Issuu on Google+


The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism is a peer-reviewed UWMadison publication devoted to publishing outstanding essays of undergraduate literary analysis. The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism accepts unsolicited submissions analyzing any form of literary in 7-20 pages. Articles will be chosen for their originality, eloquence, internal coherence, and quality of academic research. Papers must be written in English, although they can analyze the literature of another language. Any submissions or questions may be directed to mjlc@rso.wisc.edu or http://themadisonjournal.wordpress.com. Funding for the issue was generously provided by The Kemper K. Knapp Bequest through the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Editor’s Note

T

he third edition of the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism has seen many changes: an almost entirely new staff of talented and bright editors, a new website, and (as always) a new collection of young scholarly writing. However, most notably in this issue the editorial board made a priority of disseminating our call for submissions not only throughout the United States, but also throughout the world in an attempt to create an international forum for undergraduate critical thought. In doing so, we received over 180 submissions from all over the world—countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel, to name a few. This year, we have the honor of publishing five articles hailing from all over the United States as well as two articles from the University of Cambridge. I would like to think that in addition to breaking down barriers in undergraduate critical thought that are geographic in nature, this particular issue of the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism also succeeds in diversifying content. While in past years we have found ourselves publishing a considerable number of articles concerned with modern or contemporary literature, this year we have been fortunate to receive more articles on medieval and early modern literature than ever before, as is evidenced by the articles we have selected for publication. Additionally, we had the opportunity to interview the esteemed Professor Stacy Klein, a specialist in medieval and AngloSaxon literature and culture at Rutgers University. Thanks for this issue go to the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest Committee for the support and funding in our third year of publication. As with past years, the L&S Honors Program (specifically Mary Czynszak-Lyne) and the UW-Madison Department of English (notably Professor Jordan Zweck for her indispensable advice) deserve our continued gratitude for their help. As noted above, our thanks also go out to Professor Stacy Klein for her willingness to allow us to interview her. Most of all though, we owe our thanks to our new advisor, Professor Monique Allewaert, who has served as a source of incredible support and wisdom for the past year. If this is your first time encountering the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism, we welcome you; if not, we hope you find this issue as enjoyable as that of the past two years. Katherina Wierschke MJLC, Editor in Chief


Madison Journal of Literary Criticism Staff Editor in Chief Katherina Wierschke

Associate Editors Katie Benson Lauren Bocher Ryan Campagna Rachel Fettig Mia Imperl Jeremy Parker Kristin Prewitt Maggie Schafer Alexander Sherman Heather Sieve Meghan Stark

Faculty Advisor Monique Allewaert

Layout & Cover A r t Jeremy Parker

mjlc@rso.wisc.edu


Table of Contents page 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Narrating Trauma in Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale page 24 . . . . . . . . . . . . No Longer the Grail Knight: A Welsh Reimagining of Arthur’s Percival Julia Mattison page 33 . . . . . . . . . . . . Naming the “Nonrepresentational” in the Novels of Henry Green Rachel Murray page 47 . . . . . . . . . . . . “Delay is Good For a Lover,” But “Don’t Keep Him Waiting Too Long”: Ovidian Timing and Augustinian Temporality in the Lais of Marie de France Emily Kohlhase page 60 . . . . . . . . . . . . The Other at the Origin: Responsibility, Difference, and the Consolidation of the Subject in Derrida’s Introduction to the Origin of Geometry and The Gift of Death Stephen Marsh page 74 . . . . . . . . . . . . Love Triangles in the Knight’s Tale and the Limitations of Queering: Same-Sex Desire and Female Oppression Shannon Draucker page 88 . . . . . . . . . . . . “Farewell to Peace of Mind!”: Altered States of Mind in the Gothic Novel Kate Wilson page 100 . . . . . . . . . . . From the Middle Ages to the Modern: An Interview with Professor Stacy Klein


page 7

Narrating Trauma in Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale Haverford College

“W

hat have I done?” This is the question Karen Michaelis asks herself at three o’clock in the morning, lying awake in a hotel room after she has just slept with Max Ebhart, the fiancé of her friend Naomi Fisher. The reflex to evaluate the consequences of an event like an affair, one so ripe with social repercussions, is logical. This question swells and erupts with more questions: what does it mean to evaluate the causal dynamics of a relationship that exists “outside life” (200)? How does a relationship, which exists as if in a “dream,” interact with temporality (179)? What are the implications of such a bond on someone’s sense of identity and, inherently, on their sense of place, belonging, and home? And, critically, how does the question, “What have I done?” serve to illuminate, or complicate, what Peter Brooks terms, “our compulsions to read” (Brooks, 36)? In order to begin answering some of these questions in regards to Elizabeth Bowen’s novel The House in Paris, it is useful to activate a particular critical framework in which narrative, temporality, and the idea of trauma can interact. This framework will allow us to see the affair as too superficial of an explanation for the sense of anxiety and trauma that hovers over the narrative. The trauma, rather, is without origin, and the novel’s temporal and narrative structure thwarts any attempt to locate it. Peter Brooks, in his essay “Reading for the Plot,” establishes the way in which the formal device of narrative imposes a coherency on events that would otherwise seem arbitrary or unordered. He claims that, “narrative demarcates, encloses, establishes limits, orders” (Brooks 4). Already this in description rings the clear language of boundaries, the idea of which inevitably intuits, on the other side, transgression, chaos, and violation. Elemental to the understanding of Brooks’ use of narrative is the artificial, composite nature of its construction; it is a thread that strings together separate events, forming them into a perceived whole. Plot,


page 8

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

then, becomes a human activity, one integral to the process of interpretation. It is the need to navigate between what happened, why it happened, and when it did. Brooks then distinguishes between “narrative” and “plot.” While narrative refers to a cogent whole, plot is a human technique “which we cannot do without” (5). The need to plot anticipates, furthermore, the anxiety that comes from the inability to plot, which drives the compulsion to “read.” To clarify the interpretive quality of plot, Brooks calls upon the Russian formalist distinction of fabula and sjuzet.1 The fabula corresponds to “what really happened” (Brooks 13). The raw—which is to say, un-interpreted, undigested and unfinished—version of events constitutes the fabula. The sjuzet, by contrast, describes the order of events in the text as we experience them. This narrative distinction gives us a vocabulary with which to discuss the trauma that surrounds The House in Paris. Trauma, in the novel, becomes staged on the level of the sjuzet. The fabula/ sjuzet distinction is indispensable to our analysis because of the novel’s temporal displacement: the present comes before the past. Thus our experience of events in the opening section of the novel titled “Present” lingers over our interpretation of the following “Past” section. By the time we read moments—most keenly Max’s suicide—that bear criticism as overwrought or melodramatic, they are already weighted by other events. We must view these potential moments of melodrama not as isolated “moments” then, but as a constellation of traumatic wounds. The text’s structure, its gaps, and its characterizations serve to enact this trauma. People and events that are non-integrable become exemplary of an elusive anxiety that looms over the narrative. More specifically, the trauma within the text erupts from Karen’s year in the house in Paris. Her exposure to narrative possibilities that cannot sustain integration into her life in London lassos her to the past in a way that blocks narrative progression. What we find, however, is that the “trauma” is not a particular event but a host of circumstances and possibilities around that year. Though it is initiated that year, the wound is reopened by Karen’s visit to her Aunt Violet’s house in Ireland. Finally, and most profoundly, it is deepened by her affair with Max Ebhart. The trauma stems from the way in which these events and relationships leave Karen bereft of a true home: they fragment her identity, block her previously mapped out self-narrative in which she marries and builds a home with Ray Forrestier, and foreclose her need for a linear conception of time. The different locations throughout the novel—the house in Paris, Chester Terrace, Mount Iris, and the border towns where the affair takes place—provide 1. Brooks defines the Russian Formalist terminology for his discussion as follows: “Fabula is defined as the order of events referred to by the narrative, whereas sjuzet is the order of events presented in the narrative discourse” (Brooks, 12).


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 9

a landscape through which we see evidenced temporal coherency, fragmentation, and sedimentation. Though Karen tries to impose narrative and temporal coherency on her life, tries to “re-plot” discrete events and episodes in the vein which Brooks tell us is so necessary, she ultimately fails. Her illegitimate son Leopold embodies this failure. Both his existence and her inability to meet him in the “Present” sections of the novel gesture to this failure. She cannot “plot” Leopold in her life, cannot integrate him into her narrative. Thus the novel enacts the impossibility of containing a trauma intimately linked, as we will see later, with unsanctioned sexuality. Beyond characterization, the novel further fails to contain its trauma on the structural level of the text. The “Present” section of the novel is retroactively split open by an eruptive “past” section that follows, disturbing its narrative coherence. The way that the narrative stages temporal dislocation recalls, in the past’s encroaching movement on the present, Henri Bergson’s concept of the experience of duration: “Duration is the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances” (Bergson 725). Duration is figured here as a predator, a threatening current which, in its “endless flow,” consumes and breaks down any boundary that confronts it. What is more, Bergson’s description of the way in which we perceive our psychic states in time as “set side by side like beads of a necklace” (724) echoes Brooks’ assertion about plot as the unifier that we use to navigate discrete moments. In other words, the way Bowen’s novel traffics between the past and the present allows the reader to experience an active sense of duration. In this process we, as readers, become implicated in the trauma of the novel’s sjuzet; the past quite literally “gnaws” into the two “Present” sections that serve as the beginning and ending of the novel. The novel’s construction thus resists the imposition of an “ending.” Though the “Past” section is neatly framed by the two “Present” sections, trauma pervades the entire narrative; our reading becomes burdened by a looming sense of instability, anxiety, and death. Despite its trafficking between the past and the present—an attempt to coherently “plot” the trauma of that year in Paris—the sjuzet does not offer a sufficient explanation of Karen’s failure to meet Leopold in the “Present,” the original instigation for the flashback. Cathy Caruth, situating herself through Freud, theorizes in Unclaimed Experiences that trauma’s injurious power comes not from a specific wound but from “the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available” (Caruth 4).The trauma, then, is not necessarily a discrete event but—as I will try to suggest in my own analysis of The House in Paris—a constellation of events and figures which become, in their looped indeterminacy,


page 10

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

the “story of a wound that cries out.” From the beginning of the flashback, we see Karen’s life before the affair framed in terms of narrative coherence and containment. Though already engaged to Ray—her cousin’s cousin, a relation which gives the potential union “that touch of inbreeding that makes a marriage so promising” (69)—she feels the friction of that insularity: “She had firm ground under her feet, but the world shrank; perhaps she was missing the margin of uncertainty” (68). Spatial and sexual constriction become dominant tropes in her life. The language of geophysicality in the phrase “the world shrank” foregrounds the way in which her relationship with Max is later discussed in terms of spatial geography. Karen and Max’s visit to Hythe, where they finally sleep together, is repeatedly described as “[making] an island of the town.”2 The phrasing turns a potential space of liveliness and intimate connection into an isolated landform. Karen’s life in London, by contrast, is figured precisely in terms of attachments, which is both reassuring and limiting. The location of Karen’s life before her visit to Cork is largely a stable one: “The Michaelis lived like a family in a pre-war novel in one of the tall, cream houses in Chester Terrace, Regent’s Park” (68). The exterior facade of her home-space reflects this stability.3 It is a house unblemished and unwrinkled, untouched by time—even the collective, historical trauma of the war does not penetrate. The Michaelis household and Karen’s inherited world become forms of shelter, a source of protection from the threat of the forward movement of time.4 The desire for a predictable life and the need to construct a normative narrative around events are intertwined in the novel from the start, driven by opposing impulses. Though Karen begins in this section of the novel to 2. See pgs. 162, 172. 3. We can recall here Gaston Bachelard’s idea, in The Poetics of Space, of houses as intimate spaces, localized sites, which protect and shelter our most private selves. Edward Casey’s assertion, in his essay “Place Memory,” about “attuned spaces,” which enable one to feel chez soi hovers around a similar idea of home. Karen’s house here is a locus of habitation, orientation, and familiarity. Her inability to fully integrate herself into it after her affair is in part traumatic precisely because her actions set her at odds with its bourgeois conformity. Casey at one point discusses the way in which “place acts to alleviate anxieties of disorientation and separation” (195). We can say, then, that the narrative robs Karen of proper “place memory,” disrupting her own sequencing of events. 4. Its protective function seems to resonate with Heidegger’s ideas about the space of “dwelling” as providingshelter and protection. See “Building Dwelling Thinking” for further reading. We can think about the “inherited”Chester Terrace world, moreover, as a metaphysical space akin to Bachelard’s “felicitous” spaces. Karen’s house is not just a concrete edifice, but also a space that metonymizes a particular mode of thinking: the tenacious maintenance of narrative coherency, the need for order, and the need for predictability.


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 11

chafe against its limitations and shrinkage, the cohesive quality of her life must be noted, for it becomes a site that registers later trauma. The text uses Karen’s visit to her Aunt Violet in Cork to stage the tension between her pre-constituted narrative frame and her conflicting desire to bend that frame—to open it out to death, sexuality, and time. It is with her visit to her Aunt Violet that Karen, for the first time, becomes aware of the way in which a cocooned life can become sedimented to the point of morbidity, atrophied by time. The visit exposes her to a different life-narrative, one that does not impose a suffocating sense of enclosure, as her life in London does—one that exposes a series of narrative possibilities so threatening to Karen’s “inherited world” as to require suppression. Aunt Violet’s residence in Ireland makes Karen’s family “uncomfortable; it seemed insecure and pointless, as though she had chosen to settle on a raft” (75). Therefore, neither Aunt Violet nor Uncle Bill belongs; both exist outside of the bounds of a definable, rooted place. Uncle Bill’s former house, furthermore, is framed in terms of death and chaos; a photograph shows it “flanked [on] each side by groves of skeleton trees” (74). What is more, we are reminded through the incessant ticking clocks at Mount Iris that the forward flow of time relentlessly presses against the present moment. They “hung on their hill over the inland sea, and seemed as safe as young swallows under an eave... fate is not an eagle, it creeps like a rat” (82).While Chester Terrace may preserve itself against time’s onslaught, Karen’s visit to Cork forces her to confront a conception of time, or fate, that “creeps like a rat.” Bowen’s method of couching the movement of time as “creep[ing]” recalls, in its incremental, sneaking manner, the Bergsonian concept of duration, which “gnaws” into the future. Uncle Bill, as the novel’s hysterical, anxious, and obsessively punctual figure, personifies Bergson’s idea that the past “follows us at every instant...leaning over the present which is about to join it, pressing against the portals of consciousness that would fain leave it outside” (Bergson 725). Uncle Bill cannot escape the chaos of his own past, the “troubles,” the burning down of his home—those horrors constantly “[press] against the portals of [his] consciousness” (Bergson 725). His neurosis and anxiety become yet another example of how the novel stages the invariably thwarted need to impose temporal order and coherency. Uncle’s Bill’s acute anxiety about time and the following news of Aunt Violet’s death crystallize, for Karen, a sense of unavoidable temporal pressure: “Aunt Violet’s probably dying was not only Aunt Violet’s probably dying, it was like ice beginning to move south. Useless to wish she had never come to Mount Iris; the cold zone crept forward everywhere” (89). Again, we hear the evocation of time “creeping.” Mount Iris and the unfulfilled, truncated life of


page 12

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

her aunt propel Karen back into the past and rekindle her relationship with Max, the “gaunt, contemptuous person who twisted life his own way” (79). This description is noteworthy for the way in which it enters into conversation with our previous discussion of plotting. Unlike Karen—who at this point in the novel’s sjuzet has not deviated from the narrative her family sets out before her—the agency implied in the phrase “twisted life his own way” bestows upon Max self-authorship. As that “French-English-Jewish man,” he is fundamentally unclassifiable; he does not belong in Karen’s stable, “inherited world” (91). As a counter narrative possibility to Ray, he wields an attractive force over Karen who, exposed to the stagnancy and death encapsulated in Mount Iris, seeks a sense of control and authorship over her own narrative. Karen’s rekindling of her relationship with Max, however, only proves to deepen the wound, the scar of which her visit to Mount Iris opens.5 Her meeting at Twickenham—Naomi’s dead aunt’s house—with Max and Naomi serves to annihilate Karen’s sense of the future and present. It traps her in the past: “since the after-noon of the cherry tree there had been no To-day...She must rely on marriage to carry her somewhere else. Till it did, she stayed bound to a gone moment, like a stopped clock with hands silently pointing an hour it cannot be” (134). Meeting Max again at Twickenham precipitates a crisis of time. By re-inserting him into her life, Karen interrupts the progression of her own narrative. The language of constraint and paralysis is heightened in this passage: Karen is “bound,” compared to a “stopped clock.” Meeting up with Max plunges Karen back into that year in Paris. And yet that year is a “gone moment,” one incompatible with her engagement to Ray and her life in London. The “hour it cannot be” becomes metonymic of that whole year: the possibilities and relationships to which she was exposed and which cannot be integrated into her life in London. One explanation of Karen’s adhesion to this “gone moment” is a suppressed narrative possibility, to which the text subtly gestures multiple times: the sexual relationship between Max and Mme. Fisher. At first, the text appears to gloss over the oddity of a young man’s frequent visits to an older woman. And yet the accumulation of words like “irregular,” “shadow,” “deceive,” “misled,” “uncertainty,” and “uneasiness” in Karen’s memory of Max’s visits to the Fisher home mobilizes our sense that something hides beneath the surface of the text. The density of the language of cloaking and obfuscation are evidence of Karen’s own inability to 5. Nicholas Royle’s reading of The House in Paris in his essay “Fanatic Immobility” gives us a vocabulary of “scarring,” “wounding,” “seepage,” and “hemorrhaging” with which to talk about the novel. Though he focuses almost exclusively on Leopold and a discussion of how “crypt-effects” operate in the character and the broader novel, my analysis is indebted to his vocabulary.


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 13

assimilate the presence of this sexually perverse relationship in her life. Coming from the tradition-bound conservatism of her own family, exposure to Max and Mme. Fisher’s unexplainable relationship could be construed as traumatic, in particular because Max is “the first man [she] noticed” (113). A cursory reading merely suggests a young woman’s first romantic preoccupation. Closer inspection, however, indicates that Karen’s uneasiness stems not from Max’s presence but from his specific, sexually charged interaction with Mme. Fisher. The perversity and impropriety that a sexual relationship between Mme. Fisher and Max implies, however, appears to be a concept so foreign and unsettling as to be practically unvoiced and unvocable. As such, it becomes the first example of a suppressed narrative possibility. Caruth’s analysis of trauma proves particularly helpful here: . . . the wound of the mind—the breach in the mind’s experience of time, self, and the world—is not, like the wound of the body, a simple and healable event, but rather . . . is experienced too soon, too unexpectedly, to be fully known and is therefore not available to consciousness until it imposes itself again, repeatedly, in the nightmares and repetitive actions of the survivor. (4) Caruth’s figuring of trauma as a “breach in the mind’s experience of time, self, and the world” keys into why that year in Paris lassos Karen with such tenacity. Though she appears to recognize, in a peripheral, half-formed way, the “uneasiness” that watching Max and Mme. Fisher engenders, it is “experienced too soon, too unexpectedly.” She cannot integrate it into her consciousness. Max and Mme. Fisher’s relationship, furthermore, does not fit neatly into a particular category. This incomprehensibility is its hallmark. On the one hand, there seems to be a pedagogical, vicarious aspect to their relationship. Max understands women “as she made [him] see them: they were not much” (150). On the other hand, there is an unequivocally direct sexual bond between the two. Though “her sex is all in her head,” Max explains, “she is not a woman for nothing” (150). Because her “sex” cannot be enacted physically, it preys upon and shapes his sexual maturation. And yet—we come back to Caruth’s idea of trauma as experienced “too soon”—Max claims that “[Mme Fisher] was ready for me when I was not ready for her” (150). Thus when we isolate Max as a figure, he seems to experience his own form of trauma in his relationship with Mme. Fisher. The sjuzet links the chain of trauma that stretches back further and further. It presents Max as caught in a traumatic loop of unpreparedness that includes Karen, Leopold, and even Henrietta and Ray.


page 14

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

The core of this traumatic loop resides in the Fishers’ house. In the “Present” sections of the novel, it functions as a place that epitomizes the displacement of trauma “experienced too soon.” It is a space of liminality, a paradoxically fixed location that traffics between the past and the present. Mme. Fisher, as the proprietress, is repeatedly figured as a character in between life and death. The text emphasizes her desire to cling to the present while talking to a child named Henrietta visiting the house: “her smile was for the present and Henrietta: an unreminiscent smile” (43). That her smile, however, is “unreminiscent” belies the depth of the past that swells within the house. The negated adjective—a technique Bowen relentlessly employs6—acts, here, as a kind of textual abrasion. It signals a density of past memory which Mme. Fisher’s “unreminiscent smile” rejects. Frank Kermode reminds us in his “Secrets and Narrative Sequence,” “the oddity of the expression is a way of directing attention to it” (“Secrets” 94). The negated adjectives become signals directing us to pause, to look closer. “Unreminiscent” is the scar under which temporal trauma lingers. Though the dialogue between Mme. Fisher and Henrietta (or even Mme. Fisher and Leopold, later) positions Mme. Fisher in control, that she “frantically” loved the present indicates her inability to control time’s forward press, a “continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future”(Bergson 725). Despite Mme. Fisher’s seeming control over almost everyone in the house, it appears that the past is the one element beyond her grasp. Leopold discerns this vulnerability most clearly: “he diagnosed her as prey to one creeping growth, the Past, septic with what had happened” (233). Mme. Fisher in this phrase becomes not just the engineer of Karen and Max’s affair but its victim, too. “Septic” with the events of the past, infected by their duration, Mme. Fisher falls prey to her own artificial divide between the past and the present. Nowhere is the artificiality of this divide clearer than in Mme. Fisher’s interactions with Leopold. Her predatory sexuality becomes displaced in the novel’s sjuzet onto Leopold in the “Present,” where the narrative begins to reenact the peculiar, unsettling fusion originally between her and Max. We see this confirmed when Mme. Fisher laments, “In your and my terms, Leopold, your childishness is simply a pity for me—for me, solely: naturally I regret it. If you were less a child, I could enjoy more fully my short time of being alive again” (228). She becomes “alive again” precisely because Leopold’s characterization reactivates the suppressed original dynamic. When Leopold’s interaction with Mme. Fisher is retroactively undergirded by our knowledge of her and Max’s sexually perverse relationship, we feel how this moment thickens the effect of trauma looming over 6. See pg. 75 “unstrange,” p. 101 “unalive,” and p. 112 “unbright” for further examples.


