Hermaphroditus” is doomed. The speaker of the poem renounces desire for the asexual creature and resigns itself from the


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possibility of a deviant love relationship in a restrictive moral society: “Yea, sweet, I know; I saw in what swift wise/ Beneath the woman’s and the water’s kiss/ Thy moist limbs melted into Salmacis,/ And the large light turned tender in thine eyes,/ And all thy boy’s breath softened into sighs;/ But Love being blind, how should he know of this?” (Swinburne 4.9-13). The speaker’s renunciation of desire for the androgyne from fear of disobeying the social order is supported by Freud’s theory on the conception of societal taboos. In “Totem and Taboo,” Freud posits that socially inappropriate yet instinctual sexual and aggressive desires are quelled by a controlling and regulatory superego, one part of the unconscious formed by the internalization of culture’s expectations and norms. Freud bases his theory off research on primitive Indian clans and their over-identification with and personification of sacrificial animals stating “originally, all totems were animals…There was a prohibition against killing the totem (or – which, under primitive conditions, is the same thing – against eating it). Members of a totem clan were forbidden to practice sexual intercourse with one another” (Freud 485). Freud’s theory outlines the two most basic and significant taboos of civilized society: murder and incest. According to Freud, cultural ideals are gradually internalized and integrated with the self-concept. This internalization of cultural ideals, and prohibitions, eventually forms the superego. The superego represents moral standards but “many of its dictates are unconscious and often unreasonable and sadistically cruel” (Nichols 113). Freud says that “germs or sexual impulses are already present in the new-born child” but these impulses continually develop and transform. During childhood, “mental forces which are later to impede the course of the sexual instinct and, like dams, restrict its flow – disgust, feelings of shame and the claims of aesthetic and moral ideals” are built up (Freud 261). These “moral dams” act in powerful ways to assuage inhibitions. In “Hermaphroditus,” the speaker is characterized by his inability to silence the “sadistically cruel” voice of culture. Although the poem begins with a strong descriptive sense of desire for the androgyne, Swinburne’s allusive and vague language, riddled with desperation and reluctance, foreshadow the speaker’s discontent with blind love, the only love that an androgyne, a sexual deviant from society, can experience:


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Lift up thy lips, turn round, look back for love, Blind love that comes by night and casts out rest; Of all things tired thy lips look weariest, Save the long smile that they are wearied of. Ah sweet, albeit no love be sweet enough, Choose of two loves and cleave unto the best; …A great despair cast out by strong desire. (Swinburne 1.1-6, 13-14) The constricting social rules of Victorian society quell the desire elicited by the speaker, further indicating the inevitable internalization of culture. Algernon Charles Swinburne’s sexual deviance again presents itself in “The Leper.” Unlike “Hermaphroditus,” in which the speaker is shown to be unconsciously bound by the moral and sexual norms of the Victorian era, the speaker in “The Leper” denounces conventional sexual practices. The poem presents a situation in which the speaker is threatened with God’s condemnation by means of his passionate and borderline obsessive love for a woman. The threat of God’s condemnation is heightened because of the speaker’s sexual perversity, necrophilia, by declaring “Six months I sit still and hold/ In two cold palms her cold two feet./ Her hair, half grey half ruined gold,/ Thrills me and burns me in kissing it” (Swinburne 26.101104). The morally unacceptable effects of obsession and non-marital passion socially marginalize the speaker. However, the proclamation of this desire, albeit through allusive and obscure figurative language, projects the speaker outside of the realm of the arbitrarily established social order. According to Michael Foucault, when a typical, socially obedient Victorian was subjected to eroticized discourse, this Victorian “closed one’s eyes and stopped one’s ears” (4). Closing one’s eyes and stopping one’s ears are characteristic of repression. Foucault continues by saying “repression operated as a sentence to disappear, but also as an injunction to silence, an affirmation of nonexistence, and, by implication, an admission that there was nothing to say about such things, nothing to see, and nothing to know” (4). Because of the discomfort sexual discourse caused within the psyches of obedient Victorians, this discourse was unconsciously repressed by all who were morally aware. The repression material remained repressed due to the fear


