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Feb 28, 2011

Themes, Styles & Techniques of O.Henry

William Sidney Porter was born Thursday evening at Nine o’clock, September 11, 1862. He was born a few miles south of Greensboro, North Carolina, in Centre Community on Polecat Creek. (Arnett 1) His father, Algernon Sidney Porter, was a physician. When William was three, his mother died, and he was raised by his grandmother. William was a good reader, but at fifteen he left school, and worked in a drug store and on a Texas ranch. He moved to Houston, where he had many jobs, including that of bank clerk. He joined the Houston Post as a columnist. He was convicted of embezzling money, but there has been much debate over whether he was guilt or not. In 1898 he entered a penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio. During his time in prison O. Henry started to write short stories to earn money to support his daughter Margaret. In prison his first work, "Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking", appeared in McClure's Magazine. After doing three years of the five years sentence being released on good behavior, Porter emerged from the prison in 1901 and changed his name to O. Henry.

Some common themes of O.Henry are deception, mistaken identity, the effects of coincidence, the unchangeable nature of the fate and the resolution of seemingly unsolvable difficulties separating two lovers.(Twentieth –Century Literary Criticism Vol. 19 167) O.Henry used deception with a plot that he called “turning the tables on Haroun Al-Raschid,” the caliph from mingle with the common people.

In O.Henry’s works it’s the common people who save for the nights they can dress to impress and mix with the wealthy people.(167) Some more themes are the pretense and reversal of fate, discovery and initiation through adventure, the city as a playground for imagination, and the basic yearning of all humanity. O.Henry’s main theme is pretense the desire to pose as what one is not is the most persistent theme. The Duel relates to the theme of the city as an imagination.

The Duel has the city glowing with lights seen at midnight from a hotel window: “there arose the breath of gaiety unrestrained, of love, of hate, of all the passions that man can know. There below him lay all things good or bad, that can be brought from the four corners of the earth to instruct please, thrill, enrich, despoil, elevate, cast down, nurture or kill…”(Pizer & Harbert 415)

The first theme is surprise endings of O.Henry. He uses this in a large amount of his stories. Many adults who read O.Henry’s works are eagerly waiting for a surprise ending. (Current Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction 155) O.Henry’s works basically all contain a surprise ending. They lead you on it the beginning with a thought that everything is going according to plan.

He lets the reader, us, think that we have it figured out by we don’t. He has something waiting for us at the end of the book. Something that would seem like it came out of no where. Hyder E. Rollins said “The conclusion is an enigma.” He has the reader under suspense until the last sentence. (155) this is shown in O.Henry’s story The Gift of the Magi. Where a husband sells his watch to buy his wife some combs she worshiped, and the wife cut and sold her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch.

This was such a surprise because you never expected this in the beginning. The reader never expected the wife to cut her hair when her husband was buying her combs, and the husband to sell his watch when the wife bought him a chain for it.

Also O.Henry had an idea that life is a surprise that the unexpected continually happens. (157) Rollins commented on O.Henry’s idea saying that “He is then, a pure romanticist who strives earnestly for realistic effects.” (157) A romanticist is a person who acts on impulse. They hate conformity they loathe following the rules. They prefer to make there own rules, and they are also in touch with nature. They love the outdoors. Rollins is saying that O.Henry is a romanticist because of his idea that life is a surprise. His idea about how life happens unexpectedly. It’s spontaneous so therefore you never know what kind of turn your life will take for the better or worse.

Eugene Current-Garcia said that “the most obvious technical manifestation of O.Henry’s delight in the unexpected is in his famous surprise endings.”(Current-Garcia, O.Henry, 137) O.Henry’s way of using these surprise ending really played a big part in most of his stories. O. Henry's stories are perhaps best known for their surprise endings. A surprise at the end of the story can bring joy to readers. The key to a surprise is that it has to be believable.

Consider the surprise endings in "The Last Leaf" and "The Third Ingredient." These endings are most likely not what you predicted, but what happens in these stories is exciting, and it is practical in view of who the characters are. In other words, you can accept the endings of the stories as the mark of a good writer and know that O. Henry tricked you once again. ( O.Henry’s stories are split into five groups based on there setting: the south, the west, Central America, Prison, and New York. The one with the most stories is New York with 140 stories based in New York. (Twentieth –Century Literary Criticism Vol. 19 167) O.Henry moved to New York City in 1902 after he was released from prison.

He lived there for the rest of his life, setting many of his stories there. He used the city as the foundation for a group of Arabian Nights stories and, calls New York "Baghdad-on-the-Subway." He used this term to connect modern New York with the exotic settings of The Arabian Nights, a collection of romantic and magical stories set in Baghdad. William loved New York City.

He was fascinated by the shops, and the nightlife. He also loved the glamour. At the height of his popularity, Porter could eat in the nicest restaurants and buy tickets for the most popular shows. Yet he never forgot about the thousands of working-class New Yorkers who lived very differently. Even when his life was very successful, he kept an eye on the "common folk" and wrote about the "four million" New Yorkers that other writers tended to ignore. (

Technique was something that O.Henry was good at using. He used many different techniques and different styles in his writing one of the techniques his like using was local color. O.Henry’s writings take the speech patterns and rhythms of the common folk and adds “vivacity, variety, and interest of his stories” said Eugene Current-Garcia. (Current-Garcia, O.Henry, 142) He came directly from a southern background being born in North Carolina. The cultural tradition he inherited brought out a deep influence on his literary career.

