Sunday 21 December 2014

Reading, misreading Mansfield Park

This year, to celebrate the bicentenary of Mansfield Park, Sarah Emsley has been organising a Mansfield Park party on her own site. The links to all the posts in the series can be found here:
I don't have the habit of telling people that they misread some favourite book of mine, and don't always have that confidence in my own understanding, but Mansfield Park is an exception. Call me vain, arrogant, conceited, whatever you want. Mansfield Park is the least popular among Jane Austen's novels simply because it's constantly misunderstood and misinterpreted, and lately I've been thinking of it as a test, a measure of a reader's understanding of Jane Austen. You don't have to regard Mansfield Park as a favourite, you don't have to like Fanny Price personally and you may find Fanny dull, but if you a) think that Fanny should choose "the fabulous" Henry Crawford and Edmund should end up with Mary, b) compare Henry to Mr Darcy and Edmund to Mr Collins, c) criticise Jane Austen for what you see as deus ex machina and an unconvincing ending, d) ask why she punishes a character similar to Elizabeth Bennet, e) think that Fanny and Edmund are hypocrites, and the like, I'm afraid that you don't quite get Jane Austen. 
Here is an example of the kind of nonsense listed above, which I saw a few days ago:
(Yes, I wrote a comment there). 
That kind of interpretation is like saying that Wuthering Heights is a beautiful love story or Lolita is a romanticised depiction of paedophilia or the red cap of Holden Caulfield symbolises communism or Nick Carraway is a closeted homosexual in love with Gatsby or Tolstoy punishes Anna Karenina because she's not content with what she has and wants something out there, etc. Books can be read and perceived differently, but that doesn't mean that all readings are equal. I don't have enough confidence to say that I understand correctly all the books and authors I read, but because in vanity I don't use the word "stupid" for myself, I don't use it for people who in my opinion fail to understand Jane Austen either. It's simply that we readers are less "attuned" to some writers than others, and some are just blind spots. 
Now the question is: Why do I elevate the misreading of Mansfield Park to a lack of understanding of Jane Austen altogether? 
Because her 6 novels are closely linked together. Because while ironic and very funny, she's a very serious writer. Not only does she take literature seriously and know exactly what she's doing (going her own way, abandoning and satirising all the conventions and convenient devices in literature in her time, perfecting her craft, etc.) but she also, throughout all of her 6 novels, deals with the different virtues and values in life, stressing above all self-reflection, self-understanding and balance or the middle way. 
In Persuasion, she writes: 
"Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him, that, like all other qualities of mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel, that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness, as a very resolute character."
This is more than the thought of 1 character, Anne. 
I've written (very briefly) about Jane Austen's emphasis on the importance of balance here:
And a bit more here:
This is about my revised view on Elinor Dashwood, with some comparison to Jane Fairfax, and the balance between emotional display and restraint:
The lack of an open temper, already negative in the case of Jane Fairfax, is more negative in the case of William Elliot, and it's discussed here:
This is a comparison between Elizabeth Bennet and Louisa Musgrove, whose determination goes to excess and becomes recklessness, and Mary Crawford, whose quickness of mind and vivacity are so excessive that there's no introspection or self-reflection:
I believe that if readers read the 6 novels and see the significance of balance or moderation, as well as Jane Austen's views on men and relationships, they would be extremely unlikely to think that Fanny should go with Henry, Edmund with Mary, or that Henry and Mary are lovely characters, or some such bollocks. 

Instead of repeating my arguments, I put here the links to some of the posts I've written about Mansfield Park
This post is about gender in her works:

Luckily, while the majority of readers, many of whom self-proclaimed Janeites, read the novel wrongly and end up hating it, there are still many people who see what Jane Austen wants to say, and appreciate the greatness of this novel. 

Happy belated birthday, Jane Austen (16/12/1775- 16/12/2014) and happy Mansfield Park bicentenary! 

Update on 4/4/2020: 
In 2020, I reread Mansfield Park after several years, and wrote a series of blog posts as the final word, so to speak, about the Fanny wars. 
Here you can find my arguments, with evidence: 
In defence of Fanny Price
Jane Austen’s views on love, relationships, and marriages
How Mary Crawford is different from Jane Austen’s heroines. 

The subjects of education and privilege in Mansfield Park.

