Woolf and the War

I know this is a bit late, but seeing as how we haven’t yet talked about how the novel comments on WWI and the effects it had in the lives of those who lived at that time, I thought it would be worth my while to add my thoughts. Like many people have already said, Woolf only directly addresses the war in very short and abrupt sentences (almost like footnotes that are placed in brackets merely to help the reader follow along), but she intimates elements of the war throughout the entire “Time Passes” section. She does this primarily by focusing on the weather and the different elements of the various seasons (and how they progress), as well as the power of nature to both destroy and create. By describing the changing seasons and clashing elements of nature from the perspective of the house that is slowly decaying, Woolf is possibly suggesting the idea that mankind is slowly falling apart; the framework and structure that has held civilization together for so long is deteriorating, with nature threatening to take over.

As armies and nations are fighting off the narrative stage, Woolf parallels this action by way of the wind and the waves. She tells of how storms cause the “winds and waves [to] disport themselves like the amorphous bulks of leviathans whose brows are pierced by no light of reason, and mounted one on top of another, and lunged and plunged in the darkness or the daylight (for night and day, month and year ran shapelessly together) in idiot games, until it seemed as if the universe were battling and tumbling, in brute confusion and wanton lust aimlessly by itself” (134-135). [Apologies for the lengthy quote; you can blame Woolf for stringing together such long sentences that still manage to contain important and poignant phrases at every turn.] This massive clash between the wind and the waves highlights the sweeping scope of the war abroad. Using a metaphor within a metaphor, Woolf furthers the image by comparing the two sides to a “bulk of leviathans” who have “no light of reason” in their heads; in essence: the war is a fool’s endeavor and makes no sense to a rational human being. I also found it interesting how she talked of the days and nights running together, and I was reminded of our readings about trench life and how it dragged on endlessly; and how the soldiers suffered tremendously from lack of sleep, the noise from the artillery fire and bombs (the wind and the waves here), and the despicable living conditions. The First World War, or the “idiot games,” as Woolf prefers to call it, caused great turmoil and confusion everywhere it went.

Perspective and WW1/Aftermath

The narrative perspective presented in “To the Lighthouse” is what makes this story different from any other book I’ve read. Woolf does a spectacular job of creating an ambiance as to whichever character is speaking. You (usually) know who the story is shifting to, because you recognize the shift in writing style (as a new characters “voice”). The shifts that occur from person to person are smooth and evident. When the shifts happen, it gives the reader a chance to ask themselves, “why was there a shift from this character to this character?”, or “now that it’s changed, let’s see their point of view…”. The shifts of perspective keep the book fresh, even through it’s difficulty.

As we read Part 2: Time Passes, the topic of WW1 and it’s aftermath is definitely addressed, but it typically done-so in the fashion of parenthetical statements. This almost gives the reader a “side note” or an “in” to what the character/narrator meant. The statements are written similarly to what a “side” is in theatre, when a character takes a beat. In the book for example; “(A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous)” (pg.133) is written and immediately gives the reader the idea of war and clues you in to what happened to Andrew. It also is a reminder at how awful the war was which brings me back to when we did the “Second Life” activity online. It gives a harsh reminder. The statement It is kind of put in there and almost jolts the reader back to the ideas of war and what war meant as a society. And that isn’t pretty.

World War One in To The Lighthouse

The only explicit references to the war while it is happening in the novel are in parenthetical references which give the impression that they have been added as an afterthought, simply for the necessity of accounting for the absence of a few major characters. When the third part of To The Lighthouse is so consumed with explaining and recovering from the absence of Mrs. Ramsay, for example, why is it here that only a single sentence is devoted to her?

And regarding Andrew, the only sentence he gets is this one, “[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous]“, and this seems to be getting at the idea that his death was insignificant in the grand scheme of things, which it is, if the novel is considered the grand scheme; we are led to believe that the action that takes place on the island after the war would have been hardly different whether Andrew had lived or died. This is why he is mentioned in an offhand way, in the middle of the parenthetical aside, merely as a concession to the reader who might have been wondering about him.

The whole section “Time Passes” borders on rudeness in the way that it focuses on an abandoned house, and a fairly insignificant housekeeper, instead of the Great War. Just as the world comes to terms with its horrible modernness during the war, the house comes to terms with its climate and the environment; the books grow moist and moldy with the salty sea air, and the shawl which had covered the skull on the wall of the children’s bedroom slowly begins to come untied. However, this all happens beyond the knowledge of those who live there, as if the home which had treated them well in the first section of the novel has suddenly become rotted to its core in the third, with only the deaths of the Ramsay characters to account for the change.