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of punishment, shame, and ostracism by the authoritative social forces. Swinburne’s speaker in “The Leper” dismisses the boundaries established by the authoritative social forces by graphically describing the obsessive and passionate love, although imagined, that exist between the speaker and the love-object. Swinburne neglects his allusive and ambiguous language in order to imaginatively and accurately describe the sexual passion between the speaker and the love-object: He that had held her by the hair, With kissing lips blinding her eyes, Felt her bright bosom, strained and bare, Sign under him, with short mad cries Out of her throat and sobbing mouth And body broken up with love, With sweet hot tears his lips were loth Her own should taste the savour of, Yea, he inside whose grasp all night Her fervent body leapt or lay, (Swinburne 15-17.57-66) Swinburne dismisses the Victorian ideal of asexual, non-eroticized social discourse by not only graphically describing the physical passion between the speaker and the love-object but by also briefly describing the deviant sexual behaviors of the couple, such as sadomasochism: “He that held her by the hair,/ With kissing lips blinding her eyes” (Swinburne 57-58.904).. Swinburne refuses to disguise the passion that exists between the couple by using ambiguous and equivocal language. Foucault states that “we are conscious of defying established power, our tone of voice shows that we know we are being subversive” (6). Swinburne actively defies the established social order by failing to use obscure and figurative language. Instead, he, like the speaker, rejects social conventionalities. Inferring that all literature is to some extent cathartic, Swinburne projects onto the speaker in “The Leper” his own “instinctual wishes, conflicts, moods, and ways of thinking” (Moore and Fine 44). In this way, Swinburne advertises his defiance of the established social order.


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Moreover, Swinburne emphasizes the strict social code of the Victorians and their adherence to social conformity by depicting the love-object as marginalized as well because of disease. The love-object in “The Leper” suffers a loss of beauty and social acceptance after contracting a debilitating and fatal illness: “Changed with disease her body sweet,/ The body of love wherin she abode” (Swinburne 12.47-48). Similarly in “Hermaphroditus,” the two objects of desire – the androgyne and the dead female lover – are restricted to deviant and culturally immoral love affairs. Most painful, however, is the unrequited love experienced by the speaker in “The Leper.” Swinburne emphasizes the perverseness of the love affair by describing it as sexually deviant but foreshadows the social consequences by depicting the love as unrequited. The physical passion between the speaker and the loveobject is imagined by the speaker of “The Leper.” Swinburne places focus on the anguished recognition that any fulfilled passion between the speaker and the love-object is impossible because of her love for another man and her disease-induced death. By making the type of love relationship socially irregular, the sexual act deviant, and the love unrequited during the loveobject’s lifetime, Swinburne draws attention to the multifaceted dynamics of an atypical sexual relationship. Swinburne critiques the puritanical Victorian society by implicitly questioning the sexual passion within standard heterosexual couples. “The Leper” provides evidence against the single-faceted definition of romantic love. Swinburne also reacts against signifying authoritative powers by portraying the speaker of “The Leper” as lacking fear of God’s brutal and shaming condemnation. The speaker realizes and accepts the fact that God scorns his lustful and sexually deviant tendencies: I vex my head with thinking this. Yea, though God always hated me, And hates me now that I can kiss Her eyes, plait up her hair to see How she then wore it on the brows, Yet am I glad to have her dead Here in this wretched house


