“Eveline” and “In a Station of the Metro”

(I just remembered I forgot to do this one so here it is.)

One of the elements that most connected “Eveline” by James Joyce and “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound was the voyeuristic nature of them. In Pound’s poem, the speaker is reflecting upon “…these faces in the crowd” (Pound) and experiencing how it feels to view them. Similarly, in “Eveline”, the titular character spends the majority of the story staring out the window, reflecting upon her life while viewing others’ lives happening all around her. Both of these visual experiences seems to invoke a deeper emotion than one would expect. Pound takes a single moment in time, standing in a metro, and posits on the way it makes the reader feel, while Joyce uses the image of Eveline, sitting “at the window watching the evening invade the avenue” (2222) to relate to a multitude of past experiences in her life.

Furthermore, both pieces deal with dehumanization. At the end of “Eveline”, she stands, paralyzed, unable to get on the boat with Frank. As this happens, the narrator describes her composure: “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (2225). In this singular moment, Eveline loses her humanity and, in a way, ceases to be anything at all. The idea of dehumanization is echoed in the way that the face in Pound’s poem lose any sense of individualism: “Petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound). Here, the faces of strangers become plant material stuck to a tree branch, being stripped of all humanity as well. Both of these instances happen just for a brief moment, but neither author offers up any sort of explanation or deeper meaning; the reader is left to decide what it all means.

“Time Passes” and WWI

While Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse deals heavily with the aftereffects of World War I, the novel does not really address the War until its second section, entitled “Time Passes”. This section consists of ten short chapters. “Time Passes” encompasses a decade’s worth of events in around twenty pages, in contrast to the first section, “The Window”, which consists of 125 pages and describes the details of a single evening. The effect of the severe condensation of time in the second section is disorientation for the reader. The section consists of mostly narration and very little dialogue; it also mostly mentions events after they have already happened: “[Mr. Carmichael brought out a volume of poems that spring, which had an unexpected success…]” (134). This gives the reader the sense that the entire section was written in retrospect as the narrator reminisced on the things that happened to the Ramsay family between 1910 and 1920. The somewhat historical perspective that is therefore created in this section engages with WWI because it looks back on the War as a past event as opposed to experiencing it firsthand, which mimics the way the reader would be approaching the text as well.

Furthermore, the way that the reader is bombarded with death in this section parallels the chaotic and devastating way Woolf’s generation had to deal with the loss of loved ones. Interwoven with commentary about the passage of time, the narration notes that Mr. Ramsay reaches out for Mrs. Ramsay, although “Mrs. Ramsay [had] died rather suddenly the night before” (128). Additionally, “Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth” (132) and “Andrew Ramsay[‘s] death, mercifully, was instantaneous” (133) after a shell exploded during the War. All of these deaths, being mentioned one after another, allow little time for the reader to process what is happening. As opposed to the generous time given to many different perspectives during the first section of the novel, the narration moves on from each of these deaths with very few comments on their effects. The deaths seem to lose their importance due to the style of the narration, leaving the reader with a sort of numbness that was pervasive in English society following the end of WWI.

The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” deals with many of the emotions facing the disillusioned survivors of World War I. The poem is heavily interested in the isolating result of the War, as well as other themes such as death, rebirth, and emotional trauma. Written in five parts, the narration of the poem quickly shifts from story to story, weaving in numerous allusions to texts mostly situated within the Western Canon. The fragmented nature of these allusions and quotations is intentionally difficult for the reader to comprehend; when read without footnotes, very few modern scholars would catch every reference. This fragmentation gives the text a chaotic feel, which mirrors the chaotic, uncontrollable character of War. For instance, in the second part of the poem, titled “A Game of Chess”, the narration skips abruptly from mentioning the ancient female characters of Cleopatra, Dido and Philomel to a conversation between a shell-shocked man and his girlfriend: “Above the antique mantel was displayed / As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene / The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king / So rudely forced… Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair / Spread out in fiery points / Glowed into words, Then would be savagely still” (97-110). The quick switch from subject to subject leaves the reader feeling somewhat lost and confused while he/she struggles to catch up with the new characters. It is not until the two characters begin a dialogue that the reader is given any sort of indication of who these people are or what their role is within the poem. Eliot’s switch from stories of antiquity to stories of traumatized soldiers and wives indicates the general desire after WWI to create a new history in face of the devastating aftereffects of the loss of so many young men.

