Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Secondary Lit Post: Vathek

R.B. Gill takes an interesting approach in analyzing the critically acclaim novel, Vathek. He focuses on the author, William Bedford, as a person and how "a man unwillingly hastened by his
family and his wealth from one performance to the next, seems never to have found that inner being with which he could be at peace" (Gill, 241-242). In understanding and analyzing Bedford's life, a greater understanding of his writing style and choice of plot can be formed. Gill argues that the persona that is portrayed in Vathek and the life of Bedford are ones that were created, despite their biographical appeal.

Understanding the type of person William Bedford was will help me, as a reader, understand his writing style and purpose for writing works such as this one. Many have said that this book was an exaggeration of an actual event that occurred in Bedford's life. Apparently Bedford held a party at his house, Great Gatsby style, a chose to reiterate it in a fictional tale that is much more elaborate than the actual party that he had. Vathek is ambiguous in that it's style is clean and clear, but it is uncertain whether the tale is true or not. It can be interpreted both ways and many critics have done so. Gill's article helps me to know if questioning who the author really is and the authorial intent is necessary. I find that it may quite possibly be necessary because Bedford seems to be coming from a place of fiction in this novel. There are a lot of elaborate things in the novel (the five different palaces that cater to each sense, for example) and I am not sure if this and other instances of grandiosity are based on real life experiences, or made up fiction. Bedford grew up affluent and so these things could have quite possibly been true, but there is doubt present. I am also not sure if this novel should be passed off as fiction if some of or most of the events are based on nonfictional occurrences.

I ask you guys, is it necessary to question who the author is, really and his or her intent on the work? If we are just reading for entertainment, pleasure, academic purposes, etc; why is it necessary to know the true blue life of he writer? If it is not necessary, by not knowing the author, will that take away some of the value of the work?

Gill, R.B. "The Author In The Novel: Creating Beckford In Vathek." Eighteenth Century Fiction 15.2 (2003): 241. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Dec. 2011.


  1. I think it's always fun to question the intention of the author. But sometimes I wish I can put my English Major guards down and read a book just for the sake of entertainment. But knowing the author always changes our view of the story...

  2. I think there are merits to reading with and without knowledge of authorial intent, and I don't think either way is necessarily constrained to either our academic/entertainment purpose in reading anything. I think you are just left with different interpretations of the same text. I'm just thinking about different modes of literary criticism (from Eng 301...ahhh) and in certain studies, like Deconstruction or New Criticism, for example, authorial intent is irrelevant in discerning the "meaning" of the text. And on the other side, there are modes of criticism devoted entirely to authorial intent and its pretextual influence on the text and on our interpretation of it. I'm not going to say authorial intent doesn't matter, but I don't think it's the ultimate tool in literary analysis. Think about Shakespeare: I don't know about everybody else, but I didn't talk about his intent in playwriting in my Shakespeare class. We learned biographical information, but it was more of a history lesson than anything else.

    When it comes to Vathek, I think applying authorial intent is, again, just a different method with which to attack the novel. Knowing his intent in writing may help us discern tone (like is he satirizing, admiring, condemning, moralizing?) but if we are reading for form, structure, and stylistic elements, I don't think we need to know anything about Beckford. And as far as not knowing authorial intent taking away the value of the work -- well, it all depends on what value we're talking about, doesn't it? If we didn't know anything about Beckford, would we not still appreciate the rich, exotic language and sinfully seductive wayward fairy tale?

  3. I think that the importance of knowing about the life of the author and what he or she intended to accomplish by writing a novel depends upon why we are reading the novel in the first place. If we are reading just for entertainment purposes, then I think that knowing too much about the author would make the novel less enjoyable. However, for academic purposes, I think that it is completely necessary to know about the life of the author. This knowledge will help give the academic reader a base for what was going on in the world (both the entire world and that of the author) so that they can recognize the significance of certain people or places or remarks. Also, I don't think that not knowing the author has to take away from the value of the work; I agree with Hannah that if we did not know about Bedford's parities and mommy-issues, we would still be able to value the novel for just the words in it themselves.

  4. I think its important to discuss what the author was intending. I find it almost as important as he time period we study. I don't think we read any book in this class and attribute 21 century values and modes of reading in terms of our analysis of them; this is at least something to be avoided because the themes and the structuring of novels are dependent on the material at hand. The novel is a product of its time, and it would be foolish to leave that out of our discussion with a book, and I feel that works the same way with authorial intent. For example, if we read a war novel by an author who has fought in say, WWII, to discount the authors experiences with war would be foolish, and ignoring a large part of how the novel was written.

  5. I think it's very important to consider authorial intent. Look at an author like Twain, whose books were written almost entirely in regional dialect. If we knew nothing about the author's background or his own views on racism it would be very difficult to make heads or tails of most of his novels. I agree that sometimes it's important to take a step back and view a book as simply a collection of characters in a universe separate from our own. However, many of the novels of the 18C, including a few that we've read, have a satirical tone, and to completely disregard the tone (the author's attitude toward the subject) would negate the satire entirely. I do think it is possible to understand and appreciate novels without prior knowledge of the author's background or attitude, but I think having such knowledge is almost always beneficial in understanding the theme of a book.