Time Passes

“There it had stood all these years without a soul in it. The books and things were mouldy, for, what with the war and help being hard to get, for the house had not been cleaned as she could have wished.” Woolf uses this chapter of the text to show the aftermath, the stillness the war has created. The house was quite forgotten. The time spent there is nothing but a memory. It is almost like a ruin. People no longer go and it has just wasted away. The war has caused this affect of sadness and forgetfulness.
“So she was dead; and Mr. Andrew killed; and Miss Prue dead too, they said, with her first baby; but every one had lost someone these years.” Woolf uses this quote to show that the narrator is not just talking about people loosing people, but the house is alive as well and has also lost something. Mrs. Ramsey passes after her son Andrew is killed in the war and Miss Prue passes from child birth. The house is slowly dying from the loss of the Ramsey family. The war has caused this moment, this pause where everything seems almost quiet and sad. The only person who really notices this is Mrs. McNab who reflects on everything that has happened over the years. She is the only person who remembers, because she is there. She is there to pick the pretty flowers and bring a small amount of light and life into a lost and forgotten place.

To the Lighthouse

“In spring the garden urns, casually filled with wind-blown plants, were gay as ever. Violets came and daffodils. But the stillness and the brightness of the day were as strange as the chaos and tumult of night, with the trees standing there, and the flowers standing there looking before them, looking up, yet beholding nothing, eyeless, and so terrible.”

As mentioned in class, the effects of WWI were tremendous. Before the war, there seem to be a yearning for change. After the war, change was predominant, but the future was unstable. In Woolf’s narrative in chapter 7 of “Time Passes,” Woolf ties the new culture after the war to spring. Spring represents things becoming new. It represents new beginnings. Woolf represents this “spring” (WWI aftermath) as being chaotic. War was chaotic, but trying to cope with the aftermath seems to be just as frightening. Throughout the chapters within “Time Passes,” Woolf looks to the Ramsey’s house and seems to present the house as representing England and it’s culture. While it looks like it is breaking down, it is really just in transition.

WWI and To the Lighthouse

While reading this complex novel, I did not see much that engaged with WWI until I got to the second part, “Time Passes”. For me, I felt this section was quite direct in its engagement with WWI and its aftermath. One of the lines that striked me the most in this section was obviously the one concerning Andrew Ramsay. “[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous]”. Through this perspective on the war, you get a glimpse of how dangerous it was and how easily one could die. Adding to this is a couple of lines that I really felt engaged with the aftermath: “but everyone had lost someone these years. Prices had gone up shamefully, and did not come down again neither.”

Another line in this section that striked me was, “questioning the torn letters in the waste-paper basket, the flowers, the books, all of which were now open to them and asking, Were they allies? Were they enemies? How long would they endure?” I found it really interesting that while describing the house at night, Woolf takes simple objects and asks if they are allies or enemies, as if they are participating in the war. It made me think that these were most likely questions that common individuals had probably wondered themselves when it came WWI.

To the Lighthouse

Narrative perspective in “To the Lighthouse” really makes the book meaningful. The book seemingly has very little plot and is difficult to follow because you as a reader are never sure whose viewpoint you are reading. It seems to be very disjointed, but I believe this is the point. In dealing with World War I or any war in general there is very rarely a “right” or “wrong” side and by switching between different people’s viewpoints and the viewpoints of the narrator we get a disjointed view of things and are left to put them together into our own thoughts.

“[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous]” I have seen that this quote has been used multiple times on the blog but it truly portrays this disjointed view of war. It is an interruption of perspective and so blunt and straightforward. Out of nowhere, men are blown up instantaneously. It is very shocking and confusing to say this is a merciful death, but that’s exactly what it was. This shows just how terrible the war was and responds to its chaos and death.

To The Lighthouse and WWI

I felt that the section “Time Passes” deals the most directly with the war and its aftermath.  Perspective is an interesting device that Woolf uses to approach the topic.  One part of this section that stood out to me in the second chapter, when the narrator discusses the night and the state the house is in during the night.  “The torn letters in the waste-paper basket, the flowers, the books, all of which were now open to them and asking, Were they allies?  Were they enemies?  How long would they endure?” (126).  The narrator wasn’t showing any one character’s perspective, but using inanimate objects to show what people must have been feeling at the time.  It seemed to me to show the confusion that the people would have been feeling, and the questions they would have been asking.

