Loss of Sexual Innocence in Keats, Blake, and Rossetti: Desirable or Tethering?
The transition from virginity to sexual experience is a common theme among Romantic era poets; consequently, the perception that sexual experience is negative seems to dominate the literature of this era, while few works seem to go against this claim. In John Keats’ poem, “The Eve of St. Agnes”, he shows this craving for sexual fulfillment through Madeline’s dream of Porphyro, evidencing a certain negativity about her lack of authority hidden beneath her positive façade. William Blake uses Oothoon, Bromion, and Theotormon to first portray a brutal rape normally seen as an atrocity, then continues through Oothoon to indicate how the female can surpass the male through a more in-depth understanding of sex in “Visions of the Daughters of Albion”. In addition, Christina Rossetti clearly outlines the consequences of premarital sex for Laura before indicating that her loss of virginity symbolizes the female’s hunger for something more that can only be satiated by sisterhood and religious sacrifice in her poem, “Goblin Market”. Continue reading
As we talked about in class on Wednesday, the question of power and ‘acting’ versus ‘thinking’ really stood out from the reading in the discussion. Not in an evangelical sense, as Blake began the early stages of our discussion on, but in a sense of having the power of decision within the realm of our culture, ideology, gender, etc. versus the supposed pre-determination of our actions from the specifics of our existence. Professor Seaman demonstrated this with her example that being born on this day in this country to this family doesn’t really give you an ‘inevitable’ obligation to act a certain way. On the contrary, you are able to enjoy a variety of choices based on factors like culture, ideology, gender, race, social class, etc. The idea of simply being ‘beholden’ to these aspects of your person—or ‘subject’—is actually quite comforting. Though our previous discussion on subjectivity did leave me down and depressed feeling as though I have no power over my life, this discussion served, for me, to lighten my mood a bit on this issue.
According to this chapter, your range of choices relating to the ‘beholdenness’ of your power even gives you the option not to respond, which (as we discussed)is a sort of freedom and choice in itself. Thinking of my own experiences, I have found that my decisions have largely been based off my ideology and culture and background experiences, even if I decided not to do something. For example, I chose (and still do) not to take up smoking because my family—many of whom do smoke and some of whom have quit—have lectured me time and time again of the horrors picking up that white cylinder will inevitably cause. The choice was still mine, and because I was born in a certain era didn’t dictate what I would or would not do (as there are numerous smokers today); ultimately, it was my decision.
I found the idea that history and literature could experience a sort of role-reversal when reading the chapter on New Historicism. Stating that the historical event became a social text while the literary text serves as the social event was a little confusing at first, but then started to make sense once we discussed what this means in class. Professor Seaman stated that our reading suggests that even as an event happens, it doesn’t occur in a historical sense but in a literary one. Looking at a work of literature from this standpoint, then, one can gather a sense of the event or people it depicts rather than of the historical facts themselves.
In regards to Chaucer, it was really intriguing to see Patterson’s perspective on his intentions and his depiction of the Wife herself. The idea that she represents an ideal of the time seems to insinuate that he was simply reproducing the conventions of his time period in that people accepted this stereotype. Thinking of Chaucer as consciously attempting to write in the form of literary representation true to the tradition makes me wonder what else he may have meant by his description of his characters. Making the Wife’s story center on marriage because that is how she is represented as a subject of literary attention also seems interesting. If she had been presented as an artisan, her story would have had a different significance at the time and would have elevated her skill level for the readers. However, the fact that she is defined by her social position makes her seem more ordinary, and in doing so she becomes important historically as signifying a simple character of the time period. In my opinion, Chaucer seemed to acknowledge that in preserving this cultural norm of his time he could create an ideal true to his era while at the same time keeping her in the social constrictions that would have been in place. The benefit of this today is that we get a sense of the role of women—even though she is unusually happy and content with her life through her good (and bad) marriages—that would have been ordinary at the time yet are culturally telling for a retrospective standpoint.
In the chapter we read on history, there were numerous examples and explanations for something I had previously considered as simple events in the past. The method they seemed to promote came across as very scientific to me, stating that “historical meaning is produced rather than dispassionately uncovered or rendered visible” (Nealon 111). This statement seems to indicate that all the events and consequences are there: what is important isn’t interpreting or giving personal meaning to one event, but instead putting the pieces together to learn about the past and how it could affect the future. The task at hand, therefore, is to try and figure out how something in history has meaning for today—or even for that period—through the responses to a particular event.