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 15

the narrative. Collating these moments exemplifies the sjuzet/fabula distinction. That is to say, Leopold’s interview with Mme. Fisher resonates more fully precisely because the organization of the sjuzet stages Max’s reactions to her first. As readers, then, we become co-opted in the trauma, experiencing the same circling sense of displacement along with Bowen’s characters. Though this trauma has an elusive, murky quality to it—the text is not forthcoming or explicit about its cause—it seems constellated around an almost phobic fear of unsanctioned sexuality which is explicitly linked to death. The mantelpiece in the Fishers’ houses serves as a specific site through which we can track the displaced trauma swelling within the house. More than just a recurring image, more than just an object pregnant with symbolism, the mantelpiece becomes a fixture that reappears throughout the text as a sign of suppressed narrative possibilities. The origin of the textual spasm begins, against temporal sequence, in the middle of the sjuzet. Though it appears in the two “Present” parts of the novel, we learn in the middle “Past” section that it is Max’s tendency to “[lean] on the mantelpiece talking to Mme. Fisher” (112). At its origin, then, the mantelpiece is marked by an inassimilable relationship. It returns again as the site of Max’s suicide, which happens precisely when he learns “[Mme. Fisher] was at the root of him,” and that she engineered his affair with Karen at the expense of her own daughter’s engagement. He slits his wrists “with his back to the mantelpiece” (201). His suicide, then, becomes a defacement of the pristine marble, which so epitomizes his entangled bond with Mme. Fisher. The “blood splashed on the marble” becomes a stain across the narrative (201). Though materially impermanent—the mantelpiece does not display tangible marks of that moment of trauma—Nicholas Royle claims, “the event of Max’s suicide overflows, stains, poisons what is to come: the stabbing, cutting, gash of the event of death becomes, in time, its consequences” (Royle 56).While Royle’s analysis focuses on the way in which this “overflowing” quality of Max’s suicide impacts causal relations—in terms of how the consequences of an event begin to supersede the cause—what is of interest is how the text itself is warped, “stained,” or “poisoned” by a gash which cannot contain itself. Years later, then, though at the very beginning of the sjuzet, Leopold’s magnetism to the mantelpiece becomes an at first unremarked instance of this textual hemorrhaging. Upon his initial entrance into the house, the salon where Max and Mme. Fisher always talked exercises a particular force over him: Going back to shut the door [to the salon], which was open, Leopold added, “As a matter of fact, [Miss Fisher] told me not to come in here.” Having shut the door, Leopold walked across to the mantelpiece, which


page 16

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

he stood with his back to, looking at Henrietta with no signs of shyness, in a considering way. (13) Though Leopold’s insistence on staying in the room could be interpreted as merely a sign of contrariness, the scaffolded resonance of the phrase “Leopold walked across to the mantelpiece, which he stood with his back to” cannot be ignored. Naomi’s warning to Leopold “not to come in here” seems to illustrate her own foreknowledge of the house’s power of entrapment. When Naomi breaks the news to Leopold that his mother cannot come to meet him, we are told that “looking down at his feet as they took each step on the parquet, Leopold walked to the mantelpiece” (213). The syntactical structuring of this sentence is such that it makes Leopold’s feet the active agent. The feet that compel him forward appear disaggregated from his sense of volition. And yet the mantelpiece is not only figured as a menacing container of trauma. There seems to be a way in which Leopold, who, “solitary before the mantelpiece, swelled with content at his own ignorance of the past,” refigures it for his own uses (216). Though it seems Leopold cannot fully resist the pull of the house, he—aided by Henrietta’s presence—partially releases himself from it. Initially, the scene in which he sobs against the mantelpiece after hearing of his mother’s absence appears to reenact the trauma of Max’s suicide. The dispensation of fluids—Max’s blood and then Leopold’s tears—creates a framing symmetry. Henrietta’s presence in the “Present” sections of the novel, however, seems to serve as a preventative anecdote to the “poisoning” overflow of Max’s suicide. The similarities present across the novel’s sjuzet between Henrietta and Naomi, however, exemplify the text’s resistance to the imposition of a clear, securely capped “end.” We see their parallel functions to Leopold and Max, respectively, in the phrase “being not there disembodied [Henrietta], so she fearlessly crossed the parquet to stand beside [Leopold]” (219). It is she who, in her “disembodied” resemblance to “walls or [a] table,” permits a degree of comfort to Leopold and allows him to feel that “no one was there” (219). Yet we cannot ignore the way in which these statements redeploy the same language Max uses to describe his relationship with Naomi. He defends his and Naomi’s engagement to Karen by saying, “I could not endure being always conscious of anyone. Naomi is like furniture or the dark. I should pity myself if I did not marry her” (159). Just as Henrietta’s presence becomes negated through a comparison to furniture, so too does Naomi’s. That Henrietta occupies the same textual locus as Naomi would suggest that Leopold does not cleanly leave behind his resonances with Max. What is more, because Henrietta acts as a proxy for the reader—we enter the


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 17

house through her narrative perspective, as a temporary visitor—her co-optation into the chain of trauma reiterates the house’s predatory, inescapable force. Henrietta’s unimposing presence also permits Leopold to look outwards: “Reposing between two friends, the mantelpiece and [Henrietta’s] body, Leopold, she could feel, was looking out of the window, seeing the courtyard and the one bare tree swim into view again and patiently stand” (220). Here, Leopold projects himself outside of the house, “seeing the courtyard” through the window as a means of liberation. Rather than seeing from the outside the “inside darkness (10)” of windows, as in the opening description, here we “[look] out” towards a scene of nature which waits for Leopold. Linked to an exterior, he is no longer isolated in the house, quarantined or likened to an island, as his father is. The mantelpiece becomes a fixture of support, a “friend.” Somewhat paradoxically— when we consider the extent to which the mantelpiece is mired in past trauma—it becomes a site which enables Leopold’s projection of self into the future. Henrietta facilitates this projection through her clear dissociation from the past. Her crossing back to the mantelpiece becomes a reversal, or reconfiguration, of Max’s original flight from the house. Rather than a trail of blood leading away from the mantelpiece, we have a doubling back driven by “disembodied” sympathy. Thus, despite Henrietta’s support of Leopold promising his liberation from the house, we see that it links her all the more firmly into the chain of trauma. The textual echoes, once exfoliated, thwart our attempts to linearly plot them, to reach out towards an “ending.” Henrietta’s co-optation by the house dislodges her from her firm place in the “Present.” Though the trauma of the affair seems indelibly linked to the house— resulting in the tone of portentous doom which we see evidenced in Henrietta and Naomi’s taxi ride there—its events take place in other locales. Max and Karen’s first meeting, for instance, is in a border town, Hythe: Not having been here before and now coming with Max made an island of the town. It stayed like nowhere, near nowhere, cut off from everywhere else…She remembers a town with no wind, where standing on the canal bridge you hear trees sighing with rain and the sea soughing on the far-off beach. (162) The geographical locations of the affair, then, are “nowhere, near nowhere, cut off from everywhere else.” In order for the affair to proceed, it must first be removed from Karen’s quotidian life. This passage, moreover, evidences a particular textual stutter akin to Kermode’s “secrets.” As the tense abruptly switches from the past to the present the sentences bring us back, almost unwillingly, to an


page 18

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

acknowledgment of the novel’s construction. Bowen’s slipping into the present tense reminds the reader that this flashback functions as an explanation of events in the “Present.” Though we are well situated in the sjuzet, propelled forward by the desire to “plot,” to find out why Leopold’s mother “cannot come,” the narrative rift of abrupt tense switching recalls that the middle section of the novel is nothing more than what Karen “would have had to say” to Leopold (67). The switch to present tense uncovers, briefly, the plot thread “of interconnectedness and intention” which runs underneath the flashback (Brooks, 5). Therefore, we have several layers of the unassimilated: the unassimilated nature of the affair in Karen’s life, the geographical, spatial isolation in which the affair occurs, and the incongruent elements of the sjuzet itself. Though for the majority of the flashback we are firmly in the mode of third person omniscient, several moments surface in which narrative perspective shifts. Collating these moments enables us to see the narrative “wounds” around which trauma is constellated. Already, with this instance at Hythe, we see the undercurrent of Karen’s fear in living “cut off from everywhere else.” This recalls, retrospectively, the extent to which her relatives “were rooted in the same soil” (69).Her affair with Max threatens to displace her from her rooted life and sense of belonging into a liminal, un-definable space. One particular passage through which we can analyze the different “wounds” appears immediately after Karen conceives Leopold: Had this not been escape? She was washed back ashore again. Further out than you dare go, where she had been, is the outgoing current not strong enough not to let you back? Were you not far out, is there no far out, or is there no current there? I am let back, safe, too safe; no one will ever know . . . I shall die like Aunt Violet wondering what else there was; from this there is no escape for me after all. Max lies beside me, but Naomi sat on my bed in the dark; she was there first and will never go away. (166) The blurring of narrative voices is immediately noticeable in this passage. Though we seem to be in third person at the start of the passage, we shift into second, as if the narrator is directly addressing the reader. And yet the insistent, panicked tone of the questions in second person gives the impression that we are hearing Karen’s voice, as if privy to her interior monologue. Abruptly, we shift to first person. The shuttling back and forth between narrative voices culminates at the end of the passage. Here, at last, we come to another suppressed narrative possibility: the homoerotic bond between Naomi and Karen. Like the moment in which Karen sees Max talking to Mme. Fisher by the mantelpiece, it seems that


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 19

“Naomi [sitting] on [Karen’s] bed in the dark” functions as an event experienced too soon, too unexpectedly, to be fully known (Caruth 4). We can collate this particular gesture towards an amputated homoerotic narrative with other moments between Naomi and Karen. When we assemble these episodes together and observe their coincidence with textual rifts, they become an expression of that unassimilated trauma. Caruth claims that unassimilated trauma “returns to haunt the survivor later on” (Caruth 4). Karen’s “conscience [beginning] to send in bills about Naomi” is one instance of this haunting. The structuring of this phrase makes Karen’s “conscience” the active agent, an independent being who compels Karen to recursively return to “the year in Paris” (176). After Karen’s tryst with Max, her “What have I done?” becomes indicative of her inability to reconcile the past and the present. She mechanically rehearses basic causal relationships, thinking, “while it is still Before, Afterwards has no power, but afterwards it is the kingdom, the power and the glory” (166). This allusion to the Lord’s Prayer, and the relentless focus on the power of “Afterwards,” recalls Kermode’s discussion in The Sense of an Ending of the sense of imminent apocalypse in the Christian tradition.7 She appears to obstinately resist the sense that crisis, in her traumatically looped world, is ever present and immanent. Rather, her adamant fixation on “Afterwards” frames her as trying to return to a sense of imminent crisis.8 Karen’s inability to reconcile her affair with her present life is perhaps most clearly encapsulated in her plea to Max: “But I thought you felt as I did, that this finished the past but did not touch the future. Being here does not seem to belong to now, it belongs to the year in Paris when I used to want you so much even to look at me” (176). The language here evokes Brooks’ discussion of “shaping ends,” which bestow meaning on the beginning and middle: “finished,” “did not touch,” “belong.” This is the desperate desire for containment, the need 7. Kermode’s discussion of “imminent” versus “immanent” crisis has a particular historical specificity. He writes about the modern (early 20th century) era in which a new sense of felt crisis presented itself. Up until this point, framed by literature of the Christian tradition, a sense of apocalypse was imminent, predicted for the end. The modern era, Kermode contends, is pregnant with this “end” in perpetuity. Noteworthy, however, is that Kermode writes about the time in which Bergson himself wrote. This, perhaps, can help us make sense out of Bergson’s predatory, “gnawing” past. Like the sense of immanent crisis which “gives each moment its fullness,” Bergson’s theory offers the figure of a present moment swollen or “swelling” with the past (Sense 6). In a retrospective way, we can map Kermode’s historical analysis onto to the atmosphere of transition and uncertainty in which Bergson writes in 1907 and which pervades Bowen’s 1935 novel. 8. Her need to return to the Christian bound teleological tradition of imminent crisis is not surprising when we consider her home exists as if in a “pre-war” novel. The novel frames her home as a space that denies the modern sense that every moment is fraught with immanent crisis.


page 20

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

to hold off a sense of immanent crisis. Karen’s words are laced with the desire for a coherent narrative. Just as Frederic Jameson posits narrative as a formal “strategy of containment,” which merely gives the appearance of unity, so too does Karen’s rehearsal of causality become her attempt to impose a narrative framework around her affair ( Jameson 54).And yet her year in Paris, and the alternative narrative possibilities perceived—Max and Mme. Fisher’s relationship, her and Naomi’s—erupt, like the flashback of the novel, into the present sections of her life. She is plagued by the continual displacement of trauma. The sjuzet’s displacement of trauma appears, initially, to arrive at a “sense of an ending” with Leopold’s interview with Mme. Fisher in the third section. After learning most of the story of his birth from her, Leopold exits the room feeling that “to leave her became unbearable....If she is asleep she must wake, if she is dead she must live again! You make my thoughts boil: listen! Now I have more to say— ”(233).Leopold’s reiterated “must” and his exclamatory commands gesture to the strong feelings formed for this woman whom he has just met. Unraveling before the reader is the very dynamic which most “filled [Karen] with uneasiness”: an echo of Max and Mme. Fisher’s sinister intimacy (112). We can look to the level of the text for evidence, once again, of this suppressed narrative possibility. The passage where Leopold thinks that “to leave her became unbearable,” exposes a slippage in narrative voice. We move abruptly from third person to second person to first person, “he” to “you” to an emphatic “I.” The text spasms, erupts with Jamesonian “rifts and discontinuities,” which bespeak the trauma reemerging from under the surface. Leopold’s narrative voice almost acts as a conduit for the reemergence of his parents’ trauma, registering each shift and rift with a different narrative perspective. Finally, our terminating clause does not, in fact, ever end. The dash continues on in indeterminacy, much in the way that Leopold’s unnaturally close bond with Mme. Fisher builds upon his father’s. There is one character, however, who seems potentially able to resist Mme. Fisher’s influence: Ray Forrestier. It is his voice, in fact, that cuts off Leopold’s train of thought above that follows after the dash. To an extent, Ray serves a terminating role in the third section of the novel, enabling Leopold to break out of the cyclical rehearsal of trauma. Ray is, notably, the only character whose entrance into the house is of his own free will. It is his abrupt decision to remove Leopold from the house, and its emplotted cycle of trauma, which finally seems to seal off that reopened wound. On the one hand, then, Leopold threatens to reenact, in the same space, part of the trauma of Max’s suicide. The moment when he realizes Karen exists “outside himself,” however, enables him to move past the atrophied sedimentation of the


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 21

house. Whereas Karen, in her unspoken dialogue with Ray, appears confined within the past, desiring only to “be back where we started,” Leopold looks forward in time, therefore embracing duration (244).9 In resuming her old life with Ray, Karen seeks to plot her life in accordance with her family’s narrative. She doggedly abides Brooks’ “compulsion to read.” Out of sync with the present moment, she attempts to restore order, meaning, and coherency on a fragmented and disrupted personal sjuzet. Her failure to come to the house signals her inability to integrate that trauma in her life. Ironically, it is her compulsion to contain the past within the house that precipitates Ray’s actions. He comes to take Leopold from the house because she cannot. Whereas the narrative’s sjuzet traps Karen in a looped moment of immanent crisis, Ray opens up a counter-narrative which provides a potential “sense of an ending.” We will remember, according to Brooks, that “plot could be thought of as the interpretive activity elicited by the distinction between the sjuzet and fabula, the way we use the one against the other” (Brooks 13). If we think about “the year in Paris” as a part of the fabula, the raw version of events, and the sjuzet as the narrative struggle towards closure and integration, we can understand Karen’s confinement in the past, and her failure to come to the house, as a failure to plot. Her denial of duration—of Leopold—becomes central to this unsuccessful negotiation between the fabula and the sjuzet. Leopold, rather than abnegating duration’s forward flow, actively seeks it out. His physical movement outside of the house with Ray at the end of the novel liberates him from its parasitic grasp. The combined presence of Henrietta and Ray in the third section of the novel constitutes a critical aspect of Leopold’s liberation. And yet, though liberated, he does not have a home. He begins and ends the novel as a character in transit. Because he never fully escapes the trauma contained in the house, he becomes a liminal figure. The sjuzet’s staging of Leopold’s inherited trauma resists a neat, secure resolution of the text. Despite his and Ray’s departure from the house, and the potential need for an “ending” that satisfies, Leopold is ultimately without a mother. Her absence is perhaps the greatest gash in the narrative. The echoes between Leopold and Max, moreover, remain. That is to say, signs of suppression continue to linger over the narrative. The trauma constellates around the house 9. We must resist the temptation, here, to claim Leopold or Ray as unqualified “hero” figures, as Harriet Blodgett does in her essay “The Necessary Child: The House in Paris.” She conceives of Leopold as the renewing force of the novel which brings its trajectory forward into the future, relinquishing it from the grasp of the past and present. She figures the ending with Ray, moreover, as unequivocally positive: Ray’s acceptance of Leopold, the fulfillment of his rational, luminous name. We cannot forget that Ray acts under an ethical and moral pressure from Karen’s abandonment, nor that the sjzuet stages Leopold as yoked to the house and its nexus of trauma.


page 22

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

and that year in Paris because of the tenacity with which they resist containment, emplottment, and the bestowal of neat, ordered meaning. In the final scene of the novel, he pesters Ray,“ Where to?” (268). Rather than bestowing a place, a sense of belonging—or a sense of an ending—Ray responds with “a taxi out here” (268). The novel itself, then, begins where it started, in a taxi enacting the trauma of liminality.

Bibliography Adams, Timothy. “Bend Sinister; Duration in Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris.” The International Fiction Review 7.1 (1980): 49-52. Print. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. New York: Orion, 1964. Print. Bergson, Henri. “Duration.”The Modern Tradition. New York: Oxford UP, 1965. 723-30. Print. Blodgett, Harriet. “The Necessary Child: The House in Paris.” Elizabeth Bowen. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 63-79. Print. Bowen, Elizabeth. “The Bend Back.”The Cornhill Magazine 165.985-990 (1951): 221-27. Print. Brooks, Peter. “Reading for the Plot.”Reading for the Plot; Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Alred A. Knopf, 1984. 3-36. Print. Caruth, Cathy. “The Wound and the Voice.”Introduction.Unclaimed Experience. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. 1-9. Print. Casey, Edward S. “Place Memory.” Remembering, A Phenomenological Study. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1987. 181-85,192-95,200-203,214-15+. Print. Corcoran, Neil. “Mother and Child: The House in Paris.” Elizabeth Bowen, The Enforced Return. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004. 81-101. Print. Douglas, Mary. “The Idea of a Home.”Housing and Dwelling: Perspectives on Modern Domestic Architecture. London: Routledge, 2007. 61-67. Print. Ellmann, Maud. “Transport: To the North and The House in Paris.” Elizabeth Bowen, The Shadow Across the Page. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2003. Print. Gunby, Ingrid. “”There Is No Ghost in This House:” Home and History in Elizabeth Bowen.” New Windows on a Woman’s World 2: 2005. 213. Print. Heidegger, Martin. “Building Dwelling Thinking.”Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: HarperColophon, 1971. 145-61. Print. Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981. Print.\ Kermode, Frank. “Secrets and Narrative Sequence.”On Narrative. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980. 70-97. Print. Kermode, Frank. “The End.”The Sense of an Ending. New York: Oxford UP, 1967. 3-31. Print. Kershner, R.B. “Bowen’s Oneiric House in Paris.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 28.4 (1986): 407-23. JSTOR.Web. 1 Dec. 2011. Lee, Hermione. “The House in Paris.”Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation. London: Vision Limited, 1981. 80-103. Print.


Glynis Kristale-Ragsdale

page 23

Radford, Jean. “Face to Face with the Other; Levinas and Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris.” Modernity, Modernism, Postmodernism: 93-106. Print. Royle, Nicholas. “Fanatic Immobility: The House in Paris.” Elizabeth Bowen and the Dissolution of the Novel.By Andrew Bennett. London: St. Martin’s, 1995. 42-62. Print. Sharp, Sister M. Corona.”The House as Setting and Symbol in Three Novels by Elizabeth Bowen.”Xavier University Studies 2 (1963): 93-103. Print. Sopher, David. “The Landscape of Home.”The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscape. 1979. 12949. Print. Wells Lassagne, Shannon. “’Town and Country’; Juxtaposing Ireland’s Big House and Europe’s Capitals in Bowen’s The House in Paris and The Heat of the Day.” Etudes Irlandaises 30.2 (2005): 51-64. Print.


page 24

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

No Longer the Grail Knight

A Welsh Reimagining of Arthur’s Percival

Julia Mattison Yale University

K

ing Arthur and his knights’ quest for the Holy Grail has been a source of both scholarly and popular fascination. The traditional Grail story, which first appeared in the late twelfth century in Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, le Conte du Graal, presents Percival as the knight destined to solve the mystery of the Grail—a cup that magically sustains the life of the wounded Fisher king— and return the realm to fertility (Wood 170). The Mabinogion includes its own version of this tale called Peredur Son of Efrog. Extant in four manuscripts from the fourteenth century, Peredur is a loose retelling of continental Percival and the Grail quest stories (Lovecy 175–77). Indeed, most critical reviews of Peredur interpret the story solely in this light, which restricts authors to outlining the numerous discrepancies between Peredur and French versions and to overlooking features in the narrative unrelated to the Grail quest. The Welsh tale should not be read as a story about a knight’s search for a grail, but rather one about the development of the protagonist from a naïve boy into a mature knight; in this light, the seemingly inexplicable elements of the tale serve a specific purpose. Before distinguishing Percival’s Welsh story from the French Arthurian romances, it is important to acknowledge the similarities Peredur has with Perceval, the three continuations of Chrétien de Troyes’s version, Parzival, DidotPerceval, Perlesvaus, and other works. Many scholars argue for Celtic origins of the Grail and characters in the stories because the many magic cups and cauldrons in Irish legend are seen as Grail precursors, while the Irish Bran and the Welsh Bendigeidfran are interpreted as variants of the Fisher King.1 This origin theory predisposes scholars to view Percival, as the knight of the Grail in the French romances, to be the knight of the Grail in later Celtic versions as well. In the

1. See R. S. Loomis, “The Irish Origin of the Grail Legend,” Speculum, 8 (1933), 415–31; R. S. Loomis and Jean Stirling Lindsay, “The Magic Horn and Cup in Celtic and Grail Tradition,” Romanische Forschungen 45(1931), 66–94; and William A. Nitze, “The Waste Land: A Celtic Arthurian Theme,” Modern Philology 43 (1945), 58–62.


Julia Mattison

page 25

majority of versions, after his father’s death, Percival is raised in the wilderness by his mother. He then travels to Arthur’s court, journeys throughout the kingdom, meets a wounded or lame king, and then witnesses a strange procession that includes a spear dripping blood. Peredur shares more detailed elements as well, for many of the hero’s actions have precedent in other renderings, such as repairing a broken sword, visiting an ugly woman, encountering a priest on Good Friday, discovering a magical game board, and hunting a magical creature before being scolded by an other-worldly woman.2 The vast number of narrative correlations, which appear in at least one other earlier French work, indicates a continental influence on the Welsh material. Based on the close textual parallels in dialogue and prose, Peredur seems at the very least to share a common source with Chrétien de Troyes (Goetinck 69–78). The analogous natures of the French stories and Peredur become the basis for the interpretation of the Welsh narrative as yet another story about the quest for the Holy Grail. In spite of the prominent narrative similarities, Peredur lacks the central feature of the French legends: the Grail. In other Percival stories, the Grail is a magical object that sustains the life of the Fisher King or is simply a special drinking horn that is always full of wine or food (Loomis, “The Irish Origin” 416).3 The Grail need not necessarily be a cup—Chrétien de Troyes’s Grail is a jewelled platter and Wolfram van Eschenbach’s is a stone—but these objects are otherwise connected to the continuation of the lame king’s life (Wood 174– 76). At the very least, in its Celtic origins, the Grail is “a symbol of sovereignty” (Goetinck 275). The presence of the Grail in the Fisher King’s castle establishes him as a legitimate ruler. In most Percival stories, the Grail is first seen in the procession in the Fisher King’s castle; in Perceval and the Second Continuation, the Grail procession includes “the spear…used by Longinus to pierce Christ’s side…the cup [of ] Joseph of Arimathea; the trencher [used to cover] the cup to protect the blood; and the sword [that] wounded both the Fisher King and his brother” (Wood 171). In Peredur, however, the procession is abbreviated: Suddenly he could see two lads entering the hall, and from the hall they proceeded to a chamber, carrying a spear of huge proportions, with three streams of blood running from its socket to the floor…The man did not explain to Peredur what that was, nor did Peredur ask him about it…Two maidens entered with a large salver between them, and a man’s head on 2. See Lovecy 172–80 and Wood 169–77. 3. Only later versions of the story Christianize the Grail to become the cup that caught Christ’s blood at his crucifixion, a telling that has been made more familiar in modern retellings of Arthurian legend, such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code.


page 26

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

the salver, and much blood around the head. (Peredur 73) There is no cup, drinking horn, or chalice; instead, there is only a platter with a head swimming in blood. Unlike the objects in continental stories, the platter in Peredur—the closest approximation of a cup—is never said to preserve the life of the wounded uncle, nor is it ever related to his reign. Further still, the Grail procession takes place in the castle of the second uncle, rather than that of the first uncle, who plays the role of the Fisher King in this story. This displacement distances the Fisher King from the magical object, undermining the traditional association of the Grail with life, sovereignty, and the Fisher King. The mystery of the head on the platter is soon clarified. The Loathly Damsel, who is also Peredur’s cousin, explains that, “I brought the head on the salver, all covered in blood, and the spear with the blood streaming along it from its tip to its hilt. And the head was your cousin’s, and it was the witches of Caerloyw who killed him, and they made your uncle lame” (Peredur 102).4 Thus, the platter is neither a cup that caught Christ’s blood nor an otherworldly item that can keep men alive. It is a mundane object with an explanation based in the natural world. The dead cousin, the son of the second uncle rather than the lame uncle, would not be a successor to the Fisher King, a fact that again subverts the traditional Grail associations in Peredur since the object is unrelated to the reign of the lame king. While some authors consider the head to be a grail, it does not possess any of the qualities to merit the title.5 As such, the essential element of Grail stories—the Grail itself—is missing in Peredur, compromising any connection to the legend. The head floating in blood, although unconnected to the king’s sovereignty, is a symbol of a wrong that Peredur must right. The witches have injured both of his uncles, the first by physically harming him and the second by killing his son. Peredur’s cousin tells him that “it is foretold that you will avenge [your cousin’s murder],” making Peredur’s final acts about vengeance rather than sovereignty and succession (Peredur 102). Traditionally, at the end of the story Percival returns to Fisher King’s castle and asks the Grail Question, which cures the king. The healing of the king’s wound in either his leg or his groin, the regeneration of the Wasteland, and Percival’s succession to his throne is the standard conclusion of the story (Wood 170). Peredur suggests this motif when the Loathly Damsel reprimands the hero, saying: 4. There seems to be a confusion between the two uncles in the cousin’s speech; it is the first, not the second uncle who is lame, although the cousin seems to indicate that the procession took place in the lame king’s castle. 5. See Wood 174; and Loomis, “The Irish Origin of the Grail Legend,” 430.


