Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Questions for Wells, The War of the Worlds

Answer THREE of the following:

Q1: One of the most important elements of science fiction is what we call verisimilitude, the quality of making something appear real—or what Coleridge termed the “suspension of disbelief.” The more we believe the events of science fiction are possible, the more we fall under their spell and ultimately unlock their metaphors. How does Wells accomplish this in the opening chapters of The War of the Worlds? How does he attempt to blur fact and fiction?

Q2: How does the public react to the growing threat of the Martians? Remember that the media didn’t have the power or influence in his day as it does in ours, and yet newspapers picked up stories quickly and disseminated them. What might the public’s response say about Wells’ views of England—or humanity in general? 

Q3: How might Mars and the Martians represent some of England’s colonial fears, much in the same way that vampires and “Mr. Hydes” did in other stories? Consider the opening chapter, which notes that “[Mars] must be...older than our world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface must have begun its course” (8). 

Q4: In Chapter 2, “From the Ruined House,” the narrator discusses Martian anatomy and evolution, explaining (among other things), that “is it quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain and hands...at the expense of the rest of the body” (127). Why is this passage significant for the metaphor of Wells’ book? What fate does this predict for mankind if it continues along current lines of development?

Q5: At one point, the Man on Putney Hill wants to create a secret stash of books, but "not novels and poetry swipes, but ideas, science books" (Ch.7).  Why does he place so little value on imaginative literature and so great a value on scientific literature?  If there was a global catastrophe, should we save the art as well as the science? 

Q6: In the Epilogue, the narrator reflects that "We have learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding-place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly from space."  Though talking about Mars, how might this also reflect on Britain?  Why might this Epilogue be a metaphor for seeing England as an 'earth' itself? 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Questions for Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest

Answer TWO of the following: 

Q1: If you were a director, what would be your greatest difficulty in staging this play? Though this play is often performed even today, it is surprisingly tricky to bring off: why do you think this is? What element of the play would challenge modern theatergoers (or actors) the most? You might discuss a specific scene to illustrate this.

Q2: According to this play (especially in the Third Act), what is the greatest sacrifice that men are willing to make? How is this a sacrifice in Victorian society (even though it is a ridiculous one)? How is Wilde using this as a larger satire of his society and its values?

Q3: Of course, the true satire of the piece is couched in the title itself. So what is the importance of being “Earnest”? Is it a pun, suggesting that being “earnest” is truly the best policy? Or is it actually more literal, than being “Earnest” is what saved him more than any other quality or sacrifice?

Q4: Where do we see tensions between the upper and lower classes in the play? What makes one class superior to another, according to the logic of the play? You might consider most of Lady Bracknell’s views, particularly on education. Is the play an indictment of the upper classes—or does it gently satirize both worlds? 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

NOTE: These cover the entire book, so answer as soon as you finish reading. Questions for The Importance of Being Earnest and War of the Worlds to follow shortly. 

Answer TWO of the following

Q1: When Mr. Enfield first describes Mr. Hyde, he tells Utterson, "There is something wrong with is appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce now why." According to Dr. Jekyll's explanation at the end of the book, why does Mr. Hyde so disturb anyone who sees him? What is "wrong" or "uncanny" with his appearance?

Q2: The narrative structure of this short work is rather odd: though it has a third-person narrator, the story itself is introduced through a conversation, and is finally concluded by a series of letters (and other letters are used to help tell the story). Indeed, much of this conversation comes second-hand rather than through the narrator himself. Why do you think this is? How might this tie into the Gothic narration of a work like Frankenstein or the slightly later Dracula, which is told solely through letters, diaries, and newspaper clippings? 

Q3: In his final letter, Dr. Jekyll explains that "man is not truly one, but truly two...and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous, and independent denizens." While this idea is more accepted thanks to the fields of psychology and psychiatry, why might this be an extraordinary--and an extraordinarily disturbing--idea for the 1880s? What might Stevenson be suggesting about the nature of English society, with its emphasis on decorum, civility, and ritual?

Q4: Dr. Jekyll decides to stop 'unleashing' Mr. Hyde after his first experiments, but later falls prey to temptation, at which point "My devil had been so long caged, he came out roaring." How might this "strange case" of transformation also be read as a metaphor for addiction, and as yet little-understood psychological condition? Could this story actually be used to explain, and in a sense, understand, the split identity of an addict's personality? 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Shelley, Frankenstein: Last Questions...

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: What arguments does Victor give Walton for destroying the Creature’s incomplete mate? He was earlier moved by the Creature’s loneliness, and also agreed that the Creature’s arguments were sound. Why, at the very end, does he decide not to go through with his “engagement”? Are his reasons equally sound? 