The examples they give of the Holocaust was really helpful to my understanding of the concepts they set out to illustrate. Indicating that it in itself “doesn’t contain meaning” but that what it sparked by way of change is where its true significance lies shows their idea perfectly (112). The idea that this history is always being changed and molded into different shapes made sense, as well. One clear example that comes to mind is our understanding of Christopher Columbus. While in kindergarten, I learned that he had discovered the land I now call home. Growing a little older, I found out that this country was actually named after Amerigo Vespucci, not Columbus—which seemed a little odd to me. Why wouldn’t they name America after this great hero? Growing older still, it came to light that Columbus wasn’t actually the great man I had been taught; instead, he enslaved the natives in his greed for gold. My shifting view of this event in history in particular seems to portray what they are talking about. Though my perspective shifted, giving it different meaning, this isn’t what is important about his discovery of America and who it was named after or why. What can be taken from this event is the effect it had on the Native Americans, international trade, and political boundaries. From this event, for the present we can learn that conquering nations and enslaving their peoples probably will lead to mass genocide and war; therefore, today we are more likely to aid developing countries. The US’s shift from complete domination of a peoples to preforming as a role model and benefactor for smaller countries emerging from colonialism shows that, while not a result only of Columbus’ experience, this event in history had traceable affects coupled with other similar events by which the present generation has evolved a new strategy for dealing with more primitive cultures.
I found the discussion in class on Monday extremely interesting: I had never thought that the concept of ideology would be separated into two distinct sectors. Prescriptive ideology seemed to be the more interesting of the two, considering its bias and misrepresentations. As we talked about, providing a false understanding of information to the public in order to persuade them to think a certain way seems all too relevant for our culture. Ideas of propaganda and mass media misrepresentations are present today, and people seem to be more aware of social misconceptions. There are the over-zealous conspiracy theorists who make it their hobby–or, for some, their job–to obsess over the influence of the media or the government. Then, of course, there is also the uninformed or ignorant sector of society who go along with these misrepresentations and feed the media’s ability to misconstrue the truth. I suppose I am so fascinated with the idea of false ideology because of the well-known dystopia by George Orwell, 1984. His representation of the totalitarian society seems like a not-too-distant possibility for the future, especially if the public remains uninformed.
With regards to prescriptive ideology, I believe that it is almost impossible to have a society unaffected by a twist of the truth. The absolute truth cannot be administered at all times, and one cause of the misconception is the individual’s (or subject’s) tendency to prescribe their own feelings or thoughts onto a situation, event, person, etc. Unless a society existed in which no one had opinions, the inevitable truth about perspective ideology seems to be that it is unavoidable. That isn’t to say that it can be controlled to a certain degree and preventive measures such as increased and less-biased education/information; however, the difficulty of completing this task is immense–especially due to the amount of ignorant civilians.
When discussing culture in class on Wednesday, I found myself struggling with the reading that I had previous written off as easily comprehendible. Not fully grasping what they meant by their division of the word ‘culture’, the class discussion made it apparent that they separate the term into a whole way of life versus high versus low culture.
I must say that I truly like the idea of high and low culture, in the fact that low culture—such as Jersey Shore—does seem like mindless pleasure without any meaning yet could tell something significant about a certain culture. I found myself deep in thought about what watching Jersey Shore really could mean about me, and about my generation. Some people seem to watch it to feel better about their own lives, taking the stupidity and wild antics of the cast as a less-desirable alternative to their own glamorous lives. Others look past the drunken nights and see actual value in the relationship advice that each member gives the couples—especially the infamous Ron and Sam couple. Seeing comparable traits in their own relationships, some people watch the show to gather advice that is applicable in their everyday lives. Another aspect of the show which captivates an audience is their enjoyment of interacting with the characters through the TV screen. Seeing something about to happen and being powerless to warn them has been a well-known aspect of film and television for awhile.
My point in this rambling paragraph is this: though these motives for watching a popular show do show something about our culture. The overall conclusion I have drawn from these various groups is that this culture seems to want to interact with the glamorized television characters, but at the same time placing themselves as a superior force. Whether thinking of their lives as better than the stars of Jersey Shore or wanting to warn them of foreseeable events, in both instances the audience assumes its supremacy in situation and intellect over the characters. Moreover, those who take note of relationship advice represents this generation’s willingness to accept recommendation about their personal lives in order to better them. This may all be tangential, but I really saw this as an example of how low culture can be descriptive of a generation. While my conclusions of Jersey Shore might not be correct or accepted by the majority, my idea seems to me to be the perspective of low culturalists.