About thirty of his stories were placed in the old south setting or had to do with activities and attitudes of southern characters. When he writes he puts out a realistic dialogue from his childhood, his own history, and first hand observations of the various classes of people he knew and lived with.(Current-Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction, 12) O.Henry was born in the south so most of his stories talk about the lifestyles of the people in the south. His characters models are people who were around O.Henry.

His narrative methods came from him dealing with Texas outlaws also from his childhood in the south. (Current-Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction, 4) There is a story where he talks about life with the outlaws in Texas. That is because he was there and witnessed it first hand. So he takes them and puts them into his story so that they can become major characters based on the way they were around him.

O.Henry moved from the south to Texas and was later in jail all of these things had an impact on the way his stories were written. “An Odd Character” a story that brought O.Henry back to the spring of 1896 while waiting to be on trial for embezzlement “…Nearly all of us have, at some point in our lives- either to excuse our own stupidity or placate our consciences promulgated, some theory of fatalism…” (Langford 93) While in prison O.Henry published fourteen of his best stories.

Three of those fourteen that were published are first “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking,” a sentimental story dealing with a hobo who has not lost his capacity for loyalty and honor.(137) The second story is “Georgia’s Ruling” an even more sentimental story about the ennobling influence of a dead child.(137) The third is “Money Maze.”(137)

All of these things play a role with the local color he used in his writings. They each played a significant part in his life and in his stories. O.Henry either wrote like a humorist like A.B. Longstreet and J.J. Hooper or he wrote with local color. Both ways you can tell that the characters had southern attitudes, manners, and speech. (Current-Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction, 4)

Another technique would be O.Henry’s ability to use allusions. An example of O.Henry’s artistry with words can be seen in his many literary allusions, especially toward Shakespearean plays and the ancient classics. (Current-Garcia, O.Henry, 146) O.Henry’s “The Poet and the Peasant,” puts together a lot of literary devices. The story starts off first person narrative and follows a detailed description.

At each turn of the story the irony gets further complicating. (Current-Garcia, O.Henry, 152-153) This is just one example of how O.Henry uses many different literary devices. A writer said that in the many allusions to Shakespeare found in O.Henry’s stories “how shows a tendency to word-play or to an unexpected turn similar to that manifest of the plots of his stories.”(Current-Garcia, O.Henry, 146)

A different Technique is the way he can put together his words so that the common people were able to understand him. Rollins said Porter had a “maltreatment of words,” his vocabulary was contained a lot of slang words and phrases. There is no doubt that the presence of slang makes O.Henry more favorable to the general public, because the public is drawn to a writer who turns down academic facts of speech. (Current-Garcia, O.Henry, 159).

O.Henry’s writings, his facility in taking the speech patterns and rhythms of the common folk adds “vivacity, variety, and interest of his stories” said Eugene Current Garcia. Even though he had an outrageous use of modern slang, “O.Henry is a master of felicitous expressions and strange verbal flavors.” (Current-Garcia, O.Henry, 136) The light touch of O.Henry “his mastery of the vernacular, his insight into the life of the disinherited, makes it needless for him to resort to such inventions.” (Current-Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction, 152) Yevgeny Zamyatin said “A pungent language, glittering with an eccentric and unexpected symbolism, is the first thing that captures the attention of O.Henry’s readers” (Twentieth –Century Literary Criticism Vol. 19 181)

When O.Henry writes, he has a touch that is unbelievable, the way he makes everything fall together. Each line is unique in a way because he writes like he talks, but in some cases he is able to use academic terms in his writings. He just builds up a picture for us. Forman said “The piquant and picturesque phrasing, the dash of the slang. The genial and winning fancy seems to carry the most fantastic situations.”(152) This quote describes exactly what he does when he writes he is able to paint a picture for us.

O.Henry used to sketch so his words are based on some pictures. In two sketches he did for the post they are first an imposter or a person who wears a mask, and second the idea of fate as the one thing in life that can’t be avoided. These two ideas are reoccurring themes in techniques in O.Henry’s works. (Langford 94) His stories have the “harmony of tone so essential to the short story writer,” said Rollins. (Current-Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction, 158)

Style one of the many elements that O.Henry’s stories contain. O.Henry had a very humorous style. Rollins said that “Just as his plots and his characters are humorous in conception and in treatment, so the most striking trait of O.Henry as a stylist is humor.” (Current-Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction, 158)

Rollins also said “O.Henry’s piquant audacities of style” are likeable, but they are sure to lose “their piquancy and lower his rank in literature.”(158) O. Henry had a good sense of humor and liked to show ironic situations. Some of his stories, such as "The Ransom of Red Chief," are very funny throughout. Others deal with serious subjects and only have a little bit of humor. A Majority of the humor that O. Henry writes takes the form of irony. When an author uses a word to mean the exact opposite of its real meaning that is "irony." Sometimes, a whole story is ironic.