Another section, that was obviously a response to the war, was in brackets, that interrupted another perspective.  “[A shell exploded.  Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous]” (133).  The narrator jumps from being very focused on the house and that particular location suddenly jumps to something much wider, showing what was actually happening in the war, and how this was affecting individual people.  There were many other examples of changes in perspective that I think are affective in showing different responses to the war, but these were the ones in particular that stood out to me.

WWI and “To the Lighthouse”

When I began reading “To the Lighthouse”, I was very confused. i knew that we would have to make a post on how the book commented on the first World War, but I had no idea how this book, with its near non existent plot and confusing narration, could make any comment on something as seemingly foreign as WWI.This lasted until I reached the “Time Passes” section of the book.

It is within this section of the book that one locates two passages which present a strong commentary on the war. The first is, “[Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth, which was indeed a tragedy, people said, everything, they said, had promised so well.]” (pg 132) The second is, “[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.]” (pg 133) It is important to note that these lines mirror each other not just in there form, but even in their placement on their respective pages. I believe that Woolf did this in order to make the statement that, in WWI, England’s future, (represented here by the two eldest Ramsay children) was destroyed both in the war, and at home.

To the Lighthouse: Perspective & Narration

The issue of narrative perspective is an important aspect of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.  She appears to primarily use the literary technique in her quest toward high modernism.  She takes a step beyond Joyce’s stream of consciousness narration that we saw in the Dubliners to craft multiple and simultaneous streams of consciousness.  She describes it by saying, “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” (text 2333).  The result is nothing ordinary – it becomes an exhaustive account of the main characters’ inner thoughts to tell the outward action.  Woolf masterfully captures the random, wandering thoughts, musings, reactions, emotions, and memories of a group of people in minute detail as they interact with each other.  Rather than providing a traditional dialogue to move the action along, Woolf makes it difficult to read (a prerequisite for modernism) by writing in a fragmented style that mimics a bumpy road of associative leaps that constantly occur in our mind to tell the story in addition to winding back and forth among the character’s thoughts.  The novel that emerges portrays the love and resiliency of humankind in the aftermath of one of the worst periods in British history – World War I.

So how does this type of narration engage with WWI and its aftermath?  The new technology introduced in WWI caused mass destruction unlike any war previous.  Flamethrowers, bombs, and gas attacks were especially sadistic and cruel.  Almost fifteen hundred British soldiers died each day in the four year war.  The British War Poets and the emerging mass media gave those at home a close look at the horrors of war.  Those who survived were scarred by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  After four long years of war, people responded with “bitterly rebuffed idealism” and “a sense of physical and moral exhaustion” (text 2112, 1928).  It seems the joie de vivre left most Brits, and Woolf ingeniously captures the undercurrent of this malaise with her unique style of narration.

The story centers around the Ramsay family – the mother, father, and children – and an array of friends gathered at a summer home at the coast near a lighthouse.  The novel describes the activities that take place over a day before the war, a synopsis of action during the war time, and then another day’s activities after the war.  To answer the question at hand, the first person narrative that is used in the first and last sections is a perfect vehicle to capture the malaise that many felt as a result of the war.  Mr. Ramsay, for example, is one who fails to adapt and move on after the war.  Before the war, he admonishes his family who are eager to make a trip to the lighthouse.  The narration from his mind’s eye shows a man who is master of his household:

He had “a splendid mind.  For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, or like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q.  He reached Q.  Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q…After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance.  Z is only reached once by one man in a generation…On to R.”  (Lighthouse 33-34)

He has the final say on the family going to the lighthouse, which is no.

During the war described in the middle section, like most Brits, Mr. Ramsay suffers loss – his wife and two of his children – one to war, and one to childbirth.  The narration takes on an impersonal third person narrative to briefly describe the deaths.  The “courage, truth and power to endure” that he lived by challenges him to his core (Lighthouse 4).

Ten years after the first section and after the war, Mr. Ramsay and two of his children return to the summer house.  He tries to recreate the past by now insisting on a trip to the Lighthouse:

“Then he reminded them that they were going to the Lighthouse tomorrow.  They must be ready, in the hall on the stroke of half-past seven.  Then, with his hand on the door, he stopped; he turned upon them.  Did they not want to go?  He demanded.  Had they dared say No…he would have flung himself tragically backwards into the bitter waters of despair.” (Lighthouse 148)

By using the third person subjective narrative in this section, Woolf can show the feelings of malaise especially through Mr. Ramsay’s thoughts and what others think of him.  Their thoughts are more revealing than their actions, so Woolf is able to sharply define his misery.

