Article Expert

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?

An Overview: Donald Pizer’s “The Naturalism of The House of Mirth”

In “The Naturalism of The House of Mirth,” Donald Pizer argues that while “[i]n recent years” critics “often endorse” that “The House of Mirth can be best be read as a form of Naturalistic fiction” (241), there are some critical points “absent from almost all of this reexamination of The House of Mirth” (242). These are:

• “An effort to reconcile Lily Bart as naturalistic victim of her world” (242)
• And, “Wharton’s bold concerted attempt, at the close of her work to modify, an interpretation of this kind” (242)

Pizer further asserts, “The rediscovery of Wharton as a naturalist…has also led…to the redeployment of the critical assumption that American naturalism…is an unqualified representation of social determinism in action” (242). He challenges this assumption. To do so, Pizer first examines several examples of where Wharton uses social determinism within the text; he then argues that “[t]oward the end of the novel…Wharton juxtaposes this conscious deterministic theme of victimization by one’s familial social environment…with two striking alternative forms of belief and value” (242):

• Nettie’s “triumph” over the circumstances she is born to—representing “victim to victory” (244)

o Nettie’s “powerful will” in combination with “providential actuality of a man willing to take a chance on her” (244)

• Lily’s death

o Though Lily dies, when she goes to bed, “something live[s] between” her and Seldon, “like an imperishable flame…it was the love his love had kindled” (245)
o Lily dies imagining she is holding Nettie’s child (245)
o Seldon at Lily’s bedside, “it was this moment of love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which had kept them from atrophy and extinction (246)

Pizer asserts that these examples are textual evidence that Wharton is doing something not commonly done among the naturalists; Wharton’s The House of Mirth (Pizer also refers to Dreiser’s Sister Carrie) concludes, “Life seemingly defeats the human effort to believe in a spiritual force in life, but in fact that belief transcends defeat both in its functional force during life and in its permanence despite the transience of life” (246).

• “The naturalism of The House of Mirth is therefore different from and similar to Wharton’s Principal naturalist contemporaries” (246-247)
• “Wharton was…not committed to a doctrinaire or prescriptive notion of determinism” (247). “She…is adding to this premise [human life is…conditioned]…men and women also gain strength and derive meaning from their desires, hopes, and faiths” (247)

Pizer’s argument is well laid out. He carefully follows each point of he makes with strong textual evidence and frames that evidence within the context Wharton wrote the novel in.
Question: Can you think of other examples from the naturalist works we have read that conclude belief “transcends defeat in life and in its permanence despite the transience”?

‘Never Travel Alone’: Naturalism, Jack London, and the White Silence

“Never Travel Alone”: Naturalism, Jack London, and the White Silence

Jeanne Campbell Reesman

Main Ideas

  • Reesman suggests that London—in his attempts to master the great “White Silence” that is the hostile environment produced by winters in the Yukon—is making a statement about what it means to live and what it means to survive in is story “To Build a Fire”.
  • London is champion at expressing that characters need to be adaptable to survive, as seen in the majority of his stories. Since “fitting into a community” also seems to be a theme in many of his works, adaptability to a community (regardless of the size of that community) often means survival (whether it be physical or social survival).
  • Reesman also suggests that London, through his exploration of community in many of his stories, attempts not only to become a part of a community, but to know it “from within”. This is not to say that he “particularly admired any one community” (39), but rather chose to explore what made up said community and explore how mankind interacts within the dynamic.
  • Reesman advises readers of London to read “To Build a Fire” in a new way, denouncing former speculations that this story was London’s most pessimistic and deterministic texts, as well as the idea presented by Charles E. May that London doesn’t deal with anything but the “things of life” (in his claim that London’s story lacks any real significance). The author suggests, instead, that we as readers consider what London is saying about our connections to community and to mankind, as well as explore the relationship between intellectual knowledge vs. experience/practical knowledge.

Re-reading “To Build a Fire”

  • In the 1908 version of the story, the theme of man vs. nature is more complicated than it is in the 1902 version; in the 1908 version, London introduces three relationships that he explores more extensively than in the 1902 version (the man and the dog, the man and the boys at camp, and the man and the “old timer”).
  • The protagonist, who is a newcomer to the land, is attempting to overcome nature instead of finding the value in adapting to it.
  • The protagonist has an “assumed distance” from nature, which leads to his downfall. His theoretical knowledge of the wild and his practice are in opposition.
  • Reesman notes the importance of recognizing London’s technique with irony (43). The protagonist is attempting to distance himself emotionally from his situation (he is always remaining “calm” or “cool” and does not panic) by obsessing over those details which can be quantified (Reesman notes his fixation with the number of twigs and matches he has and the way by which he obsesses over the hours and miles of his journey). All these little fixations, disguised as survival knowledge, serve as a means of distracting himself from the idea of death.