Friday 19 December 2014

A Hero of Our Time

Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin, the "hero" of the story, at the beginning makes me think of Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. Charismatic, vain, selfish, idle, hedonistic, empty, heartless, amoral, he also likes to flirt, to toy with women's feelings, and does everything until he achieves his aim. Another similarity is that, even though they tend not to ponder over their actions and examine their wrongdoings to improve themselves and tend to be restless and easily get bored, they both are intelligent and knowledgeable. 
However, if Henry is kept in a distance and we see him through Fanny's eyes and the descriptions of the author, we see Pechorin 1st in the words of Maxim Maximych and the 1st narrator of A Hero of Our Time, a young Russian officer travelling through the Caucasus mountains, and later come close to Pechorin, reading his diary, entering his mind, following his thoughts. This is the fascinating part. Pechorin can be unprincipled, can be selfish to the point of cruelty, but he's not unobservant. He sees everything, sees through everyone. Pride, pretentiousness, hypocrisy, naivete under a mask of coolness, forced laughter, disguised fear...- nothing escapes his sharp eyes, because of this, he often achieves his purposes, but also because of this, all bores him and he cannot truly be friends with anyone, or truly love anyone, until Bela's last moments.
In the later part of the novel, Pechorin is depicted as something like a step to Bazarov. It's another side, not inconsistency. Like a nihilist, he has no system, attaches no importance to anything and has no fear, as though he has no conviction but that he, like everyone, shall die. He's also cold and rational and analytical, at least that's how he sees himself and how he wants to be perceived. As I've written before, in the posts about Fathers and Sons, Bazarov is not as cold and detached as he thinks he is. Pechorin is similar.
Take the scene of the duel, which, I think, is 1 of the best scenes in Russian literature. Pechorin not only ignores Werther's warning but even chooses a dangerous spot, his calmness is terrifying. His fearlessness is a mixture of pride and an indifference to all things, even his own death, and he doesn't care whether or not he dies because deep down inside he despises himself and does suffer, though he doesn't want to show it. He does have self-reflection, and acute self-awareness- what he lacks is a sense of purpose and the will to improve himself and live a better life. His life is a cycle of doing wrong things and despising himself and doing wrong things again and so on. In this scene, he, at 1st, only intends to ridicule and humiliate Grushnitsky, expose his pretentiousness and cowardliness and make Grushnitsky's scheme backfire. Killing Grushnitsky isn't in his mind, but neither does he think that that pale, trembling, weak-kneed guy wants to kill him, until Grushnitsky deliberately and determinedly shoots Pechorin in the leg where Pechorin almost topples and falls off the edge. 
"... To this day I have tried to explain to myself the emotion that then surged in my breast: it was the vexation of injured vanity, and contempt, and wrath born of the realisation that this man who was now eyeing me so coolly, with such calm insolence, 2 minutes before had sought to kill me like a dog without endangering himself in the slightest, for had I been wounded a little more severely in the leg I would certainly have toppled over the cliff. I looked him squarely in the face for a few minutes, trying to detect the slightest sign of repentance. Instead I thought I saw him suppressing a smile..." 
(trans. Martin Parker)
His action now is not one of cool heartlessness, but of injured vanity and anger. Saying "Finita la comedia!" is only a way of concealing from others how heated and unstable he is at the moment. 
"As I came down the path I saw Grushnitsky's blood-stained corpse between the clefts in the rocks. Involuntarily I closed my eyes. Untying my horse, I set out for home at a walking pace. My heart was heavy within me. The sun seemed to have lost its brilliance and its rays did not warm me. Before reaching the settlement I turned into a gorge on my right. I could not have endured to see anyone just then; I wanted to be alone..." 
This is similar to the scene after Bela's death, as told by Maxim Maximych at the beginning of the novel: 
"... I led Pechorin out of the room, and then we walked on the fort wall, pacing back and forth side by side for a long while without uttering a word, arms crossed behind our backs. It angered me to detect no sign of emotion on his face, for in his place I should have died of grief. Finally, he sat down on the ground in the shade and began to trace some design in the sand with a stick. I began to speak, wishing to console him, more for the sake of good form than anything else, you know, whereupon he looked up and laughed... That laughed sent cold shivers running up and down my spine." 
Pechorin's so used to hiding his emotions, feigning strength and indifference, and coolly analysing everything, including his despicable actions, that he's no longer able to articulate and express his emotions. They accumulate, and 1 day he explodes. 
(Now this sounds like Dolokhov in War and Peace). 


Another great book. Lermontov creates such as realistically complex and self-contradictory character, it's wonderful. None of the Russian writers I read this year disappoints. 

Monday 15 December 2014

100 latest films I've watched

From January 2014 to December 2014
Bold: films I consider good.

