Perspectives in Literary and Linguistic Theory Part 1. Critical Theory.

These resources were originally written in 2006 and published on an interactive platform by Hodder Education in 2008. The extensive teaching text (no frills!) is exclusively made available here by its author free of charge in the hope that it may help ambitious A level students stranded at home without teachers by the Covid19 pandemic.  There are lots of sections so there should be something here for every one. 

Good luck and stay safe!

[A] Perspectives in Literary and Linguistic Theory 

[B] Section 1: General Introduction

“Perspectives on Literary and Linguistic Theory” is for A level extension and any students who want more out of their studies. These screens are designed to ‘stretch and challenge’ your understanding – and enrich your appreciation - of literature and language. Literary Theory is dealt with in this section. For the  companion section on Language please go to Linguistic Theory  

PLLT encourages you to think for yourself. To ask advanced questions. And to find your own answers. Questions like, “Do men read differently from women?” “Is time and space created by grammar rather than by ‘reality’?”  “Can language condemn us to, or liberate us from, social control?”

Great theories are often complicated. But the poet W.B. Yeats spoke of the “fascination of what’s difficult.” Difficulty did not worry him. 

Greek myth, that pool of unconscious intelligence, is a powerful guide through intellectual difficulty.  In one story, Theseus confronts the gorgon Medusa. She has writhing serpents instead of hair. Her face turns everyone who looks at it to stone. But Theseus uses his shield as a mirror and turns the Medusa’s own stare against her.

New theories are not monsters to be wrestled with and slain. We should capture what we can of these great bristling theories in the mirror of our own needs. 


What Is Critical Theory?
Several decades ago critics realised that the meaning of a piece of literature was not simply put into it by the author, waiting to be pulled out by the reader. The solution to this problem lay in playing close attention to the words on the page and letting them speak for themselves. The critics realised that the words on the page didn’t always mean the same thing. The meaning depended on who was reading them. 

Then critics realised that readers don’t just read in a vacuum – they are influenced by the reading context. Reading response theory usually focused on individual readers. But critics have increasingly started to consider wider contexts. 

More recently, the theory of New Historicism (click on for pop up glossary) returns focus on to the writer. But this time the theory focuses on the context in which the writer worked. The next approach to English is likely to be though the context of the reader. Due attention will therefore be given to the physical context - and identity - of the reader in these pages. So the sequence of critical attention has been:

  1. The writer
  2. The text
  3. The reader
  4. The context (of the writer; of the reader)
Interactive activity 1
Look at the following four definitions/ short explanations of critical approaches. 

1          The writer
2          The text
3          The reader
4          The context (of the writer; of the reader)

  1. It doesn’t matter whether the text was written in 1360 or 2006. The text has an eternal meaning. The biography and social context of the writer is interesting but irrelevant to the meaning at the heart of the text. Literature is written in a special ‘literary’ language which is timeless. The reader should not impose his/her own reading on the words. There is something inspired - even sacred - about the words. Trust the tale not the teller.

  1. The artist is the priest of the imagination. He/she reveals truths to us. A great writer can have the same status as a leader or ‘prophet’ of religion. Or a leading thinker in philosophy, psychology, sociology, politics. “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Trust the teller.

  1. In the Middle Ages, religion provided the final answers to life’s questions. As religion and other systems of belief lose their grip, Literature can replace them. Literature is not dogmatic and can (therefore) provide a profound philosophy of life as it is actually lived. But the modern writer no longer provides answers, only expresses the confusion and doubt of our times as they see and experience them. Trust the teller’s doubt. 

d. “If you read your A level texts in ten – or fifty - years’ time, they will have a different meaning. They will have grown with you and gathered associations and memories that could not possibly have been put there by the writer. Shakespeare wrote for the Elizabethan theatreBronte wrote for Victorian drawing rooms Neither wrote for A level.But both succeed because they left a space for us, the reader, to interpret. Trust yourself. 
Activity 1
Now, read the extract from Jane Eyre. 

A small breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room; I slipped in there. It contained a book-case: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the panes of glass protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

I returned to my book – Bewick’s History of British Birds: the letter-press thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of the sea-fowl; of “the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape-

Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides…

Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever so profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evening, when she chanced to be in good humour; and when, having brought her ironing-table to the nursery-hearth, she allowed us to sit about it, and while she got up Mrs Reed’s lace frills, and crimped her night-cap borders, fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales and older ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela and Henry, Earl of Moreland.

With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy: happy at least in my way. I feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon. The breakfast-room door opened.

…”You have no business to take our books; you are a dependant, mamma says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mamma’s expense. Now, I’ll teach you to rummage my bookshelves: for they are mine; all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years. Go and stand by the door, out of the way of the mirror and the windows.

I did so, not at first aware what was his intention; but when I saw him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it, I instinctively started aside with a cry of alarm: not soon, enough, however; the volume was flung, and it hit me, and I fell, striking my head against the door and cutting it. The cut bled, the pain was sharp: my terror had passed its climax: other feelings succeeded.

“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer – you are like a slave-driver – you are like the Roman emperors!”

I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, etc. ..

“What! what! he cried. “Did she say that to me? Did you hear her, Eliza and Georgiana? Won’t I tell mamma? But first –”

He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer… I received him in frantic short. I don’t very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat! Rat!” and bellowed out loud… We were parted: I heard the words, -

“Dear! Dear! What a fury to fly at Master John!”

…Then Mrs Reed subjoined, “Take her away to the red-room, and lock her in there.”

Jane Eyre (1847), [Penguin English Library pp 39-42] Zodiac Press/ Chatto and Windus 1980

Below are four critics talking about the extract. Though, like all good critical readings, they mix different approaches, one approach is very much emphasised in each case. Can you identify the approach?