Julia Mattison

page 27

When you came to the court of the lame king and when you saw there the young man carrying the sharpened spear, and from the tip of the spear a drop of blood streaming down to the young man’s fist, and you saw other wonders there, too—you did not question their meaning or their cause. And had you done so, the king would have recovered his health and held his kingdom in peace. (Peredur 94) The Loathly Damsel’s comment implies that Peredur could have healed his uncle by asking a question about the Grail procession, except, as already noted, the procession occurred in the court of the second uncle. The tale never revisits the court of the Fisher King, but ends with Peredur’s battle against the witches of Caerloyw. Although the witches are responsible for the uncle’s illness, it is not clear whether their defeat will heal the king. The “grail,” for lack of a better term, is connected to vengeance rather than sustenance of the Fisher King. This section of that tale ends with the following description: “Then Arthur and his retinue attacked the witches, and all the witches of Caerloyw were killed. And that is what is told of the Fortress of Wonders” (Peredur 102). The tale never returns to the lame uncle, leaving the reader unsure of whether he is healed. The events of the Fortress of Wonder, the uncle’s castle, are apparently resolved by Peredur’s defeat of the witches. Percival traditionally succeeds the Fisher King and takes over the kingdom, but this never happens in the Welsh version. While it includes a number of characters and events from Continental Percival stories, Peredur omits the healing of the Fisher King, which should be the conclusion of Percival’s quest. It therefore becomes difficult to classify the Welsh version of Percival’s story as a Grail legend because it lacks the features that would define it as such, namely, a grail, and the restoration of the Fisher King. Peredur, rather than a Grail legend, is the story of the development of a knight infused with elements of French romance. The quest for the answer to the question of the Grail, the motivation for Percival’s actions in Continental legends, is replaced with Peredur’s maturation as a knight (Wood 170). The tale begins with his attempts to imitate knighthood: after seeing Gwalchmai, Gwair, and Owain in the forest, Peredur attempts to outfit himself like a knight. He takes “a bony, dapple-grey nag, the strongest in his opinion. And he pressed a pannier on it as a saddle” (Peredur 66). Peredur’s nag and pannier are poor substitutions for the proper horses and saddles of Arthur’s knights; he is not a true warrior and therefore does not possess the accoutrements of one. Later, he “imitated with twisted branches all the horse-trapping he had seen. He set off with a fistful of sharp-pointed darts in his hand” (Peredur 67). Peredur has darts rather than


page 28

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

a sword and uses branches to make a bridle. Arthur’s court makes fun of him because his “horse and weapons are too untidy,” (Peredur 68) and they expect him to be “overthrown or killed” by the knight who insulted Gwenhywyfar (Peredur 69). At the beginning of the tale, Peredur is the opposite of a true knight, lacking in equipment, training, and instruction. As Peredur adjusts to his new lifestyle, he gains a number of teachers who advise him on how to behave properly. His mother is the first of these instructors. Before her son leaves for Arthur’s court, she tells him: Whenever you see a church, chant the Our Father to it. If you see food and drink, if you are in need of it and no one has the courtesy or goodness to offer it to you, help yourself. If you hear a scream, go towards it, and a woman’s scream above any other scream in the world. If you see a fair jewel, take it and give it to someone else, and because of that, you will be praised. If you see a beautiful lady, make love to her even though she does not want you – it will make you a better and braver man than before. (Peredur 66–67) Peredur follows his mother’s advice exactly, taking food and a jewel from the woman in the clearing. Her directives are supposed to win him the honour and attention a knight deserves, and he therefore acts according to her instructions. He cites his mother as an authority for his behaviour, twice saying, “My mother told me…”(Peredur 67). She acts as his reference for proper comportment. His mother is succeeded by his lame uncle, who tells him, “You will stay with me for a while, learning manners and etiquette. Forget now your mother’s words—I will be your teacher and make you a knight…If you see something that you think is strange, do not ask about it unless someone is courteous enough to explain it to you” (Peredur 72). Following these directions, Peredur does not ask about the Grail procession in the second uncle’s castle. The Fisher King is incorporated into Peredur as a teacher and influence on his behaviour, becoming part of the hero’s quest to become a knight. His other uncle also acts as a tutor, asking him to strike an iron column with a sword and then re-join the broken pieces of sword and column. After Peredur repeats this feat twice but fails the third time, his second uncle declares, “You are the best swordsman in the kingdom. You have gained two-thirds of your strength, and the third is still to come. And when you have gained it all, you will surrender to no one” (Peredur 72–73). Even though he has defeated knights by the time he reaches his uncle’s castle, Peredur is not fully mature, having only two-thirds of his full strength. In the continental stories,


Julia Mattison

page 29

the mending of the broken sword is incorporated into the Grail procession, but in Peredur, this act occurs before the procession takes place and is a mark of his increasing ability as a warrior (Wood 171–73). Both uncles ask Peredur if he knows “how to strike well with a sword” to which Peredur replies, “If I were taught, then I would know” (Peredur 71). The beginning of the tale emphasizes that Peredur is still learning how to be a knight; he still needs and desires training. Peredur’s fourth teacher is one of the witches of Caerloyw who attempts to attack him. She informs him that, “It was fated and foretold that I would suffer grief at your hands…and you will stay with me for a while as I teach you how to ride your horse and handle your weapons” (Peredur 79). This female arms trainer, comparable to Cú Chulaind’s Scáthach, is yet another teacher and aligns Peredur with a Celtic heroic tradition in which the hero learns from an unusual teacher (Irish Myths 148–51). Throughout the rest of the tale, Peredur completes the tasks set to him, and eventually is able to avenge his cousin’s death and his uncle’s injury by killing the witches. This is his destiny, for “it is foretold” that he will accomplish these duties; it is only through his training, however, that he is strong enough to complete this undertaking (Peredur 102). He becomes a full knight with a proper horse, weapons, and armour, bearing little resemblance to the young man on a nag carrying holly darts. Peredur’s defeat of the witches is not the only example of vengeance in the tale, but rather is the culminating act of retribution. When he first arrives at court, Peredur chooses to attack the knight and “[avenges] the insult to Gwenhwyfar” (Peredur 68). As he travels through the countryside, he asks each knight he defeats to tell Arthur that he “will never set foot in his court until [he confronts Cai] and [avenges] the insult to the dwarf and she-dwarf ” (Peredur 70). Later when he encounters the wife of the Proud One of the Clearing, he overcomes her husband, proving that “the girl has been found innocent, and that as recompense for the insult [the husband’s false accusation] I overthrew you” (Peredur 78). Peredur avenges the calumniated wife and asserts her fidelity. Finally, as already noted, Peredur takes revenge for his cousin’s death. The hero completes a series of reprisals, making retribution a recurring feature of the tale. Goetinck sees the entire story as “a quest for vengeance” (Goetinck 283). The lance in the procession is a symbol of the vengeance quest, allowing the Grail procession, the question test, and the Loathly Damsel’s reprimand to signify Peredur’s vengeance, not the Grail quest (Goetinck 290). The other wrongs he must fix prepare the hero for his final act of vengeance, just as his teachers previously provided him with the necessary skills. Only when he has gained his full strength can Peredur complete his destiny and overthrow the witches. Peredur’s maturation presents the reader


page 30

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

with two very different men. At the beginning, he asks Arthur’s men about all the trappings of a knight, and at the end, there is only one question that he must ask: how his uncle was wounded. With the answer to this question, he will aspire to destroy the witches of Caerloyw, avenge his cousin’s death, and bring peace to his uncle’s kingdom. Alongside the recurring theme of revenge is the concern with marriage; not only does Peredur receive five marriage proposals—of which he only accepts one—but he also arranges several unions. For example, he tells the murderer of his foster-sister’s husband to “take this woman as a wife, and treat her as well as you have treated other women, since you killed her husband for no reason”(Peredur 74). Here, marriage serves as a kind of recompense, for Peredur rights the unjust murder of his foster-sister’s husband by providing her with another husband to protect her. After he defeats the Black Oppressor and the daughter offers him any woman in marriage, he replies, “I see fine young men there—let each one of [the maidens and men of the court] pair up with another, as you wish” (Peredur 88). Having killed the Black Oppressor, Peredur leaves the court undefended by a male warrior, but he makes amends by ordering the marriages of the men and women of the court so that no woman is left defenseless. At the court of the Countess of Feats, he overthrows the Countess’s retinue and then offers Edlym to the Countess, saying, “And it was for his sake that I came to challenge your retinue…and I will give you to him” (Peredur 91). After they defeat the serpent, Peredur instructs Edlym “You shall go to the woman you love best, and I will go on my way” (Peredur 91). Having defeated the Countess’s retinue, Peredur replaces them with one strong knight who can continue to protect her; even though Peredur was the one to beat the retinue, he believes that Edlym, “could have done it better than I, had he wanted” (Peredur 91). Each time that Peredur triumphs over a lord or master of a castle, he replaces the defeated man with another warrior, providing a clear line of authority. In so doing, Peredur creates a kind of order in the world and pays tribute for his own actions. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the Loathly Damsel reproaches Peredur as being responsible for the state of his uncle’s kingdom: “There is conflict and combat, knights lost and wives left widowed and young girls unprovided [sic] for, and all that because of you” (Peredur 94). In continental Percival stories, the Fisher King’s kingdom is a Wasteland without crops, livestock, houses, or people (Nitze, “The Waste Land” 61). Here, however, the Wasteland is transformed into a world in which women are left unprotected. Order has been upset because the natural pairing of men and women has been disrupted by war. Marriage, like retribution, is a way of providing structure and organization. The two are united in the description of


Julia Mattison

page 31

the Wasteland, transforming elements that are traditionally associated with the Grail to instead signify vengeance. Peredur Son of Efrog presents modern readers with several irresolvable problems of source and meaning. Unexplained events and characters are rife in the story, and multiple versions make it impossible to distinguish an “original” text (Lovecy 171). While the authors of the Welsh Peredur stories either shared common sources with continental Percival tales or retold French stories in the Mabinogion, the major elements of the Percival tale—namely the quest for the Holy Grail and the healing of the Fisher king—are subverted in Peredur to become elements of a vengeance quest. The motifs of the Grail legend evolve into events in Peredur’s formation as a knight; the lance and the head on the platter are symbols of the task that he must complete, and his uncles are his teachers. Most importantly, Peredur himself never gains any position of authority, for he is never crowned king in his uncle’s stead; his role is to help maintain the sovereignty of others, which is also symbolized in his role in facilitating the marriages of men and women throughout the tale. In making these marriages, Peredur ensures a line of succession. Thus, the theme of sovereignty that is so prominent in the Grail legends—the physical health of the king ensures the health of his land—are reformed in Peredur such that the hero’s role is to maintain the rule of others, rather than his own legacy. The story ends not with a transfer of power from the lame king to the hero, but a defeat of the threat to the uncle’s kingdom: the witches. The inclusion of continental elements in the narrative, in spite of the way they are manipulated, allows the story to maintain the chivalric ethos of the French Romance while changing the traditional course of the plot. Peredur should not be considered a Grail legend, but rather a story about a knight’s maturation, culminating in avenging his cousin’s death so that his uncle can rule in peace. The absence of a Grail and the limited discussion of sovereignty in Peredur transforms the tale into one of the creation of a knight. A proper knight is one, like Peredur, who maintains a balance in the kingdom and supports his lord. While many scholars claim that “to look for an underlying theme in Peredur is doomed to failure [sic]” and deride the tale as a “muddle” whose last section “is very poorly written,” interpreting the story as a quest for revenge connects many of the disparate elements (Lovecy 179–80). Many key elements of Grail legends—such as Peredur’s return to the Grail castle, the asking of the Grail Question, the healing of the Wasteland, and Peredur’s succession to the throne—are lacking in Peredur, and are replaced by Peredur’s fulfilment of his destiny. Lovecy asks, “Why should Peredur have to do the dirty work [and avenge his cousin]?” (Lovecy 179). The answer is that Peredur proves his worth as


page 32

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

a knight through his ability to defeat the witches. It is his “fate” to fight them, and he can only defeat them once he has been trained (Peredur 102). The elements of continental stories incorporated into the tale evolve to become part of Peredur’s quest for vengeance rather than his quest for the Grail. Peredur reinterprets French Romance for a Welsh audience, focusing on the development of a knight in a firmly ordered world.

Bibliography The Arthur of the Welsh: the Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Legend. Edited by Rachel Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman, and Brynley F. Roberts. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. Trans. Jeffrey Gantz. New York: Penguin, 1981. Loomis, Roger Sherman. “The Irish Origin of the Grail Legend.” Speculum 8 (1933). 415–31. Loomis, Roger Sherman and Jean Stirling Lindsay. “The Magic Horn and Cup in Celtic and Grail Tradition.” Romanische Forschungen 45 (9131). 66–94. Goetinck, Glenys. Peredur: A Study of Welsh Tradition in the Grail Legends. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1975. The Mabinogion. Translated by Sioned Davis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Nitze, William A. “The Fisher King in the Grail Romances.” PMLA 24 (1909). 365–418. ---. “The Waste Land: A Celtic Arthurian Theme.” Modern Philology 43 (1945). 58–62. Wood, Juliette. “The Holy Grail: From Romance Motif to Modern Genre.” Folklore 111 (2000),169–90.


page 33

Naming the “Nonrepresentational” in the Novels of Henry Green Rachel Murray University of Cambridge

F

or the first two decades of his life as a writer, Henry Green, who wrote his first novel while still a student in 1926, appeared reluctant to associate himself with his work. Then, in 1950, at the tail end of his writing career, Green came forward, publicly attaching the face of Henry Yorke to his nom de plume by giving a series of interviews and lectures that outlined his approach to writing. On three separate occasions he categorised his nine novels as “nonrepresentational.”1 In the Paris Review in 1958, he explained what he meant: “Nonrepresentational” was meant to represent a picture which was not a photograph, nor a painting on a photograph, nor, in dialogue, a tape recording. For instance, the very deaf, as I am, hear the most astounding things all round them which have not in fact been said. This enlivens my replies until, through mishearing [sic], a new level of communication is reached. My characters misunderstand each other more than people do in real life, yet they do so less than I. Thus, when writing, I “represent” very closely what I see (and I’m not seeing so well now) and what I hear (which is little) but I say it is “nonrepresentational” because it is not necessarily what others see and hear.2

Throughout his novels, as he himself acknowledges, Green explores the art of “mishearing”, of “not seeing so well” as a means of highlighting the impossibility 1. Henry Green, quoted by Don Adams, Alternative Paradigms of Literary Realism (New York, 2009), p. 95. Henry Green, “A Novelist to his Reader I” in Surviving: The Uncollected Writings of Henry Green, ed. Matthew Yorke, (London, 1992), p. 136. 2. Henry Green, “The Art of Fiction” in Surviving (London, 1992), p. 239.


page 34

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

of accurately representing “what others see”. An oversight of Green’s critical readers is that his identification of his writing as “nonrepresentational” can be related to his approach to the naming of characters. An exploration of the complex systems of naming within the novels of Green lends itself to further consideration of the extent to which all names at some level fail to represent that to which they refer. With this idea in mind, it would it be unwise to accept Green’s categorisation of his novels at face value by presuming that his novels successfully represent a “nonrepresentational” system of naming. Indeed, Green’s repeated use of the term signifies his attempt at preventing his novels from being perceived as representational by positioning them within what Updike terms an “un-Aristotelian”3 and anti-mimetic paradigm. Whilst remaining alert to the distinct identities of Green as novelist and Green as critic, this essay examines the relationship between Green’s insistent classification of his novels and his method of patterning the names of his characters, in an attempt—however futile—to identify that which cannot be represented. Within the novels of Henry Green it is possible to identify two distinct systems of naming. In the first instance, different characters are referred to by the same name; in the second, the same characters are referred to by different names. We can identify these systems at work by gathering examples of localised repetition within the novels, which once assembled enable us to make a wider observation about naming within Green’s whole body of work. J. Hillis Miller emphasises the necessity, as well as the inevitability, of such systematisation on the part of any reader, asserting that “a long work like a novel is interpreted […] in part through the identification of recurrences and of meanings generated through recurrences.”4 Green’s alternating use of homonymy and synonymy in naming his characters is itself a continuation of a system evident in other literature preceding his work: Bronte’s inclusion of the two Catherines in Wuthering Heights, Hardy’s construction of three generations of women called Avice in The Well Beloved, and Shakespeare’s referring to the play’s protagonist by an array of titles in The Taming of the Shrew.5 However, the process of placing Green within a discernible literary framework of repetition serves only to highlight the manner in which he undermines the systems of naming that he himself initializes. After closely examining Blindness (1926), Living (1929), Loving (1945), and Back (1946), it becomes clear that 3. Surviving, p. xvii. 4. J. Hillis Miller, Fiction and Repetition (Massachusetts, 1985), p. 1. 5. See Laurie Maguire, “The Diminutive Name: Kate” in Shakespeare’s Names (Oxford, 2007), pp. 120-52.


Rachel Murray

page 35

once a system of naming has been recognised it is then possible to identify marked inconsistencies within this established scheme. These, in turn, generate perplexing anomalies for the reader. Kermode notes “the absence of some usual satisfactions” in the novels of Green, resulting from “the disappointment of conventional expectations”.6 The amassed titles of Green’s novels exemplify the “disappointment” engendered by Green’s thwarting of an apparent pattern: Green inflects six of his nine novels with the present participle “ing” in Living, Loving, Party Going, Concluding, Nothing, Doting, while intermittently deviating from this morphology in titling Blindness, Back, and Caught. This resistance to uniformity can be related to Green’s assertion that “names distract, nicknames are too easy, and if leaving both out […] makes a book look blind then that to my mind is no disadvantage.”7 Yet this purported reluctance to name is in itself distracting, and the fact that Green never did “leav[e] both out” suggests his awareness that a negated name would summon more intrigue through its absence. Natanson cites an example of the curiosity that a negated name generates in The Old Curiosity Shop, in which a servant is asked her name and she responds with “Nothing”, to the consternation of her interlocutor.8 Subsequently, the word “Nothing” becomes one in a series of conspicuous placeholder names for this character, before Dickens reveals her true name, along with the concealed family heritage contained within it.9 Through this, Dickens demonstrates that no one can be called “Nothing”: naming becomes a practical requisite when referring to a recurring figure.10 Indeed, naming is more of a necessity within the novel. Unlike reality, in which the individual is manifest, the novel is a form in which identity is represented exclusively through textual signs. McGrath relates that after naming his penultimate novel Nothing, Green “would give that [title] when people at parties asked him what he had written lately.”11 Green’s use of a negative particle enables him to pun on his reluctance to produce names for his work, while at the same time referring to the novel in question. Green’s simultaneous concealment 6. Henry Green, quoted by Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Massachusetts, 1979), p. 13. 7. Henry Green, Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green, ed. Jeremy Treglown (London, 2000), p. 5. 8. Maurice Natanson, “Phenomenology, Anonymity and Alienation,” New Literary History, Vol. 10 (Spring 1979), p. 533. 9. Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (London, 2000), p. 553. 10. See Adele Reinhartz, “Why Ask my Name?” Anonymity and Identity in Biblical Narrative (New York, 1998). 11. Charles McGrath, “Writing. Hiding. Drinking. Disappearing.”, The New York Times, March 25th 2001, <http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/03/25/reviews/010325.25mcgratt.html> [accessed 12th February 2012].


page 36

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

and revelation of the name of his penultimate novel suggests that his reluctance to name is coupled with an awareness of the impossibility of not doing so. Naming as a necessary act on the part of an author stems from a number of practical considerations, the least of which being the need to distinguish one character from another. However, Green appears to challenge this convention in a lecture entitled “A Novelist to his Readers” in 1950, positing, “do we know, in life, what other people are really like? [...] We certainly do not know […] How then can the novelist be so sure?”12 Here, Green appears to reclassify the author as a passive observer, unable to access the inner lives of characters and thus powerless to deliver them to the reader as objective specimens for psychological examination. Instead, as Green’s body of work demonstrates, qualities of characters frequently merge into one another. In Party Going, Max, Amabel, and Angela are rendered capable of synchronising their experiences, with “all three wonder[ing] and dread[ing] a little.”13 Similarly, the narrator of Loving observes that Edith “was beginning to speak like [Raunce,]”14 who himself “used exactly that tone Mr Eldon had employed”15 when he calls out to Edie, just as his predecessor Eldon had called out to Ellen. In Concluding, Green introduces a series of young women alliteratively named Mary, Merode, Marion, Maisy, Moira, Muriel, and Melissa. Similarly, in Back, Charley is unable to distinguish between two half sisters, Rose and Nancy, believing that Nancy, whom he meets after his lover Rose has passed away, is “[R]ose after [R]ose”.16 Green’s use of nominal alliteration enmeshes these moments, challenging the reader to comprehend an array of similarly entitled figures who at times relate almost identically to one another. It is possible to extrapolate a model for these nominal inconsistencies from Green’s seventh novel, Back. Early in the text, Green’s protagonist Charley Summers is introduced to a new assistant, Dorothy, appointed to him by the government system that oversees his job at a manufacturing company: As he went to his room and saw her, he had once again the experience inseparable from government procedure, he had before his eyes the product of a prolonged correspondence […] a notification that the vacancy would be filled, then, at last, the name of the person to be directed to fill it, then […] without warning, these letters, these forms and the reference 12. Surviving, p. 139. 13. Henry Green, Loving, Living, Party Going (London, 2005), p. 466. 14. Loving, p. 195. 15. Ibid, p. 204. 16. Henry Green, Back (London, 1998), p. 3.


Rachel Murray

page 37

numbers bloomed into flesh and blood, a young woman.17 Charley sees Dorothy’s name as a word on a page of government correspondence long before he encounters her in person; he therefore must reconcile the textual identity of Dorothy with her subsequent appearance in “flesh and blood”. The element of surprise Charley experiences, evinced by the expositional qualification “without warning”, remains distinct from the experience of the reader. The narrator introduces the reader to a character named Dorothy through the medium of the text before she later appears within the text as a part of its body of language. Unlike Charley, the reader has no need to process a relationship between their external surroundings and the characters named within a text. Thus, Green demonstrates that Charley must confront the name as a nonrepresentational sign, whereas the reader is fully aware that Dorothy’s name is merely a linguistic representation, a textual symbol for her character. This “discrepancy”,18 between Charley and the reader, gestures to the presence of two divergent experiences of naming, both of the reader may observe, but only the latter of which (Dorothy as textual symbol) can the reader experience. This fissure between the experience of Charley and the reader results from the reader’s position as an external onlooker, with Charley positioned contrarily as an internal, diegetic representative of the disparity between the word and the individual. Green thus exposes two experiences of the relationship between the name and the individual which, though both discernible to the reader, remain mutually incompatible – each system undermines the other. Furthermore, Green’s use of free indirect discourse reveals that Charley had “once again the experience inseparable from government procedure” [my italics], suggesting his conflation of Dorothy’s name with a system which has become entangled with her identity by functioning as the vehicle through which her name is introduced. This perhaps accounts for Charley’s repeated address to Dorothy as “Miss”, before shortening her name to “Dot”, as though reducing her to a figure of punctuation, a full stop that symbolises the semantic obstruction her arrival has caused him. Charley thus transforms Dorothy back into a linguistic sign, with Green gesturing to the notion that she has become “inseparable” from her previous identity as a textual symbol. By denying Charley any semantic coherence between “Dorothy” as a word and the “young woman” in front of him, Green ensures that “Dot” remains an outsider, a nonrepresentational figure in Charley’s insular mindset. 17. Ibid, p. 34. 18. Surviving, p. 245.


page 38

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

Charley’s erroneous attachment of a name to a system is then repeated by Green, this time on a larger scale through Charley’s introduction of a crossindexing system, which is revealed to overlay a pre-established method of classification. Charley’s boss explains the error to him: “there’s two checks being kept, yours and Mr Pike’s. So you rely on your own and it’s let you down [...] it’s untrue to the facts.”19 Crucially, Charley is the author of his own delusions of reference and therefore only he can understand them. The text’s establishment of two opposing systems of meaning, with the original system undermined, or indeed overlain, by Charley’s esoteric endeavours, could be construed as Green’s nod towards his own attempts at thwarting a conventional system of naming and classification. Late in his career, Green posited that “the laws of the text declare themselves only in the course of its writing, so that no conformity with external models should be expected.”20 Though this statement should not be taken as evidence of Green’s intention to allegorize Charley’s system, the implied binary Green creates between “external models” and the equivalent “internal models” at work within his novels is perhaps a means of distinguishing an insular system of naming from the external model of the world represented, or, in Green’s case nonrepresented. Green’s repudiation of an “external model” for textual systems is reminiscent of Charley’s insular classifications, which despite being “visible”21 to him remain invisible to the onlooker. By being “untrue to the facts” while remaining true to the subjective experience of its author, Charley’s system is a mise en abîme, a miniature model of Green’s “nonrepresentational” system of naming. A more localised instance of “untrue” naming occurs in Green’s first novel, Blindness, in which Green introduces a character called Joan, before shifting into the free indirect discourse of his protagonist, John, who relates that “tomorrow June (her name was June) would come.”22 For several pages, John refers to this strangely familiar figure, who shares many similarities with Joan, before Joan/ June herself confronts this rupture of identity, clarifying, “my name isn’t June, it’s Joan, and always was.”23 By delaying the revelation that June is Joan, Green creates a temporary third character who hovers somewhere between John and Joan as a projection of both and neither character. To enable these reverberations of identification, Green uses pararhyme to interlock these separate names and their concomitant identities, enabling John, Joan, and June to become perpetually 19. Back, p. 144. 20. Don Adams, p. 13. 21. Back, p. 35. 22. Henry Green, Nothing, Doting, Blindness (London, 2008), p. 436. 23. Ibid, p. 444.


Rachel Murray

page 39

engaged in a mutual echo that obstructs the reader’s attempts to disentangle the referent. Furthermore, just as in the introduction of Dorothy in Back, the reader is introduced to “June” through Green’s inclusion of her name within the body of the text. The deferral of Joan’s acknowledgement of John’s mistake suggests Green’s exploitation of the conventions of naming in the novel: Green introduces a name that initially appears to represent the identity of an individual within the text, yet this appearance is subsequently undermined by the revelation of John’s misattribution. Ironically, John’s mistake can hardly be the result of sensory failure, for he is blind, not deaf, and Green has already established that John’s hearing has been augmented by the cessation of his sight. Instead, Green demonstrates John’s desire to hear semantically, even impressionistically, rather than representatively, with him wilfully distorting Joan’s name in order to prioritise his insular system over the “exterior model” of her given name, explaining to her, “June is such a lovely name, so much nicer than Joan. You are just like June too.”24 Despite her protests, John continues to refer to Joan as June, seemingly in an attempt to conflate her with what the month of June connotes. John thus idealises that which he cannot see and therefore render tangible, for as he admits, “June was an illusion – a lovely one.”25 June is thus a tangible nonrepresentation of Joan, a “picture that is not a photograph”,26 an idealised projection of John himself. Green’s triangulation of John, Joan and the spectre of June is underpinned by the romantic relationship between John and Joan, granting it a thematic cohesion which is conspicuously absent from Green’s subsequent novels. Rod Mengham argues that Green’s fourth novel, Party Going, “is consecutive without rationale; it simulates a continuity which is in fact absent, observes the mere formalities of narrative.”27 This assertion could be expanded loosely to encompass the processes of naming in all of Green’s novels. In Loving, even the bare “formalities of narrative” are transgressed by Green’s inclusion of two characters called Albert, causing inevitable confusion for both the reader and the other characters. Edith, who works with a pantry boy called Albert, during a discussion with a girl who has befriended another boy called Albert, asks her “which Albert, yours or mine?”28 Later, Raunce, in a fit of jealousy, asks Edith “which Albert is it you’re going to be wife to?”29 The repetition of “which Albert” is itself disorienting, with Green 24. Ibid. 25. Ibid, p. 442. 26. Surviving, p. 239. 27. Rod Mengham, The Idiom of the Time: The Writings of Henry Green (Cambridge, 2010), p. 50. 28. Loving, p. 142. 29. Ibid, p. 160.


page 40

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

overlaying the confusion of the presence of two Alberts with the additional repetition of these almost identical verbal references. This in turn enables Green to “simulate a continuity” between the “interchangeable”30 identities of both the characters and their utterances, leaving the reader to wonder which of these two repetitious systems to trust, if any. Mrs Tennant, upon announcing the arrival of Mrs Welch’s Albert, is interrupted by Raunce’s Albert: “His name is Albert. Why, what a coincidence. Yes Albert, what is it?”31 This statement counterpoints and in turn compresses two Alberts into a single space as well as a shared frame of reference, with Green amalgamating the two characters to the point that it is unclear who or what the name “Albert” refers to. Green frustrates this referential uncertainty further by sometimes referring to Albert the pantry boy as “Bert” or “Charley’s Albert,” as well as by creating a situation in which both Alberts are suspected of having some involvement in the disappearance of Mrs Tennant’s ring. Green’s overlapping of the two men is interpreted by Mrs Tennant as a “coincidence”, yet it is more likely another example of Green’s oblique systems of naming (as Stonebridge points out, oblique is “his word,” his name for the process32) in that it forces the reader to recognise that there is little discernible connection between any of the characters. Upon being faced with the two Alberts, secondary speculation on the part of the reader about naming is perhaps inevitable: how can any two people have the same name? How do we process identity when communicating with two men named Albert? Paradoxically, Green’s inclusion of the two Alberts is representational, because unlike fiction, in which reality is usually carefully ordered in order to avoid confused identification, in life it is sometimes the case that the system underpinning naming as a means of distinguishing individuals breaks down, and other modes of reference must be employed. The flaws inherent within the relationship between “exterior models” of naming and interior models of identity are exemplified during Green’s personal account of a hotel trip in which one of the waiters was also named Henry and a female guest called his name “all day long with a wavering cry”, inducing feelings of “persecution mania”.33 What the concurrence of the two Henrys appears to evoke for Green is the tyranny of naming as a system in which connections are forged between individuals who lack any discernible relationship—a tyranny 30. Sebastian Faulks, “Introduction” in Loving, Living, Party Going (London, 2005), p. 11. 31. Loving, p. 32. 32. Lyndsey Stonebridge, The Writing of Anxiety: Imagining Wartime in Mid-Century British Culture (Hampshire, 2007), p. 57. 33. Romancing, p. 173.