1/ The Bourne identity (2002)- twice again
2/ The Bourne supremacy (2004)- twice again
3/ The Bourne ultimatum (2007)- twice again
4/ The mask of Zorro (1998)- again
5/ The wolf of Wall Street (2013)
6/ 12 years a slave (2013)
7/ Dead man walking (1995)
8/ The nanny diaries (2007)- again
9/ Capote (2005)
10/ StreetDance (2010)
11/ La délicatesse (Delicacy- France- 2011)
12/ Match point (2005)- twice
13/ Her (2013)
14/ The next 3 days (2010)- again
15/ Premium rush (2012)
16/ Dallas buyers club (2013)
17/ Ostwind: Untertitel auch (Germany- 2013)
18/ Arlington road (1999)
19/ The Shawshank redemption (1994)- again
20/ American hustle (2013)
21/ Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
22/ In a lonely place (1950)
23/ Stalag 17 (1953)
24/ Catch me if you can (2002)- again
25/ Babel (2006)- again
26/ Farinelli (Italy, Belgium, France- 1994)
27/ Talhotblond (2012)
28/ Buffalo '66 (1998)
29/ The Grand Budapest hotel (2014)
30/ Bring it on (2000)
31/ Saving Mr Banks (2013)
32/ My fair lady (1964)
33/ Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)- again
34/ Fire over England (1937)
35/ 10 things I hate about you (1999)
36/ Blue Jasmine (2013)- twice
37/ The apartment (1960)- twice
38/ The amazing spider man 2 (2014)
39/ Bringing up Baby (1938)
40/ You've got mail (1998)
41/ The gift (2000)
42/ The fault in our stars (2014) 
43/ An affair to remember (1957)
44/ Safe haven (2013)
45/ Sherlock Holmes: The pearl of Death (1944)
46/ Hors de prix (Priceless- France- 2006)- again
47/ Stakeout (1987)
48/ Sherlock Holmes and the house of fear (1945)
49/ Sherlock Holmes: Terror by night (1946)
50/ You only live twice (1967)
51/ Brokeback mountain (2005)- again
52/ Orlando (1992)
53/ Changeling (2008)
54/ The importance of being Earnest (1986)
55/ An ideal husband (1969)
56/ Lady Windermere's fan (1985)
57/ The Lady Eve (1941)
58/ On Golden pond (1981)
59/ Sabrina (1954)
60/ The insect woman (1963)
61/ Firewall (2006)- again
62/ Love story (1970)
63/ The Jane Austen book club (2007)
64/ Stranger than paradise (1985)
65/ Twisted (2004)
66/ 12th night (1988)
67/ Cold Creek manor (2003)
68/ Miss Julie (2014)
69/ The heiress (1949)
70/ On the waterfront (1954)
71/ 夢 (Akira Kurosawa's Dreams- Japan- 1990)
72/ The tenant of Wildfell hall (1996)
73/ Phone booth (2002)
74/ The secret diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)
75/ The kids are all right (2010)
76/ Sunset blvd (1950)- twice
77/ The best years of our lives (1946)- twice
78/ Double indemnity (1944)
79/ Addicted to love (1997)
80/ Den brysomme mannen (The bothersome man- Norway- 2006)
81/ Boyhood (2014)
82/ Gone girl (2014)
83/ Enough (2002)
84/ 砂の女 (The woman in the dunes- Japan- 1964)
85/ Ruby Sparks (2012)
86/ Interstellar (2014)
87/ 12th night (Tim Carroll- Ian Russell)
88/ My best friend's wedding (1997)
89/ Leap year (2010)
90/ Bridget Jones's diary (2001)
91/ Wanted (2008)- again
92/ I could never be your woman (2007)
93/ Bridget Jones: The edge of reason (2004)
94/ The lord of the rings 1: The fellowship of the ring (2001)- again
95/ The lord of the rings 2: The 2 towers (2002)- again
96/ The lord of the rings 3: The return of the king (2003)- again
97/ The fly (1986)
98/ Rain man (1988)- again
99/ Pretty woman (1990)- again
100/ The hobbit 3: The battle of the 5 armies (2014) 

Sunday 14 December 2014

4 Gogol stories

I've finished reading another book by Gogol. This one is a collection of short stories, translated by Mary Struve, consisting of "Old-Fashioned Farmers", "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich", "The Nose" and "The Overcoat".
- 1 link between the 1st and 2nd stories: both are about nothing and an exaggeration of nothing- in "Old-Fashioned Farmers", it's the changed behaviour of the cat; in "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich", it's the gun and the word "goose". These 2 stories are too bizarre to be considered examples of realism (which makes me wonder how anybody can call Gogol a realist), but they're certainly more realistic than the other 2. The general plots don't matter, the characters do, especially in "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich".
- 1 link between the 3rd and 4th stories: something like social satire- the obsession of Kovalyov in "The Nose" with ranks and titles (referring to himself always as a major, tolerating anything said about himself except what refers to rank or title, etc.), the absurd fact that the nose has a higher rank than Kovalyov, etc; the low social status, poverty and hardship of Akakii Akakievich in "The Overcoat", the importance of the overcoat (it becomes a life-changing event) and the absurdity of that, the depiction of the bureaucracy (the clerk, the superintendent and "the prominent personage", instead of trying to find the coat for Akakii Akakievich, interrogate him with irrelevant, insulting questions), the arrogance and disdain of "the prominent personage" (makes Akakii Akakievich wait outside just because he can, even though he's not busy), etc. However, I wouldn't call Gogol a social commentator. Look at the 1st 2 stories, for instance. The 3rd and 4th tales are too surreal, ambiguous and nuanced to be mere satires of Russian life and bureaucracy.
As Nabokov puts it, "At this superhigh level of art, literature is of course not concerned with pitying the underdog or cursing the upperdog. It appeals to that secret depth of the human soul where the shadows of other worlds pass like the shadows of nameless and soundless ships." 
- 1 link between the 2nd and 3rd stories: extremely funny. "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich": the conversation between Ivan Ivanovich and a beggar, the quarrel between the 2 Ivans, the petitions, etc. "The Nose": the scenes where Kovalyov runs into his nose, now in uniform, and where he talks to a clerk, who takes a pinch of snuff and wipes his nose and, as consolation for the disappearance of Kovalyov's nose, offers him some snuff.
"Old-Fashioned Farmers" is more melancholic, and "The Overcoat" is tragic. Akakii Akakievich is reminiscent of Herman Melville's Bartleby, copying making up almost the whole of his life; but unlike Bartleby, he enjoys his job and takes pleasure in copying and lets his job define him. He's a nonentity, a mere overcoat redefines him, becomes a life-changing event, makes people notice him and see him in a different way and then affects him even more deeply, as Akakii Akakievich goes to a party for the 1st time, then chases after some girl and apparently feels happiness for the 1st time, only to lose everything afterwards. Because the coat does affect Akakii Akakievich financially, mentally, emotionally, it cannot be dismissed as a nothing, an exaggeration of nothing, as in the case of the 1st 2 stories, even though to us it's only a coat. The coat stresses the penury and emptiness of Akakii Akakievich, who has no dream, no desire, no wish. The coat is the highest dream he can have, apparently the greatest thing he can achieve.
- 1 link that unites all these 4: life's going on normally, all of a sudden 1 small thing disrupts the whole pattern and causes disaster.
The style and characteristics of Gogol that I see in Dead Souls are found in all of these stories: a narrator who once in a while comments and who constantly messes with us, bizarre qualities, the focus on characters rather than plots and messages, seemingly irrelevant details, etc. He is a comic genius who has the ability to create art out of nothing, out of the most banal characters and details.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Philip Sidney's sonnets 15 and 45

