Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Inconsistencies in "Dracula"

Going through the novel "Dracula" it became quite clear to me that the editors of our specific version of the novel were quite adamant about catching every editing error and lapse in judgment on the part of Bram Stoker. They consistently point out errors in dates, as well as contradictory statements about Dracula and other characters or events in the novel. It leaves me to wonder, however, if these mistakes were actually intentional on Stoker's part.
Writing a novel that has so many differing narrators as well as different forms of narration (from simple journaling by Jonathan and Mina Harker to phonographic recording by Dr. Seward and, at one point, Professor Van Helsing) is a monumental undertaking, and it cannot be expected that all of these accounts would directly overlap in a way that fits smoothly or fittingly. Indeed, I personally would have been more surprised were there a lack in the disparity between viewpoints or if every single date lined up perfectly without a single slip of individual memory.
The first instance of editorial corrections occurs early on in the novel, when Jonathan is ruminating over the gifts he was given by the townspeople as he left for Dracula's castle as it states "Jonathan has not mentioned these folk charms against evil spirits before, an editorial lapse on Stoker's part" (33). True, it may be an editorial lapse, but isn't it entirely possible that Stoker didn't feel the need to elaborate over such a detail in his novel when the items used to ward off vampires were relatively well known in Europe at the time? Also, Harker himself claims not to understand what the gifts were for, asking "What meant the giving of the crucifix, of the garlic, of the wild rose, of the mountain ash?" (32-33). It is assumable, in my opinion at least, that Stoker performed no such editorial slip, but wrote down exactly what he felt Jonathan Harker would have written down based on his character and backstory. It is not out of the realm of possibility, and makes perfect sense as is.
As illuminating as the editors are regarding some of the history behind "Dracula" as well as cultural footnotes and slang interpretation, I can't help but feel that they went a bit overboard in assuming that every misstep by Stoker was unintentional or a lapse in judgment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Response to Sandra Gilbert's "Emily Bronte's Bible of Hell"

Sandra Gilbert's impression of Wuthering Heights was intriguing to say the least; her idea of reversing the conventional perceptions of heaven and hell with respect to the novel, as well as the parallelism she exploited between Wuthering Heights and Paradise Lost was also remarkable. Having never read Paradise Lost I fear I was rather unable to follow a lot of the comparisons on a character level, but I do know enough about the work to understand the parallels that were being drawn.
I was also quite taken by Gilbert's passage regarding patriarchal society as it relates to female authors who grew up with little feminine influence from a mother:
If all women writers, metaphorical orphans in patriarchal culture, seek literary answers to the questions 'How are we fal'n/Fal'n by mistaken rules...?' motherless orphans like Mary Shelley and Emily Bronte almost seem to seek literal answers to that question, so passionately do their novels enact distinctive female literary obsessions (380)
I'm unsure how I feel regarding this passage; surely the lack of a mother figure in real life, compounded by being raised in a patriarchal culture, do influence a woman writer's work to an extent, but I don't quite understand what Gilbert means by "seeking literal answers". Perhaps she is saying that the way Shelley and Bronte portrayed their characters in their works was actually a way of projecting themselves onto their work and seeing how they would react in various circumstances?

But this seems rather far-fetched; for an author to place themselves so closely to a novel in that way while maintaining the objectivity needed to see how they would function in such a situation is next to impossible. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting Gilbert's claim.

I also enjoyed Gilbert's analysis of imprisonment from a Gothic perspective. Her analysis of how being imprisoned and starved (in both physical and metaphorical senses) brought to light some fascinating suggestions:

Starvation--both in the modern sense of malnutrition and the archaic Miltonic sense of freezing ("to starve in ice")--leads to weakness, immobility, death (391)
Starving in ice is a bountiful image of isolation and loneliness, and it helps to allow the reader to understand more parallels between Milton and Bronte in their work.

Gilbert's analysis was a rather thought-provoking read, and she may prove to be interesting as a reference in future Gothic novels, if that is her area of expertise.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Establishment of Mood in Wuthering Heights

