Monday, November 16, 2009

The Four Quartets

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 13

The Four Quartets

I am having difficulty focusing my thoughts on only one portion or theme of "The Four Quartets." There are so many interesting themes, some new and some gleaned directly from Eliot's earlier poetry, I find it difficult to focus on any theme or symbol in particular!

Eliot obviously drew on themes present in his earlier poetry (namely "The Wasteland") for "The Four Quartets." At various points I noticed the prominent inclusion of the themes of fire, water, seasons, religion, Christianity, and rebirth. Eliot seems to have wished for "The Four Quartets" to appear to be a detailed description of "The Wasteland" itself! The "compound ghost" walking the streets seems to be a clear indication of Eliot's unearthly connection with the world of the dead - exactly like "The Wasteland" where it is unclear if the characters are dead or alive.

The "compound ghost" who appears in "Little Gidding" intrigued me. Although Dante is undoubtedly a portion of the "compound" which makes up the ghost, I also saw Yeats as a portion of this compound. I thought the line “dark dove with the flickering tongue" (52) was one of the most interesting lines in the poem. It reminded me of Yeats poem, “The Second Coming,” and the beast that "slouches toward Bethlehem.”

The line, “that was a way of putting it-not very satisfactory,” (25) struck me in conjunction with what Eliot wrote about the uselessness of the language of old men. Eliot writes " Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly" (26). I am under the impression that Eliot was taking a very literal view of language and words. I contend that he actually meant that because language is such a living and breathing entity which changes daily, “last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year's words await another voice” (54). Because language changes so often, any advice old men could give would be a moot point by the time they told the story. The language they are using means something totally different today than it meant years ago.

After Eliot makes clear his contempt for old mens words, why is he so interested in the "compound ghost" and his words? I ask this question in all honesty. This ghost is obviously an old man as evident by the words, "I am not eager to rehearse/My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten./These things have served their purpose: let them be" (53). Is Eliot warning the reader to take all theory and writing with the preverbal "grain of salt?" Does he suggest that although the words of the long dead are valuable to understand bygone days, we should avoid living our lives in the past? If this is Eliot's suggestion, he effectively dismisses his own advice conveyed in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and other essays.

Time in "The Four Quartets" is a theme of particular importance to Harold Brooks in his essay, "Four Quartets: The Structure in Relation to the Themes." Brooks writes that the "Quartets" includes "three different kinds of time" and a "timeless dimension" (140). The Ghosts appearance in "Little Gidding" perfectly illustrates the "timeless dimension" Eliot wished to convey.

Again, this reading contained such dense themes and subject matter I found it difficult to focus my attentions on any one primary theme. I can only how my rambling findings have stumbled on a few themes of interest and importance. I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed with the rich thematic elements and many messages. Perhaps I should take a hint from Eliot and take this reading with "a grain of salt." Perhaps it would be more enjoyable if read simply for the language, poetry, and genius of Eliot as a writer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To the Lighthouse

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 12

One of the first things I noticed about To The Lighthouse was the division of the three chapters and the titles of each chapter. From my work with the fiction of Katherine Mansfield and a previous blog post regarding Virginia Woolf's A Room of Ones Own, the chapter entitled "The Window" struck me as deeply meaningful. As I discussed before I believe windows have developed into a female metaphor, sometimes directly referencing the vagina and at other times simply as representation of the (Bloomsbury) female views, ideas, and struggles. The title "The Window" immediately struck me as just such a representation. Charles Tansley's comments to Lilly about woman’s inability to paint or write and Mr. Ramsay's childlike insecurities show the importance of the roll of the women, and at the same time how little faith is placed in the abilities of women. Mr. Ramsay seems to be yet another child in need of constant attention from his wife. He even resorts to upsetting his own son to obtain the attention he feels like he needs from the woman he married. Mrs. Ramsay reacts to this treatment with resilience and a practiced skill in soothing the egos and tempers of all her charges, Mr. Ramsay included. In "Modes of Disclosure in To the Lighthouse," author Lilienfield calls the readers attention to the animalistic description of Mr. Ramsay at dinner threatening to devour Minta Doyle with his "fangs" (101). This description reminded me not only of a vicious animal but also of a caged or trapped vicious animal that knows no better than to show its teeth in hopes of escape.

