Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For Credit: What Have We Learned? (L'Shanah Tovah!)

Picart, Shofar Sounded in a Portuguese Synagogue, 1728.
As some of us celebrate the Jewish New Year, it's a good moment to pause and reflect on where things stand thus far.  We've read Fantomina, Robinson Crusoe, the title page and opening to Gulliver's Travels, Pamela, and we've just started Shamela.

What have you learned about the C18 that you didn't know before?

What common threads do you find among everything we've read thus far?

What questions do you have as we prepare to go forward?

Deadline: Tuesday (10/3); posts before Saturday midnight count towards Week 6; posts afterwards count towards Week 7.


  1. This might sound a little crazy, but I realized that the 18th century isn't boring. I signed up for this class expecting to learn a lot (which I have), but once I bought the novels at T.I.S bookstore I figured it would be really boring. I guess I shouldn't judge books by their cover because I have thoroughly enjoyed each book that we have read. They each mirror similar situations that are happening currently in the 21st century, but have a few different circumstances. I have been able to relate to most of these novels and for the ones I personally couldn't relate to, it was an interesting enough plot that it entertained me. I'm excited to keep reading these novels and I really like how we review each one by discussing in class aloud. This not only helps clarify any questions I had, but it brings up new ones.

  2. I have been probably less exposed to 18th century literature than any most other English literary-historical eras. I have not been impressed so far with the works as entertainment but as literature it’s been fascinating.
    Firstly, it is an interesting to think of the beginning of the novel. Tastes are widespread among people but I think that today the novel is seen as the ultimate literary expression—the medium most capable of greatness. Nobody speaks of the Great American Poem (though humorously the word epic has gained a lot of cultural currency lately, thanks largely to internet meme-creation). How relative our opinions seem when you learn that verse dominated when the novel came about and that the novel was seen as the pedestrian’s literary form.
    Another thing that gives me pause is the difference between our English and that of C18 novelists (I love that notation by the way, so mod). The sentence structure is so complex. I’m not bothered by the extra effort it takes to read but I am a little troubled because it makes me wonder if, because my sentences are not as complex, that I am an not expressing very complex ideas. Or further, project that fear on to modernity itself. Maybe the sentences are so complex because they are using only words and sentences to say what they have to say. We live on the other side of modernism and post-modernism. Maybe we have the ability to say things by not saying them, or to say things silently with forms. I’m not sure…but I think it is important to find out.

  3. From the novels that we have read so far in class from the 18th century I have learned a couple of things. First, I think that it is interesting that the stories that we have read have begun with some sort of letter or preface by someone other than the author claiming that the story is true. I think that this reveals a lot about the culture during the 18th century-- that they wanted to read story that they thought could actually happen to them or someone that they knew. Another thing I found interesting was the amount of sexuality there was in both Fantomina and Pamela. I guess I thought that everyone in the 18th century had a very Puritan sort of attitude about sex. I am interested to see if the rest of novels we will read will continue to claim to be based on a true story.

  4. So if we could “Like” a post as we do on FB, I would like to “Like” Gina’s and Krista’s responses. I, too, am enjoying this course and have found those preface letters to be extremely interesting although similar to today’s novels with critic’s acclaims written on the cover.

    For Jesse, I would like to agree that I do find the sentence structure to be complex. People may say that we have forgone this writing style for a more efficient and precise form of writing that shreds away the unnecessary, saving readers very important seconds to their days (unlike during the C18 when more people probably had a lot more time to truly sit down and enjoy a book without worrying about catching the bus etc.). Also, my English teacher in high school used to say that a good paper is not a rough stone, but a finely cut gem. She values writing that is succinct. Even though, I do believe that this is a valid point, I do enjoy reading C18 literature because of the use of vocabulary (which has now become esoteric) and verbose sentences… Perhaps this change might not just be due to society wanting to become more efficient… Perhaps this has to do with a devaluation of the Humanities as a whole. Efficiency is a very scientific reason to pretty much “cut the crap.” In a world where SCIENCE and MATHEMATICS (I shudder) are deemed most important to society, the Arts, History, English, and so forth are thought to contribute less to society. The less complex sentence structure used by the majority of American English speakers may have to do with this progressive devaluation of the humanities. If you know anyone who is the child of academics in the humanities or simply speak to your humanities professors, you will notice that these individuals tend to formulate their sentences differently. They never seem to be at a loss of words and have such a command over the English language that I, personally envy. I wish I could articulate my thoughts in that same manner! Pick up any History or English critical analysis and you will find those complex sentence structures that you’ve been seeking. Yes, our complex sentence structures will still be different from those of the C18, but they still exist, unfortunately only for the select few who deem the humanities necessary. I’m not saying that society is becoming less intellectual on a whole, but perhaps just in a way that values one side of the brain over the other.