Rachel Murray

page 41

consolidated by the “wavering cry” of repetition. Moreover, the incidental collocation of the two Henrys creates a pun, a figure upon which Culler reflects: we should ask whether in fact the language one speaks or writes is not always exposed to the contamination of arbitrary signs by punning links […] and whether this does not trouble the framing gesture that seeks to separate the inside of the system from the outside of practise.34 This idea corresponds with the experiences of Charley in Back, who reacts with a “jolt” upon hearing a barmaid addressed by the same name as his dead lover “Rose”, is overcome with nausea when his assistant Dot announces “it’s Rose, Rose she’s called, isn’t it Rose?”,35 and upon hearing Mrs Frazier inadvertently pun “they’ve rose”, in relation to increasing prices, he feels the words “pierce right through”,36 as if penetrating his sense of self. Through this, Green demonstrates the inevitable “contamination” that occurs when “the system” of language comes into conflict with the “practise” of naming. Gerard Barrett, noting Charley’s pathological preoccupation with names, argues that Green’s initially Gertrude Stein-esque repetition of “rose” descends into parody when Charley, who becomes increasingly hostile to Rose’s father Mr Grant, passes a church37: He found himself reading a poster stuck up on the notice board outside, which went ‘Grant O Lord,’ then said something about a faithful servant. The first word shook him. He cried again ‘The bastard,’ right out loud. 38 Yet parody isn’t quite the right name for this wordplay. Instead, Charley’s obsessive punning enables Green to demonstrate the way in which his subjective experiences begin to press against established forms of language, before inevitably “pierc[ing] right through” objective nominal categories. Again and again, Charley imbues a unit of language with symbolic agency that transcends its practical function as a name. By emptying the word of its original referent, Rose herself, who is materialised only in the name on a tombstone, is revealed to be entirely absent from the public denotations of the word “rose”, and present only in the 34. Jonathan Culler, On Puns: The Foundation of Letters (Oxford, 1988), p. 5. 35. Back, p. 107. 36. Ibid, p. 32. 37. Gerard Barratt, “Souvenirs from France: Textual Traumatism in Henry Green’s Back” in The Fiction of the 1940s: Stories of Survival, eds. Rod Mengham, N.H Reeve (New York, 2001), p. 175-176. 38. Back, p. 54.


page 42

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

private language39 that governs Charley’s insular system. This idea is compounded by the fact that Rose, who dies before the action of the novel begins, is referred to exclusively in the past tense, just as “rose” is the past tense inflection of the verb “rise”. Green thus provides only a residual imprint of Rose for the reader through her presence as a sign within the text in order to foreground the instability of the connection between a name and its referent. Ricoeur asks: “is not repetition itself a kind of resurrection of the dead?”40 For Green, the word ‘Rose’ becomes the definition of a referent that lives only in the mind of his protagonist, with Charley’s insular frame of reference again overlaying an “exterior model”. In Living, Green appears to relate this process to the reader meta-discursively through Mr Dupret, who observes that “sometimes in reading […] you will find a word you do not know and when you learn the meaning then for a few days you come again and again upon that word.”41 Green’s description of this “again and again” effect is a phenomenon that hinges upon what is inside any individual’s internal frame of reference. Here, repetition is contingent upon familiarity, just as recurrence hinges upon recognition. Rather than it being the word itself that gains meaning through repetition, its uncanny resurfacing in the consciousness of Mr Dupret indicates that the word as sign is loaded through Dupret’s sudden exposure to its learnt meaning. Mr Dupret’s “learn[ing of ] the meaning” is the equivalent of Charley’s meeting Dorothy after seeing her name on a piece of paper. Unfamiliar words, like unfamiliar names, make little impression internally and therefore Dupret does not “come […] upon” them, because they are essentially empty, and therefore nonrepresentational. However, this idea is complicated by the fact that a name can never fully be nonrepresentational, particularly in fiction wherein a name must always refer to someone, even if they remain absent from the text. Indeed, the act of naming alone summons the idea of a named entity, however hypothetical, and as Lodge argues, “names are never neutral. They always signify, even if it is only ordinariness.”42 This observation helps to rationalize Green’s stated desire to leave out both name and nickname.43 Henry Green himself is both a name and an individual unable to be left out of his body of work, despite his public reluctance to associate his identity with his novels until the tail-end of his career. Green’s division of his “external” identity 39. Stewart Candlish and George Wrisley, “Private Language”, ed. Edward N. Zalta, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 40. Paul Ricoeur, “Narrative Time,” Critical Enquiry, Vol. 7 (Autumn 1980), p. 180. 41. Living, p. 256. 42. David Lodge, The Art of Fiction (London, 2011), p. 37. 43. Romancing, p. 5.


Rachel Murray

page 43

into Henry Green the author and Henry Yorke the individual is reminiscent of the dual systems of naming at work within his novels. Green maintained his nom de plume during interviews, a decision which clearly intrigued publications such as “Life” magazine, who named their interview with him, “The Double Life of Henry Green,” and accompanied it with images of him in his preferred pose, displaying only the back of his head.44 One contemporary critic, Edward Stokes, bought into Green’s self-representation, arguing that in his novels, “you never see Henry Green, he takes up no space as the author.”45 Yet Green repeatedly contradicts his apparent disengagement with his own work. As Mengham observes, in both Blindness and Back, Green intrudes into the pages almost subliminally through the motif of the colour green.46 This suggests a kind of wilful homonymy, even an egotistic punning; it is as though Green is reminding the reader of his presence whilst also gesturing to the inescapability of identification that occurs when a word is attached to an individual. Foucault argues that this inescapability extends to the relationship between a text and its author: An author’s name is not simply an element in a discourse; it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuming a classificatory function. Such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them with others.47 Replacing Foucault’s use of the term “author,” as well as “texts” with the word “individual” illuminates Green’s approach to naming and its implications for individual identity. Certainly, it provokes the question: how do two novels by Henry Green differ from two men named Albert? Is it possible, knowing both novels or knowing both Alberts, to think of one without relating them to the other? Such parallels reveal the inherent aporia present in the homonymic sign, with Green exposing a system of naming that “risks to bind, to enslave or engage the other, to link the called, to call him/her”,48 just as Henry himself felt summoned by the woman guest and her “wavering cry” of a name that simultaneously was and was not his. 44. Nigel Dennis, “The Double Life of Henry Green,” Life, Vol. 33 (4 August 1952), pp. 83-94. 45. Edward Stokes, quoted by Adams, p. 97. 46. Mengham, pp. 10, 180. 47. Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?” in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley (New York, 1999), p. 210. 48. Jacques Derrida, Sauf le nom, trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford, 1995), p. 84.


page 44

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

Naming is both inimical and integral to Green’s “nonrepresentational” model. In Living, Lily observes Craigan reading the works of Dickens “again and again”.49 When Lily asks him if he ever reads “any [books] but the works of Dickens” he responds, “no, why should I?”50 What Dickens as a name appears to offer to Craigan is a coherent framework that corresponds to the repetitive nature of his industrial occupation. Craigan later acknowledges that “men who have worked [in a factory setting] talk of the monotony […] but when they have grown to be old […] this monotony has grown so great that they have forgotten it.”51 For Craigan, a representative of these factory men, monotony provides a kind of stability, with repetitive practices, despite initially seeming cumbersome, gradually being internalised. Appropriating Dickens as a name that stabilises Craigan’s reading enables Green to demonstrate the human tendency to seek recourse in the familiar. Craigan’s system of reading can be connected to the larger system explored by Green: that a name is able to provide individuals with a stable framework of meaning, however inconsistent, however “contaminated.”52 One is tempted to assume insight into the identity behind Henry Green’s name when identifying continuity in the systems of naming at work in his novels. Yet as William Flesch notes, “there is something fictional about all people, something susceptible to anonymity, in the vanishing space beyond generality […] where pure interiority […] and pure exteriority […] coincide.”53 Green’s systems of naming signal his awareness of the “fictional” nature of identity, his own included, with his gesturing to the impossibility of accessing neither “pure interiority” nor “pure exteriority” during his attempts to represent, or rather “nonrepresent” individual experience. Green is a paradox of an author in that his body of work communicates the unrepeatability of experience and the singularity of identity through devices of repetition and homonymy. Yet Green’s systems are in part consolatory; they hint at nominal stability by providing a point of linguistic and phenomenological intersection between public, “exterior models” and private, interior frameworks of meaning that are summoned simultaneously through the act of naming.

49. Living, p. 256. 50. Ibid p. 242. 51. Ibid p. 339. 52. Culler, p. 5. 53. William Flesch, “Anonymity and Unhappiness in Proust and Wittgenstein,” Criticism Vol. 29 (Fall 1987), p. 475.


Rachel Murray

page 45

Bibliography Primary Sources: Bronte, E, Wuthering Heights (London: Wordsworth Editions, 1992). Dickens, C, The Old Curiosity Shop: A Tale (London: Penguin Books, 2000). Green, H, Back (London: Harvill Press, 1998). Green, H, Concluding (London: Harvill Press, 1997). Green, H, Loving, Living, Party Going (London: Vintage Classics, 2005). Green, H, Nothing, Doting, Blindness (London: Vintage, 2008). Green, H, Pack my Bag: A Self Portrait (London: Vintage, 2000). Green, H, Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green, ed. Jeremy Treglown (London: Faber and Faber, 2000) p.5 Green, H, Surviving: The Uncollected Writings of Henry Green, ed. Matthew Yorke (London: Chatto and Windus, 1992) Hardy, T, The Well Beloved (London: Penguin Classics, 1997) Shakespeare, W, The Taming of the Shrew, in The Riverside Shakespeare, Second Edition (London: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), pp.138-76.

Secondary Sources: Adams, D, Alternative Paradigms of Literary Realism (New York: Macmillan, 2009). Barratt, G, “Souvenirs from France: Textual Traumatism in Henry Green’s Back” in The Fiction of the 1940s: Stories of Survival, ed. Rod Mengham, N.H Reeve (New York: Palgrave, 2001). Candlish, S and George Wrisley, “Private Language”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. E.N Zalta, <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/private-language/> [accessed 26th February 2012]. Culler, J, On Puns: The Foundation of Letters, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988). Dennis, N, “The Double Life of Henry Green”, Life, Vol. 33 (4th August 1952), pp. 83-94. Derrida, J, Sauf le nom, trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995). Faulks, S, “Introduction” in Loving, Living, Party Going (London: Vintage Classics, 2005), pp. 7-16. Flesch, W, “Anonymity and Unhappiness in Proust and Wittgenstein”, Criticism, Vol. 29 (Fall 1987), pp. 459-476. Foucault, M, “What is an Author?” in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: New Press, 1999) pp. 205-222. Hillis Miller, J, Fiction and Repetition (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 1. Kermode, F, The Genesis of Secresy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1979).


page 46

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

Lodge, D, The Art of Fiction (London: Vintage Books, 2011). Maguire, L, “The Diminutive Name: Kate” in Shakespeare’s Names (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 120-125. McGrath, C, “Writing. Hiding. Drinking. Disappearing.”, The New York Times, March 25th 2001 <http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/03/25/reviews/010325.25mcgratt.html> [accessed 12th February 2012]. Mengham, R, The Idiom of the Time: The Writings of Henry Green (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Natanson, M, “Phenomenology, Anonymity and Alienation,” New Literary History, Vol. 10 (Spring 1979), pp. 533-46. Reinhartz, A, “Why Ask my Name?” Anonymity and Identity in Biblical Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). Ricoeur, P, “Narrative Time”, Critical Enquiry Vol.7 (Autumn 1980), pp. 169-90. Stonebridge, L, The Writing of Anxiety: Imagining Wartime in Mid-Century British Culture (Hampshire: Macmillan, 2007).


page 47

“Delay is Good For a Lover,” But “Don’t Keep Him Waiting Too Long”

Ovidian Timing and Augustinian Temporality in the Lais of Marie de France

Emily Kohlhase

University of Wisconsin-Madison

A

s even a first-time reader cannot fail to notice, the outcomes of the love affairs in Marie de France’s Lais are so polarized that they can be considered antithetical: A lover either “[leads] away his mistress with much rejoicing” because “all his pain [is] now at an end” or he jumps into boiling bathwater and is scalded to death (Guigemar, 881-82; Equitan, 295);1 a heroine finds out that she will be able to marry her beloved after all, or she watches him expire at her feet (Eliduc, 1100; Les Deus Amanz, 205). Although the reasons for the various successes and failures of these romantic relationships sometimes seem to be stated explicitly in the text (in Equitan, for example, we learn that “he who plans evil for another / may have that evil rebound back on him” (309-10)), critics have often sought to explain the positive and negative results of love by tracing patterns throughout the twelve lais. Scholarly rationalizations about the outcomes of the stories have moved from making general observations about the quality of love in each lai,2 to examining Marie’s narratorial attitude,3 to maintaining more complex claims about characters’ ability to make difficult distinctions, such as Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner’s assertion that the individuals who succeed in love are those who can 1. All references to and quotations from the lais are from The Lais of Marie de France, trans. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1978), referred to in parentheses by line number. 2. See for example Emanuel J. Mickel, Jr, “A Reconsideration of the Lais of Marie de France,” Speculum 46, no. 1 (1971): 39-65. 3. See for example Rupert T. Pickens, “Equitan: Anti-Guigemar,” Romance Notes 15 (1973): 361-367.


page 48

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

initially choose and later recognize the correct partner.4 Like Bruckner, I see the fate of each romantic relationship as being dependent upon decisions characters make. I argue that one crucial factor affecting the outcomes of the tales is the timing of characters’ words and actions. Characters who act at the appropriate time reap the rewards of a fortunate ending, while characters who proceed hastily or wait too long suffer adverse outcomes. I will examine Guigemar, Equitan, Les Deus Amanz, Chaitivel, and Eliduc. Considered together, especially in the Guigemar-Equitan and Guigemar-Eliduc pairings that many critics study, these lais reveal the importance of acting at just the right time. As I will discuss, Marie’s tales seem to instruct her readers about timing in a similar manner as Ovid does in the Ars Amatoria. Augustinian and Neoplatonic understandings of time as a distension measured through the memory or soul disclose another layer of meaning in the lais. In order to act at the correct moment, characters must rely not only on their memories of past events, as discussed by Logan Whalen,5 but also on their Augustinian mnemonic instincts regarding time as it passes by them. Marie’s lais require her characters to participate actively and attentively in the development of their romances, and an individual’s self awareness—or lack thereof—determines whether he or she exhibits temporal excess (or démesure) or is able to act at exactly the proper time. Guigemar: A Parkerian and Ovidian Love Story In Book XI of the Confessions, a work which Marie likely had knowledge of,6 St. Augustine describes time as a distention: a spreading out or dilation.7 As I hope to show, much of the romantic success in Guigemar stems from both the title character’s and his lady’s ability to delay or dilate their actions in time until the appropriate moment arrives. The lai opens with a moment of fruition after an interval of deliberate deferral: “When [Guigemar’s] time of probation was at an end, / and he was mature in body and mind, / the king dubbed him knight” (4547). Only after Guigemar learns his profession during a specific period of time and reaches the appropriate level of development will his father grant him new 4. Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, “Textual Identity and the Name of a Collection: Marie de France’s Lais,” in Shaping Romance: Interpretation, Truth, and Closure in Twelfth-Century French Fictions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 157-206. 5. Logan Whalen, Marie de France & the Poetics of Memory (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2008). 6. See for example Brucker, “Textual Identity,” 196. 7. St. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 240.


Emily Kohlhase

page 49

rights and responsibilities. Guigemar himself seems to know that he should not rush into his new role. Rather than hastily taking up residence as an independent knight, Guigemar will not “[leave] the court, / […] before dispensing many rich gifts,” thereby pausing appropriately to fulfill his social obligations (49-50). From the outset, then, Guigemar is marked as a character who knows to wait for the right time to act. Although wandering onto the mysterious boat is a less deliberate decision, Guigemar’s choice to “rest” there instead of quickly disembarking is also felicitous, because his delay causes him to become trapped on the boat and sail to the residence of the lady who can cure his wound (189). This moment of nautical wandering, as well as the many other instances of postponement in the lai, calls to mind Patricia Parker’s discussion of dilation as a form of literary deferral.8 Marie’s use of distention differs from the many examples Parker discusses, however, since in Guigemar and the other lais I will examine, delay is neither uniquely feminine nor largely problematic.9 In the world Marie creates, both men and women enact dilation, and it is more often than not beneficial. The delayed occasion when Guigemar and his lady first express their love for one another demonstrates that both characters seem to view deferral as possessing inherent advantages. When Guigemar realizes that he is in love, he initially decides to tell the lady right away, certain that if she rejects him, “‘[he will] have to die of grief, / languishing forever in this pain’” (405-6). A few lines later, however, he “form[s] a new resolution, / and [says] to himself he [will] have to keep suffering; / you have to endure what you can’t change” (408-10). Guigemar’s decision to reject a hasty confession that could result in a temporally hyperbolic grief lasting “forever” in favor of a pragmatic choice to endure until he can change his situation proves to be the correct course of action, since during this period of delay the lady’s maidservant comes to him and offers her assistance in creating the romantic connection he desires (460-63). When the servant brings her mistress and Guigemar together so that they may confess their love, the narrator informs us that this is the appropriate moment for such feelings to be shared, because “now [the lady will] have all the time she needs / to tell [Guigemar] what she’s feeling” rather than making a rushed confession (472-73). Despite this indication that the correct moment has arrived, both characters remain wary of acting too quickly, and neither person rushes to make a declaration. They are “both very scared now,” and Guigemar does not “dare ask anything” from the lady (476-77). The narrator again indicates the proper time to speak, 8. Patricia Parker, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Meuthen & Co. Ltd, 1987), see particularly 8-35. 9. Ibid.


page 50

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

noting that Guigemar now “must either get help quickly / or live in misery” (49798). Guigemar then becomes capable of sensing the right moment to act despite his fear. The narrator tells us that because Guigemar must seek the lady’s aid, “So love inspires bravery in him” (499). After Guigemar expresses his love, the lady responds that she would “be ill advised to act too quickly”—again evoking the idea of sensible deferral (510). At this point, Guigemar shows his understanding that the correct moment has arrived and must be seized since he urges his lady to accept his plea, noting that a woman should accept a worthy lover without hesitation, as “this way, before anyone knows or hears of it, / they’ll have done a lot that’s to their advantage” (524-25). The lady also realizes that the time is right. Once she recognizes the prudence and “truth” of Guigemar’s argument about making the best use of their available time, she grants him her love “immediately” (527-28). The narrator explains that the lovers have indeed acted at the proper time by asserting: “[f ]rom now on, Guigemar is at ease” and “[t]heir life [is] full of pleasure” (530; 537). Although delay in Guigemar is advantageous rather than frustrating, seductive, or dangerous, as it is in the texts Parker discusses, the lai is Parkerian in its understanding that dilation should not be allowed to go on indefinitely.10 Dilation allows the characters in Guigemar to reach their goals rather than preventing them from doing so, but it still requires each individual to recognize the ripe moment at which delay should blossom into action. In this sense, Marie’s text is not only Parkerian but also Ovidian. The necessity of achieving the delicate balance between patient waiting and well-timed action is a recurring theme in the Ars Amatoria.11 Ovid stresses that, as with planting crops and fishing, the art of wooing “is done better at suitable times.”12 Like the characters in Guigemar, Ovid recognizes the benefits of postponement and tells lovers: “Take my word for it, love is never a thing to be hurried, / Coax it along, go slow, tease it with proper delay.”13 Yet, like Parker, Ovid cautions that deferral should not go on forever: “delay is good for a lover— / Only one bit of advice—don’t keep him waiting too long.”14 Like Guigemar and his lady, the lovers Ovid instructs must recognize exactly how long to allow a situation to dilate before they act. Famously, another Ovidian work surfaces explicitly in Guigemar: the mural in the lady’s house in which Venus throws Ovid’s Remedia Amoris into a fire (239-41). This instance not 10. Parker, Literary Fat Ladies, see especially 10-11. 11. Ovid, The Art of Love, trans. Rolfe Humphries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957), 105-178. 12. Ibid., 117. 13. Ibid., 151-52. 14. Ibid., 167.


Emily Kohlhase

page 51

only illustrates Marie’s familiarity with Ovid’s works but, but it is also ironically “predictive of the coming relationship” between the two lovers;15 that this mural appears at the beginning of the love affair seems to indicate that the Ovidian model of love serves as a guiding principle for Guigemar and his lady. The pattern of Ovidian deferral followed by decisive action in Guigemar is particularly striking because it recurs at the end of the tale. The lovers repeat their romantic postponement when they see each other for the first time after having been separated by the lady’s husband and then Meriaduc. When Guigemar first notices his lady, he “[shrinks] back a bit” in a move reminiscent of the lovers’ initial fear and hesitancy to confess their affection for one another (772). Guigemar’s refusal to immediately believe that the woman he sees is his lady is indeed prudent. If “women often look alike,” a rash proclamation of affection could risk entangling Guigemar with a woman who is not his beloved and create a delay that sidetracks his quest to find her (779). By delaying even further—he cannot “bring himself to believe firmly it [is] she” when his lady unties the knot in his shirt and waits until he can untie the knot in her belt as well—Guigemar ensures that he expresses his love only in the presence of the right person (814). The ending of the romance also reflects the success of the initial love scene: once the lovers have engaged in sufficient prudent delay, they can swiftly act to consummate and reunite their love. Just as the lady “immediately” grants Guigemar her affection after he persuades her the timing is right at the beginning of the tale, so does Guigemar “quickly” act to overthrow Meriaduc and reclaim his love (853). Throughout the lai, Guigemar and his lady exhibit both “proper delay” and know not to keep a situation “waiting too long.” Consequently, as Ovid would predict, they reap the rewards of this appropriate timing.16 “Equitan: Anti-Guigemar” Redux Rupert T. Pickens asserts that Guigemar and Equitan may be read as “‘setting the tone’ of the collection by presenting contrastive destinies” of the two title characters and their lovers.17 While I am unconvinced by Pickens’s claims that Guigemar’s and Equitan’s varied courses of action do not affect their disparate fates, the idea that the contrast between the two lais offers a paradigm for the collection as a whole offers a useful framework with which to examine characters’ timing. The antithetical outcomes of the two tales may be seen as a result of characters’ just timing in Guigemar and their temporal immoderation 15. Hanning and Ferrante, The Lais of Marie de France, 37. 16. Ovid, The Art of Love, 151-52; 167. 17. Pickens, “Equitan: Anti-Guigemar,” 367.


page 52

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

in Equitan and, I argue, as a model for the effects of delay and haste throughout the lais. Where Guigemar prudently holds back until the time is right, Equitan immediately plunges ahead, with tragic results. At the beginning of Equitan, the narrator warns, “Whoever indulges in love without sense or moderation / recklessly endangers his life” (17-18). The Old French text reads, “A love without sen e mesure” 18 (sense or moderation), and the subsequent lack of moderation in the lai certainly involves temporal démesure and provides an example of the excess that must be avoided if characters are to achieve romantic success in the subsequent tales. From the beginning of the lai, Equitan reveals a dangerous impatience and an insatiable penchant for haste. Guigemar delays and reveals his love to his lady at the right moment, whereas Equitan “[speaks] to [his lady] as soon as he [can]” after the realization that “he want[s] her” (41-42). Equitan takes solace in the knowledge that he will “know soon” whether his advances are accepted or rejected, exclaiming, “If she should feel the way I do, / I’d soon be free of this agony. / God! It’s still so long till morning!” (95-98). To emphasize Equitan’s impatience, the narrator adds that “he could hardly wait” to meet with his potential lover (102). When Equitan does manage to be alone with his lady, he shows no hesitation and “reveal[s] his desire” the line after we learn the lady has come to speak with him (114). The lady only grants her love after a lengthy debate and many pleas from Equitan. This delay reminds us of Guigemar’s claim that a worthy woman should grant her love quickly to an equally worthy lover, while “an inconstant woman” will likely “make someone plead with her a long time / to enhance her worth,” thereby causing unnecessary interruption and improper use of time (51517). As Equitan shows and as other lais emphasize, an excess of delay can be just as harmful as an excess of haste. Once the love affair has begun, the narrator explicitly indicates that the lovers are again misusing their time together: while Guigemar and his lady’s life is “full of pleasure,” Equitan’s lady “bursts into tears, making a big scene” at the time “when she should have been full of joy, / kissing and embracing him / and having a good time with him” (207-9). This ill-spent romantic time seems to presage the story’s ill-fated end. Like Equitan’s declaration of love, the couple’s murder plot is begun in haste, as the lady agrees to “quickly undertake / to do away with her lord” (233-34). The couple’s impatience proves to be their downfall. Such is their temporal démesure that they feel compelled to seize the “moment” and enjoy themselves when the lady’s husband leaves the room rather than wait until the seneschal is dead (278; 282). This poor timing and hurriedness continues. 18. Mickel, “A Reconsideration of the Lais,” 46.


