There are three paper assignments, spaced more or less equally through the term, and each written in response to a set of suggested topics. A sample of recent topic-suggestions are appended here:
Lecture 1: Introduction
Lectures 2-5: Cervantes. Don Quixote
Don Quixote was written for what I am going to call the "gentry" (derived from the same root as "gentleman"), people of education who could appreciate the rhetorical prodigality of Cervantes's prose, or at least have the ambition to do so. It proved, nonetheless, popular with all types, even the illiterate, who had to listen to it read aloud. To understand the book, we have to understand the world of human connection and activity as Cervantes would have understood it-grasping some of the assumptions that would have guided Cervantes in writing the book (possibly without even knowing that he was doing so) and that he would have expected his readers to project into it, as the background to its action. The social world as Cervantes understood it was hierarchical, stratified, even as ours is, but in it, unlike ours, one's position was determined largely by birth. I distinguish six groups:
Royalty and Upper Nobility: These were people whose names each had a history behind it, a record of important accomplishment in defending and extending the interests of large numbers of dependents, not just members of their family. Their name was associated with a distinct territory, with lands, villages, even towns and the people that went with them. (Shakespeare calls Cleopatra "Egypt", the King of France "France", the duke of Kent "Kent". We would not call the President of the United States "United States".) Without some connection to the name, people of a lesser sort would live in relative obscurity, known by name only to their acquaintances, but through their connection to the name they acquire a larger identity. The name, even if you did not bear it as your own, gave you your social identity-you were so-and-so's servant, bailiff, seneschal, man-at-arms, resident of town, village or hamlet in the keeping of the lord, the chief member of the family directly identified by the name. You paid the lord, and thereby the family, tithes and taxes and submitted to various forms of service, including armed service, for which you might be selected at random or by lot; in return, the one bearing the name provided managerial oversight and justice in the territory through appointed agents and security from invasion and plunder; thereby, he gave you your substance in the world at large. Not only did your fortunes rise and fall with those of the bearer of the name; you had a defined claim on the attention of the world only in relation to the lord. One who could not claim dependency on the person bearing the name (at whatever remove) had no social being, either in the local community or elsewhere. He or she was a nobody.
Lesser Nobility: The bearer of the name could be advanced in title as a reward for service to someone higher in the ranks of nobility. A gift of lands (carrying with it lordship over those who dwelt therein) was part of this advancement. One might suppose that sooner or later all the lands would be duly allotted and no more nobles created, but territories changed hands in war, and advancement was generally consequent upon performance in battle. (And there was always the conquest of the New World.) Titles already existing were transmitted by birth, generally by primogeniture-that is to say, they devolved upon the eldest male offspring. Siblings of the eldest male might gain ascent to the upper nobility by distinguished military achievement, duly rewarded by the lord's lord; otherwise, if male, they staffed the upper cadres of the military, serving under the lord who bore the family name (and the name of its territories) or under the banner of the lord's lord. Or they might join the clergy and become part of the upper clergy-bishops and archbishops. (Sancho's dream that Don Quixote might become an archbishop was as crazy as the notion that he might marry a princess. The upper clergy was closed to anyone of rank below that of the lesser nobility.) In the book, Don Fernando belongs to this class; this is why it is to Cardenio's advantage to be of service to him.
Upper Gentry: These were people of real consequence within the territory of a lord; they had amassed large areas of property and wealth of various kinds and been adding to it for several generations, but they had no genealogical history, no public lineage that might be put, say, on a coat-of-arms. Their grandfather or great-grandfather might be remembered for bravery in battle or dignity in local office, but no one besides other members of the family derived their social identities from such a person. They remain relatively obscure. Dorotea, Lucinda, Cardenio, the two friends in the story of "ill-advised curiosity" belong to this class. The rule for advancement here is explained by Dorotea; a member of the lower nobility might take someone of her class for a wife, because ancestry was not so important when traced back through the female line as it was when traced back through the male-this fact reflects the rules for inheriting the name and the territories going with it. For the same reason, a female of the lower nobility would not marry beneath her. (In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night when the comic villain of the piece, Malvolio, comes to believe that the noble woman he serves might take him for a husband, he is regarded as a madman by the other characters.)
Lower Gentry: This is the class to which Don Quixote belongs and Cervantes as well. Don Quixote is often described as possessed of heroic ambitions in a world that doesn't afford opportunity for heroic ambitions, and he talks at one point, sadly, about how hard it is to be knight when any peasant at a distance can shoot you off your horse, but his foolishness, nonetheless, is not just a foolishness about mixing up fiction and truth or about heroic achievement in a world that affords no opportunity for heroic achievement. (There still seems to be opportunity for heroism in military service among the lower gentry, for example, in the war against the Turks, in which Cervantes and his fictional "Captive" took part.) To a contemporary reader, Don Quixote's ambition would carry an air of misguided social importance. The assumption of the title "Don" (equivalent to "Lord") is a piece of social effrontery and when the Don wants Sancho to address him as "his natural lord and master", his madness is making him act too big for his social britches. Don Quixote's excess in this connection is indicated by his discourse about the two kinds of lineage in the world (in chapter XXI)-a piece of upside-down logic, in which Don Quixote argues that he must have a noble ancestor just because he is not noble himself. To continue the list of characters who belong to the lower gentry: Leandra (in the goatherd's story) belongs here, as do the Captive and his siblings; the success of the last three in the military, the judiciary, and the world of business indicate that forms of social advancement are available to them, but there is no chance that they will penetrate to the rank of lower nobility. Marcella, the mock-shepherdess (she isn't keeping sheep for a living) belongs here, too.