My essay in the course Eng2301 at UiO. 
“Compare and contrast two of Sidney’s sonnets, paying attention to the poetic imagery and themes, as well as the poems’ relation to the sonnet tradition.”
Word count: 1985

Together with Arcadia and The Defense of Poesy, Astrophil and Stella is one of Philip Sidney’s most important and influential works, the first of the great Elizabethan sonnet cycles[1]. Sidney, like many sonneteers of the sixteenth century, inherited the Petrarchan tradition and at the same time protested against conventions and tried to be inventive and original. This essay is going to be a comparison and contrast between his sonnet 15 and sonnet 45 in Astrophil and Stella, and an examination of their relation to the sonnet tradition. 
Like Petrarch, whose songs and sonnets are “designed to represent a life-time of passionate attention to one mistress”[2]- Laura, Sidney does the same to Stella in Astrophil and Stella. Sonnet 45 begins with Stella; sonnet 15 seems to deal with another topic but in the last line comes back to Stella.
Let us first look closer at sonnet 15. The poem begins with addressing poets who look for symbols or similes in nature, such as flowers, and bring them into their poetry.
 “You that do search for every purling spring
Which from the ribs of old Parnassus flows,
And every flower, not sweet perhaps, which grows
Near thereabout, into your poesy wring”[3]
The first four lines of sonnet 15 are a description rather than a comment. The speaker is yet to express approval or disapproval of such practices.
“You that do dictionary’s method bring
Into your rhymes, running in rattling rows”[4]
There is now a slight change. The alliteration on r in these two lines (rhymes, running, rattling and rows) creates a different effect- it does not sound as soft as the sounds /s/ and /z/ in the first four lines (search, spring, ribs, Parnassus, flows, sweet, perhaps, grows and poesy). More important is the slight shift in tone. If at the beginning the speaker only describes, neutrally, in lines 5-6 he seems to be more critical. The phrase “dictionary’s method” suggests conformity, lack of creativity and inventiveness. Sidney’s attitude becomes clearer, more strongly expressed, in the next lines:
“You that poor Petrarch’s long-deceasèd woes
With new-born sighs and denizened wit do sing:
You take wrong ways, those far-fet helps be such
As do bewray a want of inward touch,
And sure at length those stolen goods do come to light.”[5]
By employing the rhyme scheme abbaabbaccdeed in this sonnet, Sidney already departs from the Petrarchan convention and its typical rhyme scheme abbaabbacdecde or abbaabbacdcdcd[6], but he goes one step further in these lines, especially in the phrase “poor Petrarch’s long-deceasèd woes”. Petrarch, in order to praise Laura’s beauty, often makes use of objects in nature for comparison, such as “Her teeth were pearls—the rose's softest glow/ Dwelt on that mouth, whence woke to speech grief's sighs/ Her tears were crystal—and her breath was flame”, “That starry forehead and those tranquil eyes/ The fair angelic mouth, where pearl and rose/ Contrast each other...”, “Ye herbs and flowers, so sweetly press'd/ By her soft rising snowy breast!”, “These blossoms to her lap repair/ These fall upon her flowing hair/ (Like pearls enchased in gold they seem)”, “Fine gold her hair, her face as sunlit snow”, “Tears I saw shower'd from those fine eyes apace/ Of which the sun ofttimes might envious be”, etc[7]. Lines 7-11 in sonnet 15 could be seen as partly a critique of Petrarch’s similes, but Sidney puts more focus on those poets who “take wrong ways”, who blindly conform to conventions and rely on “those far-fet helps” for “a want of inward touch”, i.e. for lack of genuine talent. Not only does he say that such poets lack talent, but he also compares uninventive poets to thieves, with the phrase “those stolen goods”.
However, after some severe criticisms, there is a shift in the last lines:
“But if (both for your love and skill) your name
You seek to nurse at fullest breasts of Fame,
Stella behold, and then begin to endite.” [8]
Whereas a typical Petrarchan sonnet has a shift between the eighth and ninth lines, as it consists of an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the final six lines)[9], this sonnet makes a turn between the eleventh and twelfth lines. In the first part, Sidney introduces the problem, then, he gives the solution and settles his argument in the last three lines. The whole weight of the argument, or the focus of Sidney’s “advice”, is in the last line: “Stella behold, and then begin to endite.”
Instead of standing at a distance, unthinkingly following predecessors and searching for some images commonly used to describe beauty in general, you, the speaker argues, should look at your lover, focus on her and write with your true emotions, with the images and sensations that her beauty evokes. Stella is enough. Stella is implied as Astrophil’s muse, his source of inspiration, better than all the empty images and platitudinous symbols out there. Sonnet 15 is a poem about poetry, about the right and wrong ways to write poetry, but because of the last line, it is also a love poem.
The other poem has a different tone. Whilst in sonnet 15 Astrophil sees Stella as a source of inspiration, in sonnet 45 he reproaches her:
“Stella oft sees the very face of woe
Painted in my beclouded stormy face,
But cannot skill to pity my disgrace,
Not though thereof the cause herself she know.”[10]
Astrophil reproaches Stella for seeing his “stormy face” yet not understanding him, not pitying him. These four lines describe the bitterness and despair in love that can be found in traditional love sonnets[11]. For example, Petrarch once wrote:
“Through the long lingering day, estranged from rest,
My sorrows flow unceasing; doubly flow,
Painful prerogative of lover's woe!
In that still hour, when slumber soothes th' unblest.
With such deep anguish is my heart opprest,
So stream mine eyes with tears! Of things below
Most miserable I; for Cupid's bow