Critic I             Bronte employs word-painting to outstanding effect here. The word ‘red’ is introduced early on – “red moreen curtain” – reinforced by “scarlet drapery” - and will move on through the references to blood as Jane fights John. The red word-patterning leads into the famous “red room” exile that follows this extract, where Jane is punished and haunted. Jane will wake up, staring into a fire, believing she is in hell.
Critic II           Ah! Yes, here we see the genius that was Charlotte Bronte at work, painting her vision of a tender - but defiant - soul in torment. The eye of the artist that sees so keenly! When Jane curtains herself off in her window seat, we share the splendid isolation of the artist. She is right up against the window. Nearer to the natural world than anyone else in the house. And the window puts her face to face with this view- “Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.” Such communion with nature! Such depth of feeling!
Critic III          Sorry, are we talking about Bronte herself or the character of Jane Eyre here? I know it’s an autobiography but it’s the autobiography of the character, Jane Eyre, isn’t it? Not of the artist, Charlotte Bronte.
Critic I             Precisely! And if you’d stop gushing for a moment, II, you might stop to read what Bronte is actuallydescribing. The view is dreary – a pale blank of mist and cloud. In contrast to the vivid reds of anger and passion, it suggests a suffocating confinement in solitude, a disconnection. The natural scene she is seeing is a harrowing echo of her own loneliness and desolation. The ‘long and lamentable blast’ is a powerful description of piercing loneliness – a lament for human contact –than any ‘communion’ with nature. The ‘drear November day’ is being used as a ‘pathetic fallacy ‘ – or even an ‘object corrolary’ – for loneliness rather than as some higher link of girl and nature.
Critic IV          Aye, Bronte knows her Yorkshire all right. Nowt as drear and lonely as the English Pennines in November with rain lashing at windows. That’s what comes of growing up in Haworth - with a view over those millstone grit gravestones blackened with wet. She was a child of nature all reet – if that’s the kind of nature you mean.
Critic I             Granted. But that “drear November day” of the English Yorkshire dales in winter is being used for a specific purpose here in the characterisation of Jane. It is being used to convey both Jane’s lonely gloom and her wild, untamed defiance. She is a vulnerable, dependent child but her name associates her with mountain air and with the eyrie of the eagle. Jane Eyre. The little child is also a high proud eagle-like being, up there in her window seat.
Critic II           Yes! Here we see Bronte the artist, like the Romantic poets before her. Solitary brooding geniuses, suspended above ordinary life, saddened by it and made lonely by their own superior sensitivity, looking down on it with the sharp imperious eyes of an eagle.
Critic I             Well at least you’ve mentioned her context. Romanticism. You’re right to describe their preoccupation with solitude their connection with a rather grand and gloomy Nature. The Nature of Wordsworth’s Lake District and Alps rather than the cultivated landscapes of the eighteenth century. But all of this reminds us that she wasn’t some solitary genius. Nor did she invent the conventions of wild nature and its emotional connection with humanity painted here. She is a Victorian Romantic. She works with conventions and traditions that the Romantic poets she loved established before her. She shared Wordsworth’s rejection of artifice, hated Jane Austen. Jane Eyre was published in 1847. Wordsworth was made Poet Laureate in 1843 – based on his  achievements of forty years earlier.
Critic III          That’s all very well but neither of you two, II and I, have noticed how dated she is to the modern reader. No-one would refer to “seated like a Turk” like that now. No-one – not even the Brits - reads ‘Turk’ to mean exotic Pashas enthroned among satin drapery anymore. Turks are trying to join the EU these days. ‘Turk’ is more likely to mean Islamic threat these days – or fanatical football fans –or guest workers in Germany.
Critic IV          Or a hotel destination in the friendly east. As a matter of fact, Turks insist they are NOT run by a theocracy and that they oppose fanatical Islam. For economic reasons. All of it is a far cry from the way they were seen in Byron and then Bronte’s day -  as a backward tyrants prolonging the Ottoman Empire, threatening Christians and liberals from the east.
Critic I             Aren’t we getting rather a long way from the text here? 

[5 static explanation text] 
[D] Reader response theory
Reader response theory says that the reader plays a part in creating a work of literature. Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet – you did. Or you certainly co-wrote it anyway, the last time you read it. How is this possible?

[6 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 2

Re-read the extract from Jane Eyre. How does the author describe the act of reading? Make a list of brief descriptions (e.g. ‘solitary’, private?)

  • Solitary. Unlike a modern library or classroom, for instance.
  • Intimate. Romantic poetry was written to be read in intimate solitude with the author. But poetry before the Romantics was read and declaimed in coffee houses. And Shakespeare’s verse was thundered from a stage amid a potentially rowdy audience.  
  • Private. Private reading is familiar still in the bedside book. And poetry is associated with ‘private’ thoughts. But it is not how poetry is ‘read’ at live readings. And novels are often both about the public world and read in it, on journeys etc. 
  • Silent – But in Chaucer’s time, readers read their books aloud, even in company. 
  •  “A whole world in your head.” (A.S.Byatt) The space of the mind and of the book are the same happy space.
  • Insecure – “You have no business to take our books.” J. Rose’s “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes” documents this: “I want a private life - I have a soul,” insists one early twentieth century Scottish kitchen-maid. “You are not allowed a private life, or soul, in service” replied the cook. 

[7 scrollable explanation screen 
[D] “Reading gave me a life.” (young black servant girl, 1920s) 
Reading has thus been a way of asserting the self – the ‘soul’ - against the various oppressions of modern culture. These include oppressions based on class, gender, sexuality and race. The conditions of Dorothy Burnham’s black servant girl life in the 1920s provide a definite context for her reading. She describes them as “circumstances that would have affronted the dignity of a guinea pig”. She wants to ESCAPE her context. Or, rather, the context of her reading is a wish to escape from the conditions of her life. You are a student reader, probably a teenager. The context of your reading is–at least partly – your A level course. You are studying literary texts at A level. You have reasons for studying them. You may like a text because it is easier for you to get marks on than another. Or you may be reading them to escape the boredom of a holiday job. If so, you would be like Dorothy Burnham. Except you might also associate them with a worrying exam rather than with a dream escape.  And you will bring all this to your reading of the Jane Eyre extract.

Readers are also always at liberty to interpret texts. Otherwise, why has Hamlet had more commentaries than any book other than the Bible? Meanings are open and will vary with context. As modern readers we will read this Jane Eyre extract differently than a Victorian. 

[8 scrollable explanation screen 
[D]”It means what you want it to mean, man”
Can a reader read therefore read a text any way he wants? Let me put that another way. Can a reader therefore read a text any way she wants? It is still grammatically correct to convey both genders like that with the pronoun ‘he’. But it is not politically correct to do so. Readers can no longer be generalised in a male pronoun. This is because of various post-1960s critical contexts, like feminism. A ‘male’ reading - or reader - cannot be taken as standard. And your gender is likely to influence the way you read the Jane Eyre extract. 

So, let me ask that question again? Can a reader therefore read a text any way she or he wants? Well, no. It would be perverse to read John Reed as the hero and pointless to read him as an alien. But many factors provide a context for how you read him. And your own gender is one of them.

Re-read the end of the extract
Imagine the following changes of context. What differences would they make to your reading?
I have started annotating 1. as shown below. Continue each annotation by typing your own altered reading into the box provided:

  1. Charlotte Bronte wrote the novel under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. She wished to preserve secrecy and to avoid the patronising attitude she believed critics reserved for books written by ‘ladies’.  Bronte’s illustrious predecessor Jane Austen remained anonymous, though critically acclaimed, until her death. Novel writing was considered beneath the dignity of “A Lady” (ie a gentlewoman) in Georgian times. The great Victorian novelist Mary Anne Evans – who followed Bronte – published her novels under the name George Eliot. She is still known by this male name. The nineteenth century – the great age of the novel – is defined by famous female masterpieces. But their authors still needed to escape the pigeonholing entailed by their gender. Imagine Bronte really was a male author. Note down any differences in how you would read it. (Remember that readers at the time assumed they were reading a male author and that CB knew this).
  2. If anything, Jane Eyre is now read as a ‘woman’s book’. Imagine you are reading as the opposite gender to your own. Note down any differences in the way you would read this (woman’s?) book if you changed gender. 
                  It may help to begin 2 by stating how your own gender affects your reading.   Then say how changing it changes the way you read it 

A               “Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer – you are like a slave-driver – you are like the Roman emperors!”

B               I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, etc. ..

C               “What! what! he cried. “Did she say that to me? Did you hear her, Eliza and Georgiana? Won’t I tell mamma? But first –”

D               He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer… I received him in frantic short. I don’t very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat! Rat!” and bellowed out loud… We were parted: I heard the words, -
E               “Dear! Dear! What a fury to fly at Master John!”

…Then Mrs Reed subjoined, “Take her away to the red-room, and lock her in there.”

1.              It is really good the way Bell can imagine how the girl feels. He doesn’t just side with his own sex. He may feel sorry about how he himself has behaved to a girl….

2.              I am a male reader. I admire the physical courage of the girl in fighting back. I like her rage. I am scornful of the bully. He can’t even bully a little girl without crying for help! (etc). As a female reader, I might identify more directly with Jane and be proud of my ability to defend myself. But in this identification, I might be scared of my own anger. And what it turns me into. I wouldn’t like being a ‘fury’, a ‘rat’ nor where it leaves me - alone. I might say, “I am not a rat but, in this house, what else can I be?”