Virginia Woolf: Perspective and reflections of WWI

The section “Time Passes” speaks most clearly to me about WWI and its aftermath. Much of the imagery denotes the sense of a transitional period, being at a point of change, such as the changing leaves on “autumn trees” and the passing glimpses of a beautiful moonlit night (p. 127). The following page comes Mr. Ramsey’s perspective, as he is musing in his typical philosophical way, but has strong undertones of the sentiments of those reacting to the chaos and death of the war: “Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer” (128). In the aftermath of this event, there simply were no answers to such questions asked by those reeling from the loss. Likewise, the suddenness of death and temporality of life, made more evident by the war, comes out in a bracketed statement. While Mr. Ramsey is“stumbling along a passage one dark morning” with his arms stretched out hoping for his wife, he is left alone, his arms still empty, because his wife had suddenly died. In the passing of just one night, she was gone and he is left alone.

The clean-up and later unsettled, tense house following all the deaths — Mrs. Ramsey, Andrew, and Prue — likewise reflects the painful aftermath of dealing with the losses from the war, both loss of life and of innocence/faith in society. Taking a look of the house in ruins (“too much work for one woman”) and reflecting on the deaths and sinking state of the country, Mrs. McNab muses, “But, dear, many things had changed…many families had lost their dearest. So she was dead; and Mr. Andrew killed; and Miss Prue dead too…but everyone had lost some one these years. Prices had gone up shamefully, and didn’t come down again neither” (136). Life is moving on, different. Many are dead, things have changed, but only for the worse and with no improvement in sight. Society felt exhausted after the war, and this old woman mirrors that exhaustion: “She creaked, she moaned,” and everything before her “was too much for one woman, too much, too much” (137).

Waste Land Critique

“In our common notions and talk about freedom, we eminently show our idolatry of machinery. Our prevalent notion is… that it is a most happy and important thing for Amman merely to be able to do what he likes… We have not the notion, so familiar on the Continent and to antiquilty, of the State – the notion in it’s collective and corporate character, entrusted with stringent powers for the general advantage, and controlling individual wills in the name of an interest wider than that of individuals” (Arnold, 1597)

Arnold in “Culture and Anarchy” is very particular in how society is conducted. He looks to the State and it’s rigid checks and balances to show the reader that instead of doing as one like, it is more beneficial for society to follow the order of the day. Basically, individualism is dangerous to a society. I feel that with the various techniques that Eliot uses in “The Waste Land,” especially with his fragments he alludes to the hindering notion of the individual doing as he likes that Arnold depicts. The fragments that Eliot uses is a complete 180 from Arnold’s notion of continuing in the old tradition that for so long has made England what it is. Eliot uses these techniques to push the envelope and show the flaws in the Arnoldian culture in regards to keeping the old tradition in tact, and that those traditions are actually leading England astray.

The Waste Land

In this poem, “The Waste Land”, Eliot acknowledges the culture of England as a very negative, empty, barren and simply uneasy place. There is definitely a negative undertone to the text starting from section, 1) The Burial of the Dead, that the reader is instantly given the idea that Eliot believes there is no hope for the future of England, especially in any sense of world leadership. The amount of quotations revolving around world reknowned literature makes me feel like he wants England to be a leader during this time of confusion, but the fact that he is commenting on the idea that they can’t even get it together to BE leaders, everything else in the world is discombobulated. Eliot is wanting for culture to reinstate it’s presence in European society.

By using so many fragments and pieces of other literature, it is a comment itself on where the society is. There is lack of organization and lack of individualism. In section 2) A Game of Chess, it ends with a quote from Hamlet, “Good night, ladies, good night sweet ladies, good night, good night”, before she is recognizably insane and kills herself diving into section 3) The Fire Sermon where there is so much “country jumping” going from England, to Israel, to Australia, to Turkey, back to London etc, gives the reader a (almost?) satirical look on how he views English Society. Everything being all over the place with very little to no desire to change. This idea is his reflection to both England and the World.

