Dec 04

Zoe Heller’s novel Notes on a Scandal is an interesting look at the possessive power a secret can have over an individual. Barbara’s iron grip over Sheba’s life is a great example of Barbara’s dominating nature in her “friendships” with other people. Barbara is shown to be extremely possessive of Sheba and wants her all for herself, and it is hinted at multiple times that she has sexual desires for Sheba. By the end of the play, Sheba “knows by now not to go too far without” Barbara since Barbara is the only companion she has left (258). Even though readers can clearly see that any relationship with Barbara is a relationship controlled solely by Barbara herself, Sheba is unable to for most of the novel. In Sheba’s mind, Barbara is protecting and concealing her secret affair instead of actually using Sheba’s affair as a way to get closer to her.

 

Perhaps the most interesting aspects of Barbara’s character traits are how she relates to all the villains we have encountered in class readings so far. Barbara is the perfect mix of Iago, Mary Tilford, and Jean Brodie. Like Iago, Barbara is considered trustworthy by everyone, as both Sheba and Brian Bangs have no qualms with disclosing some of their worst personal secrets to her. She is able to avoid detection of any wrongdoing by Sheba until the discovery of the manuscript. Like Mary Tilford, Barbara knows exactly how to spread gossip through the mouth of another person. Instead of directly saying it out loud to Bangs, she implies through phrases like “it’s more a question of age” and “Sheba likes younger men” before giving him a direct hint at the possible identity of the boy she is having an affair with (204). Finally, like Jean Brodie, Barbara wants only the crème de la crème when it comes to friends, and when she gets a hold of Sheba, she gets Sheba seemingly for life.

Nov 20

Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play The Children’s Hour explores the effects of malicious gossip. More importantly, it explores the effects of malicious gossip spread by children. Children are usually considered innocent by the rest of society and many view them as passive bystanders to the events around them. With that in mind, Mary Tilford is an excellent example of disproving that stereotype by showing that some children are not victims of their environments, but are actually the villains in disguise.

 

Mary’s greatest strength is that she is an effective liar, convincing everyone except Karen, Joseph, and Martha of her lies and bullying the rest of her classmates into following along with her story. In her first appearance, she is able to convince Mrs. Mortar that she was late to school because she wanted to find flowers for her. Mrs. Mortar believes that lie without too much hesitation, a primary example of adults believing in the innocence of children.

 

Mary’s evaluation of herself as a better liar when she is under pressure seems to be accurate. Approaching the end of Act II’s Scene 1, Mary’s most convincing slander is created more by the imagination and fears of others and less on her own words. Rather than lying outright about the “affair” between Karen and Martha, she tells small lies after small lies which allow Mrs. Tilford to create her own unique version of what happened. In essence, Mary does not convince Mrs. Tilford about the “affair,” Mrs. Tilford convinces herself. Mary’s best manipulation in this scene is her hesitancy. Rather than appearing eager to speak, Mary effectively pretends to “reluctantly” give the information up, masking her true intentions.

 

At the end of Act II’s Scene 2, Mary’s lie becomes nearly unstoppable. She is able to blackmail her classmate Rosalie into becoming the “gossiper.” By convincing the adults that she was protecting Rosalie, Mary is able to evade any further speculation about her honesty. This allows her to not only shed her status as the “gossiper,” but to take on the role of a “protector;” Mary adopts the image of an innocent child who is only trying to protect another girl rather than a vicious slanderer. Though her lie is eventually exposed, the damage it has done is permanent. The lies of a child destroyed the reputations and lives of three innocent adults and altered the future of the girls attending the boarding school.

Nov 13

1. I found that the topic description was the most productive in exploring my ideas. The topic description was the basis of my research and where I wrote most of the core ideas of my prospectus. Being the introduction, I wanted the main ideas to be the first thing any person who picked up my prospectus would read. It was very useful because it organized some of my disjointed ideas from which I was able to pick a few works with some common themes. Like most of my classmates, I am sure the main problem was not that we had no ideas to write and research about, it was figuring out what were the good ideas and how do you combine those good ideas into one large coherent topic. The introduction was useful when I finally came up with a main idea and filtered my ideas through that one main idea.