[10 scrollable explanation screen]
[D] Deconstruction

Let us apply a key principle of deconstruction. Every text carries within it ideas that are the very opposite of the ones it intended. 

Interactive activity 3 
What are the ideas intended by the text? Read the extract again 

1 Match sentences in the passage above with the descriptions below. Read it with the grain of the text. Consider the four statements A-D. Find at least one example from the text that fits each statement. 

2 Is there also contained within the text ideas that go against the grain of the text? What would they be? Read the extract again Then consider sentences i-iv. See if you can match each one to an opposite in the quotes.

 “Wicked and cruel boy!” I said. “You are like a murderer – you are like a slave-driver – you are like the Roman emperors!”

I had read Goldsmith’s History of Rome and had formed my opinion of Nero, Caligula, etc. ..

“What! what! he cried. “Did she that to me? Did you hear her, Eliza and Georgiana? Won’t I tell mamma? But first –”

He ran headlong at me: I felt him grasp my hair and my shoulder: he had closed with a desperate thing. I really saw in him a tyrant, a murderer… I received him in frantic short. I don’t very well know what I did with my hands, but he called me “Rat! Rat!” and bellowed out loud… We were parted: I heard the words, -

“Dear! Dear! What a fury to fly at Master John!”

…Then Mrs Reed subjoined, “Take her away to the red-room, and lock her in there.”

A         We are being invited by Bronte to read Jane as the protagonist, (click for pop up glossary) Her world is female, intelligent, beautiful, wild and imaginative. 

B.          We are being invited by Bronte to read John Reed as the formal antagonist (click for pop up glossary) of Jane. He doesn’t read so can’t inhabit any other world than the physical one He physically attacks and invades her rich, intelligent, informed, imaginative world. .

C    He is the type of the bully seen in the political tyrants of history. He represents this tyranny in Jane’s world. He is stupid, philistine, cruel, violent, a Big Brother, a ‘boy’.

D   He is also, entertainingly, not even brave enough to bully Jane without his mamma to back him up and protect him when she defends herself!

i           Jane is a dog in the manger. An orphan who, instead of showing gratitude, imposes on the family, borrows the family’s books without grace or gratitude, and shuts herself off from the family she lives off. 
ii          John is a boy, and, like most boys, is unable to settle down quietly with a book like a ‘girl’. He wants to charging about, fighting, being ‘naughty’, playing the grown up male tyrants of history in games of war. In short, being a boy. 
iii         Like many boys of his age he grows up in a world of women and so is a ‘handful’ in their terms. Jane’s descriptions of John – as Nero, a slave driver etc – are hysterical. This hysteria itself reveals an unconscious criticism of the female bias – the female grain - in the text.  This novel, written by a woman who was a governess, condemns John’s normal male behaviour as antagonism.
iv.        The novelist protagonises (click for pop up glossary) Jane’s idealised Victorian-Romantic female behaviour. 

[pop-up commentary]
Objections immediately start to suggest themselves. Jane is in many ways more heroic – including physically – than John. John is a mamma’s bully-boy. All the females except Jane are condemned. ‘Femininity’ itself is not protagonised. John’s conventional lady-sisters have pretentious names. They are ‘girly’. He is ‘girly.’ The mother treats Jane more like a naughty boy than she ever does John. But if you are a boy reading this such a deconstruction might ring more bells – with memories of manipulative sisters you’ve had fights where your side of it was never considered by mum perhaps – than if you are a girl. 

Deconstruction is not as negative as it seems. It may well have the effect of enriching our appreciation of the original intentions as well as challenging them.

[B] Section 2: Critical Theory and A02: text 

We have emphasised the reader in our approach so far. (AO3) And we will come back to the reader and his/her context at the end of each section. All these approaches are inter-dependent after all. But no reader would get very far without something to read. A text. 

[C] Focusing on the text 
A few decades ago, critics began to focus on the text rather than on the author. Authors even insisted that the meaning of their texts might not even be known by the author. The early 20th century novelist DH Lawrence said “trust the tale not the teller.” For example, if a character in one of his novels is supposed to be a baddie but the reader prefers him to the hero, you should trust that impression rather than his (Lawrence’s) intention. Critics often say that Lawrence tells you one thing but shows you another. Lawrence had a very close relationship with his mother and a very distant one with his father. In his novels, he often seems to be siding with the ‘mother’ character. What you often feel as a reader, though, is what a control freak she is. And you feel much more sorry for the father than Lawrence appears to want you to. In Lawrence’s later books, the ‘father’ character becomes ever closer to being the hero. The ‘mother’ character becomes less and less so. 

Text without author
In Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers some readers feel so sorry for Miriam – the girl the protagonist rejects – that the evident intention of the author to condemn her gets derailed.  TS Eliot, the great modernist poet and thinker, said the artist should not appear in his work at all. He claimed no expert knowledge of what he was saying. When asked what a line in one of his poems meant. He said, I meant – and then quoted back the line. He wanted poetry to be an impersonal text, having nothing to do with the author’s context or biography at all. George Orwell, by contrast, insisted that TS Eliot’s texts were more like the last apologia (excuse-making) of the dying ‘rentier class. In other words, Orwell insisted on a context. Eliot emphasised the text. Both sides sometimes called Eliot’s approach, in Kant’s words, “Art for art’s sake.” James Joyce said that while the man sits amid his squalor and worries at the breakfast table, the artist in him is “indifferent, detached, paring his fingernails.” This approach is, in effect, text without author. 

[D] Formalism
We might call it text without context. (QCA call it A02). Twentieth century critics developed various approaches to this ‘text’ without context. The most influential was probably Formalism. This began in Russia before the revolution and so is known as Russian Formalism. It insisted that Literature had a special ‘literariness’- a language of its own. It attempted to identify in a scientific way the formal and linguistic properties that made ‘literary’ language different from ordinary language. In fact, from all other kinds of language.  Literature should not reflect reality, they said. It should do the opposite.  It should ‘make it strange’. And criticism should describe and assess this ability in a text to make experience of reality ‘strange’. It should reveal the formal mechanisms whereby this effect of de-familiarisation was produced.”

[15 Interactive Activity 4 [Free text activity] 

‘What’s the point of that?’ you might ask. Consider the following poem by Ezra Pound. 
In A Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Now look at this version of the first line. The key word of the metaphor has been left out

In A Station of the Metro

The - of these faces in the crowd;

Now type in your own metaphor into the space in the first line. Try to choose a word or phrase – a single word is better - that sums up the alarming suddenness of the faces appearing. Try to make it a concrete noun eg ‘lightning’ rather than an abstract noun like ‘shock’. Discuss with a partner how effective your choices are. Compare their effect with what Pound’s ‘apparition’ achieves.

Look at the second line.

Petals on a wet black bough. 

Here a metaphor of a plant has been employed to describe the faces. There is no obvious connection with ‘apparition’. It is another metaphor.  Here is the line again with blanks.

- on a - - -

Type in your own words here. Build a new metaphor to convey the moment. Make it ‘strange’ – ie so that your reader really sees what you are describing. Make it new. Use the same syntax. (type in a noun, two adjectives and another noun.) 

Try if you can to retain the slow solid thumping sound of the three stressed monosyllables of ‘wet black bough’.  It is important to the sombre mood of the poem to close with this sad cadence.
Discuss the effect of your substitutions with your partner. 

[pop up Commentary: line 1] Pound uses ‘apparition’ here He could have used ‘ghost’ or ‘spectre’. But it would have been a different poem. Pound, especially in poems that use so few words, used every word with care. The sibilants in the word ‘apparition’ convey the swooshing of the train into the wet station. It is also a long word that nevertheless moves very quickly and suddenly, like the train.