Has banish'd quiet from this heaving breast.
Ah me! while thus in suffering, morn to morn
And eve to eve succeeds, of death I view
(So should this life be named) one-half gone by—
Yet this I weep not, but another's scorn;
That she, my friend, so tender and so true,
Should see me hopeless burn, and yet her aid deny.”[12]
Petrarch also describes a man’s suffering (“sorrows”, “woe”, “anguish”, “miserable”, “suffering”, etc) as his beloved does not respond to him. This poem, especially the two lines “That she, my friend, so tender and so true/ Should see me hopeless burn, and yet her aid deny”, is strikingly similar to the first four lines of Sidney’s sonnet 45.
However, the next four lines of Sidney’s poem point to an irony:
 “Yet hearing late a fable which did show,
Of lovers never known, a grievous case,
Pity thereof gate in her breasts such place
That, from that sea derived, tears’ spring did flow.”[13]
This comes as a surprise. After saying that Stella pays no attention to him and his anguish, Astrophil describes her as crying for some tragic characters in “a fable”. Then, in the last part the poem, Astrophil directly addresses her:  
“Alas, if fancy, drawn by imaged things,
Though false, yet with free scope more grace doth breed
Than servants’ wrack, where new doubts honor brings,
Then think, my dear, that you in me do read
Of lover’s ruin some sad tragedy;
I am not I; pity the tale of me.”[14]
He says, ironically, that if she has more sympathy for fictional lovers (“false”, “imaged things”) than for him and his real suffering, he implores her to imagine him to be a character in a “tragedy” and “pity the tale of [him]”.
Like the other sonnet, this one is unconventional. The rhyme scheme is abbaabbacdedee, different from the standard Petrarchan rhyme scheme as written above (and different from the rhyme scheme of sonnet 15- abbaabbaccdeed). The structure can be said to be the same as the Petrarchan sonnets, the shift occurs between the eighth and ninth lines as Astrophil switches from addressing the public to addressing Stella, but one can also argue that the shift takes place after the first four lines, with the irony and with Sidney’s attempt to break away from conventions.
More importantly, it is unconventional in content. We can place sonnet 15 and sonnet 45 side by side. Besides their both being love poems, with Stella as the beloved (who has a more prominent role in sonnet 45), they are also connected because sonnet 15 deals with writing/ creation and sonnet 45 deals with hearing “a fable”, which is comparable to reading/ reception. Both are about the line between artificial things, i.e. literary conventions in sonnet 15 and some fictional story in sonnet 45, and real, sincere feelings. Both are about the distance between lovers- in sonnet 15, because the poet lover seeks some images in nature that are commonly used to describe beauty, instead of looking at his beloved and creating something inventive and genuine; in sonnet 45, because the woman cries for a couple in a fictional story and absurdly fails to see her lover’s suffering and pity him. It is, first of all, a departure from the Petrarchan tradition in the sense that the distance in Petrarchan poems comes from the depiction of the beloved as an unattainable ideal[15]. At the same time, sonnet 45 also points to “the way [the Petrarchan conventions] encourage satisfaction with a literary passion and draw attention from the experience on which the original poems were based”, as David Kalstone argues[16]. The imaginative world of love is reduced to “courtly affectation and literary mannerism”[17]. The poem begins like a Petrarchan poem, then suddenly changes and becomes anti-Petrarchan.
It is ironic that in sonnet 15, the lover and the poet are one and Stella inspires Astrophil to write, or one can say that love inspires poetry, whereas in sonnet 45, the reading of and excessive identification with characters in poetry affect love and cause a distance between the lovers. Sonnet 45 is in close affinity with sonnet 15 and at the same time a reaction against it.
In short, both of these sonnets are anti-Petrarchan. However, that is also a tradition in itself. We can look again at Sidney’s sonnet 15. It can, for example, be the antithesis of sonnet 64 in Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti, in which the features of the beloved are compared to various kinds of flowers such as “gillyflowers”, “roses”, “bellamoures”, “cullambynes”, etc [18]. However, the mockery of the mindless application of conventions can also be found in Shakespeare’s sonnet 130, for instance, though a different method is employed- throughout the poem he says that his mistress is not like the sun or coral or snow, etc. and then concludes with a twist “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare/ As any she belied with false compare”[19].
Shakespeare and Sidney are not the only ones. As written in Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Worship, Elizabethan love poems are rarely aPetrarchan, but (pseudo)Petrarchan or anti-Petrarchan[20]. In this period there are also poets who are not exactly anti-Petrarchan, but who attempt to create an individual style and achieve a distance from Petrarch. For example, Richard Barnfield redirects the Petrarchan conventions of praise to a man, Michael Drayton “pushes the trope of the lady’s cruelty to a wildly sadistic extreme”, etc[21]. It is a tradition in itself to protest against Petrarch and find a distinct voice. And the two sonnets above by Sidney are part of it.
Both being love poems, both examining the distance between lovers and the line between artificial things and sincere feelings, sonnet 15 dealing with the writing of poetry and sonnet 45 with the perception of poetry, these two poems simultaneously oppose and complement each other, simultaneously explore the different states in love like Petrarch and protest against the Petrarchan tradition. The protest is itself conventional, but Sidney does it with freshness and originality, and creates beautiful poems.