I think what has surprised me most about this novel thus far is the incredible talent Ms. Bronte has for establishing a mood with such eloquent language. At first the diction of the novel was elevated to a point that I personally found briefly overwhelming; the words themselves weren't difficult to understand, of course, but their construction was rather intriguing and elevated in a way that can be expected of a Romantic novel; I feel very strongly that this is a Romantic novel.
The setting is described early with a great turn of phrase not only lending itself to the description of the landscape but also to the initial characters, Mr. Lockwood and Heathcliff. Lockwood describes the country as "completely removed from society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven" (3) which allows us as readers to examine not only the geographical isolation but also the inherent misanthropy of both gentlemen.
I found also that the story taking place in winter was very influential in changing the mood to something more somber than originally expected. Lockwood describes the day he first meets Heathcliff as "set[ting] in misty and cold" (7), and his eventual arrival again to Heathcliff's mansion not only helps to continue defining Heathcliff's grizzled demeanor but also the blankness with which he defends himself against the proverbial onslaught of other characters' company. His description of the house is particularly moving; "On that bleak hilltop the earth was hard with a black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb" (7).
The darkness and bleakness of this novel makes it all the more fascinating and I can't wait to see how the characters interact with such a dark and bleak environment.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Response to William Brewer's "Transgendering in Matthew Lewis's The Monk"

After having read Brewer's rather insightful critical analysis about transgendering, gender role-reversal and confusion of specific gender roles I felt substantially better in knowing I wasn't the only one to hold specific opinions on Ambrosio or any of the characters. As an example, I had taken note of the passage in the book where Ambrosio was wishing for the return of Matilda's male alter-ego Rosario. In almost any other context this would have been perceived as a possible hinting toward homosexuality (or at least sexual confusion) on the part of Ambrosio. but I was much more impressed with Brewer's interpretation in which he argued
"Part of [Ambrosio's] insecurity can, in fact, be explained by his inability to fit his own definition of manliness. [...] Ambrosio's preference for a feminine male over a masculine woman can, of course, be seen as an indication of latent homosexuality, but it is also consistent with his obsessive need to be the dominant figure in his relationships, to command tather than be commanded" (198).
It makes a substantial argument, at least in my mind, to view Ambrosio as a man drunk on his own power rather than a latent homosexual, which is a theory never pursued to the same extent as his need for power in the rest of the novel. While his overbearing need to be powerful is shown in how he detains Antonia and resorts to physical violence to make her submit to his will in the catacombs (He also vies for a position of power with the aid of the fig branch given to him by Lucifer, which renders its victim unable to resist any sort of command from the branch's posessor).
In fact, it may be worth pursuing the idea of Ambrosio's need for power in other aspects of the novel and its potential allegories to the Church at the time of the novel's publication; it would be quite rewarding indeed to see if Ambrosio's lust for dominance is some sort of subliminal satire on the conduct of the Catholic Church during the time of the novel's writing (several references are made to the Inquisition and Lewis, a Protestant, may have enjoyed jabbing a few well-aimed barbs into the taboo of Catholocism, as he did in Chapter VII of the novel.).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Innocence and Immaturity in The Monk

I finally finished Matthew Lewis' The Monk, and am quite honestly impressed with the work on a whole. The graceful arc that Ambrosio's character seemed to follow was of particular interest to me. As I went through the novel I felt the same loathing and reprehension toward the character of the fallen abbot that Lewis was undoubtedly trying to influence us into feeling. However, though he became a rather penitent (and eventually damned) sinner, I still can't shake the feeling that perhaps Ambrosio isn't as truly morally corrupt as I originally thought--could it not be argued that Ambrosio was acting on a level even he was unable of controlling?

Obviously Ambrosio's lust toward Matilda, the Madona and Antonia were incredibly base and emotions that the rest of the Madrid society had learned to control in the presence of others; could the fact that Ambrosio had been raised in the abbey of the Capuchins be a major factor in his rather unbridled emotions later on? Having been raised in circumstances that, according to legend, ensured he had never even seen a woman, or had been taught to be "gender-blind," so to speak, is it not entirely possible that the only reason his actions were so brash could be attributed to his inability to supress the feelings of temptation and lust? It's easy enough to claim chastity, purity and temperance when one lives in a world devoid of temptation; the true test of one's virtue comes when they are faced with such provocation.

Since the monks of the abbey had never taught him how to deal with temptation except to avoid it at all costs, can it be argued that this inability to process this kind of risk left him completely defenseless against a real-world application of the temptations of Matilda? After all, behind closed doors Ambrosio indulges himself in great fantasies of the consummation of love with his image of the Madona; when he cannot truly comprehend what the female form consists of (while simultaneously being taught that the Madona was the peak of female form in body and spirit), such conflicting trains of though cannot coexist for long before one of them is compromised. Imagine then his conflicting baser instincts and their fight with his higher facilities as he discovers Matilda is the spitting image of the Madona! Anyone with such an idolatry toward beauty in the female form, no matter how chaste and pure they claim to be, could possibly avoid such temptation for long.