  5. SORRY THIS HAS BEEN A REALLY LONG POST, and I was forced to break it up into two different ones, but I would also like to say that it is interesting how the C18 novels were pretty much obsessed with what a novel is supposed to be and its moral message. I actually think that we are still trying to figure out what a novel is supposed to be, what it is meant to convey, and its limitations. Look at Foer and his way of experimenting with form or Toni Morrison and how she conveys trauma. Until today, I feel as though the novel still eludes us and probably always will. Also, I kind of wonder if these C18 novels truly represent an accurate picture of the time period… I mean, if mankind should be wiped out except for a few hundred people, and if those individuals were to try to piece together what the C21 was like, what would they come up with? Would they see us as s society obsessed with glamour according to magazines most read (all girls are stick thin or trying to be based on all the top articles stating “TRY THIS NEW DIET!”), infatuated with the possibility of sucking blood or becoming a victim of a blood sucker, or would they think that we are all like Snooki and the Situation from Jersey Shore?? In Fielding’s Shamela, there is an obvious difference in the way that Shamela writes from the way that Pamela writes. It is far less complex, in my opinion, and very vulgar. Maybe that Shamela is a more real depiction of society as a whole in comparison to Pamela during C18, or maybe they both represent different aspects of society….What do you guys think? How applicable do you think novels are today to our current century and based on this, how accurate of a picture do you think these novels paint for us of C18 life??


  6. Responding to Kirsten's post. Sort of
    A lot of popular media nowadays has a lot of moralizing amidst some seedy situations, similar to Pamela. A show that comes to mind is Breaking Bad. There's a copious amount of moralizing that happens in the show. The show is about a disgruntled chemistry named teacher Walter White. He finds out he has an incurable stage IIIA lung cancer and resorts to making crystal meth in order to pay for the future of his pregnant wife and mentally handicapped son when he dies. The antihero, Walter must make his own moral judgments in how best to take care of his family. The show deals with the affects of drug use on relationships and on one's psyche, taking on a didactic, "cautionary tale" tone whilst entertaining the idea that a man must sacrifice everything in order to take care of the ones he loves. I think at one point in the conversation with his partner Jesse, that it is his duty to do so. He takes on a younger partner who creates meth. Walter ends up taking on a father/teacher figure to Jesse, and tries to teach him certain values and confidence.

    The point I'm making is that, though extreme by 18th century standards, this show still tries to teach you a certain set of fairly traditional, MORAL values. At its heart, whether the writer's intention or not, it is a moral tale. I see a lot connections to Pamela which prides itself in being a moral tale while entertaining overt sexual overtones and ideas that seem to cater to a lower a standard.

    It's important for me to place the 18th century novel in the context of the bigger picture of the novel form, and I feel reading these novels and discussing them is helping me reach that goal. The novel is evolving during this period and I'm interested to see how the other novels we read from this time period will show that.

  7. I learned a lot about the REAL C18 instead of the C18 in my head. From history and how earlier centuries and times are portrayed today, I thought that the 18th Century was a very prim and proper time, filled with large skirts, long dresses, coats with tails, ruffly shirts, pipe-smoking men, house wife-y women and overall prudeness. Now, a lot of this speaks to my ignorance on the time period as a whole, but through reading the literature that we have, Robinson Crusoe, Pamela, etc., I've realized that the 18th Century wasn't that much different than today.

    We still struggle with similar moral and religious values over 300 years later. Sex before marriage has become something not taboo anymore in some circles of society, but in others, it still has a similar stigma as it did in the 18th Century. Being a good person is still pretty high up on the priorities list, living according to God's word, like Robinson Crusoe and Pamela, is still influential in more than 75% of the people in this country.

    What surprised me most and what I probably learned the most about was that people still had sex and fooled around back then just as much as they did now. Because it was in the "past" and I know how far we've come, I sort of assumed that casual sex was a no-no. Far from it, it seems.

  8. I too was surprised at the sexual nature of C18. My assumption prior to this was that almost everyone was prim and proper. It was shocking to me that people were just as raunchy then as they are now. I suppose I shouldn't be very surprised, times change, but people stay relatively the same way. Sex sold then, and it still sells now.

  9. C18. Something about personal narratives, I find it interesting. I think they sell because people are curious about how "the others live." Getting into someone's head... how they deal with certain situations. I think fiction/novels sell because it helps readers get a different perspective in life that might motivate them to change their lives as well. There can be a lure in that. It may also be a way for people to see what is acceptable and unacceptable in society. Novels then and now can't be seen as too different. It has similar purposes.

  10. I have been fascinated with the Baroque music (feel free to boo at me, I don't care) and listening to composers like Torelli, Bach, and Rameau painted romantic pictures when I was younger. A choreographer I love, Jiri Kylian (Nederlands Dans Theater), whose dances are mainly inspired by the Baroque music not only uses the aesthetic forms from the period but satirizes it and make it relevant for the modern audiences of C21, and I think I'm having a similar experience through ENGL 429.

    I agree with Sam about having a rather naive conception about sexuality of C18 beforedhand, and I was quite surprised during my readings of Fantomina and Pamela. I also have to admit that it was amusing and interesting to see whenever the discussion got a little bit raunchy for a few seconds. It was refreshing to be snickering when someone or the whole class noticed and articulated the embedded innuendos compared to the rather Victorian perspective I had on C18.