The Waste Land

Matthew Arnold’s view of culture as “a study of perfection” by every man is contradicted by Eliot in “The Waste Land.” Arnold felt that this culture could only prove beneficial “when there is a national glow of life and thought, when the whole of society is in the fullest measure permeated by thought, sensible to beauty, intelligent and alive” (1596). Immediately we see two themes emerging: 1) That the entire country must join together in their pursuit of sweetness and light, and 2) that there must be a sort of appreciation of the natural beauty surrounding them. In Eliot, however, cases can be made against both of these points. For the first part, Eliot uses fragmentation in his poem to suggest a sort of chaos and un-unified-ness that was pervading the society at the time. All of the sudden jumps in subject matter and the abruptness that can be found in “The Waste Land” might be suggesting that society is actually just a scattered conglomeration of many individuals, not all striving for the same end goal of goodness and moral virtue. Additionally, Eliot employs countless quotations in his text. By quoting lines from all different sorts of literary genres, Eliot is once again pointing out the fact that the nation and its inhabitants are not all striving towards that same goal and that they don’t all hold the same ideals.

The second part of Arnold’s culture—the appreciation of beauty part—can also be seen as critiqued by Eliot in his poem. Even from the beginning, T.S. Eliot puts a very counter-traditional interpretation of the feelings that generally accompany each season. By saying that “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land,” the usual view of Spring as a happy time full of new birth and hope is turned completely upside down (2298). There are also many instances of stanzas depicting a very bleak outlook (it is called  The Waste Land, after all), and all of the talk of the “dead men [who] lost their bones” and the “rats’ alley” gives a somewhat different perspective than the culture of Arnold that is striving for goodness (2301). Arnold’s culture also had to be vibrant and alive, full of vitality; Eliot’s characters are often lifeless and pale: “I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing” (2299). Caught in the sort of “in between zone,” this person is unable to either talk and participate in the national movement nor can he use his eyes to look around and appreciate the beauty in the world around him.

Matthew Arnold looks at a glass filled halfway, says, That’s half full. T.S. Eliot does the same but says, “What the hell is in this glass?”

The difference between Matthew Arnold’s view of culture and that of T.S. Eliot’s is as stark as the contrast between day and night. Arnold appears to have been enthralled by the loveliness of the Victorian culture. So much so, that the incoming modernist era was became a bit of problem for him. As he espoused in the last passage of Dover Beach, Ah, love, let us be true /To one another! for the world which seems /To lie before us like a land of dreams,/So various, so beautiful, so new,/Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,/Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain[.]
What this section alludes to is the impending ‘darkness’ that the modernist era was going to bring. Arnold absolutely loved his culture, it made the world a good place, it was bright and cheery in the Victorian era. This may have been one of the bones that Eliot wanted to pick with Arnold. Eliot’s modern view of the world seems to scoff at Arnold’s precious culture. It’s apparent even in the beginning of “The Wasteland”. Lines 19-24 for instance, What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,/You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/A heap of broken images, where the sun beats[.} This portion speaks of what Eliot viewed of culture, broken heaps, finagled into a beautiful tree by the Victorians. Eliot’s “Wasteland” is the new Book of Ecclesiastes, it reveals the nature of our lives for what an unhappy reality that they are. Though, the way our culture seems today, I’d say we’re due for an update.

The Waste Land

In his poem The Waste Land, Eliot presents a very unpleasant picture of how he sees culture at this time.  Eliot presents English culture as a wasteland, barren, incomplete, in ruins.  He does not seem to have any hope for recover.  In Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy,” the effect of modernity on culture is also a major issue.  However, for Arnold the answer to the problem, he suggests, is to move away from the individualistic mind sets that brought about the decay in the first place.  He wishes to bring culture back into society.  Eliot does not seem to think the same way on this matter.  He doesn’t seem to be offering any suggestions on how to improve the decaying culture, but rather showing that it is getting worse and worse, and that the different aspects of culture are piling up in this wasteland.

Eliot uses fragmentation and quotation in order to do this.  Fragmentation is used throughout the entire poem.  Almost as soon as one idea or image is presented, it breaks away to show a completely different one.  The fifth section, “What the Thunder Said” seemed to have some particularly interesting fragments.  One stanza is discussing the sound of water on rocks, and the stanza ends, “But there is no water” (Line 359) without any punctuation, and then immediately goes into “Who is the third who walks beside you?” (Line 360).  To me, these fragmentations and juxtapositions seemed to be a way of showing how things in modern times are not complete.  As soon as something is seen, something else moves in to take over.