Relevant Quotes

  • “It must seem to the reader of such naively naturalistic descriptions that if London ever managed to write a good story it was merely by accident. Certainly he could not have meant to write anything but trash, and he could not have had the talent and energy to do otherwise” (35).
  • “London’s naturalism consistently contains and implies manifold beliefs: Transcendental, Romantic, mythic, religious” (37).
  • Dale H. Ross is mentioned as having stated “novelists like London, Norris and Dreiser display in their work a kind of eclecticism, seeming sometimes to be behaviorists, at others determinists, and at still other times almost neo-romanticists” (37).
  • “London was always an outsider: poor boy, hobo, socialist, Westerner, correspondent, wayfarer in many worlds—but because he wanted to belong he vigorously entered into any community he encountered by describing it convincingly in his fiction… This does not mean he admired a particular community, just that he wanted to know it from within” (39)
  • “Every word London wrote was an attempt to combat the White Logic and to reply to the White Silence; the belief in spirit (meaning) is in London’s mind a belief first in himself and his efforts and second in humanity as a vast community spanning time and space…” (38).
  • “Indeed, even in London’s most “classic” naturalist stories we find these three important elements: the search for spirit, the desire for community, and the need to address the Other“. (39-40)
  • “Although he may think in mechanical or technological images, he is not separate from Nature and able to quantify it: his body is Nature, as twigs/fingers, branches/wrists” (43).
  • On the relationship between the old timer and the protagonist, Reesman suggests that “In spite of his arrogant determination to travel his way, the man at last has not traveled alone, if only in his dying moment” (45).

Questions for Discussion

  1. In what ways does London’s story “To Build a Fire” (1908 version) demonstrate the use of intellectual knowledge vs. practical knowledge, and the importance in distinguishing between the two?
  2. How is the theme of “man vs. nature” presented differently in the 1902 version and the 1908 version of “To Build a Fire”? In exploring these differences, what textual evidence can we extract from each version?

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?

Article Expert: Jarrett, “Second-Generation Realism: or, Dunbar the Naturalist”

English 567: Dunbar’s Sport of the Gods

Article Expert: Amy Goldman

Jarrett, Gene Andrew. “Second-Generation Realist: or, Dunbar the Naturalist.” African American Review 41.2 (2007): 289-94.

Brief Summary:

  • Core Claim: Accurate assessment of naturalist literary trends at the turn of the twentieth century must include attention to the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar and to his first novel, The Uncalled.
  • In late 1890s, a “wider, generational, and largely Anglo-American shift […] was resisting realism as a theoretical idea and literary practice” (290). Crane and Norris were reacting against the literary realism represented by Howells, who is himself is aware of the new literary current. Jarrett quotes an interview with Stephen Crane in which Howells replies to Crane’s assertion of a “‘a change in the literary pulse of the country’” that he too has “‘seen it coming…. I suppose we will have to wait and see’” (290). Jarrett notes Dunbar as an essential author in this change.
  • Dunbar experiments with “literary ways of stretching realism in naturalist directions” in his first novel, The Uncalled (291), and letters he wrote during its composition in 1897 demonstrate his awareness of the “generic tension” between realism and naturalism (289). Jarrett calls attention to the fact that Dunbar was experimenting this way prior to Norris and Dreiser, who became critically established as the “second-generation realists” even as Dunbar’s contributions were was generally ignored.
  • The Uncalled received critical praise from British reviewers. Jarrett argues that, aside from a positive review in the New York Times, the novel was overlooked in the United States due to the “racial exclusionism” of literary circles “beginning, of course, with Howells” (290). Jarrett elsewhere credits Howells’s 1896 review of Dunbar’s poetry with securing Dunbar’s status as “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race” (289), but here notes that critics had difficulty responding—or simply chose not to respond—to a novel that “submerg[ed] the conventional markers of racial realism—including black portraiture and political subject matter—that were expected of black-authored literature in the late nineteenth century” (293).
  • The naturalism of The Uncalled has evaded appropriate scholarly discussion in part because Dunbar “tailors [naturalism] to accommodate ideas of human uplift and redemption” (290). Shockingly, the protagonist of The Uncalled overcomes the social stigma of his “immoral” family origins and even reconciles with his father before the latter’s death, then goes on to redeem his own life through the positive influence of a healthy romantic relationship.
  • The Uncalled also resists the “masculinist ‘plot of decline’” present in many naturalist works and instead “illustrates the importance of individual will to overcoming environmental forces, even within the city” (293). Jarrett here characterizes The Uncalled as a “novel of triumph, which captures Dunbar’s revision of this genre” (293). Note the contrast with naturalist works we have read; see questions below.