[1] “Sir Philip Sidney”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.I, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (The US: W. W. Norton& Company, Inc, 2012), 1038
[2] David Kalstone, Sidney Poetry: Contexts and Interpretations (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1965), 108
[3] Philip Sidney, “Astrophil and Stella: sonnet 15”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.I, 1087
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[7] Petrarch, The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch,
[8] Sidney, “Astrophil and Stella: sonnet 15”
[9] “Poetic Form: Sonnet”
[10] Sidney, “Astrophil and Stella: sonnet 45”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.I, 1092
[11] “Introduction to Astrophil and Stella”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.I, 1084
[12] Petrarch, The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch
[13] Sidney, “Astrophil and Stella: sonnet 45”
[14] Ibid
[15] Sasha Roberts, “Shakespeare’s Sonnets and English Sonnet Sequences”, in Early Modern English Poetry, ed. Patrick Cheney et al. (NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 172
[16] Kalstone, Sidney’s Poetry, 158
[17] Ibid, 159
[18] Edmund Spenser, “Amoretti: sonnet 64”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.I, 987
[19] William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.I, 1184
[20] Ilona Bell, Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Courtship (The UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 3
[21] “Renaissance Love and Desire”, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.I, 1002

Bell, Ilona. Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Courtship. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
“Introduction to Astrophil and Stella”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume I, edited by Julia Reidhead. United States: W. W. Norton& Company, Inc, 2012.
Kalstone, David. Sidney’s Poetry: Contexts and Interpretations. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1965.
Petrarch. The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch “Poetic Form: Sonnet”.
“Renaissance Love and Desire”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume I, edited by Julia Reidhead. United States: W. W. Norton& Company, Inc, 2012.
Roberts, Sasha. “Shakespeare’s Sonnets and English Sonnet Sequences” in Early Modern English Poetry, edited by Patrick Cheney, Andrew Hadfield, Garrett  A. Sullivan, Jr (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007): 172- 183. 
Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 130”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume I, edited by Julia Reidhead. United States: W. W. Norton& Company, Inc, 2012.
Sidney, Philip. “Astrophil and Stella: sonnet 15, sonnet 45”. The Norton Anthology of English Volume I Literature, edited by Julia ReidheadUnited States: W. W. Norton& Company, Inc, 2012.
“Sir Philip Sidney”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume I, edited by Julia Reidhead. United States: W. W. Norton& Company, Inc, 2012.
Spenser, Edmund. “Amoretti: sonnet 64”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume I, edited by Julia Reidhead. United States: W. W. Norton& Company, Inc, 2012.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Torch-lit march for human rights in East and Southeast Asia

March in Oslo, 7/12/2014.
(If the link doesn't work, chances are, I have deactivated my account). 

There were 4 groups- Vietnamese, Filipino, Tibetan and Uyghur. TQT estimated that there were more than 200 in total, and one can see that the largest group was the Vietnamese, though it was reserved for yellow flags people, not the red flags people. There were also some Norwegians. 
The march started from Østbanehallen and headed towards Stortinget. The large banner reads "Support for human rights in East and Southeast Asia". There were very few banners, mostly small. For fear of burning, people mostly carried torches and flags, leaving passers-by puzzled as to what they demanded. Karl Johans gate was crowded, many people saw the march, it was magical enough that Norwegians went out on the streets on Sunday. However, not everybody accepted the leaflets (the marchers had 400 in total) and apparently not everybody knew what was going on, though strictly speaking, it's hard to say that they would know a lot more after reading the leaflet, which contained general "do you know" questions about the lack of freedom and violations of human rights in the 4 aforementioned countries, no statistics, no mention of specific cases and almost no photo showing any oppression. 
Apart from the few times the marchers stood at the intersection and blocked the traffic, unsure whether to stop and be cut off from the other marchers or to cross the street while the traffic light was red for pedestrians, the march stopped 1st in front of the large billboard of Freia chocolate and finally settled in front of Stortinget (the Parliament). 
As they started at nearly 3.30pm, by the time everyone got to Stortinget, it was dark. Here the organisers set up the speakers, microphones, tables... and took out food and drinks, the participants stood facing them and facing Stortinget, waiting, while the guys who had been holding the large banner the whole time were standing there, still holding it. The music started- "Wind of Change" by Scorpions. Here people started eating pepperkake, drinking gløgg, while the banner guys were still standing there, mouths dry (but they might have got something afterwards, the narrator is unsure). People walked about, eating, drinking, talking, looking happy and content, the scene resembled a social gathering, if not for the speeches. 1st, TN had a general speech, then there were representatives of the different national/ ethnic groups. There were also 2 Norwegian speakers, 1 of whom was a politician of Venstre, possibly Ketil Kjenseth, who said diplomatically that Stortinget was aware of the issues in VN. Then 1 girl, named Iris or something similar, half Vietnamese half Filipino, went to the microphone, smiled awkwardly "Det er kaldt!" and began to sing "Imagine", apparently forgetting that John Lennon, like other anti-VN war protesters, contributed to the pressure on the American government, led to the abandonment of South VN in 1973 without any guarantee that the Paris agreement would be respected and carried out, which subsequently forced Viet people to flee the country in boats, who either went to the US or Europe or other places or ended up dead in the sea. Afterwards she had a short speech, and ended it with the word "Peace!". 
TN then had a speech addressing the Viet community. He talked about the inequality, poverty in VN, about the poor, unfortunate children and old people, and such general stuff. No mention of more serious violations of human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, religious freedom, etc. No mention of the oppressions and arrests of bloggers, Buddhists, Christians, etc., no statistics about deaths in custody, mistrials, cases that had tampering of evidence, etc. No reference to the bloggers who had been arrested and imprisoned, and other prisoners of conscience, even the one arrested a few days previously- Nguyễn Quang Lập aka Quê Choa aka Bọ Lập. No reference to Hồ Duy Hải, who was sentenced to death based on fabricated evidence and testimony, the topic everyone had been talking about lately. 
Nevertheless, there was a sense of community, and a look of contentment, on people's faces. "Wind of Change" was played again, people sang along, waving their flags, looking cheerful with a cup of gløgg in their hands. 
The march ended. Everyone smiled, thinking this was a good start, and parted. Each returned to their home. 