The author sets up a scene one way, and then the opposite of what you expect actually happens. An example is when Plumer, the homeless man in "A Madison Square Arabian Night," realizes that he must teach some manners to a wealthy and well-respected man. "The Gift of the Magi" contains a plot twist that is a classic example of irony. (

O. Henry's plots most of the time deal with coincidence. Coincidence also plays a key role in most of O. Henry's stories. The odd coincidences that the characters experience add another element of humor to the story. For example, in "After Twenty Years," two old friends have plans to meet. But one has just learned something different about the other, and this leads to an unexpected event. In "A Retrieved Reformation," it is a coincidence that Ben Price happens to be watching Jimmy save a little girl.

In these stories and others, the coincidence acts as a kind of warm-up to the story's surprise ending. ( Coincidence is something that O.Henry enjoyed using in his work along with the surprise endings. He loved it because both of these tools together kept the readers attention and kept the suspense up for the entire story.

O.Henry’s stories had a time when they were getting attacked as mechanically artificial, obviously superficial, and overly sentimental because of the new style of short stories that were coming about in the 1920(Harris viii) Harris said that Fred Lewis Patee one of O.Henry’s most out spoken critics repeatedly attacked him for being an immoral writer in the treatment of his characters, and as a mere “comic journalist whose stories we trivially humorous journalistic anecdotes.”(ix) Critics consider all of O.Henry works jokes because he was humorous and he used slang he didn’t take it seriously.

While other said it is fair to compare him woth anybody. He was just amazing like Henry James Forman said “No talent could be more original or more delightful. The combination of technical excellence with whimsical,sparkling wit, abundant humor and fertile invention is so rae that the reader is content without comparisons.” (Current-Garcia, A Study of the Short Fiction, 154)

This is true on many levels about O.Henry the way in which he wrote so many stories was amazing. Towards the end of his life things started to fall out. O. Henry's last years were shadowed by alcoholism, ill health, and financial problems. He married Sara Lindsay Coleman in 1907, but the marriage was not happy, and they separated a year later. O. Henry died of cirrhosis of the liver on June 5, 1910, in New York.

After O.Henry’s death many young scholars began reading and understand his books. They started to appreciate the kind of write he was, but they still said if he had cared a little more he could have been one of the best. O.Henry works in total can be put together into these five elements. First a quick opening that pulls the reader into the action with surefire ‘hook’; Second a confiding narrator who holds back important information until the last moment; Third a pleasant and worldly wise tone including chitchat, wit, satire, philosophy, and swank; Fourth open-minded use of a ‘humane renegade’; Fifth a healthy does of coincidence usually with a reversal in which everything is saved and set right; finally Sixth, ‘surprise endings’. These six elements represent O.Henry’s works to the fullest. (Luedtke & Lawrence 304)


In the wake of world war I, the traditional morses of american society received a tremendous shock. Complacency was disturbed and reassessment of American Values was called for. Traditional religious and philosophic assumptions of the national culture came under scrutiny. The viability of old cultural came postulated was questioned. Many critics believed that the error had originated in the 19th C. with its romantic ideas about human nature/ they maintained that the solution of the modern problems was areturn to the traditional humanism of the West. The conservative postiion in this discussion tended to be that of either the neo-humanusts ot the neo-confederates.

Age of Transcendentalism

Georgian Poets (before and after World War I)

The Georgian poets form a third distinct group. The turn “Georgian” was coined by Edward Marsh who, between 1912 and 1922 edited five anthologies of contemporary verse entitled Georgian Poetry. Today the term “Georgian” may refer to the poets of the decade in general or to a particular group among them. Georgian poetry was portrayed as being intellectually naïve, and weekly escapist. It was also considered to be technically slack and emotionally uninspired.

Feb 26, 2011

Kamala Das: Confessional Poet

“Call her Kamala Das, Madhavikutti or Surayya, but the woman by any name” whose introduction is given by herself in the poem “An Introduction”:

“I am Indian, very brown, born in
Malabar, I speak three languages, write in
two, dream in one”.

Kamala Surayya (the name means Saptarishi or the Ursa Major, in Persian) took the literary world by storm in the mid-sixties, has created a permanent place for herself in the contemporary Indo-Anglian poetry; who was awarded P.E.N.’S Asian Poetry Prize (1963); Kerala’s Sahitya Akadami Award (1969) for the poem Thanuppu, meaning Cold; and Central Indian Sahitya Akadami Award (1985) for Colletcted Poems (1984). Though Surayya has produced only four volumes of verse to date, which is clear indication of her poetic energies getting dried up to some extent, she has been one of the most popular poets of India who have gained ground even in the West.

Kamala has surely outgrown Victorian models and accepted sex and sensuality as an integral part of poetry. Many of her poems are suffused with warmth and passion, with heat of an unrequited Love and unfulfilled desire. The frequency of Love theme may evoke repudiation from nuns and spinsters and breed boredom in the minds of general readers, but like Sappho in Greek literature, Elizabeth Barret Browning in English letters, and like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath in modern American poetry, Mrs. Das offers us a feast of vivid images of Love couched in felicitous language. No doubt, Love is her Forte in poetry.

Like the British Classic Poets, who had the obsession of writing epic, Kamala is obsessed with writing autobiographical poem which are, says Iyengar, “aggressively individualistic”; William Walsh calls it “self centered’; M Elias concludes that, when Kamala Das speaks, it is “rather the Nair maiden unburdening her collective nightmare”. For a candid articulation of her sexuality and identity as a woman, has earned her the sobriquet of Kerala’s ‘Queen of Erotica’. Critics have written at the length about her ‘desperate obsession with love’ (Sarang) or ‘more appropriately with intimacy’ (Raveendran). This made her “a prisoner of her loneliness,” says Dwivedi.