[pop-up Commentary: line 2] This is an imagist poem. It is influenced by techniques Pound learned from Japanese poetry. In particular, the haiku. Japanese poets – helped by the ideograms of that language - write haiku as a single picture. Such poetry tries to concentrate all its meaning into the metaphor(s). The intense feeling is contained, detached. A metaphor is usually used like this- 

I looked out of the underground train and suddenly saw all the pale faces emerging out of (and linked by) the dark of the platform. It was like seeing petals arranged along a plant bough in the rain.

Pound instead cuts away all the “connecting and explanatory material” – and just shows us the vision at the heart of his poem. What he saw at the moment he ‘saw’ the poem. A sudden flowering of pale petals out of wet darkness. 

This is an attempt then to do away with context altogether, even the context you normally get in a poem: setting up the situation, telling you who is seeing it etc. If there IS a context here, it’s the same as the text. A Paris underground station. By making it strange, Pound makes us SEE it again, as if for the first time. This was the essence of imagism. It was also the material of formalist criticism. [end of commentary]

[16 explanation screen?]
[D] A Fascist Form?
Orwell and the critical theorists represented by A04 might persuade you this is the poetry of bourgeois decadence, even of the roots of fascism, between the wars. Some critics have certainly tried to describe imagism like that. They said that imagists ignoring of context was itself a political act. That the artist shouldn’t become remote. That the difficulty of modernism made it elitist and thus only available to the expensively educated - = a right wing art form.  They even objected to this poem suggesting that people are linked like a plant. This organic description of people was read as echoing Hitler’s race theories – the organic and mystical connection of a race of people. (Here, though, the French, not the Italians or the Germans.) 

A Fascist Form (continued)
The context of the writer would certainly reveal that Pound flirted with Fascism. He made Fascist broadcasts from Italy during the war and wrote some distasteful lines about the Jews. “Let us be done with Jews and Jobbery.” (He later changed it to say ‘usury’ – money lending – which is what he meant by the word Jews. But if there was ever a word with a charged context for the reader in the 1940s– ‘Jews’ is that word!) 

“Let us be done with Jews and Jobbery,/ Let us SPIT upon those who fawn on the JEWS for their money.” (originally published in 1914) is shockingly racist. But to suggest that In A Station of the Metro contains any of that sentiment is surely nonsense. Pound did strive very hard to produce ‘pure’ text and actually very little of his work can be accused - in the way its author certainly can – of ‘flirting’ with the Fascists. And to insist on this context is to do something the Formalists and other text-based critics warn us against. Its effect is to lose a brilliant poem in a fog of false context.


[C] Formalism and Context-Laden text

But does text-based criticism require a particular kind of context-free text to work? Can it appreciate context-laden text? Look back at the Jane Eyre extract for a moment. 

What is special about the language? How does it differ from ordinary language? The sentences are periodic, linked though complex clauses. Yes, but that is context. Much ‘ordinary’ Victorian writing was like this. Gladstone – a Victorian Prime Minister – once made a speech in Parliament containing a sentence that went on for over an hour. (A far cry from the modern sound bite.) We need, in fact, to put the text in context! How different are the long complex sentences here from those used in the ordinary language of the time?

[18 Interactive activity 5 [Free text activity]
Look again at the opening paragraphs of the Jane Eyre extract below. Rewrite them  as the story might appear in a modern novel.

A small breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room; I slipped in there. It contained a book-case: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the panes of glass protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

[Pop up Commentary]
What did you change? The semi-colons and colons might become full stops. This would shorten many of the sentences. You probably rewrote clauses like “I was shrined in double retirement” in a much less florid way. “I was behind two layers of protection.” (?) You probably made that clause a separate sentence. 

You are translating ‘Victorian’ English into modern English. In doing so you will be undressing the various layers of clauses and inflated diction (eg “Afar, it offered…) that clung to Victorian sentences like the elaborate layers of ‘garments’ that ‘adorned’ their ‘persons.’ They are typically complex, compound and periodic. The modern period is more lightly dressed. It likes shorter sentences. It likes simpler diction.

[19 static activity with pop-up] 
Activity 3
  1. A simple sentence contains a single main verb. It has one clause. Can you find any simple sentences at all in the complete extract? 

2. What did you notice about the placement of these simple sentences in the extract? How long does it take for the first one to appear? Are they concentrated into a particular section? If so, what is going on in that section?

[Pop up commentary. Q1] I counted eight at most. Here they are, in order. They include two incomplete utterances marked below in italics. 

The breakfast-room door opened.

“Wicked and cruel boy!” I said.

“What! what! he cried. 

“Did she say that to me?

Won’t I tell mamma? 

But first –”

Dear! Dear! 

What a fury to fly at Master John!” (possibly- though there is an elaborate underlying structure of subordination here, even to convey a servant’s exclamation. I say you are a fury. You fly at Master John. See Linguistics, Part 2.)

[Pop up Commentary Q2] The extract narrates a very young child’s experiences. Yet it is typically written in complex adult sentences. Even very simple experiences are conveyed in a series of conjoined and subordinated structures. See activity 4

[20 static activity with pop-up] 
Activity 4

Compare this complexity of sentence structure to the opening of the modernist James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 19. Here Joyce is narrating the experience of Stephen, a child about Jane’s age. Find examples of the following in each text.

1. The author imitates the language of a child’s story book. 
2. The author imitates a child’s lack of sentence sense.
3. Simple sentences (and simple connectives) imitate a child’s attempt to make sense of experience. 
4. The diction is that of the child at the time, not of an adult looking back. 

A. Jane Eyre extract. “A small breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room; I slipped in there. It contained a book-case: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the panes of glass protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near, a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast…

I returned to my book – Bewick’s History of British Birds: the letter-press thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank.”

B. Portrait of the Artist opening. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

He sang that song. That was his song.

O, the green wothe botheth.

When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

His mother had a nicer smell than his father. She played on the piano the sailor's hornpipe for him to dance. He danced:

Tralala lala,
Tralala tralaladdy,
Tralala lala,
Tralala lala.

Uncle Charles and Dante clapped. They were older than his father and mother but uncle Charles was older than Dante.

Dante had two brushes in her press. The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper.

The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen's father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:

-- O, Stephen will apologize.]

1.     “Once upon a time” in Joyce. No equivalent in Jane Eyre.
2.     No punctuation in first paragraph (except opening capital O). No equivalent in Jane Eyre.
3.     “He sang that song. That was his song.” “When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold.” No equivalent in Jane Eyre. (Activity 3 lists the few exceptions from later in the extract)
4.     ‘moocow’, ‘baby tuckoo’. ‘Green wothe botheth’. No equivalent in Jane Eyre.

There are other examples of all these. Bronte’s evocation of infant experience is very different. The first simple sentence takes so long to appear that you wonder if there is ever going to be one. Does Victorian English ever use a simple sentence, you wonder? But then at last there is one. “The breakfast-room door opened.” It introduces John. And its abruptness after all the complexity suits the impact of John perfectly. And, after John’s entry and the fight that ensues, there is a much higher proportion of simple sentences. Bronte even describes the punch up in more periodic sentences than a modern writer might. But there is proportionally a marked and appropriate change of language in this part of the text.