Furthermore, the fragmentation in the poem plays into the general theme of isolation within the text. The reader himself/herself feels wholly removed from the action because of the jumpy nature of the narration, which mimics the isolating feeling that pervaded the lives of those who lost loved ones during the War as well as the soldiers who managed to survive. While this is present throughout much of the text, it is quite explicit in the final section: “…I have heard the key / Turn in the door once and turn once only / We think of the key, each in his prison / Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison…” (411-4). This quotation evokes the isolating nature of grief after the War. While the War itself was initially thought of unifying, the process of emotional trauma is incredibly personal and isolating; because each person much go through the grieving process due to differences in personal loss, it is hard to comfort anyone because it is impossible to understand how they feel. This quotation sums up the image of an entire nation in a sort of prison of trauma– but each person is locked in his/her own cell.

Gaskell and Darwin

At first, I found it difficult to find similarities between the various Darwin excerpts and that from Our Society at Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Upon beginning the reading, I was immediately struck by the image of Cranford as a feminine utopia– in one of my other classes this semester, we read a novel about a perfect nation inhabited only by women (Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman) and I started to view Cranford through this lens. It is helpful to see the town of Cranford as an independent nation with views and ideals that vary greatly from the rest of English society (specifically that of the larger cities like London) because it creates a link to Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. In both texts, the author/narrator is an outsider who intrudes upon an isolated group of people and reports his/her findings; the difference is that, in the Gaskell reading, the narrator comes from Cranford while Darwin is a foreigner visiting Tierra del Fuego. Both texts can be read as a travel narrative in which the narrator is describing the tendencies of a certain group of people in contrast to a different society (Darwin’s England/Europe and Gaskell’s Manchester). Both texts greatly generalize the practices and behaviors of the inhabitants they describe– while Darwin presents the Fuegians as animalistic and wild, Gaskell presents the ladies of Cranford as anachronisms who hate “vulgarity” and praise “elegant economy” (1434) instead of embracing the societal changes precipitated by the Industrial Revolution.

Furthermore, both texts incorporate a conflict between the inhabitants of their respective places using a man whose beliefs conflict with that of the society. Darwin and his fellow Europeans present this conflict in his text and the two different peoples attempt (and fail) to reconcile their beliefs and practices with those of the other. Darwin consistently comments upon these differences, stating: “I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement” (1263). Gaskell’s text exhibits this same dichotomy, although her’s is  between the sensational character of Captain Brown, who defies all of the expectations and unspoken rules of Cranford society. According to Gaskell, “we did not know what to make of a man who could speak of poverty as if it was not a disgrace” (1435). Both texts subtly criticize the “foreigners” within them for their lack of understanding of the functioning of polite, civilized society, although these rules are unspoken and never made clear to these individuals. Additionally, both texts assert the dominance and supremacy of polite English society, failing to take into consideration other cultures or ways of acting.

Matthew Arnold and Modernity

In the beginning of the introduction to the Victorian Age, the anthology states that “For the first time a nation had become self-consciously modern: people were sure only of their differences from previous generations, certain only that traditional ways of life were fast being transformed into something perilously unstable and astonishingly new” (1049). I think that this preoccupation is definitely visible in Culture and Anarchy. On one hand, Arnold is reacting to this self-consciousness by commenting upon rioting in England and warning that it is a slippery slope: “And one finds… that the outbreaks of rowdyism tend to become less and less of trifles, to become more frequent rather than less frequent” (1598). Arnold’s argument seems to be that this type of behavior leads to anarchy, which will impede the eventual perfection of society. The instability of the Modern state is reflected in these worries. On the other hand, Arnold’s argument supports the quotation about modernity through its questioning of the status quo. He argues that the typical British “freedom of worship” (1598) needs to be modified lest it lead to anarchy, which is clearly where Arnold sees his country heading. This mixture of reflection upon the traditional characteristics of society combined with inquietude about the future seems to link the text to the modernity that characterized this period.