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Where I can kiss her eyes and head. (Swinburne 4-5.13-20) The seemingly neurotic obsession with the dead love-object causes the speaker of “The Leper” to fetishize the love-object, mainly because of his inability to fully gratify his sexual desires. Freud defines fetishes as “a substitute for a deity or a beloved person, and a broad range of objects, varying in their characteristics, may be utilized for the devotional or loving behavior” (Moore and Fine 46). In a religious context, the speaker disavows the importance of God, a radically contemptible act within Victorian society, and substitutes the body of his love-object for God. Devotion for God is transferred to devotion for the love-object with the aim of gratifying psychological tension. In the analytic context, which seems more appropriate for Swinburne, a fetish “refers to the fixation of erotic interest on an object or body part which is inappropriate for normal sexual purposes but which is needed by the individual for the attainment of sexual gratification” (Moore and Fine 46). Swinburne again questions the Victorian ideal of a single acceptable locus of sexuality, the “legitimate and procreative couple” (Foucault 3). The speaker, however, eventually acknowledges that his love and eroticism remain ungratified: “Six months, and now my sweet is dead/ A trouble take me; I know not/ If all were done well, all well said,/ No word or tender deed forgot./ Too sweet, for the least part in her,/ To have shed life out of fragments; yet,/ Could the close mouth catch breath and stir, I might see something I forget” (Swinburne 24-25.93-100). Like the androgyne in “Hermaphroditus,” the cultural ideals impede on total sexual gratification. In “On Narcissism: An Introduction,” Freud says that “libidinal instinctual impulses undergo the vicissitude of pathogenic repression if they come into conflict with the subject’s cultural and ethical ideals” (557). Although Swinburne attempts to illustrate a sexual relationship in which the expectations and ideals of Victorian culture can be ignored, the speaker in “The Leper” experiences erotic dissatisfaction because of the lack of sexual reciprocation by his love-object. The literal lack of sexual gratification because of the death of his love-object can be interpreted as figurative dissatisfaction because of the intrusiveness and oppressiveness of cultural and ethical ideas.


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Freud states that all individuals have “intellectual knowledge of the existence of such ideas; we always mean that he recognizes them as a standard for himself and submits to the claims they make on him” (557). The oppressive nature of the social order forces individuals to reject their sexual instincts and abide by the social norms of sexuality. Algernon Charles Swinburne attempts to defy the arbitrary authoritative social forces by writing poetry depicting sexually deviant behaviors such as necrophilia and androgyny. In “Hermaphroditus,” Swinburne describes the love of an androgyn, commenting on sexual differentiation based on biological evidence and questioning the male-female dichotomy. Presenting the androgyn as love object reacts against the social norms of gender and sexuality by proclaiming love as potentially blind and asexual. Swinburne places himself outside of the realm of social decorum on sexuality by “purporting to reveal the truth about sex, modify its economy within reality, subvert the law that governs it, and change its future” (Foucault 8). Similarly, the speaker in “the Leper” is depicted as erotically passionate and neurotically obsessive, two traits deemed inappropriate during the nineteenth century. The speaker fetishizes the love-object by displacing his devotion for God onto her and seeking abnormal sexual gratification through the practice of necrophilia. Although both “Hermaphroditus” and “The Leper” aggressively question Victorian sexuality and attempt to subvert the established social order, Swinburne’s poetry also depicts the inescapability of cultural and ethical ideals and the oppressiveness of the superego. Even though Swinburne writes about sexual deviance and socially inappropriate erotic relationships, these themes are disguised by allusive and obtuse language. The relationships in “Hermaphroditus” and “The Leper” end in emotional resignation, implying that fear of punishment and shame from the authoritative social forces is more powerful that total gratification of sexual instincts.


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Works Cited: Foucault, Michael. The History of Sexuality: Volume One: An Introduction. New York: Random House, 1980. Freud, Sigmund. “On Narcissism: An Introduction.” The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989. 545-62. Freud, Sigmund. “Totem and Taboo.” The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989. 481-514. Moore, Burness E. and Fine, Bernard D. A Glossary of Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts. New York: The American Psychoanalytic Association, 1968. Nichols, Michael P. No Place to Hide: Facing Shame So We Can Find Self-Respect. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995. Swinburne, Algernon Charles. “Hermaphroditus.” Victorian Literature: 1830 – 1900. Ed. Dorothy Mermin and Herbert Tucker. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2002. 915-16. Swinburne, Algernon Charles. “The Leper.” Victorian Literature: 1830-1900. Ed. Dorothy Mermin and Herbert Tucker. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2002. 903-05.