[21 scrollable explanation screen]

Relative Simplicity in Jane Eyre]

Now we can identify the special literariness of the language Bronte uses. She does use complex Victorian sentences much more than we would and for narrative material that we might write differently. But it’s all relative. We note that the long highly educated periodic sentences of the narrator are by no means the only sentence type. In fact, as soon as the fight starts, the sentences get as punchy as the action. They are the sentences of a child. So textual criticism will show us that Jane Eyre’s narration is that of an older, educated woman looking back. She is organising the tortured experiences of childhood into the long, meticulously measured, teeth-grittingly philosophical sentences of the adult. But when the fight starts, she is back there, scrapping. And the passage speeds up accordingly. We are back there with her. The shocking blows are exchanged. A child’s insults are slung. And, with awful relentless speed, we are off to the red room. The tight-lipped measured sentences are no longer holding the raw misery of childhood at bay. Not yet anyway. Not until adult Jane confronts her childhood, head on. The way that the different genuinely more serene mood of recollection later in the novel is marked by textual features like sentence length and rhythm shows the benefit of the ‘text’ based approach. [end of commentary]

[C] Text only Relative Simplicity in Shakespeare 

‘A’ level students sometimes assume that all of Shakespeare’s language is grandiloquent (‘flowery’.) This means students are blind to examples of where Shakespeare himself is revealing a flowery overblown character – like Glendower and Hotspur in the Henry IV plays – and comparing them to a grittier, plainer and blunter one - like Price Hal. The language of their speeches shows both a keen difference in the way their minds work and how their characters should be revealed in performance. Another famous example is Macbeth’s speech when he complains that he won’t be able to wash the blood of the murdered king off his hands:

Rather shall the multitudinous seas incarnadine
Making the green one red.

This is the same character speaking two languages. (Literally, the first is effectively Latin, the second Saxon). And apparently saying the same thing twice. Why? Context doesn’t get you a very rich answer. (Because the groundlings in the audience wouldn’t understand the first speech? Actually, the evidence is that they loved the grandiloquent speeches and didn’t need them translated.) But text shows us a man just after his murder. The grandiloquent line shows us his noble imagination and splendid soul. The second shows this reduced to the brutal fact, heralding his moral and psychological decline. In fact, the two statements only seem to carry the same meaning. Their ‘meaning’ – beyond a plain translation- is very different indeed. 

[23 static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 5
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the character of the Puritan, Malvolio, begins as a pompous ass that everyone, including the audience, laughs at. He ends very differentlyThe reader can trace this development in his language(s)?

Read the two extracts where Malvolio speaks.

Here is Malovolio soliloquising over a bogus love-letter - supposedly from his employer-  in Act II Sc. V. The letter promises him marriage, status, power- all his self-important fantasies come true. By convention, the soliloquy showed a person’s real – as opposed to public and often disguised – thoughts and feelings. So the previously soberly-dressed Malvolio, now in the frivolous clothes he believes his employer most fancies him in, reveals himself as follows:

Speech 1 – [Act and Scene ref?]

(reads letter) Go to, thou art made, if thou desir’st to be so. If not, let me see thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and not worthy to touch Fortune’s fingers. Farewell. She that would alter services with thee, The Fortunate Unhappy.
Daylight and champaign discovers not more! This is open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors, I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross acquaintance, I will be point-device the very man. I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered, and in this she manifests herself to my love, and with a kind of injunction drives me to these habits of liking.

Now compare the same character’s language later in the play. Having acted on the above advice, he has been locked up in the dark, believed insane. His tormentors still think it’s funny to gull him. Here, one of them is pretending to examine his mind for madness. Putting a man in total darkness and trying to unhinge his mind like this may be more familiar from spy novels than comedy.

Speech 1 – [Act and Scene ref?]

Malvolio         I am not mad, Sir Topas. I say to you, this house is dark.

Clown             Madman, thou errest. I say there is no darkness but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog.
Malvolio         I say this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance were             as dark as hell; and I say there was never man thus abused. I               am no more mad than you are: make the trial of it in any                                    constant question.
Clown             What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wildfowl?

Malvolio         That the soul of our grandma might haply inhabit a bird.

Clown             What think’st thou of his opinion?

Malvolio         I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.

  • When you have read the first speech, consider what kind of person speaks (or rather thinks) like this? Try to look at the larger meaning of the mounting rhythmic structure of the lines, as much as what the words themselves convey. 
  • Then read the second extract. How have the rhythms and structures of Malvolio’s language changed? What kind of person speaks like he does here? Try to sum up the difference in one sentence.

[Pop-up Commentary] 

In the first extract, Malvolio is crazily comical. The clauses pile on top of each other as he gets more and more carried away. The rhythmic repetition of “I will…” at the start of each clause (and then of ‘she did’ later) conveys the spell of inflated conceit he is under. The apparent logic of the last complicated sentence – it reads like a ‘proof’ balancing several clauses – is spoofed by the absurd ideas it weighs up. The entire statement builds up into a hot air balloon of nonsense. 

In the second extract, his language is produced by a very different pressure. He is maintaining his very sanity under ‘notorious abuse’The ‘I’ here is not the ego of egomania but of identity itself. He is dignified and intelligent under this pressure and we start to shift sides in the conflict. At the play’s end, we hope he will be coaxed back to share the happy ending – but we won’t blame him if he maintains his threat to be “reveng’d on the whole pack of you. When the Puritans stopped the cakes, ale and music during the English republic a few decades later, this is exactly what happened!

Never assume that the writer of a different period uses a uniform language. Victorian English and Elizabethan English are each many ‘languages’. The writer deploys his period language – whether Anglo-Saxon or modern - in many different ways. And poetry typically takes this further still. When words have been organized into the various patterns and word music of verse – metre, word music, parallelism, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, oxymoron, bathos, ellipsis – the paraphrase meaning is not what it now means. It’s not what you say. It’s the language you say it in.

new sequence

[25 scrollable explanation screen]
[C] Structuralism
Structuralism [A school of thought developed in cultural anthropology by the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-) and in linguistics by the Swiss scholar Ferdinand de Suassure (1857-1913)  A culture is viewed as a system and analysed in terms of the structural relations among its elements. The human mind is regarded as an invariant structure and will produce universal patterns in every human civilisation. Kinship, mythology, art, religion, religion and cooking will all reflect these universals. In linguistics, the structuralist principle is that language contains set elements that are distributed throughout a text or discourse, deriving meaning from where and how they are placed. ] Structuralism grew out of formalism. But also very much away from it. The basic idea is that all levels of human activity can be viewed as being organised like a language. (“Incest is bad grammar,” as Levi Strauss puts it.) Literature is one language working among all these others. Like them it has its own structural laws. It is possible to study these laws scientifically. The scientific study of language is called linguistics. The scientific study of literary language is the literary part of structuralism.

Literature operates using a system of signs that can be recognised. It can also be said to operate in the context of all the other systems. This means, for example, that when you read a poem you also read first whatever a poem – or a poet – means in our own civilisation. This varies according to whether you grow up in, England, Scotland, Ireland, India or Iceland  (etc etc)– all of which have a different idea of the status and function of poetry. It also means for example that any line of Shakespeare (a compulsory National Curriculum text at SATs, GCSE and A level) will be ‘read’ as a part of English Heritage as well as /before it is read for what it specifically says, especially in England. 

The Adrian Henri poem “I wanted your soft verges /But you gave me the hard shoulder.” has to be read within the English road traffic signs system to make any sense. These are just a handful of the ways in which the signs we read in Literature are part of larger systems of languages – or signs. Marxist critical theory (see section on Marxism)tends to emphasise this last point.