Monday 8 December 2014

On volume 2 of Dead Souls: Gogol and Tolstoy

I've just read Nabokov's lecture on Dead Souls in Lectures on Russian Literature
It will not be summarised, and should be read in full. However, there's 1 interesting point- for Nabokov, Dead Souls ends at volume 1, with Chichikov fleeing the town; volume 2 is a failure. 
On my part, I don't think that the whole volume falls apart, but I do have some issues with the last chapter. Earlier I wrote, Gogol's not Tolstoy. And he's not. But there's 1 similarity- there are 2 Gogols as there are 2 Tolstoys, the artist and the preacher (Chekhov and Turgenev of course never preach; but such a dividing line, with constant conflicts between the 2 roles, I haven't seen in Dostoyevsky). In later years these 2 men were basically nuts. The difference is that Tolstoy, at his best, has balance and control, and, one can also say, sanity, and he's a realist- all the detailed descriptions add life and depth to the characters and the scenes and they all are connected so that his novels, loose as they appear, have a sense of wholeness. Gogol, in contrast, gets himself carried away by his imagination and streams of thought, crams a bunch of colourful characters into a rather thin book, fuses it with layers and layers of descriptions of irrelevant details and people who will never appear again... Dead Souls also has a sense of wholeness, but a different kind, everything fits together in their bizarre qualities and fits the overall pattern of the book. Gogol, at least according to what I perceive in Dead Souls, makes the best use of his own genius when setting himself free and getting carried away. Then he's being a pure artist. Once he wants art to have a purpose, once he turns into a moralist, a preacher, once he becomes conscious, rational and didactic, he somehow loses his touch. The persuasion, the intervention, the resolution, the speech, all of these feel slightly wrong. Note, in the previous post I wrote nothing about Kostanzoglo, Muzarov and the prince. It would be too harsh, and not entirely correct, to say that these 3 characters are there only to serve a moral purpose, but they lack something of the other characters, from Manilov, Sobakevich, Plyushkin, Korobochka and Nozdryov in volume 1 to Tentetnikov, Koshkarev, Khlobuev and Platonov in volume 2. 
However, I should not exaggerate the failure of the last chapter in volume 2. The merits of the whole novel tremendously outweigh the faults, and this novel is a (flawed) masterpiece. 