I also know that by confessing
By peeling off my layers
I reach closer to the soul…
I shall some day see
My world de-flashed, de-veined, de-blooded…

As the above lines shows, Kamala Das is a Confessional poet, whose poems are compared with Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath etc. According to William Walsh “Her poetry is self centered and unabashedly sexual although the sexuality seems more fascinating to the poet because it is hers than because it is sexual”. She speaks of her sexual experiences in a tone that “you cannot believe darling”, which are both self-indulgent and truculent:

Ask me, everybody, ask me,
What he sees in me, ask me why he is
Called a lion”.

M.K. Naik also calls her confessional poetry “sex dominated” referring nonchalantly to ‘the musk of sweat between the breasts’, ‘the warm shock of menstrual blood’. Poem after poem she hammers hard at the husband-lover and articulates her intense desire of escaping from his clutches and attaining freedom. She confesses that due to the failure of husband’s love, her  

“Love became a swivel-door
When one went out, another came in
  Then I lost count, for always in my arms
Was a substitute for a substitute”.
The kisses of her husband on her cheeks are the “maggots” rolling over “the corpse”. She knows only the ‘physical’ kind of love, without trying to make any emotional and spiritual contact with her. This sort of “openness and frankness” is hardly to be found in any other Indo-English woman poet. The resultant emerging picture is a man or a woman of flesh and blood, a living biological reality, with no distortions or twists. Naturally, Kamala is at her best here as a poet of love and sex as Iyengar remarks “her poetry is aggressively individualistic”

Kamala's Confessional poetry is obsessively mulling over love and ‘the body’s wisdom’ like Whitman that is why Iyengar calls her a ‘Femme Fatal’ whose poetry is of pelvic region. In her poetry, Love appears in several roles such as ‘skin communicated thing’, as overpowering force, an escape, a longing and a hunger resulting in satiety. Dwivedi remarks “She is verily a celebrant of the human body, and her poetry is glutted with images and symbols of love and lust”.

Kamala’s Confessional poems show that she is ‘every woman who seeks love’. She is ‘the beloved and the betrayed’, expressing her ‘endless female hunger’, ‘the muted whisper at the core of womanhood’. A Confessional poet often writes about death, disease and destruction. Kamala Das also has written quite a few poems on decay, disease and death.

Although a Confessional poet—that Kamala Das is—can make use of any subject for his treatment, he mostly confines herself to the regions of his own experiences. He hardly ever writes about ‘old, unhappy, far-off things’, as Wordsworth and his band of followers did. That is why Confessional poetry sounds so appealing and so convincing. It is frequently takes resort to personal failures and mental illness of its composer and Kamala’s verse is a brilliant illustration of it. In My Grandmother’s House, the following lines click: 

“…………………………I who have lost
My way and beg now at strangers’ doors to
Receive love, at least in small change”.

Adil Jassuwala says “Kamala wrights almost exclusively of love, sex and loneliness in the tone of insistent confession”. M Elias concludes that, when Kamala Das speaks, it is “rather the Nair maiden unburdening her collective nightmare”. Ramakrishna aptly says: “Kamala always deals with private humiliations and sufferings which are the stock themes of confessional poetry”.

Vincent and Harrex also finds her poetry “confessional poetry”; and Anisur Rahman thinks, she “mirrors her life in all its nakedness” but Nabar thinks “Kamala does not have the range of self analyses… She may be utterly sincere and make confessions which are unquestionably courageous in the Indian context, but they do not add up to a credo. She seems to describe her suffering and to provide the social context to some extent, to her experiences.”

Nabar also writes that Kamala is not confessional poet like Sylvia Plath but Kamala's poetry has a clear resemblance of Eunice de Souza whose poetry “has the anger, the frankness, the willingness, to confront unpleasantness in social as well as personal relationships” again, like her “Kamala is not being confessional but assertive”. But “the most striking single aspect of Kamala's writings is the need to bare herself, to hold nothing back as it were, to erupt in an intimate, confessional frenzy, to “have no secrets at all” from the reader”. (Nabar)

Sunanda Chavan in The Fair Voice observes an “almost exclusive concern with the experience of personal love in her poetry.” Varinda Nabar in The Endless Female Hungers reinforces the same idea when she states that in her later poetry Surayya “withdraws increasingly into a world of purely personal grievances…because they are what her love poetry embodies” and even shows an impatience with the poet’s tiresome attitude and penchant of role playing. It would be unfair to restrict that poet to a narrow confession, while ignoring other significant dimensions that call for special consideration because of her unique place among the women poets of India. 

Kamala is a versatile woman who has experimented with various forms of art—poetry, fiction, drama, painting—she has now moved to being a newspaper columnist, a “professional writer”, in order to survive because “poetry doesn’t sell in this country”, as she remarks.

All in all, Kamala is one if the pioneering post-independence Indian English poets to have contributed immensely to the growth and development of modern Indian English poetry. She is one of the modernist writers to assert her femininity as a human in Indian literature; she has been something of a cult figure in her home state and a source of great inspiration and emulation for women with literary aspiration. Her life has been long drawn battle against a religious and cultural orthodox that frowns upon the somewhat uninhabited life style of his apparently forthright persons.