2. The most difficult aspect of this assignment for me was to narrow down which works of Anglophone literature would be appropriate topics to research and write about. The main topic of the seminar, gossip, is not a subject that I am particularly familiar with. With that in mind, I had to expand my horizons out of my normal comfort zone with the books and movies I usually read and watch. It was difficult because while many works did come to mind regarding the theme of gossip, they were usually so different from one another, that it really took some serious thinking to find a few that corresponded well in a unit.

3. My main concern with my current prospectus is simply “is it specific enough?” I have an idea of what my research project would look like with the current thesis, but I am worried on whether or not the topic thoroughly answers one specific question or partially answers many broad questions. If the current topic is too broad, I would like some input into reducing or altering it into one more manageable and more appropriate for this research project.

4. I would like to know about the process of eliminating unimportant ideas and coming up with new ones in the middle of the process. Often times, I find that ideas I initially thought were promising turn out to be dead ends while seemingly unimportant ones bloom into really fascinating ones. If I had to think of examples that could happen on this project, two that come to mind would be discovering that one of the works I had originally planned on using does not mesh well with the others or that I discover a new work that I want to incorporate into the project but I end up encountering difficulties into finding a proper place for it.

Nov 06

Dramatic irony is used very effectively in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. The novel uses dramatic irony to create suspense regarding the secrets of each character. Many of these secrets are well-hidden, so only readers and a select few characters in the novel are truly knowledgeable of the hidden truths.

Chapter 3: “The Recognition” is rich with dramatic irony for readers who are already familiar with the story. It begins with Hester on the scaffold recognizing her husband among the crowd of people. He will soon take the name of Roger Chillingworth, a secret identity he will establish for himself; Hester is the only one who is aware of his true identity. Chillingworth pleads for a stranger in the crowd to tell him about Hester’s trial and punishment. The stranger informs Chillingworth that Hester is the wife of an Englishman who never traveled to America, completely clueless that Chillingworth is Hester’s husband. The foreshadowing of the most intense dramatic irony in the story comes when Chillingworth questions the identity of Pearl’s father. No one except two characters and the readers will truly know the identity of Pearl’s father until the very end of the story.

While Hester is being punished on the scaffold, Reverend Dimmesdale is one of the men who is judging her trial. He pleads for Hester to reveal the name of Pearl’s father, so that the father will also suffer the same punishment. Unknown to the rest of the town, Dimmesdale is Pearl’s father himself. Readers familiar with the plot of The Scarlet Letter are already aware that Dimmesdale wants Hester to reveal that he is the father to alleviate his own guilt for his sin. This guilt later allows him to write more powerful sermons, which ironically only increases the town’s respect for him. The very guilt that he can barely contain will be the reason why the town will respect and admire him. Yet, if his secret was to be revealed during chapter 3 at Hester’s trial, he would be detested at the same level she was. If his secret was to be revealed now, Hester would not be alone in her punishment of wearing the scarlet letter “A.”

Oct 30

Jane Austen’s novel Emma is an interesting commentary on the spread and lingering effects of gossip. In Emma’s Highbury, gossip is not meant to be used negatively towards the people being gossiped; rather it is more often used as a means of conversation and a method for the residents to become closer. Finch and Bowen interestingly mentions that the anonymous narrator usually takes the side of the “vague chorus of gossip” over individuals when differences arise (4). Perhaps the reason is rooted from the fact that what readers “know of [Highbury] can never be anything more than what [the characters] know and tell us” (4). Nevertheless, the narrator is slightly judgmental towards the pettiness of the entire gossip, but yet she seems to appreciate the gossip herself. In many ways, the narrator of Emma can be considered a less malicious forerunner to the likes of Gossip Girl’s Melanie91 in that she informs us, the readers, of the private lives of Highbury’s residents with a warm affection.