Emily Kohlhase

page 53

When Equitan jumps into the bath in an attempt to hide his adulterous actions, he “[does not] stop to think what he [is] doing” (297). Even the seneschal, apparently clearheaded and even-tempered enough to look after the kingdom when Equitan is busy hunting, seems infected by this haste, drowning his wife “at once” rather than waiting to hear her explanation (303). In comparison with Equitan’s hasty affair and hastier downfall, Guigemar’s patience and prudent delay clearly appear to be a factor affecting his happy outcome. Les Deus Amanz and Chaitivel: Damaging Delay Yet, as Les Deus Amanz and Chaitivel show, Marie appears to be equally concerned not only with discouraging readers from acting in haste, but also with providing an Ovidian reminder that “waiting too long” can be equally dangerous. From the beginning of Les Deus Amanz, delay takes on a problematic character. The heroine’s father “put[s] off giving her away” for “a long time.” His deferral is so inappropriate that “many reproac[h] him for this— / even his own household blame[s] him” (47; 25-26). Moreover, his impossible challenge to suitors to avoid marrying off his daughter depends upon a dangerous postponement: any person wishing to marry the girl must carry her up a mountain “without stopping to rest” (38). Although the two lovers at first enact a delay that is prudent, hiding their love rather than “be[ing] too hasty […] and thus los[ing] everything,” the young man’s hesitation spirals out of control and causes the couple’s downfall (70). Like Equitan, the young man is unable to act with restraint. Where Equitan employs too much haste, the young man exhibits an excess of deferral. The narrator explains that the potion that is supposed to save his life “[does] him little good / because he [is] entirely lacking in control” (178-79). Although the young woman points out the right moment in which to act—“‘now’s the time to regain your strength!’”—the young man insists that he put off using the potion’s aid, proclaiming, “‘I wouldn’t stop for any price’” (187; 190). As a result, the young man expires from exhaustion, and the young woman dies from a broken heart. The two lovers’ deaths show that excessive delay can cause just as much misfortune as unnecessary haste. Chaitivel also demonstrates the dangers of allowing dilation to go on unchecked. The lady in this lai seems at first to exhibit the same type of prudent delay that Guigemar employs. Rather than choosing a lover right away, she “[has] good sense: / she [takes] her time to consider, / to find out and ask / which of them it would be the best to love” (49-52). Yet, rather than eventually making a choice, the lady continues to hold the attention of all four of her suitors, enticing them to the point that “no one [is] able to leave her” (60). Neither openly rejected nor


page 54

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

truly satisfied, all four lovers are consumed by a seemingly endless desire to prove themselves, which leads them to “[keep] on, recklessly” long after they should stop fighting (119). After three of her lovers are killed, the lady recognizes her mistake through the lament, “‘I made them fix their love on me’”—an image of longing that is ever-expanding in both time and degree and never consummated (155). This dilation, not halted in time to save the dead suitors, seems to become a permanent problem for the fourth. His pain continues to grow while he sees the lady “‘coming and going frequently,” and he suffers because “[he] can have no joy from her’” (218-20). This suffering has so expanded that it is “‘a hundred’” times worse than death, and the narrator notes that the lai is named for “‘The Unfortunate One,’” whose dilating anguish is uncontainable (223; 226). As I will discuss later, I see the negative outcomes and temporal démesure in Equitan, Les Deus Amanz, and Chaitivel as resulting from the characters’ distraction and passivity that cause them to misjudge the timing of their actions. Eliduc: Guigemar’s Ovidian Bookend Just as Guigemar and Equitan form an important contrast at the beginning of the lais, Guigemar and Eliduc offer opening and closing examples of the correct timing that leads to positive romantic results. While Guigemar includes two main instances of appropriate delay and swift action at the proper moment (the lovers’ confession and reunion), Eliduc consists of a constant cycle of beneficial delay and well-timed action. Eliduc’s and Guilliadun’s thought processes as they fall in love and gradually express their feelings to each other stretch time until the appropriate point before acting and beginning the cycle anew. When Guilliadun tries to decide whether or not to tell Eliduc about her affection for him, at first she “[doesn’t] want to speak of it / in case he might hold it against her,” just as Guigemar initially decides to endure his feelings for his lady rather than confess them rashly (307-8). She worries that she has formed her longings too hastily, again demonstrating an understanding of the benefits of prudent delay: “‘I’ve fixed my desires foolishly. / I never spoke to him before yesterday / and now I’m asking for his love’” (392-94). Yet she prevents this anxious dilation from extending indefinitely by authorizing her chamberlain to act for her, and even while “she [carries] on, / the chamberlain […] mov[es] quickly” to reveal her love to Eliduc (401-2). Furthermore, immediately after Eliduc also acts decisively by offering a gift in return, the chamberlain starts another cycle of delay by “[taking] nothing and depart[ing]” rather than sealing the love pact right away with a reciprocal present (413-14). These sequences of slow distention and swift action create a


Emily Kohlhase

page 55

kind of tension-and-relaxation that propels the lai to its fortunate conclusion. Eliduc himself undergoes a personal battle of yearning for a hasty capitulation to his desires and the deferral he knows to be necessary because of his preexisting pledges and loyalties. In the space of just sixteen lines, Eliduc switches his mental orientation five times: He had no joy or pleasure except when he thought of [Guilliadun]. But he considered himself unfortunate because, before he left his own country, he had promised his wife that he’d love no one but her. His heart was in great turmoil. He wanted to keep his faith, but he couldn’t keep himself from loving the girl, Guilliadun, who was so lovely, or from seeing and addressing, kissing and embracing her; but he would not pursue the love that would dishonor her because of the faith he owed his wife and because he served the king. (460-76) Eliduc’s constant changes in feeling illustrate his ability to delay action until he can come to the right decision. He does not allow one emotion to take over, but carefully sifts through his contrasting impulses. In moving from the compelling “pleasure” he feels at the thought of Guilliadun, to guilt and sorrow over the pledge he has made to his wife, to “turmoil” because of his conflicting feelings, to the irresistible desire to love and interact with Guilliadun, to a decision to avoid “dishonoring” her, Eliduc consistently curbs the potential démesure that accompanies his feelings of desire with reminders of why deferral is a better decision than acting too quickly. His marital promise, the possibility of bringing disgrace to Guilliadun, and his loyalty to her father all serve as factors in preventing Eliduc from rushing headlong into an affair with Guilliadun. Yet in order for this prudent delay to happen, Eliduc has to make the decision to pause for this crucial moment of careful consideration. His vacillations within this passage show that his choice to postpone his relationship with Guilliadun is not a whim, but rather the product of deliberation between haste and purposeful


page 56

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

dilation. As I will argue in my last section, Eliduc’s purposeful attention to his actions and his active role in deciding the outcome of his romantic relationship enable him to act at the right time, while characters like Equitan suffer a painful fate because they fail to pay attention. As in Guigemar, when the potential lovers meet face-to-face for the first time, in Eliduc both are hesitant (“She didn’t dare broach the subject / and he was afraid to speak” (503-4)); unlike in Guigemar, this initial delay does not prove sufficient to ensure the happiness of the love affair, and Eliduc’s wife, Guideluec, must intervene to restore temporal and romantic balance. Although Eliduc initially seems to exercise prudent delay when he brings Guilliadun to his country, waiting until his term of service to her father is over, and “plann[ing] their journey carefully,” his haste in “swiftly” throwing overboard the sailor who caused Guilliadun to faint is reminiscent of Equitan’s failure to “stop to think what he was doing” (790; 860-64; Equitan, 297). This haste soon fluxes into excessive delay like that in Les Deus Amanz and Chaitivel as Eliduc will not allow his men to bury Guilliadun, neglects Guideluec without providing a reason, and visits Guilliadun’s (apparently dead) body “each day” at the risk of being discovered (921-78; 1091). Guideluec’s patient decision to have Eliduc followed rather than to confront him rashly, her instinct to obtain and to use the weasel’s reviving flower “quickly,” and her calm choice to “leave [Eliduc] completely free” so he can marry Guilliadun enact a new cycle of appropriate timing that cuts short Eliduc’s overly-dilated mourning (1060; 1101). In order to discuss the temporal implications of Eliduc’s final resolution, I must first return to the Augustinian concept of time in greater depth. Augustine, Eliduc, and Eternity As I noted above, St. Augustine conceives of time as a distention “of the mind itself.”19 Humans perceive time “in the soul” and through “present consciousness”: “the present considering the past is the memory, the present considering the present is immediate awareness, the present considering the future is expectation.”20 That is, the sensation we have of present events passing and becoming memories and of anticipated events coming to pass is a dilation of our consciousness, mind, or soul. Our understanding of time is an extremely personal, subjective one: Time is measured through the human perception of the world. Carlos Steel notes that Neoplatonic philosophers also believed in this concept of time, and their 19. Augustine, Confessions, 240. 20. Ibid., 242; 235.


Emily Kohlhase

page 57

thinking molded that of medieval philosophers.21 The Neoplatonists saw time as a purely earthly, human construct that exists in opposition to the eternal, divine nature of God and heaven.22 They understood the soul as “the ‘intermediary’ between the indivisible eternal and the divisible temporal.”23 Both Augustine and the Neoplatonic thinkers eschewed this dilated and divisible, temporary and temporally bound consciousness in favor of the divine unity and “unchangeably eternal” nature of God and heaven; escaping temporality in favor of eternity was part of the ultimate goal of human existence.24 As Chadwick explains, “In Augustine this psychological experience of the spreading out of the soul in successiveness and in diverse directions is a painful and anxious experience, so that he can speak of salvation as deliverance from time.”25 As many critics note, this wish to escape one’s divided and temporally bound consciousness may be read as relevant to the end of Marie’s collection. Both June Hall McCash and Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner describe Eliduc as enacting this very retreat into the eternal, citing Eliduc’s, Guideluec’s, and Guilliadun’s decisions to enter a monastery and nunnery and devote themselves to God. McCash argues that Eliduc’s position immediately after Chevrefoil in some manuscripts emphasizes the desirability of leaving the temporal, since “their juxtaposition and relative lengths underscore the brevity and transitory nature of this life with its desperate lives, as opposed to the eternal where love can endure.”26 She sees the heaven-focused ending of Eliduc as “provid[ing] […] a context that sustains and protects human love” from Chaitivel’s “uncertainty, sorrow, and loss,” a space “where love can include rather than exclude.”27 Bruckner also notes the “inclusive” nature of the story’s end, since all three main characters are “joined in their service to God, within whose unity all diversity is integrated.”28 This concept of unity applies not only to the bonds of the characters in the final lai but also to their escape into a place where temporal démesure is no longer a concern. Yet, in order to escape time, characters in Eliduc must first manage to act aptly within it. 21. Carlos Steel, “The Neoplatonic Doctrine of Time and Eternity and its Influence on Medieval Philosophy,” in The Medieval Concept of Time, ed. Pasquale Porro (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2001), 12. 22. Ibid., 4-5. 23. Ibid., 5. 24. Steel, “The Neoplatonic Doctrine of Time,” 4; Augustine, Confessions, 245. 25. Chadwick, note in Augustine’s Confessions, 240. 26. June Hall McCash, “‘Ensemble poënt bien durer’: Time and Timelessness in the Chevrefoil of Marie de France,” Arthuriana 9, no.4 (1999): 38. 27. Ibid., 39. 28. Brucker, “Textual Identity,” 177.


page 58

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

Without Eliduc’s Guideluec’s, and Guilliadun’s Ovidian mastery of acting at the right time and of knowing when to stop and when to begin anew cycles of dilation and activity, the story would not be able to achieve its fortunate, nonexclusive conclusion. Had Eliduc and Guilliadun rushed into their love affair rather than prudently waiting until the right moment, their fates would likely mirror those of Equitan and his lady. Had Guideluec failed to act speedily to obtain and administer the weasel’s flower, Guilliadun could have been buried alive or languished on her bier in the abbey until she truly died. And, as Bruckner notes, without Guildeluec’s decision to cut short the “long time” of her marriage and her timely choice to “‘take the veil,’” the lai’s final, fortunate ending would not be possible (11;1102).29 Only attentiveness to temporal matters, it seems, allows characters in the lais to escape to eternity. Memorable Activities, Active Memories Indeed, I argue that Guigemar and Eliduc conclude fortunately while Equitan, Les Deus Amanz, and Chaitivel end unhappily because characters in the first set of lais actively participate in their experience and memory of time, while characters in the latter set are either too distracted or too passive to respond appropriately to time’s dilation. In his examination of the Augustinian concept of time, Paul Ricoeur notes that in order to experience the passing of time, and in order to notice and measure it, the human mind must engage in active perception: “the soul ‘distends’ itself as it ‘engages’ itself.”30 In order for the soul to possess a memory or awareness of events as they happen in time, the mind must “act.”31 I argue that the characters who exercise just timing do so deliberately as a result of their attentiveness to the possible consequences of their actions and the amount of time that passes before they act. Guigemar’s lady worries that she would be foolhardy if she were to acquiesce to his pleas right away, Guilliadun pauses to determine whether her feelings are rash because they grew so fast, and Eliduc deliberates at length before he decides how to proceed in his relationship with Guilliadun. In contrast, Equitan and his lady begin their affair in haste and end it negatively because they do not stop to think about what they are doing. The young man in Les Deus Amanz forgets himself and neglects the potion that could save his life, and the lady and suitors in Chaitivel blindly pursue the same course when they should stop to make a decision. The characters that experience 29. Brucker, “Textual Identity,” 177. 30. Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), ACLS Humanities E-Book, 21. 31. Ibid., 19.


Emily Kohlhase

page 59

negative outcomes do not pause to examine themselves or their situations, or they make wrong assessments because they become distracted or passive. Temporal démesure, whether it stems from haste or excessive delay, appears to be the result of characters’ inability to gauge properly the passage of time as they perceive it in their souls and memories. Skillful Augustinian mnemonic activity and attentiveness, then, seem to be the keys to appropriate Ovidian timing and even to an eternity free from the worrisome dilations of time. Much of the previous critical work exploring Marie’s mnemonic devices focuses not on memory in the lais themselves but on the memories of Marie’s readers. Logan Whalen argues that Marie employs skillful descriptions and “visual tags” linked to “principal objects” such as the shirt and belt in Guigemar to ensure that her readers easily remember her tales.32 As I have attempted to illustrate, I think that Marie is also equally interested in her characters’ memories. Without the faculty of memory as it relates to the Augustinian concept of time, characters in Guigemar and Eliduc would not be able to make the appropriate timing decisions that they do and would be subject to disastrous outcomes like Equitan’s. Evelyn Birge Vitz also discusses the importance of memory in the lais, claiming that in order to achieve narrative satisfaction and closure, “Marie is only prepared to end her lais […] when something sufficiently ‘memorable’ has occurred.”33 It seems to me that these memorable events are not only striking to readers but are also the direct result of characters’ capacity to measure and to manage—successfully or not—time’s dilations through memory. In Marie’s world, memory not only provides a crucial means of temporal measurement, but it also determines the facility with which characters time their actions and achieve romantic success.

32. Whalen, Poetics of Memory, 4. 33. Evelyn Birge Vitz, “The Lais of Marie de France: ‘Narrative Grammar’ and the Literary Text,” Romantic Review 74 no. 4 (1983): 318.


page 60

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

The Other at the Origin

Responsibility, Difference, and the Consolidation of the Subject in Derrida’s Introduction to the Origin of Geometry and The Gift of Death

Stephen Marsh Yale University

I

n 1962, Jacques Derrida first published his translation of Edmund Husserl’s brief “The Origin of Geometry,” an appendix to his much longer final work The Crisis of the European Sciences. In addition to the translation, Derrida provided an extended introduction to Husserl’s piece that became his first published work. In this introduction, Derrida considers Husserl’s exploration of the problem of the “origin” of Geometry, which Husserl frames as: Rather than this [the factual and historical search for the “first geometers” or for their initial discoveries], our interest shall be the inquiry back into the most original sense in which geometry once arose, was present as the tradition of millennia, is still present for us, and is still being worked on in a lively forward development; we inquire into that sense in which it appeared in history for the first time-in which it had to appear, even though we know nothing of the first creators and are not even asking after them. (“Origin of Geometry,” 158) The question Husserl asks is not a factual or historical one; rather, he questions how and under what conditions geometry first came to develop, what geometry looked like when it did, and how that original model is still being developed and progressed as part of a long-standing mathematical tradition up to the present day. His answer, while nuanced and complicated, rested in the rise of geometry ultimately being grounded in, and originally springing from, a pre-scientific phenomenological world. This world is one that is experienced before any sort of abstraction or formulation, and is inhabited by things with, for example, shapes and qualitative characteristics. In so arguing, Husserl continued


Stephen Marsh

page 61

the line of argumentation that he made in the Crisis: - The scientific world and the experiential disposition of the positive sciences rested ultimately on the basis of lived experience, in the phenomenological life-world.1 For Husserl, that world is the subject of his overall project of phenomenology: the aim to “bracket,” or set aside, all of the individual subjective biases inherent in perception through a process called the phenomenological reduction, which would allow a subject to experience things as their pure appearances, and therefore be able to fully describe the complete contents of consciousness. In responding to Husserl, Derrida deconstructs the status of the origin. Over the course of his work, he addresses the questions of the transcendental, history, and tradition, and, during his exploration, Derrida employs a definition of responsibility fairly consistent with Husserl’s understanding—that the ultimate responsibility for the production of history, tradition, and truth fell atop a generalized subject, a “communal subjectivity,” (Introduction to the Origin of Geometry 60) that stands apart from the egological, or self-directed, and individual subject. Yet there is an extent to which this use of responsibility is in tension with Derrida’s positioning of difference as transcendental and primal at the end of his work, the ultimate conclusion of his analyses of the various assumptions of Husserl’s text. By the time Derrida revisits responsibility with his conference paper “Donner la mort” in 1990 and the book-length version of The Gift of Death in 1999, his understanding of the concept has transitioned dramatically, with responsibility falling absolutely upon the individual subject as a burden to be met with the forfeiture of ethics, rather than a collective notion that places limited agency on any one unit. Over the course of his career, Derrida shifts his conception of responsibility to better align with the concept of difference that he presents in the Introduction to Husserl’s “Origin,” in addition to his reaction to Emmanuel Levinas’ work on intersubjectivity. In this discussion, I will argue that Derrida, in his earlier text, posits responsibility as a primarily collective notion: responsibility is something that one shoulders for the procession of a larger goal, the “taking on oneself the transfer of sense, in order to look after its advance,” done in the company and with the aid of others engaging in a transcendental project. I contend that by the time Derrida writes The Gift of Death, his idea of responsibility becomes substantially more of a singular burden and loses most of its communicability. He links responsibility to sacrifice, arguing that one’s particular obligations can only be fulfilled through the betrayal ofone’san individual’s ethical responsibility 1. A good example of this argument, in brief, can be found in Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology; an Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Trans. David Carr. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1970. 135-137, §35.


page 62

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

to everyone else. I will explore Levinas’ presentation of the relationship between the self and the other and the notion of the “face-to-face” as a primary way to develop Derrida’s placement of difference as transcendental in his Introduction to the “Origin,” and to demonstrate the intellectual basis for Derrida’s revised understanding of responsibility. I will conclude that Derrida’s shift in the concept of responsibility underscores his vital break with Husserlian phenomenological frameworks and exemplifies the uniquely Derridean aspects of deconstructive thought. History, Responsibility, and the Problem of Difference In the Introduction to “The Origin of Geometry,” responsibility is raised primarily in relation to history or the sense-project of phenomenology. This responsibility is premised on the idea of “communal subjectivity”—the collection of interacting individual subjectivities that allow culture to arise and create history and historical development. In reading Husserl, Derrida analyzes science as a gradually-developing project, for this collective development over the ages, made without reference to the individual subjectivities of the people engaged in scientific research, is what provides science its claim to transcendental truth— its ability to claim that its discoveries are deeply embedded in the metaphysical fabric of nature. Derrida writes: Egological subjectivity cannot be responsible for this development [the creation of a scientific sense as a building-upon of sense], which is continually totalized in an absolute Present. Only a communal subjectivity can produce the historical system of truth and be wholly responsible for it. However, this total subjectivity, whose unity must be absolute and a priori (otherwise even the slightest truth would be unimaginable) is but the common place of all egological subjectivities, whether actually present or possible, whether past, present, or future, whether known or unknown. “Every science is related to an open chain of the generations of those who work for and with one another, researchers either known or unknown to one another who are the productive subjectivity of the total living science.” (60) Here, Derrida contends that “egological subjectivity,” or the development of individual subjectivity, cannot account for the development of science because the epistemological limits that accompany the individual (as a being trapped within history) are an insufficient ground for the development of a history or, at


Stephen Marsh

page 63

base, truth. What is needed is a “communal” subjectivity, which Derrida defines as the common gathering site of all possible egological subjectivities. In a way, the communal subjectivity requires the radical effacing of all individual subjectivities within it, even as it needs the individual subjectivities to perpetuate itself: This is where Husserl’s reflection that “every science is related to an open chain of the generations… researchers either known or unknown to one another” enters into its full fruition. Scientific truth needs to be able to transcend the subject of any particular researcher who engages in its discovery, or it ceases to be properly communicable2 and thus ceases to be recognizable as “truth.” Thus, a communal subjectivity is both of and radically distinct from the egological subjectivities that comprise it, insofar as the collective both must by nature be a function of individual subjectivities but still must always already be able to grasp, comprehend, and produce systems that the sum of any set of the parts cannot. Both history and truth exist only to the communal; the communal can transcend temporality and thus continuously produce history and the system of truth that it enables. The creation of the communal subject illuminates responsibility as Derrida understands it here: Responsibility accompanies agency. This understanding is derived from Derrida’s use of the word “wholly” alongside “responsible” when discussing the communal subject. The invocation of totality implies that other things can have partial, incomplete, or “not-whole” responsibility. Yet, by stating that the communal subject is wholly responsible, the only thing that could be said to have partial responsibility is that which makes up the collective subject, namely, the egological and individual subject. Thus, the obligation assumed by the unified subjectivity, that which produces history, is distributed to the individual subject by the reverse mechanism of that subject becoming part of the whole. Though responsibility is assumed, it is fundamentally only assumed by the individual insofar as it is shared between subjects that make up a larger organism. It is possible, then, for the type of responsibility Derrida promotes in his Introduction to be seamlessly and wholly fulfilled because responsibility is framed in the sense of “being a cause for” rather than as an obligation. Derrida says earlier on in Section I that “to meditate on or investigate the sense (besinnen) of origins is at the same time to: make oneself responsible (verantworten) for the sense (Sinn) of science and philosophy, bring this sense to the clarity of its “fulfill[ment]” 2. Husserl’s argument here strikingly parallels a much broader argument about the nature of language that Derrida makes later, wherein he claims that all language is only communicable by virtue of its legibility by people outside its progenitors, in Derrida’s language, the “absence of all present.” For an example, see Derrida, “Signature Event Context.” Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester, 1986. 307-330.


page 64

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

and put oneself in a position of responsibility for this sense starting from the total sense of our existence” (31). There is an understanding in which Derrida presages his ultimate point later in his volume, where he argues that moving in the direction of the origin is both an act of moving forward and moving back, or as Derrida says, “advancing on (or being in advance of [en avancant sur]) the Origin that indefinitely reserves itself ” (153). Responsibility is defined as part of a progression, making an individual actor the conveyor of “the sense of science and philosophy,” bringing the sense, but not directly the responsibility, to its fulfillment. Responsibility so framed can be no more than a means that makes possible the phenomenological project; for Derrida, there is never a visible point of decision where one chooses to pursue the sense of the sciences and philosophy. Because of that, the individual subject, while expressing causal responsibility for the production of historical truth systems, is freed from the burden of responsibility as a moral weight or obligation. Derrida explores the consequences of defining responsibility away from agency elsewhere, in “Signature Event Context,” where he argues that freeing language from the need to have its meaning anchored by communicating actors as an “essential drifting due to writing as an iterative structure cut off from all absolute responsibility, from consciousness as the authority of the last analysis, writing orphaned, and separated at birth from the assistance of its father…” (“Signature, Event, Context,” 316) [Derrida’s italics]. The full implication of Derrida’s understanding of responsibility in the case of his Introduction to the “Origin” is that the individual, much like writing here, is severed from consciousness and intentionality in the pursuance of responsibility. As responsibility can only be fully made manifest on the level of the communal subjectivity, there too does intentionality itself rest, as Derrida himself points out when he argues that tradition, a function of the cultural sphere and of history, is intentionality—that tradition itself is built upon the idea that its beginnings happened at an immemorial point in the past, leading its origin to be concretized only through an act of repetition taking place in the present, connecting subjects to the conscious world outside of themselves. Yet at the end of the Introduction, Derrida makes a central argument that complicates the picture of responsibility as he paints it throughout the rest of the text. The main focus of his Introduction is not the nature of responsibility, but rather that of origin and the ways in which the thinking subject can come to know and grasp the nature of origin. At the end of the text, Derrida claims that: The primordial Difference of the absolute Origin, which can and indefinitely must both retain and announce its pure concrete form with


Stephen Marsh

page 65

a priori security: i.e., the beyond or the this-side which gives sense to all empirical genius and all factual profusion, that is perhaps what has always been said under the concept of “transcendental,” through the enigmatic history of its displacements. Difference would be transcendental. The pure and interminable disquietude of thought striving to “reduce” Difference by going beyond factual infinity toward the infinity of its sense and value, i.e., while maintaining Difference-that disquietude would be transcendental. (153) [emphasis mine] Ultimately, the most significant element in the understanding of origin is the concept of difference, a paradox at the site of unity, and the idea that, as mentioned earlier, origin is something which one moves towards while necessarily coming after. This prioritization of difference is what causes the disquietude of scientific thought—that is, trying to come to a full understanding of the “sense and value” of facts instead of merely knowing an infinity of facts: The disquietude is the thinking subject, the person practicing science, forcibly being led into an irreconcilable contradiction. Difference becomes the prime value, which undermines the easy transference and dispersal of responsibility presented elsewhere in the text. There is a tension: The production of history and truth rests in the communal subjectivity and thus that collective subject has responsibility for that production, but if difference is transcendental, can the collective subjectivity unproblematically bind the individual subjectivities, different as they are, that make it up? The answer to that question is probably negative, but it poses an interesting challenge for Derrida. History, tradition, and language must escape the individual and become transcendental for any of those concepts to have meaning, which requires categorization and the reduction of difference. At the same time, difference is transcendental, and to say that history, tradition, and language are able to directly convey a specific, pre-given meaning without themselves being destabilized is impossible. Derrida is faced with a choice: He must either reduce the importance of difference in his framework, allowing truth and history to hold the status of a transcendental signified, a universal basis for all meaning that he otherwise explicitly rejects, or he must revise his definition of responsibility to better account for the absence of the transcendental signified and the primacy of difference. The Incalculability of Sacrifice: the Intersubjective Silence of the Other At this point, it becomes necessary for Derrida to find a new way of


page 66

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

understanding the nature of intersubjectivity and the relationships between individual subjects that does not fall prey to reductivism. In 1961, one year before Derrida published his Introduction to the “Origin,” Emmanuel Levinas published his essay Totality and Infinity, which focuses on intersubjectivity and the question of otherness. In this book, Levinas contends that ethics arises out of a confrontation between the self and “the other,” understood here as another person whom the self must interact with as an existing being before comprehension becomes possible. The other, for Levinas, breaks down the possibility of achieving totality, or a metaphysical understanding of the world as processed entirely through personal subjectivity, by introducing infinity, an irreducible presence that stands apart from the self and demands its response prior to all other interaction. In seeking to avoid totality and adequately respect the infinite, as Derrida specifically wants to do at the conclusion of his Introduction through the primacy of difference, Levinas provides an understanding of the conditions of subjects relating to one another that frames Derrida’s call and gives it a language. Levinas speaks of this difference in terms of a separation between different subjects, an absolute divide between the self and other that creates an asymmetry between the two. The primary relationship is one of distance, and that distance is what allows the other to be other as such. Levinas writes: This absolute exteriority of the metaphysical term, the irreducibility of movement to an inward play, to simple presence of self to self, is, if demonstrated, claimed by the word transcendent. The metaphysical movement is transcendent, and transcendence like desire and inadequation is necessarily a transcendence. The transcendence with which the metaphysician designates it is distinctive in that the distance it expresses, unlike all distances, enters into the way of existing of the exterior being. Its formal characteristic, to be other, makes up its content. Thus the metaphysician and the other cannot be totalized. The metaphysician is absolutely separated. (Totality and Infinity 35) The content of the other is not made up of specific, relatable characteristics that can be understood as mere variation from the self. Instead, the other is defined and wholly categorized by the nature of its separation—its physical difference— from the self. Mirroring what Derrida argues at the end of his Introduction, the transcendent is in part characterized by a yearning for, as Derrida would say, “maintaining difference,” the desire for alterity and what Levinas calls the “desire for the absolutely other” (34). The effect of totalization would be the obliteration