The chapter entitled "Time Passes" is true to its promise. Time passes quickly. The numerous deaths which occur in this portion of the story serve to highlight human beings infallible susceptibility to times passage. The title also serves to remind the reader that there will be several changes in the story which will directly affect the final chapter. Change is the operative word in this chapter. Change is inevitable and nothing can be taken for granted. Yet another element which sets this section apart from the other two is the brisk tone Virginia Woolf uses. This tone is strikingly different from the slow, meandering stream of consciousness (and Polyvocality as Lilienfield notes in "Modes of Disclosure in To the Lighthouse" (101)) tone used in the first and last sections of To the Lighthouse.

The final chapter "The Lighthouse" resumes the brisk tone familiar from the first chapter. The lighthouse itself seems to represent a phallic symbol in this final chapter. This symbolism is made all the more glaring when considering the window symbolism in the first section. The Ramsays are unable to visit the lighthouse when Mrs. Ramsay is alive, although she does her best to be encouraging in the face of her husband’s childish discouragement.

I noticed one final thing when reading and preparing for class. It seems that most of the critique and analysis written about To the Lighthouse focuses primarily on Mr. Ramsays character. Virginia Woolf made this character complex and thought provoking to serve a higher purpose but it seems that she has inadvertently placed all the emphasis on the male yet again! My research is limited due to time and article availability, but in reading two Lilienfield essays I noticed the focus seems to remain on Mr. Ramsay! I feel as if Woolf would be disappointed in some scholars dismissal of Mrs. Ramsay's character, which is not so controversial, but surly just as interesting and thought provoking.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Modernist Politics

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 11

While reading "Monday June 26th 1916" I could not help but notice the overt sexuality, which Lytton Strachey seems unable to control. His every thought seems to be sexual in nature. Even more interesting was the difference in his treatment of his sexuality with women and with men. Lytton Strachey seems uncomfortable about the thought of sexual contact with women, and romantic and dreamy about sexual contact with men. His vision of flinging himself into Vanessa's arms ends immediately when he realizes that he already knows what her reaction will be. On the other extreme Strachey envisions the handsome youth on the road in a more romantic light - anything seems possible with this handsome stranger.

Strachey also places a great emphasis on sleep and dreams in "Monday June 26th 1916." His entire day is punctuated by naps and day-dreams. His whole life seems to be a series of disconnected dreams (usually about sex).

Virginia Woolf also placed a great deal of emphasis on day-dreams and her internal thoughts in her essay "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid." She deftly details her feelings of being a prisoner within her own mind - made all the worse by the planes overhead making her feel powerless. She concludes that ideas are the only form of help she can give the male soldiers, yet her she does not feel (as a woman) that her ideas are wanted, needed, considered, or even heard. She seems to have so much to give to the world in defense of her country, yet because she is not allowed to defend her country, she chooses to defend her sex.

The juxtaposition of Strachey's internal monologue and Virginia Woolf's raises a very interesting point. While Strachey's sexual desires are trapped within his mind, Woolf's very essence is trapped within hers. Her worries are lofty because it makes no difference is she worries about her next sexual encounter or a sure-fire plan for world peace. Her ideas are not wanted, needed, or considered (she feels). Strachey is allowed to voice his opinion and his advice is often taken. His ideas are no longer his own - they belong to the world, leaving him nothing to think about but his lunch and Bunny's sexy arms.

A second theme raised in "Monday June 26th 1916" and "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" is that of impotency. Woolf seems to be personifying the war as a masculine pissing contest of sorts as she describes how "All the searchlights are erect" (1). While men stand erect in the open and are awarded medals and honor, women are left alone in their beds, impotent to do anything at all. Strachey is anything but impotent. His days are filled with day-dreams of the men he would love to sleep with. Nothing about his manner is impotent, just as nothing he would have to say about the war, or nothing he would do to support his country would be dismissed or belittled. In his essay "Fear and Politics: A Debate at the Zoo" Leonard Woolf feels so comfortable discussing politics that he is able to publish a cleverly written essay detailing dense political issues from the point of view of zoo animals. Should Virginia have written this essay she would have been criticized for her minimalization of serious issues.