 

Max Gluckman states that gossip and scandal are usually only enjoyed when the gossipers have close social relationships with the people being gossiped (Gluckman 313). This is true in Emma as the people being gossiped are usually respected or well-known members of the community. In contrast, Finch and Bowen mentions the likes of “the invisible liveryman who drives the carriage containing Mr. Elton and Emma from the dinner party at Randalls” and other members of the working class who live too far away from the property owners to attract much interest. In Emma, this separates the people who are important to the economic exchanges in Highbury and the people who are not (7). Based on all the evidence, it would seem that in the world of Emma’s Highbury, it was more socially advantageous to be spoken negatively of by everyone than not at all.

Oct 23

Three questions based on Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s essay. “The Secret History of the Early American Novel: Leonora Sansay and the Revolution in Saint Domingue

 

1. Secret History is an early example of an American epistolary novel. Critics believe that the Mary in the novel is based on Sansay herself, who was also known as Mary Hassal. “Clara” is believed to be a refashioned persona of Sansay herself (as evidenced by a letter Sansay wrote to Aaron Burr). Since Sansay based the novel on her own experiences, would this novel lean closer to the traditional definition of the novel in that it is fictional or does it lean more towards a coded version of a personal diary (ex. Samuel Pepys’s diary)?

 

2. Normally, “individual conflict [in the novel] becomes a metonym for national conflict and private vice a synonym for the corruption of the polity” (Davidson 6). Does this model apply to the Secret History? Does it stray far from the model? Does it stray to the point of representing the exact opposite of Davidson’s model? Is the main conflict in Secret History Clara fighting for her personal freedom or the slaves fighting for their freedom in the Haitian Revolution?

 

3. Considering that Secret History was written in 1808, does Sansay successfully capture the American mentality of the time period the novel was written in? If so, could Secret History be considered the earliest contender to being the “Great American Novel?”

Oct 16

Leonora Sansay’s novel Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingo effectively explores the seemingly less grand topic of the violence against and the suppression of women instead of the horrors of the Haitian Revolution. In many ways, the rebellion of the slaves serves as an allegory for Clara’s personal struggle for freedom from her abusive husband. Like the slaves revolting against their oppressors, Clara has to discover how to combat the terrifying wrath of her husband St. Louis.

 

Clara’s greatest obstacle is that women were essentially powerless by themselves at this point of time as “a husband is necessary to give [women] a place in society” (96). As such, Clara has to either endure St. Louis’s continuous anger or relinquish the high social standing she enjoys. The “restraint[s]” of being single that marriage was suppose to release Clara from instead makes her more miserable than ever (Sansay 96). Though Clara enjoys her respected social status and the attention her beauty receives from General Rochambeau, St. Louis turns her beauty against her. St. Louis keeps her locked up inside a room like a “trophy” (96). Clara’s captivity is made explicitly clear when St. Louis allows her visitors only with his own personal supervision. After experiencing St. Louis’s fury for so long, Clara eventually reaches her breaking point. She frees herself from the slavery of her marriage by fleeing from both St. Louis and St. Domingo. Though this means that Clara will relinquish her high social standing, she decides to choose personal freedom and potential happiness in America over any social status that comes along with being St. Louis’s wife.

 

In the end, the only person Clara can trust is her sister Mary. The two women eventually leave for Philadelphia together (Sansay 154). They discover that St. Louis returned to France and Mary wishes that she and Clara will never see him again (Sansay 154). Only in the absence of men, do Clara and Mary finally find peace; “Freedom from all men” is what ultimately frees Clara and Mary from the horrors of St. Domingo (Woertendyke 265). As the slaves eventually defeated and overthrew their oppressors, Clara eventually escapes from the destructive wrath of her husband St. Louis.

Oct 02

Daniel Defoe’s novel A Journal of the Plague Year successfully manages to mix spirituality and science in one narrative. Defoe does this by combining both mathematical statistics and his own moral views on the religious reactions regarding the plague. When describing the increasing quantity of burials, H.F. uses numbers to give an unbiased view on what is occurring. For instance, rather than simply stating the number of burials at St. Giles’s and St. Andrew’s has increased, the raw numbers given are much more powerful (3). In other words, the actual numbers are the most impactful thing H.F. could have said. Statistics are not subject to hyperboles or understatements; they are objective and have a life of their own. Also, H.F. mentions specific medical remedies to both the prevention and the cure of the plague throughout the story, such as quarantine zones. These medical techniques are accurately written, making the journal scientifically reliable.