Stephen Marsh

page 67

of the distance between self and other and, consequently, the destruction of alterity and difference, the things that make the other truly other. Maintaining otherness is partially an ethical responsibility, as Levinas acknowledges when he contrasts the production of the self (what he calls the “same,” relating to the I) with the imperative to enter into a relationship with the other without immediately destroying it, asking “But how can the same, produced as egoism, enter into a relationship with the other without immediately divesting it of its alterity? What is the nature of this relationship?” (38). In a way, Levinas is asking a question that Derrida takes for granted when he defines responsibility for the fulfillment of scientific and philosophical sense as resting upon communal subjectivity— specifically, how individual subjects relate to each other once part of the collective consciousness and whether it is possible for different subjects to interact with each other in a way that prevents their total sublation into history and tradition. In order to characterize the relationship between self and other, Levinas offers the concept of the “face-to-face” as a way to produce an intersubjective relationship while avoiding the destruction of the space between self and other. The face-to-face is a distinctly ethical turn, resting on the understanding of desire that Levinas explicates earlier in his essay and on goodness. He explains: A relation whose terms do not form a totality can henceforth be produced within the general economy of being only as proceeding from the I to the other, as a face-to-face, as delineating a distance in depth—that of conversation, of goodness, of Desire—irreducible to the distance the synthetic activity of the understanding establishes between the diverse terms, other with respect to one another, that lend themselves to its synpotic operation. The I is not a contingent formation by which the same and the other, as logical determinations of being, can in addition be reflected within a thought… Alterity is only possible starting from me. (39) There are two major components of the ethical quality of the face-to-face. First, the face-to-face places and maintains the distinction between self and other. It is not enough to assimilate the other and bring it into commonality with oneself because it then loses its otherness and merely becomes an appendage to the self, allowing the grouping of “we” or “you” to merely become a pluralization of “I,” violently forcing the other to become part of a common concept (39). Instead, the other must be respected in its otherness and allowed the freedom that comes along with being a stranger. Second, the respect of otherness must come directly from the self because otherness is also derived from oneself (in the sense that


page 68

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

there must be a starting-point for there to be distance). In the moment of the face-to-face, the other invokes an a priori claim on its existence and generates a responsibility for the other within the self. As such, the moment of the faceto-face becomes the first manifestation and recognition of difference. Before anything can be done with regard to the other, that other must first be recognized that it is wholly and absolutely different from oneself—able to act and exist of its own volition and radical freedom. Notably, Levinas suggests that the face-toface and the consideration of the relationship with the other is the progenitor of the theoretical attitude and the analytical starting-point from which the self can be criticized and developed: “Reflection can, to be sure, become aware of this face to face, but the ‘unnatural’ position of reflection is not an accident in the life of the consciousness. It involves a calling into question of oneself, a critical attitude which is itself produced in the face of the other and under his authority” (81). The theoretical attitude and the recognition of the other both stem from a critical moment of decision within the self, generating a singular and absolute responsibility that cannot be transmitted, transferred, or mitigated. The obligation to the other becomes constitutive of both the other and the self; for Levinas, only by relating to the other can the disparate parts of the self identify with each other and become part of a coherent entity. In the moment of the face-to-face, the”I” is both fully realized as an entity in the world capable of agency and immediately burdened with using that agency in reacting to the other. The coalescence of responsibility into its irreducible and absolute form, placed upon the individual with regards to each and every other, is the groundwork for Derrida’s reconstructed conception of responsibility that he presents in The Gift of Death. In The Gift of Death, Derrida’s primary analytical framework is the story of the Binding of Isaac from Genesis 22. Through a reading of Søren Kierkegaard’s work Fear and Trembling, Derrida relates the concept of responsibility to silence and secrecy, making the argument that by keeping secret from Isaac the covenant between himself and God, Abraham assumes the absolute responsibility that comes from fidelity to God, the most absolute of the absolute others. He cannot speak, otherwise he abnegates his responsibility by dividing it. As such, Abraham’s responsibility becomes saturated in the moment when he is about to slit Isaac’s throat in a way that cannot and must not be divested from his individual subjectivity: To the extent that, in not saying the essential thing, namely, the secret between God and him, Abraham doesn’t speak, he assumes the


Stephen Marsh

page 69

responsibility that consists in always being alone, entrenched in one’s own singularity at the moment of decision. Just as no one can die in my place, no one can make a decision, what we call “a decision,” in my place. But as soon as one speaks, as soon as one enters the medium of language, one loses that very singularity. One therefore loses the possibility of deciding or the right to decide. Thus every decision would, fundamentally, remain at the same time solitary, secret, and silent. Speaking relieves us, Kierkegaard notes, for it ‘translates’ into the general. (60-61) [emphasis mine] The most significant part of this passage is his invocation of Kierkegaard’s juxtaposition of speaking against responsibility. Derrida rejects the notion of taking-place; any critical action and fulfillment of responsibility must, in the moment of decision, be shouldered alone, otherwise one is “relieved” of the burden of singular obligation. His explanation for precisely why that is reveals the influence of German philosopher Martin Heidegger on his ideas, in suggesting that being-towards-death is the metric by which decision-making is excluded fundamentally from the other. In contradistinction to his earlier association of responsibility with the absence of singularity, as something that can only be held by the communal subject and as something that must by nature be generalized, responsibility has now transmuted into the opposite— something which is fundamentally lost or relieved with generality, which can only be fulfilled by being pure and unmitigated. This new framing of responsibility also changes the texture and temporality of the word as it was used in the Introduction to the “Origin,” specifically insofar as responsibility here becomes more weighted and comes prior to the constitutive act as an obligation and a burden, rather than merely assuming a causal understanding as “being-the-agent-of ” as Derrida used it in the Introduction. Individuality and responsibility become linked, and responsibility thus shifts into becoming something that is characterized by its differentiated singularity rather than its communal production of history. The shift from collective to individual in the character of responsibility dovetails with the extent to which Derrida frames his exploration as one that takes place in the asymmetry between the self and the other, explicitly using Levinasian language to characterize it. Empirically, the influence can be read in the sheer number of times Derrida cites Levinas in this text. As opposed to one mention he receives in a footnote to Derrida’s Introduction, Levinas is referenced within the first three sentences of The Gift of Death and is brought up at least twenty times over the course of the roughly-120 pages of the essay. But more importantly, Levinas’ influence can be seen in the way that Derrida characterizes ethics,


page 70

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

that is, by enclosing the realm of ethics within the realm of the intersubjective. Derrida notes that, by extension from Levinas’ argument, Levinas himself “taking into account absolute singularity, that is to say the absolute alterity obtaining in relations with another human… is no longer able to distinguish between the infinite alterity of God and that of every other human: his ethics is already a religion” (84). The boundary between God as the absolute other and every other person as a potential absolute other is a problematic one, thereby concluding that every other subject must be conceived as an absolute other. Further, he contends that ethics and responsibility, in a radical departure from his Introduction, are fundamentally incompatible and require the sacrifice of the other to exist. He writes: I cannot respond to the call, the request, the obligation, or even the love of another without sacrificing the other other, the other others. Every other (one) is every (bit) other [tout autre est tout autre], everyone else is completely or wholly other... As a result, the concepts of responsibility, of decision, or of duty, are condemned a priori to paradox, scandal, and aporia… As soon as I enter into a relation with the other, with the gaze, look, request, love, command, or call of the other, I know that I can respond only by sacrificing ethics, that is, by sacrificing whatever obliges me to also respond, in the same way, in the same instant, to all the others. I offer a gift of death, I betray, I don’t need to raise my knife over my son on Mount Moriah for that. Day and night, at every instant, on all the Mount Moriahs of this world, I am doing that, raising my knife over what I love and must love, over those to whom I owe absolute fidelity, incommensurably. (69) This passage is critical to the full explication of Derrida’s latter-day understanding of responsibility, especially as it intersects with ethics and the concept of the other. In a world with an infinity of others, one cannot fulfill a responsibility without sacrificing the responsibility owed to all of the others, because ethics are fundamentally directed towards and owed to a collective or to society whereas responsibility, as it is inherently singular, can only be directed towards a single, absolute other. In Abraham’s case that other is God, but as Derrida notes, for the common person the absolute other can be anything or anyone. Once one tries to fulfill responsibility, one inevitably must be willing to sublimate one’s ethical imperative to the calling of that responsibility. Responsibility becomes an aporia: It negates itself in its fulfillment. Part of


Stephen Marsh

page 71

this overdetermination of responsibility is perhaps the consequence of living in a media-saturated postmodern world, wherein a person living in the United States is more aware of the manifest physical and structural harms done to people everywhere around the world by continuing to exist at the standard of living that the first world provides, as Derrida notes at length following this passage. Part of it is a fundamental recognition of the difference inherent at the core of language and of epistemology. But in any case, the nature of responsibility in The Gift of Death resides fundamentally and wholly within the gaze of the other, as the demand that the other makes upon the self as a function of its alterity. The nature of that alterity, as an absolute, becomes infinite, which demands sacrifice in a way that the responsibility found in the Introduction cannot rise to meet. As such, The Gift of Death returns Derrida to the notion of responsibility and obligation and allows him to take it as the full subject of, rather than a tangential concept to, his work. And what we see arise from his full focus is that, when posed with the decision of either adopting transcendentality in collective consciousness that his original framework of responsibility required he do or reaffirming the primacy of difference, he chose to open responsibility to the deconstructive field and bring it to the state of différance that he did in the Introduction. He notes that “sacrifice, vengeance, cruelty, all that is inscribed in the genesis of responsibility and moral conscience,” (114) framing the Christian aspects of responsibility in a negative light within the broader context of an examination of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In making difference transcendent, Derrida opens the field of responsibility to the larger infinitudes that accompany his poststructuralist impulse—the incalculability of sacrifice, the incommensurability of the distance between self and other, or the irreducibility of the number of other others present in the world at any given moment. This overdetermination is fundamentally Derridean. Once the idea of a totality is rejected, there is space for the infinite to become manifest within the bounds of the finite because there is no center, no limiting transcendental concept3, which would prevent responsibility from becoming an obligation that is, by nature, impossible to fulfill. This framework is partially consistent with the argument Derrida makes in his Introduction, but in that text, the introduction of difference and the instability of the Living Present are concluding thoughts, rather than structural assumptions: the premises he takes for granted in his earliest work are mostly Husserl’s, who hopes at the end of “The Origin of Geometry” for a grounding 3. This argument is explored in an early piece of Derrida’s, which is one of his most famous, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978. 289.


page 72

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

“upon the foundations of the universal historical a priori” and a “universal teleology of reason,” all the while making assurance that “the human surrounding world is the same today and always, and thus also in respect to what is relevant to primal establishment and lasting tradition” (180). The problem of the origin that serves as Derrida’s conclusion to his Introduction complicates the picture of an approach towards the universal teleology of reason and the soundness of the institution of a lasting tradition, which strangely enough, Derrida adopts when employing the concept of responsibility in his Introduction without fully realizing the implications of his final argument. The concept of the origin re-emerges later, in Of Grammatology, where with a similar gesture he presents the contradictory nature of the origin in its relationship to science, but in the frame of critique rather than mere analysis: Nonetheless, it is a peculiarity of our epoch that, at the moment when the phoneticization of writing—the historical origin and structural possibility of philosophy as of science, the condition of the epistémè— begins to lay hold on world culture, science, in its advancements, can no longer be satisfied with it. (4) The conditional origin of science, the phoneticization of writing, is subject to the same contradictory move that characterized the origin of geometry, specifically being simultaneously moved-towards in the form of what Derrida terms “logocentrism,” the idea that meaning can be grounded and, therefore, limited by a manifest external source of authority in its hold on world culture while being rendered insufficient and moved-away-from by the advancement and progress of science. In a way, the discussion that Husserl and Derrida have beginning with the Crisis and moving through the Introduction shifts one step, with the question being the way science serves as the ultimate grounding for speech in much the same way as the phenomenological life-world serves as the grounding for science. As we transition out from the life-world through science and ultimately to language, when the concepts and words that once safely grounded inquiry become questionable and unstable, the question of what responsibility subjects have as deciding agents in the framework of the theoretical attitude still lingers. Even if responsibility itself is subject to a fundamental aporia, action and decision are still necessary to possibly improve the world for the people who must be sacrificed in fulfillment of chosen responsibilities or to mitigate the chaos and destruction wrought by warring interpretations in a world without fixed and stable origins and centers. There seem to be no easy or unproblematic answers,


Stephen Marsh

page 73

but as Derrida argues in the context of responsibility, the moment of decision must ultimately be met with a response because, even though one sacrifices other responsibilities and even ethics in the fulfillment of obligation, there is no way to avoid having to make that choice.

Bibliography Derrida, Jacques. Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, an Introduction. Translated by John P. Leavey, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. Print. —. The Gift of Death & Literature in Secret. Translated by David Wills. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print. —. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. Print. —. “Signature Event Context.” Margins of Philosophy. Translated by Alan Bass. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester, 1986. 307-330. Print. —. “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. 278-93. Print. Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology; an Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970. Print. —. “The Origin of Geometry.” Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, an Introduction. By Jacques Derrida. Translated by John P. Leavey, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. 155-80. Print. Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity; an Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2007. Print.


page 74

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

Love Triangles in the Knight’s Tale and the Limitations of Queering Same-Sex Desire and Female Oppression

Shannon Draucker Dartmouth College

I

n The Canterbury Tales, the Knight from the Knight’s Tale is described as one of the few “parfit” characters, a “worthy man” who embodies the chivalric values of “trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisie” (General Prologue 43, 46, 72). Chaucer the pilgrim also celebrates the Knight’s Tale: “In al the route ne was ther yong ne oold / That he ne seyde it was a noble storie / And worthy for to drawen to memorie” (Miller’s Prologue 3110-3112). The Knight’s Tale, which is the first tale told on the pilgrimage, emphasizes social harmony and order and contains the trappings of a medieval romance: epic battles, romantic pursuits, and divine interventions.1 The main characters of the tale, the knights Palamon and Arcite, are cousins who proclaim a mutual oath of brotherhood when they are captured and imprisoned at the beginning of the tale. When they both fall in love with a beautiful maiden named Emelye, however, they become bitter rivals. The rest of the tale focuses largely on the enmity between Palamon and Arcite. The story culminates in a battle that results in Arcite’s death and frees Palamon to marry Emelye. Scholars such as William Frost, John Finlayson, and Susan Crane have demonstrated how the Knight’s Tale epitomizes the genre of the medieval romance.2 As Finlayson writes, although Chaucer’s source for the Knight’s Tale 1. For a discussion of the common scholarly interpretation of the Knight’s Tale as a story that emphasizes order and harmony, please see Helen Phillips’s An Introduction to the Canterbury Tales, p. 46, and Thomas J. Hatton’s “Chaucer’s Crusading Knight: A Slanted Ideal,” p. 77. 2. Please see John Finlayson, “The ‘Knight’s Tale’: The Dialogue of Romance, Epic, and


Shannon Draucker

page 75

was Giovanni Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century epic Teseida delle nozze di Emilia, or The Marriage of Emily, he discarded many of the tale’s epic characteristics and treated it primarily as a romance (Finlayson 128). As Barbara Fuchs notes, the concept of the medieval romance stems from twelfth-century French narrative poems that were written in vernacular—or “romance”—languages rather than in the scholarly language of Latin (Fuchs 4). Although the genre evolved over time, Fuchs identifies several common characteristics of the medieval romance (Fuchs 2).3 Romances often feature a heroic protagonist and his quest for love or adventure (Fuchs 4). This protagonist is usually a knight who admires a maiden from afar and is awash in romantic yearning (Fuchs 4). The knight must courageously overcome a series of obstacles to earn the maiden’s love and consummate his desire (Fuchs 4). Finlayson adds that romances often center on themes such as chivalry, duty, comradeship, and honor (Finlayson 134). Although much of the story of Palamon and Arcite is steeped in this paradigm, an analysis of the Knight’s Tale through the lenses of queer theorists René Girard and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick challenges the reading of the story as a simple romance. The primary obstacle encountered by Palamon and Arcite in their pursuit of Emelye’s love is the rivalry of the other, resulting in a love triangle. Both Girard and Sedgwick argue that love triangle narratives are often more concerned with the homoerotic desires of the two male rivals than with the rivals’ infatuation with the woman. In this essay, I employ queer theory to argue that the bond between Palamon and Arcite in the Knight’s Tale reflects homoerotic desire and that this plot troubles the traditional sexual paradigm of the Middle Ages.4 According to Foucault, the Middle Ages marked the rise of powerful structures, such as the monarchy and the church, that exerted repressive control over society and mediated citizens’ sexual behavior (Foucault 33). Medieval literature, particularly romances, enacted this heteronormativity by focusing on the heterosexual Philosophy,” William Frost, “An Interpretation of the Knight’s Tale,” and Susan Crane, Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. 3. As Fuchs emphasizes, we must not restrict the genre of romance to the twelfth-century, as European writers continued to use the form and tropes of romance for many centuries (Fuchs 5). Thirteenth- and fourteenth- century French prose works, as well as medieval English works such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte d’Arthur, are also romances (Finlayson 130-1). Drawing on critics such as Patricia Parker, who argues that elements of romances can appear in texts not necessarily classified as romances, and Northrop Frye, who suggests that romance is a literary mode rather than a genre, Fuchs contends that romance is a “literary and textual strategy” (Fuchs 9, emphasis original). 4. In this essay, I use the term “homoerotic” rather than “homosexual,” because, as Michel Foucault insists, homosexuality as discursive category did not exist until the nineteenth century (Foucault, History 101).


page 76

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

relationships between knights and fair maidens. This essay will demonstrate how the Knight’s Tale, with its intimations of homoerotic desire between Palamon and Arcite, queers the heterosexual norm of chivalric romance. I draw on queer theorist Cathy Cohen’s notion that queerness encompasses that which is nonnormative and destabilizes normative phenomena (Cohen 438-9). In the second half of this essay, I engage with Sedgwick’s argument that the motif of the homoerotic love triangle as described by Girard also reflects the oppression and subjugation of women. Through this lens, I will explore how the relationship between Palamon and Arcite serves to diminish the agency of the female heroine, Emelye. I suggest that although the Knight’s Tale queers the traditional medieval romance, it also imparts a misogynist view of women. Although the Knight’s Tale presents alternative possibilities for male desire, it ultimately subjects Emelye to what Angela Weisl calls the “built-in ‘glass ceiling’” of romance narratives (qtd. in Pugh, “Queering” 121). Palamon and Arcite: Queering the Courtly Love Paradigm According to Girard and Sedgwick, Western authors often portray love in an erotic triangle schema. In Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, Girard argues that the rivalry between men in love triangles is actually a form of disguised homoeroticism. He states that the second rival pursues a woman because she is already the beloved of the first (Sedgwick 21). Sedgwick addresses the intimate connection forged between the male rivals in the love triangle, arguing, “The bonds of ‘rivalry’ and ‘love,’ differently as they are experienced, are equally powerful and in many senses equivalent” (Sedgwick 21). The theories of Girard and Sedgwick invite readers to consider the Knight’s Tale as a story of male-to-male homoerotic desire. Chaucer’s original title for the tale hints at its homoerotic undertones. Before Chaucer incorporated the Knight’s Tale into The Canterbury Tales, he titled it The Love of Palamon and Arcite (Bowers 282). The ambiguity of the language–readers are unsure whether “the love of Palamon and Arcite” signifies their mutual love for Emily or their love for each other–suggests an alternate reading for the tale. John Bowers writes, “Chaucer’s original title for the chivalric epic draws attention to its central theme, not the victories of Theseus or the marriage of Emelye…but rather the love of and between the two young knights” (Bowers 284). Chaucer’s original title underscores the queer potential of the tale. Even before they become rivals, Palamon and Arcite are depicted as having homosocial bonds. We first see the two men after they fought in a battle in Thebes. They appear “liggynge by and by,” or lying side by side on the ground,


Shannon Draucker

page 77

covered in blood (1011). Patricia Ingham argues that the words “by and by” evoke “the intimacies of sleep as much as…the sacrifices of the grave” (Ingham 25). The image of the pair lying together hints at an intimacy that extends beyond the bond of mere comrades-in-arms. As Palamon and Arcite lie together, the enemy Duke Theseus captures them. Theseus imprisons Palamon and Arcite in Athens, where they spend years together locked in a tower. Tison Pugh suggests that, in the prison, “their only sexual releases could have been masturbatory or homoerotic” (Pugh, “Satirizing” 296). Pugh thus interprets the close confinement of the two men for a long period of time as suggestive of inevitable sexual intimacy. One day, Palamon spies Emelye from a window in the tower, and, struck by her beauty, cries, “A!” (1078). Stretter argues that Palamon’s cry reflects “erotic, carnal, ‘creaturely’ love” (Stretter 242). However, it is Arcite who responds to Palamon’s impassioned cry, proclaiming, “Cosyn myn, what eyleth thee…Who hath thee doon offence?” (1080, 1083). The fact that Arcite, not Emelye, responds to Palamon’s exclamation foregrounds an intimate connection between the two men. When Palamon explains that he has fallen in love with Emelye, Arcite looks out the window, spots her, and falls in love with her. Palamon becomes angry at this, calls Arcite a “traitour,” and invokes a vow that the two men had previously made to each other: To me that am thy cosyn and thy brother Ysworn ful depe and ech of us til oother That nevere for to dyen in the peyne Til that deeth departe shal us tweyne, Neither of us in love to hyndre oother Ne in noon oother cas, my leeve brother, But that thou sholdest trewely forthren me In every cas as I shal forthren thee. (1131-1138) Palamon proclaims that he loved Emelye first and indignantly rebukes Arcite–his “conseil” and “brother sworn”—claiming that Arcite would be abandoning his knightly and brotherly duties if he did not aid Palamon in his quest for Emelye (1147). According to Bowers, brotherhood oaths, which were common in the Middle Ages, often aroused anxieties about sodomy (Bowers 284). Medieval history scholar Maurice Keen suggests that we should read these oaths not as simply “mere piece[s] of chivalrous extravaganza,” but rather as evidence of “a very close relationship” (Keen 1). The adjectives “ful depe and “leeve,” as well as diction such as “nevere,” “noon other case,” “trewely,” certeyn,” and “out of


page 78

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

doute” emphasize the intensity of the oath. The line “Til that deeth departe shal us tweyne” mimics the language of medieval marriage rites (Pugh, “Teaching” 215). Although the two men are ostensibly arguing over a woman in this scene, the passion that permeates the oath and the nuptial references suggest a profound intimacy between the knights. The intensity of the bond between the cousins becomes clear when they are separated. Theseus frees Arcite but banishes him from Athens. When Arcite is released, he not only grieves the loss of Emelye, but also becomes consumed with jealousy because Palamon is free to gaze at her. Arcite’s monologue in this scene is focused more on his distress at being separated from Palamon than on his yearning for Emelye. Arcite cries, “O deer cosyn Palamon,” speaking to him as if he were present (1234). Arcite continues, “Thyn is the victorie of this aventure…Syn thou hast hire presence / And art a knight, a worthy and an able” (1235, 1241-2). Arcite’s outcry represents an apostrophe, which is a dramatic invocation to one who is dead or absent. According to Crane, apostrophes often occur in medieval romances when one lover appeals to another who is absent. She writes, “When apostrophe enters romance plots, it can produce an ambiguous tension between the lover’s self-isolating lyricism and the beloved’s accessibility to speech” (Crane 51). Arcite’s apostrophe in this passage casts Palamon–not Emelye–as the object of his desire. Like Arcite, Palamon is distraught when he learns that the two have been separated: “Whan that he wiste Arcite was agon / Swich sorwe he maketh that the grete tour / Resouned of his youlyng and clamour” (1276-9). Although readers are led to believe that Palamon bemoans his continued imprisonment, the syntax of these lines suggests that he is actually more grieved by the loss of his companion. Palamon’s “youlyng and clamour” is reminiscent of the cries of despair commonly uttered by courtly lovers torn apart. Palamon, too, calls to Arcite in his absence: “Allas,” quod he, “Arcita, cosyn myn! Of al oure strif, God woot, the fruyt is thyn. Thow walkest now in Thebes at thy large, And of my wo thow yevest litel charge.” (1281-1284) Like Arcite, Palamon cries out in despair. Palamon’s use of the phrase “oure strif ” suggests a shared hardship, and the phrase “of my wo thow yevest litel charge” reveals his grief at the loss of this comradeship with Arcite. Palamon and Arcite are physically isolated but retain a strong emotional bond. Palamon boasts


