Author: curtisharty

Article Expert Appendix A. B, C, & D from House of Mirth

Curtis Harty

House of Mirth: Appendix A, B, C, & D

Main Ideas/Content

  • Appendix A: This sections contains reflections from Edith Wharton on writing the novel. She focuses mainly on the city of New York as a setting, New York Society as her subject and the reception the novel received.
    • She talks of writing the novel that, “[she] held…two trumps in my hand. One was that New York society in the nineties was a field as yet unexploited by any novelist who had grown up in that little hot-house of traditions and conventions; and the other, that as yet these traditions and conventions were unassailed, and tacitly regarded as unassailable” (372).
    • “The fact is that Nature, always wasteful, and apparently compelled to create dozens of stupid people in order to produce a single genius, seems to reverse the process in manufacturing the shallow and the idle. Such groups always rest on an under pinning of wasted human possibilities and it seemed to me that the fate of the persons embodying these possibilities ought to redeem my subject from insignificance” (373).
    • “[G]reat was my astonishment when the story which I had conceived as a simple and fairly moving domestic tragedy, was revived with a loud cry of rejection and reprobation…it proceeded from the very group around whom I had lived my life and situated my story” (375).
      • “This supposed picture of their little circle, secure behind its high stockade of convention, alarmed and disturbed the rulers of Old New York” (375),
      • “But here was a story written by one of themselves…[one] of a young girl of their world who rouged, smoked, ran into debt, borrowed money, gambled, and—crowning horror!—went home with a bachelor friend to take tea in his flat!” (375).
      • “Less than twenty years later, if I had offered the same story to the same readers as a study in social corruption, they would have smiled instead of shuddering, and would have wondered why I had chosen the tame and blameless Lily Bart as the victim of avenging moral forces”(376).
    • “Ah, the golden days for the novelist were those in which a lovely girl could besmirch her reputation by taking tea between trains at a bachelor’s flat!” (376).
  • Appendix B: In this section, Edith Warton relates how she went about writing the novel and how time constraints—do to a change in publishing dates—caused the novel to form itself, in a way.
    • “The first chapters of my tale would have to appear almost at once, and it must be completed within four or five months! I have always been a slow worker, and was then a very inexperienced one, and I was to be put to the severest test to which a novelist can be subjected: my novel was to be exposed to public comment before I had worked it out to its climax” (379).
    • “It was good to turn from a drifting amateur into a professional; but that was nothing compared to the effect on my imagination of systematic daily effort…when the book was done I remember saying to myself: ‘I don’t yet know how to write a novel; but I know how to find out how to.’” (379)
  • Appendix C: This section is comprised of letter both to and from Edith Warton about publication and responses to the novel.
    • My favorite quote from this section, “I must protest, & emphatically, against the suggestion that I have “stripped” New your society. New York society is still amply clad, & the little corner of its garment that I lifted was meant to show only that little atrophied organ—the group of idle & dull people—that exists in any big & wealthy social body” (384).
  • Appendix D: This section is comprised of review from the time the novel was written from publications such as Independent, Outlook, Times Literary Supplement, Literary Digest and so on.
    • The reviews in this section are mostly positive but have interesting correlations. The critic from Independent doesn’t like the novel and calls for an ending where Lily is able to escape, where the critic from Literary Digest says the novel will be liked by all those except sentimentalist who want a happy ending—drops mic.

These sections, more than any other articles I have read this semester, have drawn out the author from the dark and murky depths of something signified and untouchable to someone who is real with concerns, problems and a certain amount of humility and humorous self-depreciation but with very apparent intelligence—she kind of reminds me of Lily Bart.

Why does this novel still resonate with readers today when the social conventions which led to Lily’s downfall had disappeared even in Wharton’s time?

And the age old question, should the author’s views be considered when analyzing this novel?

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Presentation Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser 1871-1945

  • Early Life
    • Born in Indian
    • 9th of 10 surviving children
    • Son of a German Catholic immigrant father and Mennonite Mother (who was disowned for converting to Catholicism to marry his father)
    • His father was a worker in a wool mill who worked his way up to running his own mill but lost it all in a fire.
    • Dreiser’s earliest memories where of having to move around while his father looked, unsuccessfully, for work
    • In his autobiography Dawn, Dreiser describes being part of a “German-speaking, Roman Catholic, downwardly mobile family” who were at times not able to properly feed or cloth their children.
  • Education
    • Due, in part, to the sexual adventures of his sisters (Emma’s exploits became part of the basis for Sister Carrie), Dreiser became disillusioned with school and dropped out.
    • A few years later Dreiser attended the University of Indiana for a year under the patronage of a former teacher but dropped out of college as well.
    • Dreiser was well read, bookish and mostly self-educated.
  • Work life
    • Dreiser went to Chicago at the age of 16 and begin getting work were could
    • Worked mostly for newspapers to start—on a per-inch basis.
    • He also worked for his brother Paul Dresser at his music production company
    • Ended up working for various journals, magazines and newspapers as a writer and reporter
    • During this time he experimented with poetry and fiction and his early short stories, “Nigger Jeff,”   “Butcher Rogaum’s Door,” and “The Shining Slave Makers,” are examples of “urban and rural life in the last decade of the century.”
  • Sister Carrie
    • His First novel Sister Carrie was Published against the publishers wishes
    • Frank Norris was a reader for the firm and convinced a junior partner to offer Dreiser a contract
    • Of Sister Carrie, Norris said, “The best novel I have read in M.S. since I have been a reader for the firm”
    • Doubleday disagreed and tried to rescind the contract calling the book “immoral” due to its depiction of a “fallen” woman obtaining success
    • Because of his trouble with Doubleday, Dreiser became a spokesman against censorship
    • This trouble also led Dreiser to significantly revise the book with the help of close friends, but regardless of the revisions Doubleday didn’t advertise the novel and less than 500 copies were sold in the first printing
    • With Norris’s help, however, the novel did have moderate success in other printings and abroad
    • The book went through multiple additions and revisions finally ending up with the University of Pennsylvania press 1981 edition that was based on original manuscripts before the revisions. A searchable online version is available online through the University of Pennsylvania Library.