I really enjoyed the introductory section to the essay on Marxism in “The Wife of Bath” that explained exactly how to do a Marxist reading of a text. Critiquing specific factors such as race, class, culture, etc. seemed to coincide with Tompkins’ essay promoting the cultural implications which are necessary for analyzing texts and their significance to the canon. I especially enjoyed the idea that the text “does”, insinuating that social forms or economic conditions don’t come from our consciousness but vice versa. When thinking about this in class, it seemed to make perfect sense. According to subjectivity, of course we construct out class, identity, racial, etc. consciousness from the events of our time period. Post-war literature didn’t end the war, but rather was written after the war had ended. It goes without saying, then, that the ideas about the recently ended war are constructions of post-war attitudes formed by one’s geographic environment. This example made it easier for me to truly try to grasp this elusive concept. We don’t decide what sort of society we live in, but our opinions towards our society is a result of its creation around us. We usually don’t make economic decisions without some sort of pre-decision initiation, either. When attempting to industrialize a developing nation, they don’t institute one policy or another, in this case we’ll go with market-friendly neoliberalism. Rather, the movement towards this policy had already begun, and upon becoming aware of this they categorized it and called it their own. I could be terribly wrong, but this is my interpretation of the whole theory that our consciousness comes from our social forms/economic conditions.
The material for class on Wednesday was very interesting to me. Coming from our prior discussion on subjectivity and the ‘self’ versus the ‘subject’, the idea of intellectual property seemed intriguing and immediately sparked my interest. We discussed how everything these days can seem like plagiarism when taken to an extreme definition; however, it relates back to the idea of subjectivity. If we are simply a construction of our society and personal cultural experiences, then of course every idea we ever have won’t be completely original but subconsciously drawn from some other idea or source of inspiration. Labeling this as plagiarism, therefore, seems somewhat severe, especially when—according to subjectivity—we cannot control how our thoughts or actions are shaped by the world in which we live.
On the topic of ‘intellectual property’, I found it extremely surprising that lawyers exist who deal with intellectual theft! How can we lay claim to a certain idea or work as strictly ‘ours’? It seems to me that once you display your thoughts publicly, they’re up for grabs. In the Renaissance, Enlightenment, or other movement, if those thinkers had simply kept their discoveries to themselves in order to protect their ‘intellectual property’ from being abused or stolen, where would we be today? Certainly not as advanced as we consider ourselves. I understand that advocating someone else’s direct words as your own is unacceptable academically (and, for some, morally), but my question is where do we draw the line? If I read an article on a subject and agree with their points, I will certainly cite any strict ideas gained from them, but I hesitate to consider that my opinion plagiarizes theirs. The point of persuasive essays is to convince a reader of your ideas with the hope that they will adopt them as their own; therefore, upon reading a critical argument, I see no reason why I shouldn’t take their ideas into my own consideration. In terms of subjectivity again, their ideas are social constructions, so I may either share the same conclusions due to similar societal influences or view the same arguments differently due to my own set of social constructions.
In Professor Seaman’s preview of this week, one question seemed to stick out in my mind as being extremely thought-provoking. I think it is intriguing to notice how the Wife of Bath’s prologue concludes in relation to her actual story’s resolution. She asks for permission to commence her story instead of presuming authority to simply begin as she wishes. However, in her tale, the female character is given total authority to do as she pleases when the knight says, “put me in your wise governance” (85).
One must consider that in her history, her husband too gives her free reign, saying she can “do as [she] [wish]” (72). In this case, the two endings are extremely similar and promote the action of giving women freedom. However, in each scenario the discretion for each woman must be given by a man and cannot really be taken by the woman herself unless it is offered first. The Wife of Bath’s tale ends with a peculiar quote that might combat this statement, though: “I pray Jhesu shorte hir lives/That wol not be governed by hir wives” (85). This means that the governance by one’s wife should be seen as preferable and as the most agreeable situation that can lead to a lasting marriage and life.
3 October 2011
Researching: Step One
The three authors I am considering are Keats, Rossetti, and Blake—three of the Romantic authors who explore topics of sexuality and gender. I will be examining their poems—Keats’ “The Eve of St. Agnes”, Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, and selections from Blake’s Songs of Experience. All three of these works are integral parts of the literary canon produced during the Romantic era. My main concern is to find examples of sexuality, especially a distortion of innocence or virginity. This could represent a move away from conventional ideas of sex as “virtuous” toward a darker and rougher version.
I have encountered these works only briefly in a class last year; however, I wished to expand my knowledge of them and research what the literary discussion currently is surrounding their works and the idea of sexuality. I am extremely interested in their more cynical versions of subjects like the loss of virginity, because following these more graphic works came the age of Queen Victoria and a strict code regarding sex and sexual encounters. I expect to find multiple articles when researching that will enlighten me on the different social structures of these time periods that will in turn lead to the assumption that these three works do, in fact, represent the era from which they came and its questioning nature on the topic of sexuality. There are numerous sources available through the MLA database, so researching shouldn’t be a difficult task.
(PS- i tried to upload my document, but it said it was “dangerous” and “prohibited” to upload that type of file…so unfortunately it is not double-spaced sorry!)