The impotency of women at this time is palpable in almost every essay, poem, and short story I have read from this time period. It is unendingly interesting and infuriating at the same time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 10


The use of the window as symbol for lesbian sexual desire is a theme I have recently developed in my study of Katherine Mansfield. I have been especially vigilant for the "window" in A Room of One's Own and was not disappointed. Initially the idea of windows came to mind when imagining a room. Woolf does not suggest having a house of one's own, but a single room. This could be because women were rarely in possession of their own real estate in these days, but it could also be because in a room all the focus is contained within a small area. All the passion is trapped within a limited amount of space, just as a woman's homosexual desire would have been limited at this time. Also, when imaging a room (and in my experience) the room Woolf describes is likely a smaller room, with one door - perhaps a bedroom or an office. This room is certainly not a main thoroughfare in the house like the living room or the dining room where the woman's writing would be disturbed. In my experience, smaller rooms usually have a single window. To me this single window symbolizes the same repressed and singularly focused energy that the room does.

In Susan Gubar's introduction she describes the "solitary female figure gazing out a window or working at a desk, or simply an interior of window giving out to a view of the sky" (XLIX) This imagery alone might be overlooked except for it's TWO references to windows within the same sentence. The woman looks out the window to get a view of the world - she has no choice. Her only option for a view would be this singular window. (Reminding me of the book A Room With a View!) Just as woman has no option but to look from this one window, so woman has no option but to be a woman and to write from a woman’s perspective. She can only look through the window of her femininity - it is her only option. In her introduction Gubar also describes a "window into Woolf's own struggles as a writer" (XL). An interesting choice of symbols considering the subject matter.

Woolf herself is very cautious of windows in A Room of One's Own. Her description of how "purples and golds burn in window-panes like the beat of an excitable heart" (16) really personifies windows for the reader as a way to see the soul. Windows are mentioned again and again in A Room of One's Own, making their significance difficult to dismiss.
In her essay "Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own" Jane Marcus notes the "conspiracy" which Woolf seemed to have with those who attended her "girl talk" lectures. She says "literary women gathered in a room together to discuss writing are, at least symbolically, Lesbians, and the law is the enemy" (166). Over all, the theme of the room and the window prevails over even the lectures of Virginia Woolf. She and her "Lesbians" are closed off from the world in their room full of women, with only one window to look out upon the outside world. She has constructed a very closed society for herself as a woman, with the window being the focal point - the only point which let's in light.

I couldn't help but connect with Woolf while reading this book. She has drawn me in as a woman. I have no choice but to identify with her.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 9

Eliot wrote, "About anyone so great as Shakespeare, it is probable that we can never be right; and if we can never be right, it is better that we should from time to time change our way of being wrong. Whether truth ultimately prevails is doubtful and has never been proved; but it is certain that nothing is more effective in driving out error than a new error" (Weiss 1). This quote seems to perfectly answer Virginia Woolf's question in her essay "Modern Fiction." Virginia Woolf asks "Is it worth while? What is the point of it all?....Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while" (3). There is a huge gap in the thought process of these two literary giants. This quote also comes quickly to mind when reading Erwin R. Steinberg's "Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot's Personal Wasteland." It seems that Woolf, in her judgment of Eliot, has embraced this philosophy wholeheartedly. She seems to fluxuate between liking and respecting Eliot and thinking of him as "a very vain man" (6). Her inward thoughts about him, his work, and his wife are all very different from her outward acts of inviting him on outings and publishing his work. This distinct separation of the inward mind and the outward actions and words is a theme I found in Mrs. Dalloway.

Woolf's writing style, a very distinct separation between the internal thought and the external dialogue, is extremely interesting. Because most of Woolf's characters are so internal, I believe that this implies a distinct separation between each and every character. Thoughts are rarely shared aloud. Also, her noticeable lack of spoken dialogue between characters suggests this same separation. I am inclined to believe, having read very little Virginia Woolf, that she was a very internal person and felt a very distinct separation from most of the people in her life, and most definitely from most people in the world.