The very end of the poem was full of quotations, from sources that do not seem to connect.  “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down / Poi s’ ascose nel foco chel gli affina” (Lines 427-428).  These quotations, followed by several others, seem to me to show the way that Eliot saw culture as being nothing but fragments from things of the past, that aren’t fully developed any more, but that is all that is left.  “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” (Line 431) fit together all of these fragmentations and quotations.  He is expressing the fact that things are in ruins, and all of the fragments from old ways of life are being pushed together.

The Waste Land

When thinking back to Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy”, I remembered how he was responding to turmoil in England and concerned he was for the loss of culture in its society. Also that people were becoming only concerned about their self interests instead of caring about others in society. Eliot’s fragmented images and quotations (this especially) contribute to the idea of how badly society and it’s culture has decayed and become a wasteland after WWI. London has become an “unreal city” of desolation and ghosts from the past. One ghost being Stetson, a fallen war comrade that the speaker recognizes on the street.

Adding to downfall of their culture is Eliot’s’ references to the downfalls of the cultures of capitals of some major empires in the past:                                                              “Falling towers                                                                                                     Jerusalem  Athens Alexandria                                                                                            Vienna London Unreal”

Again, the decay their society is just unreal to the speaker. Also paralleling to Arnold’s Culture and Anarachy is notion that the culture after WWI has become one where people are very distanced from one another and are solely concerned with their own fates and interests, instead of caring of others being concerned with the well being of the society as a whole. Just a couple of lines I found that mirror this in some way are: “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many. Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled, and each man fixed he eyes before his feet”. The speaker has been so caught up in his own life that he never thought of all the deaths the war has caused (more destruction of society). The fact that each man has “fixed his eyes before his feet” makes me think that they never think to look around at anyone else on the bridge because they are themselves also caught up in their own lives.

The Waste Land

How might the techniques of fragmentation and quotation in “The Waste Land” form a critique of Arnold’s notion of culture?  At first, I had to actually go back to my blog about Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy.”  After rereading it, I could see the parallels.

To repeat, Matthew Arnold’s “Culture and Anarchy” was a response to the significant upheaval in England due to the effects of modernity.  Arnold advocated for retaining some elements of English culture while enhancing it with new ideas.  One of the issues I mentioned before was that Arnold viewed The Industrial Revolution as a means of financial upward mobility for the masses, but Arnold felt they lacked proper education and refinement when compared to the aristocracy.  Without more sophistication, Arnold felt England’s future ruling class would degrade England’s refined cultural standards.

Let’s move forward about fifty years.  The masses were now beneficiaries of a broadened public education system, which, according to the text, “meant that the reading class grew exponentially” (text 1930).  However, in T. S. Eliot’s opinion, they still lacked a sense of refinement that Arnold had written about earlier.  This is exemplified in their “complacent taste” for “easily consumable” entertainment (text 1930).  This separation in literature was termed high-brow and low-brow to denote the aristocracy from the underclasses. T.S. Eliot and his contemporaries responded by creating “difficult,” high-brow literature that would appeal to the “aristocracy of taste” rather than the masses (text 1930).

What better way to tell the story than to use many fragmented quotes or allusions to a wide array of classical works that only the well-educated and well-read (i.e. the aristocracy) would recognize?  There are a great number of quotations and allusions to the Bible, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, the legend of King Arthur, Greek mythology, and Saint Augustine’s Confessions to name a few.  The fragmentation in the poem’s form allowed for Eliot to combine many quotes in his poem, and it also seems to symbolize the splintering English society Arnold and Eliot recognized.

The one quote that intrigued me the most is a series of quotations near the end that at first glance is a juxtaposed jumble of ideas, but taken as a whole, provide a conclusion to this very “difficult” poem:

“London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

Quando fiam uti chelidon – O Swallow swallow

Le Prince d’Aquitaine á la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins” (lines 427 – 431)

To preface, there is a figure on the shore thinking about how to “set [their] lands in order” given the destruction caused by WWI (line 425).  He answers this over the next five lines.  In the first line, Eliot draws upon a children’s nursery rhyme to clearly describe the destruction caused by war.  In the second line, Eliot jumps to the second part of Dante’s Divine Comedy called Purgatorio to ask the reader to be aware that many are suffering from the aftermath of war.  In the third line, Eliot references Ovid’s Metamorphoses story of a Greek myth where a tortured woman escapes harm by turning into a bird and flying away, perhaps saying that good may come of the malaise that people are feeling now.  In the fourth line, Eliot pivots to a Romantic French poet who writes about a medieval lord who is isolated in a tower lamenting his misfortunes and loss, perhaps the same as Eliot sees England withdrawing itself from the world stage to heal its wounds.  Finally, Eliot unites all these thoughts into a final line that appears to bolster the demoralized English society by hinting that these works show that from the earliest times, people have suffered and survived.  He ends the poem a couple of lines later with a Hindu prayer for peace in a world of suffering and ruin.