[26 scrollable explanation screen]

[D] Todorov and Propp

Structuralism, then, suggests that every literary text is organised according to set laws. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, we are taught in our childhood. Not according to structuralist theory, they don’t. Stories have an equilibrium, an agent of change, a final resolution and a new equilibrium. If you are lucky, you will haveencountered the theories of Todorov and been taught so. (Though used more often in Media Studies than English, his description of how narratives work is much more sophisticated than the frameworks typically offered in English classes.) But stories are more even than that, says Propp, who based his analysis on Russian Folk Tales in the 1920s. All stories have a hero/protagonist, a donor, a helper, a princess, a princess’s father, a dispatcher and a false hero.

Click on Resources to access a full breakdown of Propp’s Analysis of story structure.

[Resources button] links to PDF document of Propp’s Analysis

(click on for link 

Propp's Analysis of Folk Tales

Vladimir Propp analysed a whole series of Russian folk tales in the 1920s and decided that the same events kept being repeated in each of the stories. These, he reasoned, were narratemes, or narrative functions, necessary for the narrative to exist. Not all of these functions appear in every story, but they always appear in this order. These 31 functions are as follows:
1. A member of a family leaves home (the hero is introduced);
2. An interdiction is addressed to the hero ('don't go there', 'go to this place'); 
3. The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale); 
4. The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance (either villain tries to find the children/jewels etc; or intended victim questions the villain); 
5. The villain gains information about the victim;
6. The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or victim's belongings (trickery; villain disguised, tries to win confidence of victim); 
7. Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy; 
8. Villain causes harm/injury to family member (by abduction, theft of magical agent, spoiling crops, plunders in other forms, causes a disappearance, expels someone, casts spell on someone, substitutes child etc, commits murder, imprisons/detains someone, threatens forced marriage, provides nightly torments); Alternatively, a member of family lacks something or desires something (magical potion etc); 
9. Misfortune or lack is made known, (hero is dispatched, hears call for help etc/ alternative is that victimised hero is sent away, freed from imprisonment); 
10. Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action; 
11. Hero leaves home; 
12. Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc, preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor); 
13. Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, reconciles disputants, performs service, uses adversary's powers against them);
14. Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared, spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters); 
15. Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search; 
16. Hero and villain join in direct combat; 
17. Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf); 
18. Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished);
19. Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain person revivied, captive freed); 
20. Hero returns;
21. Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero); 
22. Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero transforms unrecognisably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life); 
23. Hero unrecognised, arrives home or in another country; 
24. False hero presents unfounded claims; 25. Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other tasks); 
26. Task is resolved; 
27. Hero is recognised (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her); 
28. False hero or villain is exposed;
29. Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc); 
30. Villain is punished;
31. Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted). 
These narrative functions are spread between the main characters. Propp also decided that a narrative needed to have
·       the villain, who struggles with the hero 
·       the donor, who prepares and/or provides hero with magical agent 
·       the helper, who assists, rescues, solves and/or transfigures the hero
·       the Princess, a sought-for person (and/or her father), who exists as a goal and often recognizes and marries hero and/or punishes villain 
·       the dispatcher, who sends the hero off 
·       the hero, who departs on a search (seeker-hero), reacts to the donor and weds at end 
·       the false hero (or antihero or usurper), who claims to be the hero, often seeking and reacting like a real hero (ie by trying to marry the princess)
WARNING: Propp's lists are easy to learn - but are they so easily applied to every narrative you come across? We live in a world of very sophisticated narratives - many of them non-linear - which deliberately defy the conventions of traditional folk tales. Can you apply Propp consistently if the hero is female? Are all narratives about struggles between heroes and villains - or do we oversimplify them if we try to claim that they are? Many interesting narratives spring from a conflict between two characters who are neither villainous or heroic, 'just people'.
Try The Proppian Fairy Tale Generator to see how ridiculous some narratives become if Propp's rules are too slavishly applied.
[end of PDF document]

The Structure of a Fairy Tale

The beginning-middle-end structure can be refined using a rigorous scientific terminology as follows:
Placement: a character is placed in a certain situation, usually with problems attached, e.g. a girl is orphaned with a step-parent who does not love or care for her.

Displacement: the situation changes in some way (or ways), e.g. the girl rebels and is taken away to an even worse situation. She makes a friend there. The friend dies. She endures, works hard, eventually escapes to a new – hard - life. Here she meets a fairy tale prince. He falls in love with her but she loses him. She flees, heartbroken.

Replacement: some final change takes place, e.g. the fairy tale prince finds her. They marry and live happily ever after.

[28 static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 6  A Girl With Problems
[heading required]
This structure works for a fairy tale. But it can also be seen as the basic narrative structure of longer narratives like Jane EyreSee Jane Eyre extract.

According to structuralism, this passage is part of the placement – the opening four chapters - of Jane Eyre. List the problems she has in the extract. 

[29 Interactive activity] 
Interactive activity 6
The Plot Doesn’t Drag – You Do! 

Read the plot summary of Jane Eyre below. You are going to drag and drop the events listed into one of the 3 boxes. The boxes relate to the three part structure. Identify and drag each number into either (a) placement (b) displacement or (c) replacement. You are attempting a structuralist analysis of Jane Eyre. How satisfying do you find it? 

  1. Jane – a plain girl- is orphaned in a family that don’t love or care for her. 
  2. She rebels and is exiled to a hard school. It is as cold as charity there.
  3. She makes a friend here. The friend dies of cold. 
  4. A teacher befriends her but can’t protect her.
  5. Jane succeeds at school and is offered a teaching job there. She refuses.
  6. She works as a governess in a stately home.
  7. The master of the house – a brutally attractive man with a dark past – returns.
  8. They fall in love.
  9. The master has a mad wife in the attic.
  10. The mad wife sets fire to the husband’s bed in the night. Jane rescues him.
  11. Jane and the master are to marry but on the day of the wedding the previous marriage is revealed.
  12. Jane flees into the wild and nearly dies.
  13. A handsome but cold man rescues her. She convalesces with his sisters.
  14. He persuades her to marry him and go as a missionary’s wife to India with him. But she doesn’t love him. And he doesn’t love anyone.
  15. She is just about to give in when the voice of her true love comes to her on the wind.
  16. She finds him. He is now blind and has lost a hand.
  17. While Jane was away, her master’s wife has set fire to the house and died. The man lost his eyes and hand trying to save her.
  18. Now they are equal.
  19. They marry and live happily ever after.

[three drop boxes with these headings]
Placement                 Displacement                       Replacement

Answers: numbers can be matched as follows:
placement = 1
displacement = 2-14
replacement = 15-19 

[30 static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 7 The Russian Doll- Unpacking The Parts 
[heading required done]
1          Structuralism can be applied to parts as well as wholes. Apply the                     narrative theories of Todorov to the Jane Eyre extract only. List each            stage, with an example. Now apply it to the summary.

2          How many of Propp’s seven elements/ character types can you find in the summary?         Highlight them a copy of the extract.  [

[31 scrollable explanation screen]

[D] Ancient Greek Structuralism

Structuralism existed long before the modern structuralists. In ancient times, Aristotle wrote a book called Poeticsthat laid down structures and rules for writing and reading Greek tragedy. The structure of Ancient Greek plays is behind the Five Act structure and shape of Shakespeare. Greek plays also obeyed the ‘unities’ of time, place and action. (pop up glossary to define and describe these) Much of this ancient structuralism applies in English Literature, especially that of Shakespeare’s time. 

[32 static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 8 The Five Act Play
Why do you think Shakespeare’s plays are in five Acts? Consider the Shakespeare plays you have studied so far. Are the Acts different in any way? Do certain types of event always happen in Act 3 – or Act 5 - for instance? 