In Mrs. Dalloway all of Clarissa's thoughts suggest (to me) the oppression of a very internal and limited consciousness. Clarissa's stream of consciousness never rests long on one thought or one person. She seems to be experiencing or at least considering the thoughts and emotions of all the people in her life and in a way that seems overwhelmingly oppressive. Just as Clarissa takes on the job of buying the flowers herself, she takes on the cares and emotions of her husband, Peter Walsh, and even Elizabeth and her relationship with Miss Kilman. There is not an emotion, issue, love, or hate that Clarissa doesn't feel (or at least consider) just as if it was her own. As a side note, at this time in Europe women were expected to be more internal.

In contrast to Clarissa who is absorbed by those around her as well as her own thoughts, Septimus seems to be absorbed by his own singular consciousness. He internalizes all his feelings and thoughts, shutting out his wife and the real world. He seems to have internalized so much that he lives entirely in his own head with little thought for others. This is quite interesting because Septimus, as a man, was not expected to be this internal. He is still bound by social constraints that women of this time were subjected to, but he still is not expected to be so closed off. His wife is so concerned about his mentality that she takes him to a doctor who takes the problem seriously enough. It was interesting how internalizing would be seen as an illness in a man, but Clarissa (who is unarguably internal) is considered completely healthy.

In David Trotters Essay "The Modernist Novel," he discusses (what appears to be) this same limited consciousness using example of Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse. He details the "impersonal egotism" (81) which "manifests itself as an absurd reduction of everything family, on Mr. Ramsay's part, and an absurd expansion of the family until it becomes everything, on Mrs. Ramsay's part" (81). Although I refuse to be so arrogant as to draw any concrete assumptions about Virginia Woolf's mental state and it's manifestation in her writing, (I have read very little Woolf) this theme seems to be developing relatively consistently throughout her literary works.

This says quite a bit about Virginia Woolf's possible views on woman and mental illness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 8

The Waste Land: The Necessary Evil of Sex

While it is well know that The Waste Land references many classic and sometimes obscure literary texts, Shakespeare makes one of several appearances in this poem through one of the primary themes. The juxoposition of love and lust in The Waste Land is also the principle subject discussed in Shakespeare's sonnet 129. Shakespeare describes lust as "Savage, extreme, rude, cruel" (4) and "Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight" (5). This condemnation of lust describes perfectly the sexual encounter of the typist and the clerk in The Fire Sermon.

The Cleanth Brooks article The Waste Land: An Analysis, paraphrases John Crowe Ransom's essay God Without Thunder which says, "Love is the aesthetic of sex; lust is the science. Love implies a deferring of the satisfaction of the desire; it implies even certain asceticism and a ritual. Lust drives forward urgently and scientifically to the immediate extirpation of the desire" (Brooks 193). It seemed strange that both Brooks and Ransom ignored Shakespeare's sonnet dealing with exactly this subject when writing their analysis.

Although the typist in The Waste Land is less than enthusiastic, the clerk needs no more than "indifference" from her to accomplish his goal. Immediately after they copulate he gives her "one final patronizing kiss/And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit" (247-48). The typist does not simply abandon the encounter like the clerk, who leaves and immediately occupies his mind with his escape down the poorly lit staircase. The typist spares a moment to consider the encounter and thinks "Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over" (252). By despising the sexual encounter the typist falls neatly into Shakespeare’s formula for lust, but what does it mean that Eliot deviates from Shakespeare's formula in the case of the clerk? The clerk seems to regret nothing about the evening, but instead forgets it immediately. He shows no sign of guilt or shame when he kisses the typist and leaves her apartment.

This theme is also evident in A Game of Chess where the narrator pleads with Lil to have sex with her husband, a soldier. The narrator reminds her that if she chooses to refrain from sex with her husband, he might find sex elsewhere and asks her "What you get married for if you don't want children" (164)? Why should the narrator plead for Lil to have sex with her husband? How is it any of his business and why does it matter if Lil cares nothing for sex? Apparently, in some ways, sex is very important to Eliot.