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Invert as Transitional Figure in Narrative of Lesbian Desire Olivia Sweet

As language evolves, so does the capacity for more varied identity categories that encompass or approximate more accurately the multiplicities of the self. It is very difficult to rationalize or understand aspects of the self that both deviate from the norm and are not named. Using the emergent language available to them in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many women identified as or were labeled “inverts” according to research from sexological studies. The inverted woman’s form does not match her soul; she is a man trapped in a woman’s body. The invert exhibits many masculine traits in appearance, interests, and hobbies and is also masculine in her desire for women. In the sexological model of the invert, gender and sexuality are linked; a masculine gender identification cannot be separated from sexual desire for women. “Invert” was often conflated with “lesbian,” furthering the fusion and


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causal relationship between sexuality and gender identification. Labeling the “invert” in this way, as the reversal of feminine desires in a woman’s body and using the dichotomous language of two opposites contained in a whole presupposes a heterosexual model of desire; man desires woman and a woman who desires women, is a man. This language does not allow for a spectrum of lesbian desire ranging from that following the traditional malefemale dynamic to more fluid representations of sexuality. Jay Prosser, in his article “‘Some Primitive Thing Conceived in a Turbulent Age of Transition’: The Transsexual Emerging from The Well,” reads the “invert” character Stephen from Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness not as lesbian, but as transgender, providing a more appropriate association between inversion and the transgender identity rather than inversion and lesbianism. When the term “invert” emerged, a lesbian or homosexual sexual identity was encompassed in the idea of inversion when, in fact, “in these most inverted narratives given the extent of cross-gendered identification it is questionable to what extent any sexual activity can be termed ‘homosexual’ or same-sex” (Prosser 133). The inverted woman, with such a strong insistence on masculinity as connected to her desire for other women is modeling the traditionally heterosexual. The definition of gender inversion, as it was presented in The Well of Loneliness and other “lesbian” texts, was interchangeable with homosexuality: “Hall uses crossdressing and gender reversal to symbolize lesbian sexuality” (Prosser 130). The false interchangeability of the two terms placed homosexual women into a category that did not encompass a variety of lesbian experience not modeled on the heterosexual male-female paradigm—homosexuality was a symptom of inversion, inversion was the larger category from which the former emerged. In his article, Prosser stresses the importance of the “autobiographical narrative” in diagnosing the invert: using the person’s own language to shape and form a recognizable identity (Prosser 130). That person’s language, however, is a product of her time and how she came to understand her divergent sexuality. Often the only way to receive treatment for any kind of psychological distress related to issues of gender and sexuality was to consult sexologists who, as time went on, authored the “master narrative” of invert


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to transpose on an individual’s “autobiographical narrative” (Prosser 131). Individual women’s stories were not written in their own voices and words, but with those of the sexologist. The sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s case study of “Count Sandor,” an inverted woman, shows her self-identification with male sexuality directed toward women, but mediated through the report of the psychologist (Chloe + Olivia 161). Krafft-Ebing reports an immediate causal link between an awakening of sexual desire for women and identification with masculinity, following the heterosexual path of desire: In her thirteenth year, she first felt a trace of sexual feeling, which expressed itself in kisses, embraces and caresses with sexual pleasure, and this on the occasion of her elopement with the…English girl…at that time feminine forms exclusively appeared to her in dream-pictures, and ever since, in sensual dreams, she felt herself in the situation of a man. Chloe + Olivia 161 The discourse of the period, dominated by the invert, emphasizes the “situation of a man” that is synonymous with the situation of loving a woman (Chloe + Olivia 161). Sandor freely expresses lesbian desire, but through the language of the time, her desire is fit into the heterosexual model of malefemale relations. The invert is progressive in her sexuality, but traditional in her gender identification. The relationship between the act of self-definition and availability of terms with which to identify provides the “invert” with a uniquely fluid and yet limited opportunity for selfhood. Their claim to identity is more open in that they are able to put a name to their desires and feel connected to a recognized group, but limited in that this group was the one of the only one available as a form of homosexuality and did not include all varieties of lesbian. Inverts, the transsexual, and homosexual women because of their time and the language available, were limited to the heterosexual paradigm of desire. Even before the medicalization of same sex desire into the invert model, women such as Anne Lister used the language of heterosexuality to reason through their unnamed desire. Lister dressed like a man and took on the