To conclude, Kamala Das is a typical Confessional poet who pours her heart into her poetry which is largely subjective and autobiographical, anguished and tortured, letting us peep into her sufferings and tortured psyche. Thanks to her that a reliable poetic voice has been heard in contemporary Indo-English verse at long last. Dwivedi remarks “there is a strong autobiographical touch in it, which makes Mrs. Das a Confessional poet of the first order”.

Jacobean Drama

Around the turn of sixteenth century, Shakespeare’s drama fell into neglect, and as he had eclipsed Lyly, and other, he got eclipsed by Ben Johnson and his contemporaries. In other words, the Elizabethan drama of Shakespeare gave way to the Jacobean drama of Johnson. Beside Johnson, John Marston (1575-1634) Thomas Middleton (1570-1627) George Chapman (1559-1634) Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625), John Webster, were the other dramatists of the age. As tragedy during the age went beck to Seneca, so went comedy back to the Plautus.

The contemporaries of Shakespeare like, Beaumont and Fletcher, forgetting the deep meaning of life, strove for effect by increasing the sensationalism of their plays; Webster reveled in tragedies of blood and thunder; Massinger and Ford made another step downward, producing evil and licentious scenes for their own sake, making characters and situations more immoral till, notwithstanding these dramatists’ ability, the stage had become insincere, frivolous and bad. James Shirley was, in Lamb’s phrase, “the last of a great race” after which the decline of the drama was apparent.

With the exception of Ben Jonson, all these dramatists neglected the simple fact that man in his deepest nature is a moral being, and that only a play which satisfies the whole nature of man by showing the triumph of the moral law can over wholly satisfy an audience or a people.

Jacobean drama (the drama of the age of James I 1603-25) was a decadent from the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. It was inevitable, says, long, that drama should decline after Shakespeare, for the simple reason that there was no other great enough to fill his place. The dramatists of the Jacobean age can be divided into two classes—i) the dramatists of the old school-Dekker Heywood, Webster, Beaumont and Fletcher, and ii) the satiric group-Chapman, Jonson, Marston, Middleton, and Tourneur.

Feb 25, 2011

Chronology Anglo Saxon Age

  HISTORY                          |  LITERATURE
449(?). Landing of Hengist and     |
        Horsa in Britain           |
477. Landing of South Saxons       |
547. Angles settle Northumbria     | 547. Gildas's History
597. Landing of Augustine and his  |
      monks. Conversion of Kent    |
617. Eadwine, king of Northumbria  |
635-665. Coming of St. Aidan.      |
      Conversion of Northumbria    | 664. Caedmon at Whitby
                                   | 673-735. Bede
                                   | 750 (_cir_.). Cynewulf
                                   |   poems
867. Danes conquer Northumbria     |
871. Alfred, king of Wessex        | 860. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle begun
878. Defeat of Danes. Peace of     |
       Wedmore                     |
901. Death of Alfred               | 991. Last known poem of the
                                   |        Anglo-Saxon
                                   |        period, The Battle of
                                   |        Maldon, otherwise called
                                   |        Byrhtnoth's Death
1013-1042. Danish period           |
1016. Cnut, king                   |
1042. Edward the Confessor. Saxon  |
        period restored            |
1049. Westminster Abbey begun      |
1066. Harold, last of Saxon kings. |
        Norman Conquest            |

       *       *       *       *       *

Other Links related to the Age:

Hamlet as an Artistic Failure

It was Eliot who said that Hamlet, fat from being success. Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet is most certainly an artistic failure. We know that Hamlet is the longest play written by Shakespeare. It is also the most complex. Eliot thought that Shakespeare could not establish“objective correlative” to Hamlet’s sensibilities. Hamlet’s emotions are vague an always in excess. Yet the disgust is far in excess as compared to the queen’s error, because what she felt may have been genuine compassion. It is most surprising that Hamlet cannot fully comprehend the ferocity of his emotions; it is also not surprising that they obstruct his actions and poison his life; Eliot thought that Shakespeare failed because he was rewriting an old play, and remnants of his crude original remained. There is no doubt that the play can be criticized on certain artistic ground, the Hamlet of the soliloquies is quite different from the one who crudely abuses Ophelia, who wants to ensure not only death but also damnation of the king, and who is unrepentant at the death of Polonius. The play this looks strange. There are also a large number of things that are difficult to explain. For instance Shakespeare tells us that the beginning of the play that Hamlet is eighteen years old only to refute in this grave-digger’s scene where we are told that Hamlet is Thirty. Similarly Horatio seems to be at one moment a stranger to Denmark, and at another reveals the cause of armourments which no other character in the play whole have done with so much facility. In addition, so many events in the play appear like chance happenings. The players arrive entirely by chance, it is a chance that the king is praying on the sole opportunity that Polonius that Hamlet gets of killing him; it is a chance that Polonius dies; it is a chance that Hamlet meets the Pirates which results in his returning to Denmark. Chance in itself is not completely undesirable, for is an inherent part of existence, yet in a consumale artist like Shakespeare, such frequent use of chance appears an insult.

Feb 23, 2011

The Death Of The Author: Gilbert Adair

While I’ve read a number of Gilbert Adair’s recent books, the older titles from his back catalogue are out of print. One of these titles, The Death Of The Author(1992), has thankfully been given a second lease of life in the United States, thanks to Melville House Publishing’s new Contemporary Art of the Novella series, a companion to its Art of the Novella, a series showcasing the likes of Joyce, Flaubert, Proust, andTolstoy.