The Waste Land and culture

Eliot’s poem The Waste Land depicts a world that is truly in a wasted state, from the barren land to the worn out society and culture. Fragmentation pervades the poem, full of decayed, dying, apocalyptic imagery. Eliot also draws heavily upon fragmented allusions to cultural influences and literary works in the midst of this bleak imagery. I want to focus specifically on the final section, “What the Thunder Said.”

Within these disjointed lines, Eliot makes frequent references to biblical, cultural and literary contexts that assume a well-read audience of this poem. Unlike Arnold, who viewed culture as a means of improving society and reaching closer to perfection, Eliot offers no picture of redemption for humanity by cultural improvement within this desolate wasteland. The fragmented, though recognizable, references to specific allusions are corrupted and inversed. The idea of culture and society falls to ruins as much as the landscape in the poem. The first stanzas of section V are full of religious elements and make references to Christ and his resurrection. But the picture here is not one of redemption. The fragmented lines begin by telling of “The shouting and the crying/Prision and place and reverberation” (ll. 325-6), which underscores an idea of a purgatory or hell-like place, a vast, echoing prison where there is much “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (see Luke 13:28, which refers to this as the response of those who attempt to enter of Kingdom of God, but are thrown out for living unfaithfully to God). In the following lines, there is a direct perversion of the resurrection story of Christ, which the Bible narrates as “He who was dead is now alive,” and that his followers, who were once dead in sin can now have eternal life. Eliot turns this around to “He who was living is now dead/We who were living are now dying” (ll. 329-330). Not only is this culture dying, but the very religion upon which it vested its hope of redemption has fallen to decay and despondency, quite the opposite of the ideal held by Arnold.

Within the final stanzas of the poem come a number of fragmented literary references, each serving to uphold the idea of ruin and collapse of culture. The image of a prison returns, as we are all “each in his prison” (l. 414), and reference is made of “a broken Coriolanus” (l. 416), a legendary Roman general whose story was adapted into a tragedy by Shakespeare. This Coriolanus’ life, much like the society whose doom Eliot forecasts, began with inspiring promise and conquest, but ended in exile, violence, and death. Once again, cultural contexts serve only to illustrate man’s fall, rather than the hope for societal improvement advocated by Arnold.

Eliot follows with more rapid-fire of literary examples, which he explains,
“These fragments I have shored against my ruins” (l. 430). In this falling, ruinous world, these meaningless fragments of culture are all that remain. He alludes to aspects from the Fisher King, to nursery rhymes, to Dante’s Inferno quoted directly in line 427, to a quote from a Spanish Tragedy, and finally ending with fragments of Hindu fables “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” (l. 432), which, according to http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/brdup/brhad_V-02.html, is rearranged from the original form: Damyata, datta, dayadhvam iti, tad etat trayam śikset, and are instructions to possess self-restraint, charity and mercy. The final words of “Shantih” (l. 433) translate to signify peace and tranquility. These final lines denote a sense of defeat and resoluteness, an ultimate resignation to destruction and decay.

Second Life WWI

When we were looking over the syllabus at the start of the semester and I saw Second Life on there, I wasn’t sure what to think. Now, Like many other students, I also thought it was interesting to incorporate it into our learning experience of reading major british writers from the beginning of the 19th century to the mid-20th. After learning that it was to explore the War Poets Exhibition I was intrigued and thought it a one of a kind technique – and that it also was a good use of Second Life. I was actually discussing this blog post assignment with a good friend of mine, who is currently abroad, and she said that at her university, there were students who were using it as a base for something involving a part of their thesis project, and that another friend of hers mentioned something about them being used at libraries by librarians, also for purposes of further education. However, I did not know this before yesterday, and considering I’ve known people who have used it for other non-academic reasons, so I was a little shocked at first. But I ended up enjoying the experience. That in and of itself was surprising to me. I’ll say again: very good use of Second Life. Probably the best educational technique in this program, that is, in terms of use of multimedia.