Ivan, Ivanovich, Ivanova...- Characters and characterisation in Dead Souls

Tom (Amateur Reader) at Wuthering Expectations describes Dead Souls as overpopulated.
That's very true. A few days ago I wrote that the plot of Dead Souls is unimportant. It feels even less important now, as though Chichikov's trip is hardly more than Gogol's excuse to have us meet a bunch of eccentric people.
In volume 1, we're introduced to:
1/ The main character, Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov
2/ Selifan, the coachman
3/ Petrushka, the lackey
4-6/ The governor, his wife and daughter
7/ Manilov
8/ Mikhailo Semyonovich Sobakevich
9/ The head magistrate Ivan Grigorievich
10/ Nozdryov
11/ The postmaster Ivan Andreevich
12/ The police chief Alexei Ivanovich
13/ The prosecutor
14/ The town mayor
15/ Manilov's wife Lizanka
16, 17/ Manilov's children Themistoclus and Alkides
18/ Natasya Petrovna Korobochka
19/ Mizhuev, Nozdryov's in-law
20/ Sobakevich's wife Feodulia Ivanova
21/ Plyushkin
22/ Ivan Antonovich, who deals with deeds
23, 24/ Sofya Ivanova and Anna Grigorievna, the 2 gossipy women
There are also 2 muzhiks who appear on the 1st page of the novel, the police chief's wife, the tutor of Manilov's children, the vice-governor, Fetinya and Pelageya- who work for Korobochka, the staff captain Potseluev, the lieutenant Kuvshinikov, Ponomaryov- who sells fake wine, a woman overcharging vodka, Porfiry and Pavluska- who work for Nozdryov, the district captain of police, Uncle Mityai and Uncle Minyai, Andryushka, Mikheev, Cork Stepan, Milushkin, Maxim Telyechnikov, Yeremey Sorokoplyokhin, a muzhik with an aptly uttered word, Plyushkin's oldest daughter Alexandra Stepanovna, Proshka and Mavra- who work for Plyushkin, Paramonov, Pimenov, Pantelimonov, Grigory Go-never-get, Father Carp and Father Polycarp, Pyotr Saveliev Disrespect- Trough, Elizaveta Sparrow, Yeremei Karyakin, Vitaly Dillydally and son Anton, Popov, Abakum Fyrov, attorney Zolotukha, inspector in the board of health Trukhachevsky, archpriest Kiril and son, Mikheych, Ilya Paramonych, the steward Pyotr Petrovich Samoilov, Mashka- Sofya Ivanova's servant, the assessor Drobyazhkin (local police force), Semyon Ivanovich- a man with a seal ring on index finger, Captain Kopeikin and the general, Derebin, Vakhramey, Likhachev, Perependev, Kifa Mokievich and son Moky, etc.
More to come in volume 2:
25/ Andrei Ivanovich Tentetnikov
26/ Teacher Alexander Petrovich
27/ Teacher Fyodor Ivanovich
28/ Fyodor Fyodorovich Lenitsyn, the head of department who makes Tentetnikov lose his job
29/ Barbar Nikolaych Vishnepokromov
30/ General Alexander Dmitrievich Betrishchev
31/ His daughter Ulinka
32/ Colonel Koshkarev
33/ Pyotr Petrovich Petukh
34, 35/ His sons Nikolasha and Alexasha
36/ Platon Mikhalych Platonov
37/ Konstantin Fyodorovich Kostanzhoglo
38/ His wife
39/ The tax farmer Afanasy Vassilyevich Muzarov
40/ Khlobuev
41/ Platon's brother Vassily
42/ Alexei Ivanovich Lenitsyn
43/ Chichikov's lawyer
44/ Khlobuev's wife
45/ Marya Yeremeevna, the rich woman that dies
46/ The prince
47/ Samosvistov, the friend that helps Chichikov
In the background we also have the butler Grigory and the housekeeper Perfilyevna, Tentetnikov's uncle Onyfry Ivanovich- a state councillor, countess Boldryev and princess Yuzyakin, Kozma, Little Foma and Big Foma, Denis- who work for Petukh, Emelyan and Antoshka, Khlobuev's aunt Alexandra Ivanovna Khanasarova, Kiryushka- works for Khlobuev and brings champagne, A. I. Lenitsyn's wife, former probate judge Burmilov and Khavanov, a muzhik who brings material to Kostanzhoglo, the merchant, the tailor, Ivan Potapych- who goes bankrupt, etc.
(The book is about 400 pages).
Terrified? Horrified? Petrified? Stupefied?
OK, I'm just messing with you. Writers have different ways to help us poor readers remember their characters. Tolstoy, for example, uses repetition- a few features, a few key phrases attached to each person. Gogol uses images and scenes, making the characters not only more distinctive and memorable but also more real. Take Manilov. We can cut him down to some words such as "sugary", "flatterer", etc. but he's brought to life through 3 scenes. 1st, Manilov and Chichikov stand at the door for a long time, each telling the other to go in. 2nd, they talk about the other people in town and praise everybody and continuously agree with each other. 3rd, they embrace and kiss each other for 5 minutes and get a toothache for hours afterwards. The 2nd scene mentioned here is contrasted with a later scene, in which Chichikov speaks in the same manner only to find Sobakevich criticising everybody. The personality and character of Sobakevich are manifested by 2 other scenes- 1st, he demands a ridiculously high price for his servants as though their excellence still matters after their death, and 2nd, he complains about having to pay in the future for never being sick his whole life.
Now take Tentetnikov, Platon and Khlobuev. All these 3 are incarnations of sloth, but they are totally different. Tentetnikov is a product of his 2 teachers, Alexander Petrovich, who emphasises on ambition and teaches his students to move forward, and Fyodor Ivanovich, who prioritises quiet, obedience and good conduct over everything else, so, funnily enough, he has aspirations but stands still and we remember him as a man sitting for hours every day doing nothing, pondering over his great project for Russia. Platon, also lazy and idle, is linked to the image of boredom and yawns, and juxtaposed with Pyotr Petrovich Petukh, the embodiment of hedonism and gluttony. Khlobuev, similar to Platon, sees his own faults, knows his life is disorder and deterioration, but has a weak will and never makes an effort to change- the 2 most memorable details of this character are the drinking of champagne in spite of debts and difficulties, and his wish, if he has money, to let his children learn dancing.
These scenes and details bring such strong images that they create a convincingness, a kind of reality for the characters, the actual people as well as the dead souls Chichikov imagines, staring at the list. 

[This post is messy and incoherent, isn't it? Hard to be collected and clear after reading such a novel though. Now I need to clear my head. And like Dead Souls this post will end in...]