The Art Of Sinking In Poetry: Pope

Alexander Pope is considered one of England’s greatest poets of the eighteenth century, known for satirical poems as The Rape Of The Lock and theDunciad. He was a member of the Scriblerus club, along with names like Jonathan Swift and John Arbuthnot, a circle of writers that combined in the mocking of contemporary mediocrity in science and the arts. Works borne of this group were sometimes attributed to their fictional founder, Martinus Scriblerus. Amongst the recognised output of Scriblerus’ was Peri Bathous, or The Art Of Sinking In Poetry (1727), Pope’s satirical attack on the poets of his day. Where criticism and disdain may be best put upon inferior works of literature, appreciation of this essay comes in its alternative approach: to praise bathetic instances in poetry.Pope opens with an explanation of why it is necessary to study the poets of his day:


The term “renaissance” and humanism which are often applied to the same movement have properly narrower significance. The term “renaissance” though used by many writers to denote the whose transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern World, is more correctly applied to the Revival of Art resulting from the discovery and imitation of classic models in the 14th and 15th c.

Fifteenth Century Literature

With Chaucer English literature made a brilliant beginning, but it was only a beginning, and after his death we enter upon a long barren period i.e. one and a half century.

The poor quality and general lifelessness of the 15th century verse is suggested by the fact that the greater part of it is initiative. The poets tried their best to follow the footstep of Chaucer but had failed. The best known are Thomas Occleve (1370?-1450?) and John Lydgate (1370?-1451). Occleve wrote a long poem “The Governial Of Princess”, in Chaucer’s seven line stanza (ababbcc) and in the prologue, in which he tells us much about himself, describes his grief on Chaucer’s death and signs his master’s pieces. In “A Regiment Of Princess,” his attention to the fashions of the period, Lydgate’s longer productions being the “Storie Of Thebes”” (designed as a new Canterbury Tales”), the “Troy Boke” and the “Falls Of Princes”-the last based on a French paraphrase of a Latin work by Boccaccio.

Rise and Fall of Feudalism

Feudalism may be regarded as a complete organization of society through the medium of land tenure in which from the kingdom to the lowest land owner all are bound together by the obligation to service and defense, the lord to the protect is vassal and the vases to do service to his lord, so the basic principle of feudalism mutual fealty. The king considered the lord of the whole land of the kingdom distributed among his nobles and the nobles distributed the land to the smaller lords. The smaller lords further gave land to the peasants for farmering. The peasants were forced to till the land and pay a greater share of their produce. Like slaves they couldn’t leave their master without their will and had to secure the permission for the marriage of their daughter. The vassals had to pay many taxes to their lords and had to rendered military service to their masters. The duties of the feudal lords were to maintain police force and the arm force, build castles, protect life of his tenants, and render military service to king in the time of wars as their was no permanent army.

Feb 22, 2011

Romantic Prose

When Blake says that in paradise lost “Milton was at devil’s party without knowing it” the romantic age enters in criticism. Then Wordsworth gave us Preface to Lyrical Ballads wherein, at least two places; he points out: “All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling,” to this statement, however, Wordsworth has added that: “It takes its origin from the emotion recollected in tranquility”.

Feb 21, 2011

Tennessee Williams

In Chicago, Williams was hard at work on the production of a new play being done at the Goodman Theater. It was a humorous and moving work called A House Not Meant to Stand, the title of which was his comment on the state of American civilization.
I interviewed Williams in his suite at the Radisson Hotel on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was a huge, four-bedroom penthouse decorated in a 1930s mock Moroccan style: fake stone walls, iron chandeliers, a massive fireplace, a staircase and balcony, all of it reminiscent of the interior design especially popular about the time, 1943, that Williams had been a contract writer at the film studios in Hollywood. For that reason he had dubbed the place “The Norma Desmond Suite,” after the role played by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing was interviewed at the home of Robert Gottlieb, in Manhattan’s east forties. Her editor for many years at Knopf, Mr. Gottlieb was then the editor of The New Yorker. Ms. Lessing was briefly in town to attend some casting sessions for the opera Philip Glass has based on her novel The Making of the Representative for Planet 8, for which she had written the libretto. Plans for the opera had been in more or less constant flux, and it was only after a minor flurry of postcards—Ms. Lessing communicates most information on postcards, usually ones from the British Museum—that the appointment was finally arranged.

Julio Cortázar

When Julio Cortázar died of cancer in February 1984 at the age of sixty-nine, the Madrid newspaper El Pais hailed him as one of Latin America’s greatest writers and over two days carried eleven full pages of tributes, reminiscences, and farewells.
Though Cortázar had lived in Paris since 1951, he visited his native Argentina regularly until he was officially exiled in the early 1970s by the Argentine junta, who had taken exception to several of his short stories. With the victory, last fall, of the democratically elected Alfonsín government, Cortázar was able to make one last visit to his home country. Alfonsín’s cultural minister chose to give him no official welcome, afraid that his political views were too far to the left, but the writer was nonetheless greeted as a returning hero. One night in Buenos Aires, coming out of a cinema after seeing the new film based on Osvaldo Soriano’s novel, No habra ni mas pena ni olvido, Cortázar and his friends ran into a student demonstration coming towards them, which instantly broke file on glimpsing the writer and crowded around him. The bookstores on the boulevards still being open, the students hurriedly bought up copies of Cortázar’s books so that he could sign them. A kiosk salesman, apologizing that he had no more of Cortázar’s books, held out a Carlos Fuentes novel for him to sign.