Lizzie Rainey: WWI Reaction

These wars are, obviously, a dramatic part of our history. They mark death, life, loss, success, and most of all they ARE the most memorable moments of United States history, a statement I would be more than willing to debate over. The reason this video (unfortunately I could not get second life working so I watched the sneak peek) hit me so hard is because of how strongly the world wars effected everyone. I mean hell, they are still effecting people today (aka me) because of how unbelievable they were. One of the readings I really appreciated was in the video at 4:23 seconds when it was talking about the after-shock that veterans have. It was saying that it doesn’t matter that they were having these reactions because everyone would know that they were soldiers and fought for their country. I appreciated how the writers wrote about such a topic because it didn’t just sound like the typical “explanation” or detailed description of the actions, reactions, or moments of the wars but they dared to ask questions, investigate further, or even just describe the emotions written upon soldier’s faces. I appreciated the way that the writers made a change to what could be very monotoned/mundane situations. 


I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed be reacting to, It’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone from a century before my own. I can’t imagine going from 19th century to technology of WW1. I think if modernism is really a reaction to technological advances and the changes in the world coming so rapidly then the end of modernism will be marked by the singularity of man and machine. It appears that the world just keeps advancing so rapidly that we can’t really stop reacting to it.

WWI Second Life Experience

I thought the most surprising thing I saw was the fact there even was a World War I Poets Exhibition in Second Life.  Additionally, the recordings and research of these poets in that section indicated quite a bit of effort was put into this exhibition.  I was amazed at the quality of the sound for being recorded from such a long time ago.  Hearing the words with images and sounds made some of the poems, especially “Dulce et Decorum Est,” more graphic than the words alone.  A gas attack must have been horrible to experience.

I have read about World War I and all the atrocious conditions the soldiers endured, and this site helped to remind me of that time as well as give me the British perspective.  Reading ahead, I was surprised at how many of the poets on the reading list were soldiers.  Only Teresa Hooley was spared the first-hand experience, but, being a mother, she felt the pain and sorrow of loss that war brings.  It was also surprising how many of the poets experienced what we know today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It certainly affected the pessimism in their poems.  It was interesting to me how this pessimism was portrayed in Second Life.  The poems and the war exhibition remind me that most wars start out glorifying the reasons for the conflict, but the horror and loss always creates an alternate reality that eclipses everything.

World War I exhibit

I found the War Poets Exhibition on Second Life a very interesting technique to reach people with the stories of war and poetry. It works well for our technological world and I think it makes these war stories much more accessible than they might otherwise be. It was well done and I’m glad we experienced it.

That being said, exploring the camp, trenches and trench hospital was rough. It’s always hard to listen to war stories, feeling the hurt and wanting to help somehow even though it was so long ago. The stories of disease and amputation, mixed with the photographs, the sound of rainfall and animated rats scurrying across the screen brought to life the saddness indirectly described in Vera Brttain’s “The German Ward” and Siegfried Sassoon’s “Does it Matter?”. I found in interesting that both these poems show a saddness for the war, and mourn the losses from it while not pitying the subject. The words are almost indifferent in the poems, while the underlying tone obviously feels much more regretfulness for the tragedy of the Great War.

The War Poets Exhibition

The most interesting thing I came to while exploring the War Poets Exhibition was the hospital.  It was interesting, and also frightening, to hear the rain falling and the sounds of far off explosions, while standing amidst the hospital tents and beds for the patients.  I listened to a description of the unsanitary conditions that existed in these hospital camps, and it was horrifying.

The poems that I listened to while in this area were equally as interesting.    Siegfried Sassoon’s “Does it Matter” was interesting, because it offered a view of how the wounded would be treated after returning from the war.  He asks again and again if it matters that they were wounded.  When they return, people won’t worry about them, because they were wounded as a result of fighting for their country, as if that makes it all better.

Vera Brittain’s “The German Ward” was fascinating to listen to while seeing and hearing the things that were going on in the virtual hospital ward.  She describes how even after all of the horrors of war have ended, and people have moved on, she’ll still see and hear the patients she cared for; she’ll see in her mind their wounds and hear their cries.  The direction she went with the poem was somewhat unexpected for me.  She went from describing these horrible sights and sounds to then explaining how she will remember the Sister who was caring for the patients.  This image seems to have stuck with her just as strongly as the images of the dead and dying.  I thought this was interesting, considering how terrible those sights would have been.