This paradoxical element is explained in Cleanth Brooks essay when he quotes Eliot's essay Baudelaire. Eliot writes "So far as we are human, what we do must be either evil or good; so far as we do evil or good, we are human; and it is better, in a paradoxical way, to do evil than to do nothing: at least, we exist" (186). Perhaps Eliot is attempting to say that Shakespeare got it a little wrong. While lust is "Savage, extreme, rude, cruel," (4) to perform the (deplorable) sex act is to live. This could also have a two-fold meaning. While to do evil (in the form of copulation) is to live, to copulate is also life-giving in a more literal sense. Without the necessary evil of lust, life would be impossible spiritually and physically.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Katherine Mansfield's Spirituality

Greta Tasedan
Engl 814
Blog 7

Katherine Mansfield's Spirituality

Katherine Mansfield's writing struck me as having surprising detailed sexualized imagery embeded within her short stories. In her short story "Prelude," Mansfield describes Linda's dream of her father and herself wandering in a field. When her father "bent down and parted the grasses and showed her a tiny ball of fluff," (a bird) Linda is elated. Strangely enough, "As she stroked it began to swell, it ruffled and pouched, it grew bigger and bigger and its round eyes seemed to smile knowingly at her....It had become a baby with a big naked head and a gaping bird-mouth" (89). Just a few paragraphs later in "Prelude" Mansfield describes Linda relaxing lazily in bed in the morning before breakfast, tracing the wallpaper with her finger. She describes the poppy printed wallpaper as "a leaf and a stem and a fat bursting bud," (91) imagery which by itself may be unremarkable. When combined with further description of "the sticky, silky petals, the stem, hairy like a gooseberry skin, the rough leaf and the tight glazed bud" (91) the imagery seems extremely sexual in nature! Katherine Mansfield's character Bertha is not immune to this passion which seems to burn inside the Mansfield characters from "Prelude." In Mansfield's story "Bliss," Bertha is unable to extinguish the "fire in her bosom" (148) for all the world! Bertha is practically unable to curb "the fire of bliss" (151) she feels when she takes Miss Fulton's arm to lead her to dinner. Finally, as Bertha and Miss Fulton stand admiring the garden by moonlight, Bertha imagines her tree beginning to "stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed - almost to touch the rim of the round silver moon" (153). Incidentally I immediately noticed that the moon is traditionally a celestial being closely associated with women and fertility.

Constantia has an almost religious experience with the moon in Katherine Mansfield's story "The Daughters of the Late Colonel." She blames the moon for her bizarre behavior as she lay naked on the floor as if she had been crucified. Strangely enough, Mansfield also mentions Constantia's Buddha. The mixture of this spiritual imagery is confusing and yet almost devotional.

Katherine Mansfield also seems very aware of other-worldly spirits in her writing. In "Prelude" Kezia is so frightened by "IT" she is unable to leave her empty house before her sister comes looking for her. Linda also seems very aware of the unearthly presence of "THEY." Both presences, "IT" and "THEY," seem omniscient and ever present. This spiritual theme seems present in all of Katherine Mansfield's stories.

Cats seem to be a connecting theme in several of Mansfield's stories. In "Bliss" Bertha pronounces cats "creepy things" (148) even in the midst of her blissful passion for life. In the final lines of "Bliss" Bertha describes her guests Eddie and Miss Fulton as leaving her home "like the black cat following the grey cat" (155). She uses this reference directly after she discovers her husband is having an affair with Miss Fulton (a woman Bertha seems to be uncontrollably attracted to herself!) In "Prelude" Kezia imagines that "hundreds of black cats with bright yellow eyes sat in the sky watching her - but she was not frightened" (87). While some ancient civilizations revered cats as ancient and all knowing souls, often endowed with the power of omniscience, there are also many cultures which hold cats as a bad omen. Black cats are often thought to be bad luck to passers by, and cats are also thought to be closely associated with witches. Along the same vein, cats were thought to be helpers sent from the devil himself to assist witches here on earth (coincidentally these witches were usually women.)

Katherine Mansfield seems to be a highly spiritual woman, with no real focused direction for her overabundant spirituality. She seems to waver between celebrating sexuality and celebrating simply the sexuality of woman. She seems unable to decide which religion is the more suitable for her and instead inserts snippets of various religions into her stories like babies’ breath in a floral arrangement. She obviously has a sense of history and love of folk-lore which borders on religious! Her dogged inclusion of spirituality in all it's forms, and her presentation of "IT" and "THEY" in "Prelude" lead me to believe that she believes that spirituality in all its many divine forms is omnipresent. Her stories are all laced with equal amounts of mysticism, making them all equally compelling and enthralling. Such deep and impactfull writing is a joy to read and comment on.