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“invert” persona of outward male identification as a way of understanding and expressing her same-sex desire. When fantasizing about a female lover, she writes: “supposing myself in men’s clothes and having a penis” (Chloe + Olivia 205). Lister includes this comment in her diary as a passing remark, one that troubles her mind through “foolish fancying,” but it reveals an implicit connection in the mind of the “inverted woman” between sexual desire for women and masculinity (Chloe + Olivia 205). The male physical body is connected with loving women; masculinity encompasses that desire and with the heterosexual pairing of bodies that desire can be fulfilled. The language of heterosexuality and the causal connection between desire for women and masculine identification provided an important way for lesbian women to work through and understand their desire in a way that was familiar to them. The transgender figure, both helps create and is created by the idea of the invert, the dominant way of understanding lesbian desire. In The Well of Loneliness, “the case histories of sexological inversion upon which Hall’s novel relied so heavily for its material produced the transsexual narrative that has become the very symptom of transsexuality” (Prosser 130). The category of the invert is essential to the emergence of the transsexual and is also essential in allowing women a way of naming their desire for other women. The transsexual narrative both creates and is created by the discourse of the time; it is both constructed and natural. In the case of Hall’s invert protagonist, from birth there is an “indefinable quality in Stephen that made her look wrong in the clothes she was wearing, as though they had no right to each other” (Hall 27). The “indefinable quality” is, as yet, unnamed and not fully understood until Stephen reads the sexological texts in her deceased father’s study and says, “You knew! All the time you knew this thing” (Hall 204). Rather than exist in a state of undefined abnormality, of ignorant distress, Stephen takes on the identity of invert claiming it as her own, as the “truth” her father “knew” all along because of the text’s authority and its allowance for her to attempt the heterosexual ideal relationship of her parents in her own life. The interplay between preexisting categories, language, and modes of desire evolve over the history of representing the lesbian. The language associated with the invert and the resulting transgender, rather than lesbian


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identity provided women who desired other women a way of organizing their desires, a way of authoring their own semi-autobiographical narrative. The invert is a reductive definition of lesbian that nonetheless provided a way for women to “explain” their desires in a time when heterosexuality was the presiding mode of living and loving. The inverted model of desire involving a mannish woman and a feminine woman provided the inverted figure a way of using the language and action of heterosexual desire to express herself as a homosexual woman, of making strides in authoring her own narrative. The very existence of the invert’s feminine lover provides an example of a lesbian of more fluid identity: she desires women, but does not identify with men, breaking the heterosexually gendered dynamic. In The Well of Loneliness, Stephen’s feminine lover Mary is pushed back towards heterosexuality at the novel’s conclusion, but her portrayal in the novel shows a more open and progressive definition of lesbian, one not limited to the invert. The invert discourse is useful to the lesbian in that it allows women to use the language of their time and also express their homosexual desires in a way that was known and an accepted outlet for lesbian desire. The transsexual invert is a significant transitional figure between heterosexuality and a fluidity of homosexual identification.

Works Cited: Hall, Radclyffe. The Well of Loneliness. New York: First Anchor Books, 1990. Print. Krafft-Ebing, Richard von. “From Psychopathia Sexualis.” Chloe + Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the Seventeenth Century to the Present. Ed. Lillian Faderman. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. 157-164. Print. Lister, Anne. “Journal of Anne Lister.” Chloe + Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the Seventeenth Century to the Present. Ed. Lillian Faderman. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. 199-206. Print. Prosser, Jay. “’Some Primitive Thing Conceived in a Turbulent Age of Transition”: The Transsexual Emerging from The Well.” Eds. Laura Doan and Jay Prosser. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. 129-143. Print.


W&M CHUJ Vol. 1 Spring 2013  

Vol. 1, Spring 2013. The Comparative Humanities Undergraduate Journal is the first academic journal for undergraduate scholarship in the Hum...