Woolf Course Travel Blog

The lighthouse at St. Ives

Prof. Elisa Sparks announced a blog that she and her students have been writing to record their recent trip to places associated with Woolf in Britain. Be sure to check out their posts on going to the lighthouse (yes, “the” lighthouse) at St. Ives. The pictures are incredible.


Existentialist Animals

"I can't go on, I'll go on."

In light of our recent reading of Endgame, I thought you’d like to see this page with pictures of animals captioned by quotes from existentialist authors. The seal saying “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” is quoting Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot.


NYC Subway Voice Reads Pound

This New York Times article about the guy who records announcements for the 7 train in NYC is really interesting. The Times sought requests from the reading public and had him record the ones they thought were good. My favorite is Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.”


(Edit: His name is Bernie Wagenblast; I’m embarrassed now because I didn’t identify him initially and he commented here!)

Textual Evolution of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

Here is the link to Ben Fry’s visualization of the textual evolution of Darwin’s Origin of Species. It shows the additions and subtractions made to each chapter over time, color-coded for each edition. As you can see, Chapter 7 gets the largest input in the 6th edition (1872). Since the visualization provides a bird’s-eye view of the whole text, you can mouse over different parts to see exactly what it says there. It’s interesting that what we normally think of scientific theories as fixed and static, yet they develop along with their written expression over time. You can click on the Fast button (top right) to speed up the visualization.

Women Romantic Writers

Since we didn’t get to discuss Charlotte Smith and Dorothy Wordsworth in class today (or last week), I thought I’d post some comments on them here. Please feel free to respond or post on your own if you’d like to discuss.

Charlotte Smith’s “To Melancholy” (1785) embodies all of the features of Romantic landscape poetry that Wordsworth and Coleridge popularized in Lyrical Ballads thirteen years later. It is set in a specific time and place, as indicated by the subtitle “the banks of the Arun [River] October, 1785,” in order to convey the concrete uniqueness of an experience of Nature in mid-Autumn. That subtitle utilizes a convention that Wordsworth and Coleridge would later follow in their poems, the idea being to allow readers to return to the same location and have the same experience, connecting to each other through time and space.

Smith also exemplifies the Romantic notion of Imagination as an active and synthetic faculty of the mind, not a passive mirror held up to the world. Her description of the seasonal landscape, with its “grey mists” that arise from “dim waves,” bears an element of obscurity and fleetingness that suggest supernatural phenomena (line 2). In addition, the “native stream” of the Arun (line 9) seems to contain a national spirit deserving of pity, whose “deep sighs swell the sadden’d wind!” (line 11). She then addresses that spirit directly–“O Melancholy!”–praising its “magic power” to “soothe the pensive visionary mind!” (lines 12, 14). In that way, the natural landscape serves not only as a projection of her inwardly gloomy emotional state, but also binds her with some element of the national spirit of Englishness. It’s that connection with her readers individually and with the nation in general through its native landscape that she expresses a vision of national unity, however distinct from politics.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” (1812) makes a similar appeal for connection based on a notion of Englishness as a natural, inborn essence. Though her poem is overtly political, there are several passages that invoke the names of rivers to suggest the flowing of time as well as geographic connection and “spiritual” (in the sense of national Genius) connection. I am thinking in particular of the stanza on lines 127-156, where various rivers and other landscape features of England and the United States form a network among some of the great British thinkers and leaders throughout its history: King John and the signing of the Magna Carta, sir Isaac Newton and his definitive model of physics (now deposed by Einstein’s relativity), and so on. What’s interesting here, though, is that Barbauld extends the landscape-inhabited-by-national-Genius to Britain’s colonies, where she seems to agree with the Imperial claim that “If westward streams the light that leaves thy [our] shores, / Still from thy [our] lamp the streaming radiance pours” (lines 79-80). The poem is generally anti-Imperial in condemning the injustices of appropriated wealth and the corrupt political and financial practices that they have led to, yet seems positive about the cultural inheritance it bestows on foreign peoples and their lands.

Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Grasmere” (1805) seems the odd member of this trio of women writers. It follows the tradition of picturesque poetry set in the English Lake District, up north near the border with Scotland, prized for its rugged beauty. The landscape is peopled by cottages in a valley, but one in particular catches her fancy. She goes for a walk that takes her off the beaten path, where she finds an unexpected scene. As we’ve discussed all semester, the Romantic quest for rural landscapes has to do with a searching for British identity, specifically away from the cities. It is a response to modernity, the industrial revolution, and unsavory foreign involvements, even though it might not always refer to them directly.

Dorothy’s landscape describes a pastoral setting in a valley that provides protection from harsher elements.

And when the storm comes from the North
It lingers near that pastoral spot,
And, piping through the mossy walls,
It seems delighted with its lot.

And let it take its own delight;
And let it range the pastures bare;
Until it reach that group of trees,
–It may not enter there!

The mild pleasure afforded by her journey and the scenes she describes represent the aesthetic of the beautiful, which is the least represented among the poems we’ve looked at. There is a faith in the ability of “England’s green and pleasant land” not only to provide unexpected wonder, but to protect and endure. I’m not sure we find the same optimism in Smith and Barbauld.

Can we find anything in Dorothy’s poem that seems to mark her as consistent with the other two women writers here? She expresses a connection to Englishness through a connection to the land, but apparently without the skepticism and concern for the damaging effects of Time we find in the other two. Perhaps you have an answer to this, or see some connections I haven’t teased out?

Introduction: Jeff Drouin

My name is Jeff Drouin. When entering college, I had wanted to be a creative writer like James Joyce but soon found that I was more interested in academics. It was the musical and highly visual quality of Joyce’s prose that drew me to other authors of his period such as Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. As I progressed through the English major, my interest in 20th Century literature deepened until a year abroad in England crystallized my desire to study British and Irish modernism in graduate school. So I completed a senior thesis on musical form and psychology in the “Sirens” episode of Ulysses and have been writing about Joyce ever since. The poetic quality of modernist fiction has also led me to study Proust, on whose novel À la recherche du temps perdu I am completing a project related to church architecture and digital media.

In my spare time I enjoy playing guitar and riding a motorcycle. I think the musical and mechanical nature of both these activities pair with what I love about modernist prose and digital humanities.

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