Furthermore, “Dover Beach” seems to embody some of these same ideas. The speaker focuses on antiquity, trying to negotiate modernity with traditional sensibilities: “Sophocles long ago/ Heard it [the eternal note of sadness] on the Aegean, and it brought/ Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow/ Of human misery” (15-18). It seems that reflecting upon the past helps serve as a reminder to the speaker that ancient people dealt with the same emotions and ordeals that with which we currently struggle. The speaker compares his/her current society to the society of the past and seems concerned about the future in face of these changes; he/she feels that the “Sea of Faith”  (21) has dried up, which reflects the modern concern about the loss of spirituality and faith in the face of rapid societal changes and industrialization.

Blake’s Use of Color in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell

William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was innovative during its time due to its unique inclusion of printed, color images alongside the text. The 1790 version of the text employs lighter, pastel colors which are reminiscent of watercolor, while the 1794 version conveys a more threatening tone with darker tones and a heavier use of contrast between the blocks of text and the images themselves. Plate 10 is an excellent example of this difference. Here is the 1790 version:   This image relies heavily on subdued hues of blue, green and yellow, which is characteristic of many of the plates from this version. The words are slightly faded and printed in a greenish ink, which could be from old age or could have been intentional on Blake’s part. These features make the image approachable, in contrast with the somewhat frightening and revolutionary message of the words above.

In contrast, here is the tenth plate from the 1794 version:

Here, the text is printed in a darker, browner ink which provides a starker contrast to the background of the page. The image is much darker; the blue of the sky gives the scene more depth and there is dark shadowing present on the ground as opposed to the more one-dimensional image in the 1790 version. Here, Blake uses the color red, in a very vibrant way, which is characteristic of this collection as a whole. There is also more contrast among the small details surrounding the text. In general, the range of colors is much more varied and the scene displayed is more congruous with the text above. For example, the “Proverb of Hell” on this plate states, “Sooner murder an Infant in its cradle than nurse unact/-ed desires” (10.12-13). The many examples (this included) Blake uses in order to support his assertion that following one’s desires is more important than being pious in the eyes of the Church are obviously controversial and jarring, which is reflected in the darkness and depth portrayed in the 1794 version of the text.

I think that the differences in the types of colors Blake uses in these two versions of the text do have an influence on its message. While the text was meant to be subversive and shocking to Blake’s contemporaries, the 1790 version seems to be intentionally less threatening. While the narrator discusses his walk through Hell, the airy and approachable images are less frightening to the audience; they are somewhat like an introduction to Blake’s message, considering this is the first version of the book. This being said, as time went on and the text became complete in 1793, it would appear that Blake began to create prints that are more reflective of the true message of the text. Perhaps he considered that his contemporaries had had enough time to get used to the incendiary ideas he puts forth. This version is much less reader-friendly and that seems to be intentional on the part of the author.

The Picturesque in Tintern Abbey

Much like the Romantic works we have studied thus far, William Wordsworth’s Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey focuses heavily on the emotions sparked by the speaker’s relation toward nature. Instead of conveying aspects of the sublime, however, Wordsworth describes a picturesque scene in which his immersion in nature inspires a sense of tranquility but also triggers a feeling of loss in reference to time. He begins the poem by establishing a timeline– it has been five years since he has visited the banks of the Wye. He has returned with his sister and is reliving the sensation he had during his first visit, but he feels as if time has changed him. He reflects upon “…feelings too/ Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,/ As may have had no trivial influence/ On that best portion of a good man’s life” (31-34). Here, he expresses that the unchanged nature of the banks has the effect of sending him back in time; he is able to remember a time when he could enjoy simple and ‘trivial’ pleasures. These memories suggest a juxtaposition between his past and current self. As the poem goes on, he sees that his sister is still able to revel in this pleasure and feels happy for her, signifying that he is mourning that period of his life.

Furthermore, while Wordsworth does not actually describe the ruins of the abbey, he does hint upon the imperfect nature of the setting, which is another key aspect of the picturesque. He seems to appreciate the banks despite their imperfections, celebrating features that one would not normally glorify. For instance, he looks fondly upon the “wreathes of smoke… as might seem,/ Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,/ Or of some hermit’s cave, where by his fire/ The hermit sits alone” (19-23). The idea of a recluse living alone in the woods may seem somewhat sad or morose, but Wordsworth does not see it this way; he finds “tranquil restoration” (31) in the scene. The poem does not glorify nature or extol its virtues, but instead celebrates the emotions it can impart on people. Wordsworth’s focus on the beauty of the scene itself and the calmness it transmits to him exemplifies the concept of the picturesque.