Q2: Earlier in class, we discussed the possibility that the Creature is Victor’s doppleganger, his other half which he has psychically divorced from himself. Whether or not this works, are there passages in the last few chapters that seem to support this? Or, are their passages that would change significantly if we read the Creature this way?

Q3: Is Victor a reliable narrator? Do we trust his version of events (in greater or lesser ways)? Consider passages such as, “He is eloquent and persuasive...but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiendlike malice.” Related to this, is Walton’s narrative meant the story—or is he equally suspect? 

Q4: In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Wedding Guest is changed, becoming a “sadder and a wiser man.” What effect does Victor have on Walton? Is he changed? Redeemed? Or doomed? How closely does Shelley follow Coleridge’s example in her own work?  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Frankenstein: Chapter V-Vol 2, Chapter 3

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Discuss the dream that Victor has just before he beholds the Creature for the first time. What is significant about this dream, considering that it contains the two women in his life--his mother and Elizabeth? Also, why did he originally find the Creature "beautiful," but after the dream he exclaims that it is a "miserable monster"? 

Q2: Percy Shelley wrote a poem about Mont Blanc (the highest peak in the Alps) which obviously Mary Shelley knew intimately. At the end of this poem, he writes, "Mont Blanc gleams on high:--the power is there,/The still and solemn power of many sights/And many sounds, and much of life and death." How do these lines connect with Victor's experience on Mont Blanc in Chapter IV? What sublime experience does he have there, and how might Wordsworth or Coleridge translate this experience in Romantic terms? 

Q3: After Justine's death (which Victor inadvertently causes), Victor notes that Elizabeth "was no longer the happy creature, who in earlier youth wandered with me on the banks of the lake, and talked with ecstasy of our future prospects." Why is it significant that Victor's first victims are all women (and a child, which is in the care of women)? Does Victor have a hostility or ambivalence toward women which his Creation seems to act upon? Is the Creature, in a sense, Victor himself? 

Q4: When the Creature confronts Victor on the mountain, he exclaims, "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous." Whether or not you believe this, why is this an extremely Romantic sentiment? What poem or poems from the Romantic period would support the Creature's words? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Paper #1: Romantic Co-Authors

The Romantic period is full of writers reading each other's works, and being influenced by the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) that was bubbling up in literature, art, and music. Reading works by one poet almost always conjures up ideas from another, and some authors--notably, Mary Shelley--actually laces her novels with quotes from the very poets she spent her leisure hours reading. In short, to read anything from the Romantic period is to take part in a vast discussion of ideas that are shared, revised, and expanded upon by every author active in the period.

For this paper, I want you to imagine TWO of the writers in class as co-authors of each other's works. Naturally, Coleridge and Austen weren't writing together--nor even knew one another--though Austen did read Coleridge's work and she wrote Persuasion with his words swimming around her. So if we can pretend that Austen and Coleridge did write together, sharing the same metaphorical writing desk, how would this influence how we read each of their works? How can we use Coleridge to read Austen? Or Austen to read Coleridge? If both were influenced by the spirit of their times, how we can decipher these times through a side-by-side reading of their works? So choose two works (poems or novels) to imagine as co-authored, and discuss how each one shares Romantic themes, ideas, and even characters between them. How does reading one help us understand and appreciate the other? 

* 4-5 pages, double spaced
* Must quote from each work substantially to show ideas and influence
* Cite according to MLA format, with a Works Cited page
* Due in 2 weeks on Wednesday, October 26th by 5pm 

Please e-mail me with any questions or concerns! 

Shelley, Frankenstein, Chs.1-4

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Most first-time readers of Frankenstein are surprised to find that the novel begins with a frame narrative: that of Walton, the arctic explorer, who is writing home to his sister, Mrs. Saville. What purpose does this frame serve, especially since it could have all been narrated from Victor’s point of view? Also, why might Walton be a specifically Romantic character in his own right? Consider lines such as, “I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me; whose eyes would reply to mine.”

Q2: How is Victor something of a Romantic poet (esp. like Coleridge and Wordsworth) even though he dabbles in occult sciences rather than verse? How does he embody some of the innocence vs. experience struggles we witnessed in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Ode: Intimations of Immortality? You might consider the passage where he writes, “It was a most beautiful season...but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.”

Q3: Somewhat related to Q2, what role does the sublime play in the work? Why does Shelley open her story in the North Pole, and why is Victor raised in the Alps (where she first conceived of the work, and where the Shelleys had their honeymoon)? In other words, why are the descriptions of Nature in this book not mere decoration, but part of the actual story of the work?

Q4: Recalling his early education, Victor remarks, “And thus for a time I was occupied by exploded systems, mingling, like an unadept, a thousand contradictory theories, and floundering desperately in a very slough of multifarious knowledge...” Why is Victor attracted to old, arcane alchemists and philosophers who have long-since been debunked? What is his attraction to the writings of Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Magnus, men who are almost more magicians than true scientists?