James Baldwin

This interview was conducted in the two places dearest to James Baldwin’s struggle as a writer. We met first in Paris, where he spent the first nine years of a burgeoning career and wrote his first two novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room, along with his best-known collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son. It was in Paris, he says, that he was first able to come to grips with his explosive relationship with himself and America. Our second talks were held at Baldwin’s poutres-and-stone villa in St. Paul de Vence, where he has made his home for the past ten years. We lunched on an August weekend, together with seasonal guests and his secretary. Saturday, a storm raged amid intolerable heat and humidity, causing Baldwin’s minor case of arthritis to pain his writing hand (left) and wrist. Erratic power shortages caused by the storm interrupted the tape machine by our side. During the blackouts we would discuss subjects at random or wait in silence while sipping our drinks.

The Great Gatsby: Fitzgerald

"What distinguishes us one from another is our dreams.......
and what we do to make them come about" (Joseph Epstein)

The Great Gatsby is among the most celebrated pieces of jacket art in American literature, in which F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays the theme of the end of the American Dream. 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald “half black and half old American” portrays the end of the American Dream, that is the end of innocence in the period that the book was set in, the Jazz Age (the phrase was given by Fitzgerald himself) which was literally when Jazz music really came into its own and became the defining music of the people. “The American Dream“: what does it mean? Wealth, material possessions, and power are the core values of “The American Dream.”

Feb 19, 2011

Room at the Top: John Braine

Remember the name: John Braine. You''ll be hearing quite a lot about him.
Room at the Top is his first novel, and it is a remarkable one.

This is what John Metcalf wrote in The Sunday Times when published, Room at the Top, the original classic of 'ANGRY YOUNG MAN'.  Witten in the 1950s: "Room at the Top is the story of Joe Lampton´s malevolent rise from Town Hall clerk to industrial riches by marrying a millionaire´s daughter, sacrificing true love along the way to reach his goal."

The novel set in the North of England, with the working-class protagonist Joe Lampton ruthlessly climbing the social ladder by seducing and marrying Susan Browne, the factory-owner's daughter, and abandoning an older woman whom he actually does love; she tragically dies of drink.

The story happens shortly after the Second World War. Joe , the narrator and the main protagonist describes the events from his life, from a sober and superior vanitage point, as they happened ten years ago. He wants to make career, so he moves from his town Dufton to Warley where he works as an accountant, but wants to get rich as fast as possible, although he hates rich people. About his ambition, he himself says:

I was going to the Top, into a world that even from my first brief
glimpse filled me with excitement: Big Houses with drives and
orchards and manicures hedges.

In Warley Joe meets a woman, Alice, ten years older and has been married for ages, but that’s no obstacle to begin a secret relationship with her. He uses Alice as an object of pleasure and than dissmisses her as a “Neurotic bitch.” The clearly forgets his promise of love and loyalty to her:

I do love you, Alice, I’ll love you till the day I die. You’re my wife now. 
There’ll never be anyone else. I’ll with you every inch of the journey.

The affair between Joe and Alice shows us the awful condition of the society of the sixties. One day Joe meets the 19 years old Suzan, she is really beautiful, and comes from a higher social class than Joe, who can’t choose between his two mistresses, so he keeps on meeting both of them, with Alice it’s true love, but he decides to marry Susan. When Alice hears this news, she commits suicide. At this Joe cries in this manner:
“O merciful God, I thought, she’s committed suicide and left a blaming me.
That’s finished it.  That’s finished me in every possible way. Teddy’s eyes
were a pale  blue, as if all the colour had been drained from them; they
were probing my fac now.” P.217

Joe Lampton does suffer some remorse but eventually, like many social climbers, he achieves his heights by trampling on others. 

The book can be described as a mix of a love story and social story: a love story, because of Joe’s two relationships with Alice and Suzan; a social story because it refers to the problem of money and fame. Joe is obsessed by these things. It’s written in the first person naration, so each of one could imagine themselves in the main character. Like Dickens’ The Great Expectations, Braine’s novel also reveals the corrosive influecne of money in the morals of man, it can destroy one’s humanity and can be a source of alienation and corruption. Joe realizes the emptiness of the goals he had set for himself—
  I wanted an Aston-Martin, I wanted a three guinea linen shirt,
  I wanted a girl with Riviera suntan—these were my rights,
I felt, a signed and sealed lagecy”
—and the heavy spiritual cost of achieving them when he thinks of all “the muck one’s forced to wade through to get what he wants.”

What remains enduringly intriguing about Room at the Top is its portrayal of British society’s obsession with social class. Alice, for instance, declares that she would like to sleep with Joe. "Truly sleep," she qualifies, "in a big bed with a feather mattress and brass rails and a porcelain chamber pot underneath it." It reveals, In the 1950s, there were no morals in the society. At another level the interest lay in the psychology of the hero:
I saw a man sitting in a big shiny car. He'd driven up to the edge of some
waste ground, near some houses and factories, and was just sitting there
looking across at them. It seemed to me there must have been a lot that
led up that moment.