Questions

How does morality or immorality play a part in the novel? Who is rewarded for what? Are there any good or evil people in the novel? In light of the characters of the other novels we’ve read, which, if any, of characters have redeemable qualities?

How does cityscape, industrialization, material goods, and money play a part in the novel? How may these relate to Dreiser’s own experiences and views? Who benefits from these aspects in the novel? How do they relate to Dreiser’s quote—or do they?

Article Expert: Michael Lundblad, from The Birth of a Jungle

Article Expert: Curtis Harty

Michael Lundblad, from The Birth of a Jungle

Quotes:

  • “Why do readings of The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906) tend to choose between either an emphasis on human sexual allegory dressed up as animal representation or an assertion of ‘realistic’ animal stories devoid of interspecies sexuality?” (49).
  • “Must representations of animals primarily signify sexual possibilities between members of the same species?” (62).
  • “As heterosexuality becomes naturalized among human beings in the discourse of the jungle, the possibility of deriving pleasure from interspecies contact becomes even more taboo as well” (62).
  • “…From an animality studies perspective, how might interspecies pleasure relate to better ways of thinking about relationships between human and nonhuman animals?” (63).
  • Certainly one way to read these works is to look through such dog or half-wolf characters as Buck and White Fang and to see homoerotic energy directed toward them as a displacement of sexual desire” (63)
  • “It would be tempting to read London’s nonhuman characters simply as cross-dressed human beings, a form of ‘cross-species drag’ in terms of representation” (65).
  • “What we have in London’s dog/wolf stories…is a different step toward human constructions of ‘the animal,’ here with the narratives we might project onto creatures running on four legs rather than two. I do not mean to argue that Buck and White Fang are ‘real’ animals and therefore somehow legible to human beings outside of the epistemology of the jungle. Rather, I want to consider what happens when questions of sexuality are raised in conjunction with questions of ‘real’ animals in London’s written texts” (65).
  • “The ‘communion’ between a human male and a nonhuman male that London’s stories thus evoke is much more interesting to me that humans in animal drag or animals represented ‘realistically,’…what are the limitations of assuming that animal representation can only construct intrahuman sexualities?” (66).
  • “I want to suggest that a whole range of erotic pleasures and behavior between humans and animals are possible…despite the reductiveness of the only available signifier: ‘bestiality’” (67).
  • “Could ‘queer’ be invoked here without simultaneously evoking the deeply problematic logic that links homosexuality with bestiality in order to condemn both as ‘unnatural’?” (68).
  • “To think of the relationships between Buck and John Thornton…as mutual folding ultimately allows us to see how these texts can model alternative possibilities that resist the discourse of the jungle” (71).
  • “My own interest in interspecies sexualities can similarly open the door to new inquiries, without assuming that nonhuman animals, on the one hand, are incapable of feeling love and pleasure, or that human beings, on the other hand, must be engaged in bestiality if there is any erotic element in their interactions with other species” (73).
  • “Prior to the naturalization of interspecies heterosexuality as ‘anima instinct,’ the nature of the beast in writers such as Kipling, James, and London suggests complicated, interesting, and potentially productive alternatives to assumptions about biologically determined sexuality in both human and nonhuman animals” (74).

My Take: Lundblad is making the assertion that the conversation around animal and human relationships in these works is more complex than animals as representations of humans or “real” animals (with the implication of bestiality therefore being assumed). He does not really give an answer as to what that conversation should be, just that shouldn’t be based on Darwinian biological determinism or “animal instinct.”

Questions:

If we look at the relationship of Buck and John Thornton as something other than the product of biological determinism, how might we describe their relationship?

How is there relationship different than or similar to other human to human relationships that we have seen so far? Does it matter to their relationship that Buck is a dog or even a male dog, and if so, how? What could their relationship or “communion” (as Lundblad states) signify beyond animal as human representation or “realistic” animal representation?