Shannon Draucker

page 79

that Arcite has “wisdom and manhede” to gather an army, capture the city, and win Emelye (1285). Later in this scene, however, Palamon’s jealousy intensifies: “Therwith the fyr of jalousie up sterte / Within his brest and hente him by the herte / So woodly” (1299-1301). The ardent and visceral terms with which the narrator describes Palamon’s passion reminds the reader of the strength of the bond shared by the men, even if it is a bond fueled by envy. In addition, just as Palamon’s love for Emelye is said to pierce his heart earlier in the tale, he now claims that jealousy of Arcite seizes his heart. Several years later, Arcite returns to Athens to find Emelye. As Arcite sings a roundel about his adventures, Palamon, who escaped from the prison and is hiding in a bush, realizes the voice is Arcite’s: “This Palamoun that thoughte that thurgh his herte / He felt a coold swerd sodeynliche glyde / For ire he quook” (1574-5). Upon seeing Arcite, Palamon feels the same pangs in his “herte” that he felt when he first saw Emelye. Crane writes, “The wounded heart aligns Arcite’s unrequited love and Palamon’s betrayed brotherhood as analogous cases, locating masculine rivalry on the site of courtship by translating the latter into the language of the former” (Crane 51). In this scene, the portrayal of the bond between Palamon and Arcite moves from intimate to sexual. The image of the gliding sword, paired with that of Palamon trembling, provides homoerotic undertones to Palamon’s anger. When Palamon jumps out of the bush and calls Arcite a wicked traitor, Arcite, “as fiers as leoun,” draws his sword, threatens to kill Palamon, and annuls their vow (1598). This encounter takes place in a garden, a common milieu for the clandestine–and often sexual–meeting of lovers in medieval literature (Crane 51). By situating the duel in the garden, the author invites readers to see Palamon and Arcite as a pair of lovers rather than enemies. This scene moves the reader beyond the innuendo of homosexual attraction and provides a symbolic depiction of a homosexual encounter. The sexual imagery is intensified in the scene during which Palamon and Arcite duel. The Knight describes how “[t]o chaungen gan the colour in hir face”—a phrase reminiscent of the blushing of lovers (1637). Arcite brings a suit of armor for Palamon, and without speaking, the knights help each other put on their gear: “Everich of hem heelpe for to armen oother / As freenly as he were his owene brother” (1651-2). While Crane argues that, in this scene, “[t]he shared chivalric code of fair play dictates the rivals’ mutual aid in preparing for battle,” I suggest that the image of the knights alone in the grove, quietly dressing each other, suggests the tenderness of lovers (Crane 53). In contrast, the image in the next line is jarringly violent: “And after that with sharpe speres stronge / They foynen ech at oother wonder longe” (1653-4). The image of Palamon and Arcite


page 80

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

thrusting their spears at each is evocative of a sexual encounter–the spear being a common phallic symbol. As classicist Walter Burkert writes, “Whether it be a stick or a club, a spear or a sword, a gun or a cannon, as a symbol of masculinity the weapon has been equivalent to and almost interchangeable with the sexual organs from Stone Age drawings to modern advertising” (Burkert 59). Palamon is likened to a “wood leoun” and Arcite is compared to a “crueel tigre” (1656-7). Both knights are described as boars that froth at the mouth “for ire wood” (1659). Readers are told that the knights are up to their ankles in each other’s blood. Likening warriors to wild animals who draw each other’s blood pairs the quest for dominance with raw sexuality. Frederick Turner suggests that the metaphor of lions and tigers reflects how, “[w]hen the human statutes of kinship break down, mere animal anarchy is loosed upon the world” (Turner 289). Similarly, Pugh avers that “the many death threats that the two men cast at each other foreground necrotic desires over erotic ones” (Pugh, “Teaching” 216). I suggest, however, that the intense corporeality of this scene renders it erotic. The image of the sharp spears, the visceral and animalistic imagery, the knights’ losses of control, and the reference to blood all capture the ferocity of the consummation of sexual fulfillment long denied rather than the breaking down of kinship. The scene simulates a fervent sexual encounter that begins with affectionate foreplay but rapidly intensifies to violent penetration. The erotic and intimate desires that bonded the two men have been given sexual expression, and the loss of their virginal sexual attraction to each other is signified by the drawing of each other’s blood. The explicit sexual symbolism in this scene reveals that the men’s struggle for power over one another is fueled by sexual passion. In the middle of the battle scene, readers are reminded that this encounter between Palamon and Arcite is forbidden. Theseus happens upon Palamon and Arcite in the garden and orders them to cease fighting. Theseus is astonished that the two men would be so “hardy” as to fight alone in the garden without a judge or supervision (1711). Theseus’s reaction situates the duel as an illicit and dangerous encounter rather than a noble, ordained, or chivalric contest. While Pugh argues that Theseus’s reaction represents a satire of chivalric values of formality and order in battle, I suggest that it reinforces the sexual undertones of the scene.5 Theseus’s reprimand reinforces the implication that the duel was not about two valiant knights who battled according to courtly protocol but rather about two errant young men driven by their own wayward longings. Although the grand battle scene is set with the traditional accoutrements of the chivalric battle—galloping steeds, embroidered gold costumes, bright shields, 5. See Pugh, “Satirizing” p. 296.


Shannon Draucker

page 81

loud trumpets, and an ornate throne—the confrontation between Palamon and Arcite is animalistic, sexual, and passionate. Palamon is likened to a hungry lion that “of his praye desireth so the blood” (2632). The description of Palamon as a blood-hungry beast stands in contrast to the ornate and festive context of the battle and calls attention to the carnal nature of his desire. The image of the predator-prey relationship and the mention of desire infuse the scene with connotations of corporeality and carnal longing. Palamon attacks Arcite with a sword: “[Palamoun] made his swerd depe in his flessh to byte” (2640). The graphic image of the penetrating sword serves yet again as a phallic symbol and signifies male-to-male sexual intercourse. Despite having just fought Palamon, Arcite’s love for him becomes evident as Arcite lays dying. While the battle scene depicts homoerotic sexuality, the final scene of the tale reminds the reader of the emotional intimacy experienced between the two men. When mortally wounded by an act of the gods, Arcite calls both Emelye and Palamon to his side and utters a dramatic farewell. Although he laments that he will never be able to marry Emelye, he utters a tribute to Palamon: “trouthe, honour, knyghthede, / Wysdom, humblesse, estaat, and heigh kyndrede, / Fredom, and al that longeth to that art” (2789-2791). He then tells Emelye that he knows no one “so worthy to ben loved as Palamon” (2794). He urges Emelye to consider marrying Palamon; Emelye is Arcite’s dying gift to his cousin. After Arcite dies, “Shright Emelye, and howleth Palamon!” (2817). Palamon’s howls are mingled with Emelye’s shrieks, joining them as grieving lovers. Palamon’s mourning is intense; he throws ashes on his hair—an ancient form of mourning—and wears black (Boenig and Taylor 86). Pugh writes, “Rather than the joy of victory, Palamon experiences the pain of loss […] His suffering bears the symptoms of the melancholy of unrequited love” (Pugh, “Teaching” 216). The extent of Palamon’s grief reflects the mourning of one who has lost a lover and situates Arcite’s death as a tragedy rather than a victory for Palamon. At the end of the tale, several years after Arcite’s death, Theseus calls Emelye and Palamon to his palace to arrange their marriage. The Knight notes that when Palamon arrives at the castle, he is still wearing “blake clothes sorwefully” (2978). Palamon’s intense reaction to Arcite’s death punctuates the homoerotic desire hinted at throughout the text. Palamon’s grief for Arcite is both extreme and enduring. While scholars such as Paul Strohm argue that Chaucer includes the relationship between Palamon and Arcite in order to satirize the trope of medieval brotherhood oaths, this interpretation ignores the extent to which the themes of intimacy, love, passion, jealousy, and sex tie the characters together. A queer


page 82

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

reading of the Knight’s Tale positions the two knights as lovers and thus challenges the traditional courtly love paradigm that prevails in medieval literature and offers subversive possibilities. In the next section of this essay, however, I will draw on Sedgwick’s insistence on the asymmetry of the erotic triangle to argue that the triangle motif in the Knight’s Tale can as easily be interpreted as anti-feminist. Emelye: Detecting Oppression in the Erotic Triangle An exegesis of the theme of the erotic triangle in the Knight’s Tale is incomplete without consideration of the role that the female protagonist–the desired maiden. What role does Emelye play in the erotic triangle? In Between Men, Sedgwick argues that Girard’s thesis about the homoerotic undertones of love triangles is limited because it is “undisturbed by such differences as gender” (Sedgwick 23).6 Sedgwick avers that the erotic triangle is asymmetrical, as its structure would be radically affected by the change in gender of one of the members (Sedgwick 23). The motif of the love triangle privileges patriarchal power as it places the woman in the middle of a homosocial web, where she is situated as the object of male action and desire. Love triangles “involve bonds of ‘rivalry’ between males ‘over’ a woman” (Sedgwick 23, emphasis mine). Sedgwick draws on the theories of Luce Irigaray, who describes male homosexuality as “the law that regulates the sociocultural order” (qtd. in Sedgwick 26). According to Sedgwick, Irigaray uses “homosexuality” not to refer to same-sex desire between men, but rather to discuss male partnerships that exclude women from societal power (Sedgwick 26). Sedgwick writes that the homosexual undertones and the emphasis on male desire in triangle narratives reflect the perpetuation of patriarchal power, as the motif robs women of their voice and agency (Sedgwick 25). Although the Knight’s Tale queers the courtly love genre, it also disempowers and renders voiceless its female protagonist. Emelye is primarily a passive mediator caught between the affections of Arcite and Palamon. Like many women trapped in (homo)erotic triangles, Emelye represents, as Sedgwick writes, “exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men” (Sedgwick 25-6). When we first see Emelye, she appears as the object of the male gaze. In her seminal feminist essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey argues that there is a specific, male gaze that objectifies women, who serve as the 6. Few scholars examine the way in which the nuances of Sedgwick’s argument enrich an interpretation of The Knight’s Tale. For example, while Pugh discusses queer triangles in The Canterbury Tales, he fails to examine how the male-male rivalry oppresses the woman caught in the middle of the erotic triangle (see Pugh, “Teaching,” p. 213).


Shannon Draucker

page 83

passive, unknowing recipients of their stare (Mulvey 62). The male gaze, according to Mulvey, is voyeuristic and fetishistic, and men are “the active controllers of the look” (Mulvey 64). Although Palamon and Arcite look at her with passion, their gaze renders her a passive, powerless object. As Palamon and Arcite look at her, they have the advantage of being “an heigh”—or high above her (1065). This scene evokes Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon, or the “eye of power” (Foucault, Power/Knowledge 147). According to Foucault, in prisons, an overseer stands in a tower and observes prisoners in their cells below. The overseer derives power from this gaze, as the prisoners internalize the system of surveillance and in response monitor their own behavior (Foucault, Power/Knowledge 155). Foucault writes, “There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze” (Foucault, Power/Knowledge 155). In the same way, the gaze of Palamon and Arcite from the tower onto Emelye in the garden can be read as a mechanism of surveillance and control. Although there is no indication that Emelye is aware of the men’s gaze, as Foucault’s prisoners would have been, she is nonetheless objectified by their stares. The way in which Palamon “caste his eye upon Emelya” signifies male domination and female oppression (1077). Stretter writes, “The kind of love Palamon and Arcite feel for Emelye is fickle, domineering, and, above all, selfish” (Stretter 239). The situation of Emelye as the object of the knights’ gaze highlights her passivity in the tale. She roams in the garden, unwittingly participating in a love triangle that provides the context for the homoerotic relationship between Palamon and Arcite. Emelye’s lack of agency in the love triangle is further accentuated in the battle scene between Palamon and Arcite. When Theseus is discussing the rules for the battle, he remarks on how little Emelye knows about the situation: “She woot namoore of al this hoote fare / By God, than woot a cokkow of an hare!” (18091810). Theseus’s description of Emelye as a “cukkow,” a small bird with a simple, two-note call, draws attention to her weakness in contrast to the knight’s strength, which has been likened to that of ferocious lions and tigers. Although Stretter maintains that Emelye embodies a destructive force that ruins the brotherhood of Palamon and Arcite,7 her ignorance of the love triangle diminishes her as a person of will or desire. Emelye’s prayer to Diana can initially be viewed as an act of agency but ultimately serves as evidence of her passivity. When Emelye learns of the imminent battle, she visits Diana, the goddess of chastity, and explains that she wishes to remain chaste and unmarried for the rest of her life: “Noght wol I knowe the compaignye of man” (2311). She begs Diana to deflect the knights’ 7. See Stretter, p. 237.


page 84

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

desires elsewhere: And Palamon that hath swich love to me And eek Arcite that loveth me so soore, This grace I preye thee withoute moore: And sende love and pees bitwixe him two, And fro me turne awey hir hertes so That al hire hoote love and hir desir And al hir bisy torment and hir fir Be queynt or turned in another place. (2314-2321) Emelye recognizes her role as the mediator between the two men with frustration and begs to be released from it. While Woods views Emelye’s prayer to Diana as a “crucial act of will,” I suggest that the outcome of Emelye’s desperate appeal only accentuates the way in which she serves as a pawn in the tale (Woods 277). Diana orders Emelye to stop complaining and insists that she must marry one of the men. Diana tells Emelye, “Among the goddess hye, it is affermed / And by eterne word writen and confermed” (2349-50). Diana’s assertion that Emelye must marry confirms the triumph of male privilege in the genre. Emelye becomes a token of exchange at the end of the tale. Not only does Arcite urge her to marry Palamon, but Theseus arranges her marriage. Although Emelye bemoans Arcite’s death and apparently happily marries Palamon, readers cannot forget her desperate cries to Diane and her aversion to marriage earlier in the tale. While Woods insists that Saturn answers Emelye’s prayer by killing Arcite and allowing her to marry Palamon, his thesis ignores the fact that she is forced to marry in the first place.8 The character of Emelye, viewed through Sedgwick’s lens, thus challenges the interpretation of the Knight’s Tale as an unequivocally subversive text because it queers the romance genre. While the tale foregrounds homosexual desire, it also reinforces the role of the unaware, passive, and voiceless female protagonist. Sedgwick suggests that while the men in love triangles represent partners, the women serve as objects. Emelye exists, as Sedgwick writes, as “property for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men” (Sedgwick 26). While the love triangle in the Knight’s Tale allows us to locate radical queer potential in the romance narrative, it also punctuates that the genre remains ultimately committed to stories that promulgate the “asymmetrical” gender relations of the Middle Ages. 8. See Woods, p. 289.


Shannon Draucker

page 85

Conclusion The love triangle motif in the Knight’s Tale both disturbs and promotes the social order of medieval times. The Knight’s Tale is intriguing in that it never unequivocally champions the chivalric values of medieval times nor provides a serious critique of the hegemony. While Frye argues that romances are marked by their “extraordinarily persistent nostalgia, [their] search for some kind of imaginative golden age in time and space,” the Knight’s Tale foregrounds instead the complexity of human relationships (Frye 173). According to Sedgwick, the love triangle serves not as an ahistorical, Platonic form, a deadly symmetry from which the historical accidents of gender, language, class, and power detract, but as a sensitive register precisely for delineating relationships of power and meaning, and for making graphically intelligible the play of desire and identification by which individuals negotiate with their societies for empowerment. (Sedgwick 27) The love triangle between Palamon, Arcite, and Emelye does not reflect a well-ordered heroic love story but rather a tale of complex human connections. The tale juxtaposes heterosexual fascination and homoerotic lure and provides readers with a tragic death, a culminating wedding, and ongoing grief. The relationship between Palamon and Arcite captures our attention not only because of its homoerotic undertones, but also because it provides the context for the gamut of human experiences. Emelye interests us because while she succumbs to a traditional romantic ending, she does so only after appealing to the gods for an unmarried life. The only consistent thesis about gendered relationship to be found in the Knight’s Tale is that power and passion are inevitably intertwined. Sex is associated with violence, love with hate, and chivalry with hubris.


page 86

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

Works Cited Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Trans. The Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1947. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/index.htm> Bowers, John M. “Three Readings of The Knight’s Tale: Sir John Clanvowe, Geoffrey Chaucer, and James I of Scotland.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34:2 (Spring 2004): 279-307. Web. 1 November 2012. Burkert, Walter. Homo Necans. Trans. Peter Bing. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Print. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Eds. Robert Boenig and Andrew Taylor. Ontario: Broadview Editions, 2008. Print. Cohen, Cathy J. “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” GLQ 3 (1995): 437-465. Duke University Press Journals Online. Web. 1 May 2012. Crane, Susan. Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. Print. Damian, St. Peter. Book of Gomorrah. Trans. Pierre Payer. Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982. Print. Finlayson, John. “The ‘Knight’s Tale:’ The Dialogue of Romance, Epic, and Philosophy.” The Chaucer Review 27:2 (1992): 126-149. Web. 7 May 2013. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Print. —. Power/Knowledge. Trans. Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.Print. Frost, William. “An Interpretation of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. The Review of English Studies 25:100 (October 1949): 289-304. Web. 7 May 2013. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006. Print. Fuchs, Barbara. Romance. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print. Hatton, Thomas J. “Chaucer’s Crusading Knight, a Slanted Ideal.” The Chaucer Review 3:2 (Fall 1968): 77-87. Web. 1 November 2012. Ingham, Patricia Claire. “Homosociality and Creative Masculinity in the Knight’s Tale.” Masculinities in Chaucer. Ed. Peter G. Beidler. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1998. Print. Keen, Maurice. “Brotherhood in Arms.” History 47:159 ( January 1962): 1-17. Web. 1 November 2012. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Feminism and Film Theory. Ed. C. Penley. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1988. Print. Phillips, Helen. An Introduction to the Canterbury Tales. Houndmills: Macmillan Press, 2000. Print. Pugh, Tison. “‘For To Be Sworne Bretheren Til They Deye:’ Satirizing Queer Brotherhood in the Chaucerian Corpus.” The Chaucer Review 43:3 (2009): 282-310. Web. 29 October 2012. —. “Queering Genres, Battering Males: The Wife of Bath’s Narrative Violence.” Journal of Narrative Theory 33:2 (Summer 2003): 115-142. Web. 29 October 2012.


Shannon Draucker

page 87

—. “Teaching Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with Queer Theory and Erotic Triangles.” Approaches to Teaching Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Eds. Peter Travis and Frank Grady. New York: PMLA, 2013, forthcoming. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Print. Stretter, Robert. “Rewriting Perfect Friendship in Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’ and Lydgate’s ‘Fabula Duorum Mercatorum.’” The Chaucer Review 37:3 (2003): 234-252. Web. 2 November 2012. Turner, Frederick. “A Structuralist Analysis of the ‘Knight’s Tale.’” The Chaucer Review 8:4 (Spring 1974): 279-296. Web. 1 November 2012. Woods, William F. “‘My Sweete Foo’: Emelye’s Role in ‘The Knight’s Tale.’” Studies in Philology 88:3 (Summer 1991): 276-306. Web. 1 November 2012.


page 88

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

“Farewell to Peace of Mind!”

Altered States of Mind in the Gothic Novel

Kate Wilson

University of Cambridge

W

riting was then the only alternative [...with] the events of her past life pressing on her, she resolved circumstantially to relate them, with the sentiments that experience, and more matured reason, would naturally suggest. They might instruct her daughter, and shield her from the misery, the tyranny, her mother knew not how to avoid. (Wollstonecraft 30-31) Didacticism—the author’s attempt to alter the perspective of the reader through instruction—is a dominant theme in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman (1798), Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821), and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). The fact that this didacticism is inscribed in fictional “writing,” presented here as “the only alternative” to true experience, is particularly significant. According to the OED, “fiction” is defined by “the action of fashioning or imitating,” which opens up two potential approaches to instruction.1 The first assumes that literature should be inventive; literature should fashion its own conditions that transcend a simple representation of an external reality, and consequently teach via the mind’s own innovation and imagination. The second suggests that literature should correspond to a pattern of experience already known to the reader and imitate the real world, instructing through a mimetic presentation of reality. Both Maria and Udolpho rely on fiction as the medium for education and, given their debt to Gothic conventions, both privilege the fashioning of a world where the 1. ‘fiction, n.’, in Oxford English Dictionary, Online Edition, December 2011 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/69828> [accessed 26 February 2012].


Kate Wilson

page 89

supernatural infringes upon reality. This is similarly true of De Quincey’s Opium Eater; although he presents his writing as a non-fiction account, De Quincey favors the imagination in relating the content of his opium-induced dreams. All three texts consequently honor the role of fashioning over the act of imitating, and this has a specific bearing on the effectiveness of the books’ didacticism: the desire to alter the reader’s perceptions. All three texts declare an intention to promote a certain moral agenda. From the outset, Confessions of An English Opium Eater articulates De Quincey’s desire for the work to act “not merely [as] an interesting record, but, in a considerable degree, useful and instructive” (1), by choosing to present the reader with “the moral of my narrative” (4). De Quincey’s “moral,” however, is not a fixed objective; despite his didactic intentions, the narrator never objectively states what this “moral” definitively is. As a result, the moral appears to oscillate in the book; whilst it is initially applicable to any “judicious reader,” the narrator later proposes, “the moral of the narrative is addressed to the opium-eater, and is therefore, of necessity, limited in its application” (De Quincey 79). By contrast, while Udolpho reveals its didactic purpose less forthrightly, the declaration of the penultimate paragraph—“though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain; and [...] innocence, through oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune” (Radcliffe, Udolpho 627)—is unambiguous both in its sentiment and in its applicability to the events of the narrative. It is perhaps Maria, though, which is most frank in its promotion of a moral agenda: “it was particularly the design of the author, in the present instance, to make her story subordinate to a great moral purpose” (Wollstonecraft 154). Wollstonecraft was certainly no stranger to writing with a didactic impetus; her first publication, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787), was a kind of conduct book, and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) itself bears a more than passing resemblance to the genre. Given its thematic foundation in the Rights of Woman, this likeness is reworked in Maria; it expounds Wollstonecraft’s radical critique of patriarchal rule in both its private and public manifestations (Cohen and Feron 362). The fact that Wollstonecraft chooses to re-represent this same moral in the medium of fiction is significant for all three texts. Her privileging of fiction, and specifically Gothic fiction, removes some of the limits imposed upon instruction by the factual and “distinctly pragmatic, even utilitarian” conduct book (Carré 4). Fiction necessitates the creation of a fantasy world, and, given that the fantastic “exploration of mysterious supernatural energies” acts as the mark of


page 90

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

the Gothic, this genre of literature can instruct through the imagination in a way prohibited to the polemic of a conduct book (Botting 2). In Gothic fiction, the reader’s perceptions are altered not just through a written re-representation of reality but also through elements of the supernatural. As a result, there is a shift in reader response from katharsis to aisthesis (the terms are Hans Robert Jauss’s): from reading for “information” derived from a “verisimilar world otherwise inaccessible to the reader, toward reading as an escape from the world one inhabits into an inward locus of fantasy” (Richter 126). As Edmund Burke proposes in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), “it is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our passions” (105), and this principle translates, in the same way, into didactic representations within the Gothic. The nature of the unknown—the fictional and the supernatural—facilitates Burke’s sublime, “the strongest emotion that the mind is capable of feeling” (86). This appeal to emotion and feeling, rather than a simple mimesis of the external world, allows didacticism through aisthesis. This delineates the primary method of altering the reader’s perspective within the three novels. The moral issues play out in a fantasy world whose conditions exist beyond rational experience; as Percy Shelley puts it, “it makes us the inhabitants of a world to which the familiar world is a chaos” (505). The process of aisthesis is based on the ability of “aesthetic pleasure,” which derives from this “inward locus of fantasy,” to “rejuvenate cognitive vision or visual recognition” ( Jauss 142). As such, aisthesis necessitates that the reader cannot merely act as a passive receiver for the texts’ instruction. Given that didacticism originates from an “inward locus of fantasy”—from a “world to which the familiar world is chaos”—the supernatural sentiment must be manipulated such that it is able to exist in the reader’s reality; only then can the reader “rejuvenate a visual recognition,” which leads to instruction. This concept is articulated in Maria’s desire to preserve her memoirs for her daughter: “from my narrative, my dear girl, you may gather the instruction, the counsel, which is meant rather to exercise than influence your mind” (Wollstonecraft 74). The distinction drawn here between the “exercise” and “influence” of the mind illustrates the dichotomy between katharsis and aisthesis; to “influence” the mind would be to mimic a pattern of experience already known in an external reality (katharsis), and thus attempt to impose a particular conclusion upon the reader. To “exercise” the mind, by contrast, implies the role of reader participation, and a personal exploration of the issues at hand. As Jauss puts it, “it is only through the [...] active participation of its addressees [... that there is a movement] from simple reception to critical understanding, from passive to active reception” (19), and this would instead lead to a more considered,


Kate Wilson

page 91

and a more comprehensive, understanding of the didactic propositions. Given that an active imagination is vital for the books’ didacticism, the instances in which the imagination is allowed the most freedom would, logically, provide the best instruction for the reader. According to Radcliffe, these instances are the examples of terror exhibited within the novels. Radcliffe argues that terror, in contrast to horror, is vital in expanding the mind: Terror and horror are so far opposite that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them. I apprehend that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and where lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreader evil? (Radcliffe, “Supernatural in Poetry” 150). The proposal that terror “expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life,” suggests that the mind is involved in a process of advancement through terror; this progression is vital for didacticism, as the process of development is itself the definition of “education.”2 Of similar importance is Radcliffe’s assertion that horror arises from “uncertainty and obscurity” of the “dreader evil”; this implies that terror, as horror’s opposite, stems from an inherent knowledge of what this “dreader evil” is. This finds its corollary in all three texts, as the most significant moments of terror occur within a semi-dream state, where the dreamer’s pre-existing, waking knowledge is reconfigured into terrifying visions. In Maria, for example, the protagonist is transported to the asylum in an indeterminate state between dream and reality: How long I slept I know not; certainly many hours, for I woke at the close of day, in a strange confusion of thought [...] Attempting to ask where I was, my voice died away, and I tried to raise it in vain, as I have done in a dream [...] Faces, strongly marked, or distorted, peeped through the half-opened doors, and I heard some incoherent sounds. (Wollstonecraft 134-5). It is significant that the faces are “distorted”; in her delirium, Maria recognizes their countenances, but they have been deformed by her imagination. This 2. ‘education, n.’, in Oxford English Dictionary, Online Edition, December 2011 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/59584> [accessed 26 February 2012].