Although the novel was written in the early 1950s, and published in 1958, it is important to realise that it is set in the immediate post-war years, with an older Joe Lampton as narrator looking back on his life and the circumstances which have made him what he is today. He is a selfish man who thinks of himself:

It was clear and complelling as the sense of vocation which doctors and
missionaries  are supposed to experience though in my instance,
of course, the call ordered me to do good  to my self not others.

Room at the Top is, for  Laing, a "morality tale", which tells of “the cost of affluence". The words  of Joe about Susan which shows the conditions of the society and morality:

“I was taking Susan, but not as a Grade. A lovely, as the daughter of a
factory owner, as the  means of obtaining the key to the
Aladdin’s cave of my ambitions…”
The novel seems to argue that poverty cannot be decent, the poor cannot afford moral surplus and goddnes: “It’s astounding how often golden hearts and silver spoons in the mouth go together.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has outlived almost every criticism of those who have spoken against it to become a native classic thrust forward exultantly in the face of any who still dare inquire, “who reads an American book?’’—its health endangered only by a smothering swarm of commentators who threaten to maim it with excessive kind attention. Except perhaps for Moby Dick, no American book has recently been opened with more tender explicatory care or by critics to whom we are better prepared to listen. The River on which or beside which the action develops is a great brown god to T.S Eliot; and Lionel Trilling reminds us of the “subtle, implicit moral meaning of the great river’’ as he translates Emerson to contemporary idiom by explaining that “against the money-god, stands the river-god, whose comments are silent,’’ that Huck is “The servant of the river-god,’’ and that Mr. Eliot is right in saying “the river is within us.”

Keats: A Sensuous Mystic

Sensuousness is such a prominent feature of Keats’ poetry. Most readers tend to overlook his intends love towards suffering humanity. When Keats asserts “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” he does not mean by beauty, he means something which pleases the eyes and other sense organs, rather, then goodness.

The word “Sensuousness”, according to Coleridge means “which belongs to five senses”. Sensuousness in poetry is that quality which appeals our five senses. In other words, it is a quality which affected our five senses of smell, taste, touch, hear, sight at once. Keats’ sensuousness is universal: the song of the bird, rustle of an animal, changing pattern of the wind, a smile of a child’s face--- nothing escaped from his watchful eyes. He composes his famous and last ode To Autumn after being inspired by “the stubble fields…………during his Sunday’s walk”. Just observes the sensuous appeal from the poem:
“Hedge cricket sing, and now with treble soft,
The red breast whistle, from the garden croft,
And gathering swallows twittering in the skies”.
The above lines gives comfort to our ears that is why Compton Rickett finds “symphony of sound” in these lines.

Browning: Dramatic Monologue

Browning’s greatest discovery was the dramatic monologue—though he did not invented the form. It reflected the life just as his poetic vision took it to be. It mirrored the individual finding his place in the universe. It depicted a situation in which soul was made manifests through circumstances. Browning did not first realize importance of this new poetic form but he discovered its ampler range by experiments. The main stuff of dramatic monologue is speaker’s personality and the situation in which he speaks. It seems more apt to the portraiture of the person, so individual as to be abnormal, fanatic and even madman.

Wordsworth: A Nature Poet

Wordsworth or “the Muse of Poetry” well known as “a priest of Nature”, who shows:
“……………….the light of setting sun,
And the round ocean, and the blue sky,
The living air and the mind of man”.
English poetry before Wordsworth was the poetry of town and drawing room but Wordsworth drew the attention of the readers towards rills and hills, skies and stars, rivers and trees. In his poetry he adopted Rousseau’s slogan “Return to nature” but in his return to her he never grew morbid like Rousseau or animal like D.H. Lawrence. He says “love he had found in huts where poor men lives”, and his poetry is the “language of conversation among middle and poor classes of the society”, and as a poet he is “a man speaking to men”. So, he today remains the living voice crying in its wilderness prophetic protest, not only against the unhealthiness civilization but also against the drop brutality of the machine world.

Feb 18, 2011

Marxism and Literature: Edmund Wilson

'He used to say that the poets were originals, who must be allowed to go their own way, and that one shouldn't apply to them the same standards as to ordinary people,' as Marx's daughter wrote of her father, a quotation which appears in 'Marxism and Literature,' an essay in The Triple Thinkers. While he wrote extensively on the relationship between political ideologies such as Marxism and Literature, he opposed any pre-formulated critical frameworks, or what he called "a process of lopping and distortion to make [the work] fit the Procrustes bed of a thesis."

Two Uses of Language: IA Richards

“Richards provide the theoretical foundations on which the technique of  verbal analyses was built.” George Watson. Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893 - 1979) is the first-rate critic, since Coleridge, who has formulated a systematic and complete theory of poetry, and his views are highly original and illuminating. In his “Principles of Literary Criticism” chapter 34, he discusses the most neglected subject, i.e. The Theory of Language and The Two Uses of Language. To understand much the theory of poetry and what is said about poetry, a clear comprehension of the differences between the uses of language is indispensable. David Daiches says, “Richards conducts this investigation in order to come to some clear conclusions about what imaginative literature is, how it employs language, how its use of language differs from the scientific use of language and what is its special function and value.” According to I.A. Richards language can be used in two ways, i.e. the scientific use and the emotive one.

Feb 9, 2011


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