Thoughts on the Article:

Main Contributions to Understanding Sport of the Gods:

  • Makes a solid case for Dunbar’s inclusion as a founding member of the naturalist club.
  • Analyzes how Dunbar approaches and “revises” naturalist genre expectations.

Possible Weakness:

  • Jarrett credits Dunbar as both a pioneer of the naturalist genre and with “revision of this genre” (293). It’s not quite clear to me how he can simultaneously be a creator and reviser of the genre.

Questions:

  • In The Uncalled, Dunbar presents the importance of individual choice in overcoming environmental influences. Given our experiences with naturalism so far, does this disqualify The Uncalled as a naturalist novel, or do we agree with Jarrett that such agency could co-exist with the determinism typical of the genre?
  • Jarrett points out that critics weren’t quite sure what to do with The Uncalled because it was not clearly tied to racial concerns. Racial issues are certainly present in Sport of the Gods, but does Dunbar still resist the “black portraiture and political subject matter” expected from “black-authored literature” of the era? If so, to what effect?

Article Expert: Gendered Space, Racialized Space: Nativism, the Immigrant Woman, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie”

“Gendered Space, Racialized Space: Nativism, the Immigrant Woman, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie” by Katrina Irving

Main Argument

Irving locates the immigrant woman to draw connections between the engendering of a feminine gender and racism; she notes that “when articulated together, threw into relief specific issues that directly affected Americans’ conception of the nation state and the ‘threat’ that aliens appeared to pose to it” (32). Although she does not argue that Crane himself is a nativist, she utilizes Maggie to illustrate how his text “deploys specific discourses and rhetorical strategies circulating contemporaneously within the culture at large, and which can be identified as nativist” (33).

 

Key Points

  1. Racism, Prostitution, and Gender
    1. Three positions on immigration: nativists (xenophobic, biological racism, genetic superiority), Americanizers (cultural/environmental racism, immigrants unassimilable), and cultural pluralists (pro-immigration; American needs diverse culture.)
    2. Nativist connection between the image of the “grotesque” and “unruly” female prostitute in bridging gender and race in conversations about the “problem” of immigration
    3. “In the paranoiac narrative of this nativist vision, the body itself becomes the site at which a territorial struggle occurs: the racial struggle is displaced from the space of the Republic to the internal space of the racial struggle is displaced from the space of the Republic to the internal space of the body” (34).
    4. “Escaping that sequestration in the home that served to contain the sexually saturated female body, the immigrant woman’s free movement from the tenement to the larger urban space was seen as a refusal of the woman’s organic connection with the family space/life of the children, a flouting of the gendered division of space” (35).
    5. Immigrant woman “is constructed as the bearer of inferior, but potentially triumphant, genes” (36). They pose a threat to the stability of the gendered and racialized Anglo-Saxon space.
    6. There were also anxieties about a connection between immigrants and prostitution and increased immigration leading to increased prostitution
  2. Textual Evidence in Maggie
    1. Invasion of fecundity in the streets through the numerous children, which she describes as “Crane’s excremental vision of the mindlessly proliferating alien female” (36)
    2. Maggie’s mother is “monstrous and beastial” with a “degenerate nature” (37) – she also argues that “Crane displaces the physique of the prostitute onto the immigrant mother as though to suggest that the mother confirms the daughter’s inevitable future” (39).
    3. Maggie, however, conforms to many archetypes of a traditional heroine making her seem out of place in comparison to her mother, but she goes on to explore spaces where “sexes mix freely” and “sexes and races interact,” which makes her a threat to systemic stability
    4. Maggie’s existence “compounds her sexual threat by invoking fears of miscegenation” and her ability to move across the boarders of sex and race “exemplifies the threat of Anglo-Saxon race suicide” and her suicide, thus, demonstrates “a reassertion of control and a recontainment . . . of the threat Maggie has embodied in her efforts to do so. Hence, the tragedy of Maggie is that she can only ever redeem herself—and the country to which she has come—by ceasing to be” (40).

My Thoughts (in brief)

Irving raises a lot of fascinating points about how gender and race become entangled through the immigrant woman and prostitute tropes in American society at this time. It might have been helpful to see her do more close reading on the moments where race and prostitution are directly referenced to further explore those ideas.

Discussion Questions

 

  1. Last week we had a detailed discussion regarding Edna’s suicide. In what ways is Maggie’s death different in Crane’s story? Do you agree with Irvin’s assessment?
  2. Given this framework of the immigrant woman, do you think this text is harsher in its representation of women than men?