page 92

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

distorted recognition finds its analogue in De Quincey’s opium-induced reveries. De Quincey’s creation of the “vast Gothic halls” represents a similar construction by imagination: “with the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction did my architecture proceed in dreams [...] I beheld such pomp of cities and palaces as was never yet beheld by the waking eye” (70). Like Maria, the external reality experienced by De Quincey’s narrator provides the foundation for his own imaginary scenarios within dreams. This same process is employed in the reader’s instruction. The reader utilises the texts’ narrative for his foundation, and creates from this his own landscapes, his own “cities and palaces,” which are beyond the “reality principle” ( Jameson 90) of both the rational world and the fictional conditions of the novel. The reader’s imagination consequently constructs an interpretation of the novel, and, in doing so, alters the reader’s perspective. Nevertheless, this privileging of imagination in the educative process is problematic, as the concept of aesthesis—of building one’s own interpretations through a “locus of fantasy”—simultaneously reveals itself as a regressive medium for didactic thought, particularly in Udolpho and Opium Eater. Both the opiuminduced dreams of De Quincey and the role of terror within Radcliffe, which, according to both Jauss and Radcliffe should expand the intellect with an “intensified form of thought itself,” are shown instead to focus and narrow the mind (Castle, “Phantasmogoria” 29). This contradiction is particularly pertinent within Opium Eater. Given that opium provides the catalyst for an altered mental state in which imagination can dominate the intellectual faculties, De Quincey’s narrator should be celebrating the drug for its ability to expand the mind. However, instead of esteeming opium for its power to release the imagination, De Quincey’s narrator reveres the drug for precisely the opposite reason; it allows him to embrace a previous state of being. He proposes that “the expansion of the benigner feelings, incident to opium, is no febrile access, but a healthy restoration to that state which the mind would naturally recover upon the removal of any deep seated imitation of pain” (De Quincey 41): that is, although drugs are necessary for the “expansion of benigner feelings,” these feelings are utilised for a “restoration,” rather than a progression. This concept of “restoration” is extended even further in the text, as the narrator begins instead to privilege a desire for regression. The narrator values the drug because opium “gives simply that sort of vital warmth which is approved by the judgement, and which would probably always accompany a bodily constitution of primeval or antediluvian health” (De Quincey 41). In this way, the narrator appears to advocate a mental stasis in the text, which raises a contradiction: one would expect an educational work to “develop” the reader and impel him forwards, rather than celebrating a previous


Kate Wilson

page 93

intellectual state. The impact upon didacticism of this fluctuating mental expansion, restoration, and regression is illuminated by Julia Kristeva’s theory of “abjection.” Abjection is, as Fred Botting argues, “essentially different from ‘uncanniness,’ the commonly understood source of horror in the Gothic” (49). Abjection—a “throwing off ” and “being thrown under”—represents the fantasy world not as a perverted mimesis of the external world, at once strange and familiar, but as “the border, [...] the ambiguity” between the imaginary and the symbolic (Kristeva 4). This has destructive implications for the influence of terror upon expanding the mind: What we ‘throw off ’, [Kristeva] suggests, is all that is ‘in-between... ambiguous... composite’ in our beings, the fundamental inconsistencies that prevent us from declaring a coherent and independent identity to ourselves and others. [...] Whatever threatens us with anything like this betwixt-and-between, even dead-and-alive, condition, Kristeva concludes, is what we throw off or ‘abject’ into defamiliarised manifestations, which we henceforth fear and desire because they both threaten to reengulf us and promise to return us to our primal origins (Hogle 7). Through his addiction to drugs, De Quincey repeatedly generates this “betwixt-and-between” state; he is caught in limbo between reality and an imagined fantasy. According to Kristeva, De Quincey must “abject” this state in order to retain a unified vision of self. This process of “abjection” creates “defamiliarised manifestations,” exhibited within the narrator’s opium-induced dreams: “these haunted me so much, that I feared [...] that some [...] tendency of the brain might thus be making itself (to use a metaphysical word) objective; and the sentient organ project itself as its own object” (De Quincey 72). This process of “abjection” consequently raises the didactic paradox of the text. De Quincey’s dreams display the true examples of terror within the novel; the narrator describes “the unimaginable horror which these dreams of oriental imagery, and mythological tortures, impressed upon me” (73), and this terror is, of course, supposedly the catalyst to expand the mind and facilitate didacticism. However, the nature of “abjection” necessitates that De Quincey simultaneously desires to “return [...] to [his] primal origins” in these dreams; to return to a “constitution of primeval or antediluvian” being (41). As such, the process of “abjection,” the arbiter of terror, deconstructs its ability to expand the mind by concurrently facilitating a desire for regression; as John Barrell argues, “De Quincey is at once haunted by a hateful memory, and actively collud[es] with the ghost” (24). It is simply not enough, therefore, to propose that the best method of didacticism


page 94

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

arises through conditions in which the imagination can be at its most free (in dreams, for example) because the mind simultaneously attempts to assist and impede its own expansion through this “abjection.” The role of fear thus paralyses the potential for the mind’s expansion in De Quincey, which, in turn, serves to undermine Radcliffe’s division between terror as educator and horror as subjugator. Radcliffe’s definition that, “terror and horror are so far opposite that the first expands the soul and awakens the faculties [...]; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them” becomes questionable, as the existence of fear rebrands the distinction between terror and horror a false dichotomy (Radcliffe, ‘On the Supernatural 150). As a result, fear modifies the didactic application of Radcliffe’s terminology. Edmund Burke argues that lifethreatening events in literature prompt an aesthetically worthwhile reaction, akin to Radcliffe’s “terror,” because each one is so thoroughly artificial that “no idea of [genuine] danger [is really] connected with it” (Burke 163); the “mental powers” are beneficially expanded while “the pain [is...] modified so as not to be actually noxious” (Burke 165). In Radcliffe’s fiction, however, these life-threatening events are not so artificial. Both Wollstonecraft and Radcliffe rely on the presence of superstition and suspense to incite terror in the reader. They privilege the mind’s own conjurations, rooted in reality, over descriptions of fantastic monsters. This serves to intensify the paralysing and regressive capability of fear. Because the mind must generate its images of fear based upon reality, the combination of the reader’s imagined visions of horror with his true-life experiences potentially makes the role of fear more influential. The Gothic “monsters” of these texts are not so unrealistic as to remove them from the realms of the possible; the true villain of Udolpho, for example, is the very real despot Montoni, and the monstrosities within Maria arise from the tyrannical imprisonment of women by patriarchal society. As such, contrary to Jerrold E. Hogle’s suggestions, Radcliffe and Wollstonecraft do not “employ[...] the deliberate fictionality of the ‘terror sublime’ to both draw [the reader] toward and protect [the reader] from all that we might associate with [...] destruction” (15). The Gothic descriptions of the text are instead constantly coloured by a very real fear. This modifies the didactic potential of terror for both the characters and reader. Burke surmises that “no passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear” (101), a sentiment corroborated by Udolpho: as the narrator suggests, “fear had rendered their minds inaccessible to reason” (Radcliffe 543). These statements dictate that because the debilitating influence of fear cannot be dissociated from terror, any solutions or didactic judgements generated under the conditions of terror exist contrary to rational assessment.


Kate Wilson

page 95

As Radcliffe states, “terror [...] as it occupies and expands the mind, [...] leads us, by a kind of fascination, to seek even the object from which we appear to shrink” (Udolpho 248), implying that terror inspires a linear progression from curiosity, to solution, to knowledge. Nevertheless, any knowledge gained from this process is flawed, given that the presence of fear prohibits any reasoned moral judgements. This reduces terror to the same didactic ineffectuality as horror. The effectiveness of aisthesis as a didactic device is consequently limited. Not only does imagination serve to paralyse the mind in both Udolpho and Maria as a result of the proximity of an illusory fear to reality, but equally problematic is the texts’ privileging of the reader’s imaginative potential at all. To have the imagination of the reader play such a central role in the texts is to prospectively obscure the didactic message they seek to advocate. As William Hazlitt argues, “imagination is that faculty which represents objects, not as they are in themselves, but as they are moulded by other thoughts and feelings, into an infinite variety of shapes and combinations of power” (389-90). Given that imagination has the potential to create an “infinite variety” of different outcomes, it would seem nearly impossible for the texts to influence definitively the reader’s conclusions. Because it is presented through fiction, the moral that the reader draws is not necessarily that which the book attempts to advocate. The privileging of the imagination in fiction necessitates that the reader reinscribes the boundaries of reality to construct his own fantasy world. Any didactic morality enacted in this imagined reality is consequently dissociated from the real world, which means that any moral conclusions are, potentially, inapplicable to real life. Emily illustrates this position in Udolpho. As she travels on the “stern of the vessel,” Emily’s vision of the external world is tempered by her own recollection and interpretation of a literary narrative: “the scenes of the Iliad illapsed in glowing colours to her fancy [...] her imagination painted with melancholy touches, the deserted plains of Troy [...and] reanimated the landscape with the following story” (Radcliffe, Udolpho 206). Because, for Emily, the setting is influenced by a literary text, it is at odds with a mimetic representation of the “true” landscape. This finds its analogue in the books’ attempt to alter the reader’s perspective. As Tzvetan Todorov identifies, the defining principle of the Fantastic work is that “the transition from mind to matter has become possible” (114). However, when drawing moral conclusions from literature that inhabits “an inward locus of fantasy,” the reader is doubly removed from the original proposition. The reader must create his own fictional world from a world of fiction. Reality thus passes through two loci of distortion: the non-verisimilar environment created by the supernatural Gothic genre and the reader’s own imagination. It is very difficult, therefore, to transplant the


page 96

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

moral instruction generated within a fictional world back into a true reality. In fiction, the moral of the text potentially becomes obscured by the influence of imagination, as the reader may not only construe moral deductions that differ from those intended, but the role of fear may prevent an objective examination of these morals. The conclusions generated in the “mind” consequently have little applicability to the “matter.” Any instruction gained from this didactic method is of limited use—to such an extent that instruction disseminated through an “inward locus of fantasy” potentially serves to obscure education, rather than to advance it. Given that aisthesis simultaneously presents didactic advantages and difficulties, it would seem that the most efficient mode of education, in fact, comes at the point between katharsis and aisthesis, the liminal spectrum between the two extremes of an instruction driven either by mimesis or by imagination. This is substantiated within all three texts. It is significant, for example, that Radcliffe’s evocation of the supernatural is explained at the end of the novel: “That guitar is often heard at night [...] but nobody knows who touches it, and it is sometimes accompanied by a voice [...] so sad, one would almost think the words were haunted.” “They certainly are haunted”, said St. Aubert with a smile, “but I believe it is by mortals” (Radcliffe, Udolpho 68). Terry Castle indicates that, “even among the admirers of Gothic fiction, the clumsy device of the ‘explained supernatural’ is often taken as the final proof of Radcliffe’s irretrievable ineptitude and bathos” (“Spectralization” 231-2). However, this depredation disregards the fact that the “explained supernatural”— the junction between fiction and a mimesis of the external world—illustrates the point at which Udolpho blurs the boundaries between imagination and reality in order to create the best site for instruction. The imaginative potential of the mind is released through the conjuration of the supposed supernatural, which allows it to be receptive to new ideas, a necessary criterion for education. These supernaturalisms are then reconstituted as reality, which removes the distortive potential of imagination. In this way, the amalgamation of invention and mimesis heralds the greatest potential for instruction in all three texts. This is particularly true for the role of dreams within the novels. As previously shown, the landscape of dreams absorbs components of the familiar reality—a mimesis of the external world—and re-represents them in the imagination. By inhabiting the liminal space between katharsis and aisthesis, dreams act as a fertile


Kate Wilson

page 97

site for instruction. Nevertheless, dreaming operates on a passive, unconscious level; the dreamer does not choose which parts of the external world will comprise his imagined reality. It is worth recalling again Maria’s words to her daughter: “from my narrative, my dear girl, you may gather the instruction [...] which is meant rather to exercise than influence your mind” (Wollstonecraft 74). This “exercise” of the mind, heralded as an important didactic technique, implies an active participation in unifying these imaginative and mimetic worlds. This active construction transcends a simple description of the dream-state and is instead realised in the description of waking nightmares present in all three texts. Given that such nightmares inhabit a threshold state between waking and sleeping— between reality and imagination—these waking nightmares allow the characters to select which elements of the external world will enter the imagined reality. As the narrator proposes in Opium Eater, “a sympathy seemed to arise between the waking and the dreaming states of the brain [...] —that whatsoever I happened [...] to trace by a voluntary act upon the darkness was very apt to transfer itself to my dreams” (De Quincey 67, my italics). It is thus significant that, within all the texts, the “moral” is most fiercely advocated within these threshold consciousnesses: at this elision between the “waking and the dreaming state of the brain.” The descriptions of waking nightmares articulate the lesson of Maria: the recognition of a true, personal horror of patriarchy—“so accustomed was I to pursuit and alarm, that I seldom closed my eyes without being haunted by Mr. Venables’ image, who seemed to assume terrific or hateful forms to torment me, wherever I turned” (Wollstonecraft 129). De Quincey, too, connects his moral to the active coalescence of a waking and dreaming state. As he surmises, “the moral of the narrative is addressed to the opium-eater [...] If he is taught to fear and tremble, enough has been effected” (79). De Quincey provokes this fear by representing his opium-dreams, his waking nightmares, as imaginary prisons; the “vast Gothic halls” (70) of the imagination create an edifice to detain both rational thought and the freedom of his mind. Equally, the dual moral of Udolpho—“though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain; and that innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune” (Radcliffe 672)—is realized through the negation of either sleeping or waking nightmares after the “supernatural” elements of the plot are revealed. No longer does Emily find that “her unquiet mind had, during the night, presented her with terrific images, [and...] from imaginary evils [...] awake to the consciousness of real ones” (Radcliffe, Udolpho 160): her “innocence” can once more usurp both a physical oppression—Emily’s


page 98

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

corporeal imprisonment—and a mental oppression from the influence of fear. One cannot attribute the effectiveness of didacticism in the Gothic to a simple bifurcation of “fantasy” and “reality” or “imagination” and “mimesis”, as these are, in a sense, false dichotomies. In all three texts the supernatural is either explained or displaced, rerouted into the realm of the everyday, most prominently through nightmares (Castle, “Spectralization” 236). Nevertheless, both imagination and its displacement of reality play a vital role in the effectiveness of instruction. These Gothic texts reveal, somewhat paradoxically, that writing which illustrates the most ambiguous moral message provides the best didactic method. In order to make the experience of a different morality alter the reader’s perspective, the reader must undertake his own assessment of that morality. If the moral is entirely clear to the reader, the sentiment is more likely to be forgotten than explored and reconsidered. As such, the ambiguity generated by aisthesis carries the strongest didactic capability because it facilitates the strongest potential for reader re- (and mis-) interpretation. Ultimately, a moral that initially seems obscure will persist in the reader’s psyche and has the potential to alter his mind—but this aisthesis must be tempered by an articulation of a verisimilar world (katharsis) in order for the moral to be truly instructive in reality.

List of abbreviations OED: Oxford English Dictionary

Primary works cited Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Ed. David Womersley. London: Penguin, 2004. First published 1757. Print. De Quincey, Thomas. Confessions of An English Opium-Eater and Other Writings. Ed. Grevel Lindop. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. Rpt 2008. First published 1821. Print. Hazlitt, William. “On Poetry in General.” Selected Essays of William Hazlitt1778-1830. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes. London: Nonesuch Press, 1930. Rpt 1944. First published 1818. 386410. Print. Radcliffe, Ann. The Mysteries of Udolpho. Ed. Bonamy Dobrée. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966. First published 1794. Print.


Kate Wilson

page 99

Radcliffe, Ann. “On the Supernatural in Poetry.” New Monthly Magazine. 16.1 (1826). 145-52. Print. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Defence of Poetry’, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose.” Ed. Donald H. Reiman. London: Norton, 1977. First published 1840. 478-508. Print. Wollstonecraft, Mary, Maria, Or The Wrongs Of Woman. Ed. Moira Ferguson. London: W.W. Norton, 1975. First published 1798. Print.

Secondary works cited Barrell, John. The Infection of Thomas De Quincey. London: Yale University Press, 1991. Print. Botting, Fred. The Gothic. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2001. Print. Carré, Jacques. The Crisis of Courtesy: Studies in the Conduct-Book in Britain, 1600-1900. Boston: Brill, 1994. Print. Castle, Terry. “Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie.” Critical Inquiry, 15.1 (1988). 26-61. Print. Castle, Terry. “The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho”. The New Eighteenth Century. Ed. Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown. London: Methuen, 1987. 231-53. Print. Cohen, Mitchell and Nicole Feron. “Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” Princeton Readings in Political Thought: Essential Texts Since Plato. Ed. Mitchell Cohen and Nicole Feron. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. 362-70. Print. Hogle, Jerrold E. “Introduction: The Gothic in Western Culture”. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Ed. Jerrold E. Hogle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 1-20. Print. Jameson, Frederic. Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974. Print. Jauss, Hans Robert. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. Ed. Paul de Man. Trans. Timothy Bahti. Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982. Print. Jones, Vivien. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Literature of Advice and Instruction.” The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Ed. Claudia L. Johnson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 119-40. Print. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. New York: University of Columbia Press, 1980. Print. Miles, Robert. Gothic Writing 1750-1820: A Genealogy. London: Routledge, 1993. Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1975. Print.

Works of reference OED Online. March 2013. Oxford University Press. 7 May 2013 <http://www.oed.com>


page 100

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

From the Middle Ages to the Modern An Interview with Professor Stacy Klein

S

tacy S. Klein is an associate professor of English at Rutgers University, where she also serves as a member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s and Gender Studies and a core faculty member in the Program of Medieval Studies. Her scholarly interests center on medieval literature and culture, with an emphasis on Old English language and literature, the history of gender and sexuality, feminist thought, comparative cultural studies, ideology, and aesthetics. Klein is the author of Ruling Women: Queenship and Gender in Anglo-Saxon Literature (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), and has written numerous articles on Old English poetry, biblical translation, hagiography, and the natural world. Her upcoming book project, tentatively titled The Militancy of Gender and the Making of Sexual Difference in Anglo-Saxon Literature, examines the lexical and thematic intersections between warfare and sexual difference within literary, historical, and religious writings produced in England between approximately 700-1100 AD and provides a new conceptual framework for understanding long-occluded questions of gender and sexuality within AngloSaxon studies. She is also co-editor of two forthcoming interdisciplinary collections of essays: The Maritime World of the Anglo-Saxons, and The AngloSaxon Visual Imagination. From 2007-2011, Klein served as Executive Director of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), and she currently chairs the Modern Language Associationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Executive Division on Old English Language and Literature. In 2004, Klein joined forces with Anglo-Saxonist faculty at Columbia, NYU, and Princeton to found the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium (ASSC), an organization dedicated to advancing Anglo-Saxon Studies. Klein holds a BA in English from Dartmouth College (1989), an MA in Critical Theory from the University of Sussex (1992), and a PhD in English from Ohio State University (1998). She has taught at Rutgers since 1998, and in 2011, served as Vice-Chair of the Department of English. In 2001, Klein was awarded the Sigma Phi Epsilon award for excellence in undergraduate teaching.


Professor Stacy Klein

page 101

Can you tell us a little about your most recent book publication, Ruling Women: Queenship and Gender in Anglo-Saxon Literature? Could you also tell us about your upcoming academic work and how your book has led you in the direction of your current scholarship? My first book focuses on Anglo-Saxon women of extreme social privilege, such as queens and noblewomen. I became interested in why early medieval writers, who were mostly monks and other religious men, might have been so interested in writing about these women, whose lives were so different from their own. What did writing about wealthy, secular women do for these male monks? While working on my first book, I became increasingly aware that we know very little about the broader dimensions of gender and sexual difference in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture. This led to my current book project, The Militancy of Gender and the Making of Sexual Difference in Anglo-Saxon Literature, c. 7001100 AD. You’ve done a lot of work on gender and medieval literature. What first led you to be interested in these topics? I first became interested in gender while working on my MA in critical theory at the University of Sussex in England. I was studying modern feminist thought and reading feminist film theorists, such as Laura Mulvey, and psychoanalytic critics, such as Julia Kristeva and Jacqueline Rose. I found feminist theory helped me in a very personal way to make sense of my own life, my life as a woman, and to understand my roles in the various societies and institutions I have been a part of, and then it gradually became a part of my research, and I began to think about how modern feminist theory might or might not be relevant to the Middle Ages. It wasn’t until later, during my PhD work, that I began to think seriously about whether I might bring my interest in gender back to an earlier historical period. What do you think the study of medieval literature adds to gender and women’s studies? I think it offers us a valuable perspective from which to consider the challenges of modern feminism and of women’s rights in our own time. Studying women and gender in the Middle Ages helps us to understand that the history of women’s liberation is not an unbroken trajectory of


page 102

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

progress, with everything getting better all of the time. Rather itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a much more complex and uneven process. What do you think we have to gain by studying medieval literature? What is lost when scholarship and academia neglects periods outside of the modern and contemporary? Medieval literature is beautiful and exciting, and it comes down to us in all of these wonderful languages. Part of the reason we should study it is simply because it is exciting and interesting and challenging. However, it also offers us a vital perspective on our own time. I think if we only study modern literature and culture, we end up with a very narrow perspective. Thinking about other cultures or other time periods, such as the Middle Ages, is a way of getting outside of ourselves, which then allows us to see the world we live in with a new set of eyes, looking at things which are both different, but also in many ways similar. And we can also see that some of the things we are struggling with today are not really all that new, and that people in the past have thought about these same issues but in different ways. What difficulties have you faced as a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature, both as an academic and a professor of undergraduates? I think the difficulties are really not specific to Anglo-Saxon studies. Good research takes patience. It can be hard, or even frustrating. Writing can be difficult, but that is also part of what makes it so rewarding. I am constantly confronted by gaps in my knowledge, at which point I need to turn to experts in other fields for assistance and help, or simply head to the library to try to fill in some of those gaps. As for teaching, I am always so excited, delighted, and moved by how open my students are to learning about Old English literature. They are a model of open-mindedness from which I am constantly learning and taking inspiration. What direction do you think medieval studies are moving in? What about English scholarship more generally? I think we are moving toward a more comparative type of analysis, that is, toward thinking of Old English literature in relation to other literatures from this period, such as Anglo-Latin, Old Norse, and Old Irish. I think we are also moving toward more complex understandings of the relationship between, so-called â&#x20AC;&#x153;high literature,â&#x20AC;? written in Latin, and


Professor Stacy Klein

page 103

vernacular Old English literature, which could have been understood by a much broader segment of the population. What led you to found the ASSC and what do you think is gained from this type of community? I founded the Anglo-Saxon Studies Colloquium (ASSC) in 2004, when a group of scholars from Rutgers, Columbia, NYU, and Princeton came together to raise awareness about and to create opportunities for studying Anglo-Saxon literature. We have lecture series, workshops, and all sorts of activities for anyone interested in learning about this period. And it’s been completely wonderful because I feel like I have not just my own graduate students and undergraduates, but a broader community of students whom I absolutely love mentoring and talking with. I help them with their work and they in turn enrich my work and my thinking. What have you gained from studying at a variety of institutions—private, public, and international, and how have they differed in their teaching and structuring of English departments? I did my undergraduate work at Dartmouth College, a small liberal arts college in Hanover, NH; my MA work at the University of Sussex in the UK, and my PhD work at Ohio State University. All of these places have been committed to learning and to fostering dialogue, but in different ways, and it’s been exciting and eye-opening to have had the chance to spend time in so many different educational settings. It has taught me that there are many roads to Rome and that effective teaching and learning can happen in a range of different settings. You’ve won an undergraduate teaching award in the past. What or who has influenced your teaching? Teaching is the most important thing that I do. There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel grateful for the opportunity to work with so many diverse and talented students. My teaching has been greatly influenced by all of the wonderful teachers I have had the chance to work with in the past. They have inspired me a great deal. Good teaching requires patience, organization, and a real willingness to listen to one’s students, to see where they’re at, and what is it that they don’t understand. There is a lot going on in our students’ lives, particularly in the age range of 18-22, and this is a time when students are facing lots of challenges. For most of


page 104

Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

them, this is the first time they have been away from home and they have many new freedoms. Intellectual life is one, incredibly important, aspect of college and university life, and I try to incorporate scholarly materials and ideas and books and research in a way that students can get the most out of, so that learning and scholarship doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t pass them by as they are taking in all these other exciting life changes. What are your interests outside of academia and literature? Do they influence your scholarship? When not working on my research or teaching, I love to do yoga and horseback riding. I also like to read novels. I enjoy doing riding practices with the women at my university and getting to know students outside of the classroom. I also find that yoga helps me to be a bit more patient with my work and myself.


page 105

Contributors Glynis Kristal-Ragsdale is a tutor at a charter school in Chicago as part of an urban education fellowship. She received her B.A. from Haverford College in 2012, with a major in English and a minor in French. She will be continuing to teach in Chicago next year as a middle school Social Studies and English teacher.  Julia Mattison is a junior at Yale University studying in English and French. She is from Bedford, New York. Her particular literary interests are medieval English, French, and Celtic works, although her favorite authors include Austen, Flaubert, Woolf, and Yeats. In addition to literature, Julia’s interests include art, travel, and cooking.  Rachel Murray is a third year English undergraduate at the University of Cambridge. Her academic interests include modernism, formal experimentation and the intersection of literature and philosophy. She has accepted a place at the University of Sussex for postgraduate study, and her thesis will examine superstitious frameworks in the novels of Djuna Barnes, Henry Green and Virginia Woolf. Emily Kohlhase majored in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated in May 2012. She is now a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. Her primary research interest is in Renaissance and early modern drama, particularly Shakespeare.  Stephen Marsh is a senior in the Comparative Literature department at Yale University. His primary area of interest is the nature of responsibility, choice, and politics in the later works of Jacques Derrida, and has recently completed a senior thesis concentrating on Derrida’s essay The Gift of Death. In addition, he is an avid reader of Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, and Thomas Pynchon. After graduation, he plans to apply to programs in Comparative Literature for entry in the Fall of 2014. Shannon Draucker is a senior at Dartmouth College.  She is a double major in English and Music and will graduate in June.  Her literary interests include feminist and queer theory, lateVictorian fiction, and the field of music-literature studies.  She is currently finishing up her senior honors thesis, titled “Music and Alterity in the Fin-de-Siècle British Novel.” Shannon is also an avid clarinetist and four-year member of the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra.  In Fall 2013, she will enter Boston University’s English PhD program.   Kate Wilson hails from Farnham, England, and is currently an undergraduate in her third year at the University of Cambridge. Next year she will be studying for an MPhil at Cambridge, researching the topic of psychogeography in post-apocalyptic literature.


The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism - Volume 3