[Pop up Commentary]
  • Whatever your play, Act 1 will be the exposition. This sets out the situation of the play – and its problems - and introduces the main characters. It was considered dodgy to introduce any major new character or situation after Act One. 
  • Act 2 develops this situation towards the climax that always occurs in Act 3. (A famous example - the murder of Julius Caesar is the climax of that play. ) The ‘rising action’
  • Act 4 is the ‘falling action.’. Develops the crisis to its inevitable denouement.
  • Act 5 begins the denouement (the unravelling) of the crisis – the comic complication or tragedy, depending on the type of play – made inevitable by the climax. 
  • Act 5 brings the resolution to all the unravelling – a fixed tragic or comic ending made inevitable by the climax in Act 3. Nothing significantly new can be introduced to change the course of the drama after Act 3. What does happen is the inevitable working out of this fixed situation. It is often fruitful to try to identify at exactly what point in Act 3 the climax is reached, e.g. yes, the decision to allow Mark Anthony to speak was a crucial mistake. But perhaps this was already inevitable from the moment Brutus lost his moral confidence (and authority) by murdering his friend.

Activity 9  Shakespeare ‘Propps’ and Parts 
Apply the structuralist placement-displacement-replacement theory to a Shakespeare play you know. List the elements of each stage.

[34 scrollable explanation screen]

[E] A change in structure
In time, the Five Act play was replaced by a Three Act play. Here the same tripartite structure: exposition - climax – denouement towards resolution – is freed of the Greek model and made more obvious in its Three Acts.

A useful analogy can be made with much classical music before the twentieth century was written in the sonata form. This is described by JWN Sullivan as follows:  “The general scheme of a first movement, usually representing a conflict of some kind, followed by a meditative or consoling slow movement, and that by a section easing the way to a vigorous final statement, to the conclusion won, is, in its main lines, adapted to exhibit an important and recurrent psychological process.” (In other words, this is the way we think.) This is another shape that might help us read a work of literature. It bears some comparison with the exposition - climax – denouement towards resolution structure described above.


[35 scrollable explanation screen]

 [D] Sonnet Structure

Another form of structuralism that pre-dates modern Structuralism is that of the sonnet. The sonnet – from sonneto [Italian, little song) – is one of the set forms of literature. Before modernism [see below**] most poetry was written to fit an obvious set structure. Many of the literary set forms- like the Lyric, the Pastoral, the Pindaric ode - were established in Ancient Greece and Rome. The Petrarchan sonnet was developed in Renaissance Italy from the Urdu ghazal, [a traditional love lyric – written to be sung and accompanied by Indian instruments. It combines strict metre and rhyme with intense and abandoned emotion. [The sonnet falls into two parts, the octave and the sestet. Without a sense of this structure, it is not possible to really understand what the poet is saying. A major part of the meaning is as follows:

The octave: sets out the ‘complaint’ (eight lines, with the rhyme scheme abbaabba). Originally this was a complaint about Petrarch was being treated by Laura, his girlfriend. 
The volta, or turn, occurs at the end of line 8.
The sestet: reverses the argument of the octave.
The sestet may be rhymed in any way the poet likes as long as a final couplet is avoided. (Otherwise, as in Shakespeare’s sonnets, the argument is clinched too tritely in the last two lines instead of over the last six.)

Glossaries for this section.

Rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhymes in a poem. In traditional forms, these rhyme schemes tended to be regular and insistent. Rhyme often has a ‘clinching’ effect and the ubiquitous rhyme scheme of the eighteenth century (rhyme couplets = aa, bb. cc, dd) are a major part of its clean and rational, witty, character. A formulaic rhyme scheme may become dull and even shut down poetic possibilities unless skilfully used. Free verse often dispenses with rhyme altogether so will have no rhyme scheme or an irregular one. As Eliot showed, though, irregular rhymes are still an essential a part of the music and impact of a poem. (eg Preludes) Plotting the rhyme scheme is a way of establishing the structural impact of rhymes through a poem – a limerick for example is rhyme aabba; a ballad – and many a pop song or birthday card verse – will be four line stanzas rhymed abab, or abcb.]

[Stanza is the main part of the verse of a poem, minus the refrain, a refrain is the repeated familiar short section at the end of each stanza that an audience in a live performance can join in on. Stanza plus refrain = verse. In Lou Reed’s 1970s hit single of the same name, the refrain was the line “Take a walk on the wild side.”]

** Modernism in literature was a conscious early twentieth century revolt led by TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and others against the technical forms, metres, traditional – often pastoral - styles and subjects, general aesthetic and perceived artistic complacency of Victorian and Romantic writers. It was restlessly and persistently experimental, “the shock of the new”, even destructive (“to break the pentameter, that was the first heave”) more typically concerned with the city than the country and includes symbolism, impressionism, post-impressionism, futurism, constructivism, imagism, vorticism, expressionism, dada, surrealism, stream of consciousness, myth as a structural principle, vers libre/free verse, cryptic allusiveness, inter-textuality and the primacy of image over narrative among its general  “make it new” tendency. It was and is accused of extreme intellectual and social elitism, wilful obscurity, an indifference to ‘beauty’ of form, setting and emotion and of abandoning the ‘ordinary’ reader along with the ordinary reader’s need for a literature that helps us – as the anti-modernist Larkin put it - “to enjoy and endure.” The abandonment of traditional rhymes, metres and subjects is seen as one of the key ways that modernism abandoned the ‘ordinary’ reader.  It certainly shifted the ground from under Wordsworth’s Daffodils. Modernism remains one of the greatest and most controversial periods in Literature. ],

Activity 10

[E] John Milton: In - And Out - of Love With God

Look at this formal Petrarchan sonnet by John Milton.

When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

When I consider how my light is spent
     Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
     And that one talent which is death to hide
     Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
     My true account, lest he returning chide,
     "Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
     I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
     Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
     Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
     And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
     They also serve who only stand and wait.
1          Once again, can you find the placement, displacement,    replacement structure here? What are the exact   boundaries of each stage in this sonnet? 
2               How much of Todorov’s equilibrium, an agent of change,      a final resolution and a new equilibrium can you find?       Who is the agent of change? God? Or Milton himself? Or both?
3               Reread Milton’s sonnet and try to identify as many ideas as you can that appear to be binary opposites or near opposites. For example ‘spent’ and ‘useless’ could be opposed by ‘bear’ and ‘Patience’. Write these opposites out in two facing columns.
[pop-up- Commentary] A structuralist reading detects that in the octave he is expressing all his frustration about being blind. Line eight ‘turns’ this round. The next six lines expresses a much more dutiful acceptance of God’s will. But without the octave and the ‘turn’ the sestet is just dogma. There is plenty of religious poetry that trots out a sermon about being good. But the sonnet structure (a bit like the sonata form it is cousin to) gives us the very human complaining Milton giving full vent to his feelings of righteous indignation. “Why me, God!” We all recognise this with a smile. Then, the turn and the movement towards the beautiful final line seem to be won out of real human suffering. The meek acceptance has been earned. It’s a sincere development – through placement and displacement – to a sincere replacement. It’s not just stated like a credo.
[E] Does the Theory Fit?
As with all these structuralisms - and with all critical theories - even if they don’t fit exactly, you will still learn something about the complexities of the text.
The sonnet form is effectively based on a binary opposition. Binary opposition is a useful tool for analysing all kinds of literature. It is about the way we think. It suggests that we think by using ideas that are the opposite of each other. (Like sonata and sonnet form).  For example, In Jane Eyre ‘male’ and ‘female’ together make a binary opposition that helps to structure the whole novel. Other binary oppositions that frequently occur in literature are: ‘getting married’/ ‘staying single’, good/evil, home/away, faith/doubt, strong/weak, etc.
Activity 11 Milton’s BO (Binary Opposition)
[pop-up Commentary) How many did you find? Were you convinced by your oppositions?  
Here are some possible oppositions you may have found: ‘spent’ ‘useless’ ‘talent’ (when it’s useless) ‘death’ ‘ere half my days’ ‘denied’. You could argue that these suggest frustration, frantic useless action and failure. In opposition, I got ‘bear’ ‘serve’ (twice) ‘Patience’ ‘mild’, ‘kingly’. These arguably suggest the serene opposite. And the whole is arguably resolved in the passive yet positive ‘stand and wait’ – the opposite of striving with talent and gifts. 
Set out your opposites in two columns. What is the poem saying about both these states of mind?
(pop up Commentary)  Both opposites are given equal weight, at different stages of the poem. It is only the overall sonnet structure which gives the final word to the quiet acceptance of his blind state.