    Kirsten's thought on what the future generation would think of us through the magazine archives is interesting, I guess they are the new etiquette books and the dance instruction manuals. It is rather disturbing to think that while we laugh at the image of C18 women squeezing into corsets of the past now we take it for granted that every man and woman needs to maintain a frame that would fit into those corsets without a problem IF we still used them. I also wonder if I am being one-dimensional when I lament over the Chelsea Handlers and Lauren Conrads being stamped with the "New York Times Bestseller" titles or if they're just different forms of Crusoe and Pamela.

    I never really had a chance to read a lot of epistolary novels and I am glad that I get to broaden my literary horizon through this class. And I'm both excited and stressed out about the new course materials. Lastly, I just want to thank my 429 peers for making the 9:30 a.m. class a stimulating one. I will try to contribute more in class and on the blog as we keep moving forward.

  11. From what we've read so far I've been picking up on a lot of insights into the complexity of C18 society. Walking into the class I had a pretty ambiguous sense of what life in the 18th Century was like; how the various societal classes interacted, how religious influences guided society, and how, what I had initially considered a very rigid, super (sometimes excruciatingly) proper society, was often bent, satirized, and even mocked by some of the people engaging in it (sort of like in Shamela, or Defoe's critique of European imperialism over natives in RC). Moreover, while it's highly unlikely that I would read some of the things we've read for this class due to a preconceived notion that they would be boring, which some other people also shared before taking the course, it's becoming increasingly apparent that a lot of these works aren't dead literature from a remote, black and white era. They're more like living pieces of literature that afford a peek into the world that produced them, via innuendos, subtleties and self aware responses to the times. That sounds really nerdy but it's true, and they throw a lot of color into a period which I can't say I'm really well acquainted with, so that's pretty cool.

  12. Like most of the posters above, I had assumed that C18 life was very laced up and proper, and that most books would be moralizing and have subtler innuendos, if any. Clearly, I was wrong. The fact that Pamela was even written suggests that people in the C18 led very torridly sexual lives. Richardson would not have felt the need to write Pamela (ironic as it is that he stuffed it full of innuendo anyway) if he had not noticed a societal trend he found distasteful.

    On a different note, I find it interesting that both books we've read so far depict members of the upper middle and aristocratic classes. Granted, Pamela does not start out that way, but we see nothing of her humble beginnings, only her rise to societal power. This suggests to me that the lower and lower middle classes had much less access to literature as the novel was becoming a prominent form of entertainment. While today we see novels as entertainment accessible to everyone, back then they may have been considered something like high art. I found this surprising because as I understood it, the novel was first regarded as a base form of diversion, far beneath things like theater and art.

    Only two books in and most of my C18 preconceptions are being corrected!

  13. I think the most fascinating and shocking thing that I have taken away from this class so far, is that the themes of romance and seduction made their appearance in literature much sooner than I thought. Through taking so many literature classes based around the nineteenth century, I was exposed to many novels (especially epistolary) that were centered around romance. Although the novel gained great popularity through authors like Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, those were not the first works centered around romance themes. I thought that the eighteenth century was also very conservative. Based on today's society, where many things are deemed "inappropriate" or "too sexual" for what used to be normal standards, it is easy to assume that the time period we are living in is the only one where sex is present in different outlets of media. This is clearly not the case: Some of the eighteenth century literature, such as "Pamela" is just as bad, if not worse than some of the novels and television shows that we watch today.
    Although the pieces we have read have many differences, the theme of morality seems to be common in many of them. Each protagonist seems to have a "moral battle" that they are fighting. Whether it be Robinson Crusoe's struggle with religion and finding God, or Pamela's fight to maintain her virtue, all of these stories are centered around the protagonists morality on some level. In addition, the writing style in all of these works tends to be very "open", that is, a lot is shared with the reader. We are getting the actual thoughts of the protagonist straight from the protagonist's mind- this is an example of why the epistolary novel and the spiritual autobiography tend to be very similar. We see the character's adventure and lessons first hand, as everything happens from their own perspective.
    As we move forward into more eighteenth century literature, I would like to explore the more common readings of the time, or get a feel for how the eighteenth century reader approached these works. Although there are some comparisons between the works we have read, I don't feel that they have all totally connected together for me yet to create an eighteenth century genre. For example, "Robinson Crusoe" and "Shamela" are extremely different stories, and I would like to see how these were compared in their own time period.

  14. I was surprised at the overtly sexual suggestions in some of the stories. When I envision the 18th century, I see a place focused on morality (similar to the 'ideals' in Pamela) and where sex is taboo. Contrarily, many of the stories we have engaged revolve around sex (between classes/stations). While I expected the focus on hierarchy, the nature of sexuality took my understanding of the 18th century and threw it out the window. The necessity of a story such as Pamela shows that sex was just as wildly popular among all classes as it is today.