 

Religious beliefs are also recorded, centering on the oral street culture. During one scene, a woman claims that she sees an angel with a flaming sword (22-23). The woman is so convincing that she is able to persuade those around her that a white cloud is the figure of the angel. She and the rest of the crowd criticize H.F. when he truthfully states that he does not see it. In this scene, H.F. relates the fear of the plague to mass hysteria. In this case, the real “disease” being spread is fear of the plague, not the plague itself. In pages 32 to 33, H.F. mentions the “deceiving charms” being sold that would protect individuals against possessions from the “evil spirit” of the plague. Though H.F. is cynical of the effectiveness of these charms, he does believe in God. H.F. is an individual who “would trust God with [his] safety and health,” which underlines that H.F. supports religious belief (9). He simply chooses to keep a calm mind rather than fall prey to mass hysteria. In the writings of H.F., both the scientific facts and the spiritual beliefs about the 1660s London plague outbreak are given. As such, Defoe creates a great balance between two perspectives of viewing the plague.

Sep 25

Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan discusses the distinction between scandal and gossip. In the play, Cecil Graham states that the only distinction between the two is that scandal is just gossip mixed with morality. In the play, the characters consider gossip as something positive but view scandal as entirely negative.

 

The first mention of the word “scandal” occurs in Act I during the discussion between Lady Windermere, Lord Darlington, and the Duchess of Berwick. Lady Windermere outright states that she will now allow anyone involved with a scandalous past to attend her birthday dance. The characters treat the very idea of a scandal as a sort of “disease.” The later conversation between Lady Windermere and her husband about Mrs. Erlynne coming to the dance party centers more on the “public scandal” that an insult by Lady Windermere to Mrs. Erlynne could cause than over her husband’s possible affair with Mrs. Erlynne.

 

By Act IV, this “scandal” has truly become a “disease.” Mrs. Erlynne is revealed not only to be Lady Windermere’s mother, but she also saves the Windermeres from a scandal when she claims that she left Lady Windermere’s fan at Lord Darlington’s home. Mrs. Erlynne threatens Lord Windermere to keep the fact that she is Lady Windermere’s mother a secret by telling him that the she would further ruin her own reputation to secretly shame Lady Windermere. In this case, the consequence of revealing Mrs. Erlynne’s true relationship to Lady Windermere would completely destroy Lady Windermere’s beliefs about her supposedly dead mother. At the end of the play, the characters are not free from their infectious “scandals;” their secrets will forever form an emotional fence between Lord and Lady Windermere. Mrs. Erlynne’s visit to Lady Windermere’s birthday party sparks an outbreak of “infectious scandals” all over 1892 London.

Sep 18

The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello has perplexed generations of readers. Iago’s reasons for despising Othello are never made clear, leaving endless readers confused at his actions.

Drawing upon Virgil’s interpretation of Rumor, Iago’s power of slander seems to share an eerie connection with Rumor’s “powers.” Rumor describes herself as a “pipe,” blown by humans (Henry IV, Part 2 I.i.15). She claims that she is ultimately not the one responsible for human suffering, but that the human vice of suspicion is (Henry IV, Part 2 I.i.15-20).

Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello is quite similar to this concept of Rumor. The only difference between Iago and the rest of Othello’s characters is his superior verbal ability. In this way, the slanderous voice of Iago can easily be compared with the “pipe” that is Rumor. Though “Honest Iago” is the manipulator and the tool behind the sufferings of the characters in the play, he is not the only party responsible.

Othello is the one who ultimately allows the destructive melody of Iago’s words to kill Desdemona. Though Iago’s words are the murder weapons, Iago is not the murderer. That honor belongs to Othello. If Iago’s slander was simply ignored, he would ultimately be powerless, just like the pipe that is Rumor. Though Iago is the one who leads Othello astray, Othello is ultimately the one who murders his own wife, causing his own misery, and the one who freely creates his own self-destructive death and downfall.

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