[39 scrollable explanation screen]

[E] Dialectics
A further stage of binary opposition is dialectical opposition**. This is where the first opposite (the thesis) acts on the second (the antithesis) to produce a new synthesis. Dialectics are usually associated with Marx [who learned the approach from the German philosopher Hegel. But writers often use it to say something greater than the sum of two opposites. “Without contraries is no progression” wrote Blake, who believed that true Christianity should embrace all the evils of the world in order to transcend them. [
Look at this speech from King Lear where France manages to describe how more appealing Cordelia has become now her father’s dowry and blessing has been withdrawn.
Fairest Cordelia, thou are most rich, being poor;
Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despis’d.
Shakespeare is alluding to statements made in the Bible by Jesus about the poor being rich precisely because they are so poor in this world. 

[40 scrollable explanation screen]

Activity 12 [heading required done-needs to be marked as a question ] Most rich, being poor?
Put the opposites from France’s speech into two columns. What meaning is created by reading these opposites as a thesis and an antithesis whose opposition creates a synthesis? In which case, what exactly is France’s feeling for Cordelia now? (He says, again dialectically, that his love has grown warmer than it was before: “Gods, Gods tis strange that from their cold’st neglect? My love should kindle to inflam’d respect.”)
Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor;
Most choice, forsaken; and most lov’d despis’d!
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon,
Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away.
Gods! Gods! Tis strange that from their cold’st neglect
My love should kindle to inflam’d respect.
Thy dow’rless daughter, King, thrown to my chance,
Is queen of us, of ours, and ours, and our fair France.
Not all the dukes of wat’rish Burgundy
Can buy this unpriz’d precious maid of me.
Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind;
Thou losest here, a better where to find.
[pop up Commentary] France all but offered his rival first refusal before. “My Lord of Burgundy, what say you to the lady? …She is herself a dowry.” When Burgundy refuses to take her without the dowry. France then seems to go beyond the realm of political alliances, reasonable dowries and ordinary – though noble and sincere – human love. His language becomes mystical. This anticipates Cordelia’s later holy language and status. (She weeps holy water, among other Christ-like qualities)  The whole of this beautiful speech is built – around mystical paradoxes worthy of Proverbs or Zen - on a dialectical thesis/antithesis structure, often emphasised by juxtaposition or rhyme – unpriz’d precious, losest/find; neglect/respect, even ‘thrown to my chance’/‘queen of us, of ours and our fair France’ Is it possible to describe France’s feelings as an initial love that reacts with the father’s hate to produce something beyond both? A higher – selfless - love? 
In *** dialectics, the thesis proposes an idea or condition the antithesis challenges or negates this idea or condition with its opposite and the synthesis is a new idea/condition that emerges from the conflict. Dialectics can be employed to pretty much anything: The exposition of a story, or the equilibrium in Todorov, is a thesis and the development, or agent of change in Todorov, can be the antithesis. The thesis is the resolution/ new equilibrium. Marx famously applied dialectics to economic classes rather than to ideas, so that the ‘thesis’ of the refined landed aristocracy is opposed by its antithetic opposite, the vulgar trade-driven bourgeoisies, and the conflict between these creates capitalism. This new thesis of capitalism is opposed by its antithesis, the proletarian masses, and the (violent) conflict that ensues creates a new (and final) synthesis – a classless (socialist) society

Some Additional Definitions of Deconstruction

A definition of deconstruction is almost a contradiction in terms. Deconstruction amounts to surrendering the role of judge or definition-maker. It is easier to grasp it in action. You applied one aspect of it in your work on Jane Eyrewhere you used it to read ‘against the grain’ of the text. 

Deconstruction attempts (unsuccessfully but tenaciously) to evade the logocentrism – the ‘givens’ and ruling ideas - of western culture. Like the sprawling world wide web, though it contains these principles, it does not privilege them, nor is it organised by them. The positive thing about deconstruction is that it encourages us to read texts without assumptions. There is no ‘great tradition’ of accepted canonical texts, no assumption that, say, a ‘man’ can be defined against his opposite ‘woman,’ or that ‘realism’ as a literary form reflects anything other than its own constructs and signs. Deconstruction shows us that the opposites by which we (and structuralism) perceive reality are arbitrary. (Not wrong, but human-made.) Deconstruction is a universe without an assumed God at its centre, or rather a universe where whatever God we put there is ‘deconstructed’.

When asked what deconstruction is, Derrida once stated, "I have no simple and formalizable response to this question. All my essays are attempts to have it out with this formidable question" (Derrida, 1985, p. 4). In other words, the writer most closely associated with the term was himself unwilling and unable to define it. There is a great deal of confusion as to what kind of thing deconstruction is — whether it is a school of thought (it is certainly not so in the singular), a method of reading (it has often been reduced to this by various attempts to define it formally), or, as some call it, a "textual event" (a characterization implied by the Derrida quotation just given) — and determining what authority to accord to a particular attempt at delimiting it.
Further, deconstruction is not, properly speaking, a synonym for "destruction". Rather, according to Barbara Johnson (1981), it is a specific kind of analytical "reading":
Deconstruction is in fact much closer to the original meaning of the word 'analysis' itself, which etymologically means "to undo" — a virtual synonym for "to de-construct." ... If anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another. A deconstructive reading is a reading which analyzes the specificity of a text's critical difference from itself.”
One of the most popular definitions of deconstruction is by Paul de Man, who explained, "It's possible, within text, to frame a question or undo assertions made in the text, by means of elements which are in the text, which frequently would be precisely structures that play off the rhetorical against grammatical elements." (de Man, in Moynihan 1986, at 156.) Thus, viewed in this way, "the term 'deconstruction' refers in the first instance to the way in which the 'accidental' features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly 'essential' message" (Rorty 1995). (The word accidental is usually interpreted here in the sense of incidental.)

"Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell -- a secure axiom or a pithy maxim -- the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquillity. Indeed, that is a good rule of thumb in deconstruction. That is what deconstruction is all about, its very meaning and mission, if it has any. One might even say that cracking nutshells is what deconstruction is. In a nutshell. ...Have we not run up against a paradox and an aporia [something impassable]?...the paralysis and impossibility of an aporia is just what impels deconstruction, what rouses it out of bed in the morning..." (Caputo 1997, p.32
David B. Allison (an early translator of Derrida) stated:
[Deconstruction] signifies a project of critical thought whose task is to locate and 'take apart' those concepts which serve as the axioms or rules for a period of thought, those concepts which command the unfolding of an entire epoch of metaphysics. 'Deconstruction' is somewhat less negative than the Heideggerian or Nietzschean terms 'destruction' or 'reversal'; it suggests that certain foundational concepts of metaphysics will never be entirely eliminated...There is no simple 'overcoming' of metaphysics or the language of metaphysics.
(Introduction by Allison, in Derrida, 1973, p. xxxii, n. 1.

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