Students Belong to Both Lower and Upper Gentries: They train for either the clergy (all universities of the time were originally founded to train in theology) or law. University training was not required for a Bishopric or Archbishopric; these ranks were closed to the gentry and the lower nobility who occupied them did not take on student status. The curate belongs to the gentry; he'll never become a bishop. (After all, he keeps company with the town barber.) The canon represents a rank higher in the range accessible to members of the gentry. Being literate, members of the lower gentry are particularly inclined to model themselves on literary types, and they take to the woods, adopting the roles of shepherds and rustic poets, in some ways as we might choose to spend time, like George W. Bush, running a ranch, doing carpentry, studying art or vacationing on a dude ranch. Are they silly to do this sort of thing? They have read pastoral poems, in which shepherds and shepherdesses are represented as simplified versions of literate people, who spend their time composing poetry, while the sheep take care of themselves; in the sixties and seventies, American students did much the same thing part-time, living in communes, dressing liked cowboys, and composing folk ballads on electric guitars.
Members of the gentry can certainly improve their fortunes and their status within the group to which they belong; if male, they can become soldier-mercenaries or seek fortune in arms in a company bound for the New World, or they might enter the clergy (Don Quixote's discourse on the relative merits of the military and religious vocations in chapter XXXVIII would have had a genuine interest for his original readership) but there is a "glass ceiling", a limit to how high the gentry can rise in either career. Their name may become memorable (like those of the brave commanders extolled by the curate to the landlord at the inn in chapter XXXII), but no one outside their family will derive a sense of their social reality, that is, of their own relative importance in the world, by reason of relation to that name. (Don Quixote's grandfather, he insists, had behaved gallantly in some battle or other; the fact is important to him and locals might know about it, but it confers no inheritable social distinction.)
Common Folk: Sancho, the landlord and his wife, Maritornes, various muleteers and the like that Don Quixote encounters on the road and at inns. These are the good, often illiterate folk, who are quite unrefined and do the labors of the world for those above them.
The point about these class divisions is two-fold. First, no one imagines that the world's hierarchy of authority can be reinvented or new parts of it created. The world's hierarchy of authority has the authority of God behind it. That is why authority by birth is so important; life is granted or withheld, wombs made fruitful or barren for a reason, even if we do not understand it, and people are suited to the station in which they are born. In this conception of things, therefore, an immense stability is imputed to the world's arrangements; however violently human activity may displace its order, the world will return to its stable, enduring dispositions (or else-Shakespeare considers this possibility in some plays-devolve into chaos). Some mobility of social position is granted, but Don Quixote's idea that he has nobility in his blood is lunacy. In the "books of chivalry" that have addled his brains, things work the other way about: the unknown stranger, the very type who has no social identity, no position in the world whatever, turns out to be of noble descent-an idea entertained as an amiable joke in comic plots from the ancient world down to Gilbert and Sullivan. Our own world, of course, share something of Don Quixote's view; however much social mobility is or is not a fact, we believe in it, both as a reality and as an ideal. Parents generally want their children to "do better" than themselves, not just by way of income, but also in manner of life, and we freely invent new orders of authority or shuffle existing ones about both within corporations and the nation-state. Authority may still be thought to have God behind it, but the enduring features of the social world are not established by birth.
Second, the delineation of people in literary fiction must allow readers to recognize what sort of person the delineation represents. All fiction operates with implicit rules about the range and kinds of consequence that characters might have in the world, depending upon the conditions of their existence, their social rank, their stage of life, and also with the range and kinds of effect that chance or other people's designs can impose upon them. This is to say that characters in fiction possess typical as well as individuals traits, reflecting something of the division of people into groups in the real world. Since we believe in social mobility, our fictions tend to privilege individual traits; typical characters and formulaic plots will abound-the intelligibility of fiction cannot do without them-but they will be qualified by a predominant assumption that people can redefine their possibilities and that it makes sense to worry about what they are. In contrast, thanks to the tight relation that was supposed to obtain in Cervantes's day between individual identity and an enduring social hierarchy, fiction was expected to privilege typical over individual traits; characters in fiction were expected to embody habits, ambitions, motives, hopes, and general dispositions that ran close to type.
The typicality of character need not be simply a matter of social rank (for example, jealousy is typically different in young and old, in husbands and bachelors) but it will always be discernably touched by social rank. A character like Don Fernando, a member of the lower nobility, would be unsuitable as a comic figure in a book as accepting of social distinctions as is Don Quixote. He will never have "his cheeks bathed in blood" in the course of a fist-fight; he will not struggle over saddlebags or have lengthy arguments with a servant, and be vomited upon by a comic assistant, as Don Quixote is vomited upon by Sancho in the episode of Fierebras's balsam. Any portrayal that gave him such possibilities as a character would be implausible, lacking in verisimilitude, unbelievable, even though the real world might supply plenty of examples of atypical nobility. He also has greater latitude than a member of the gentry when it is a question of overcoming one's lapses of character in response to the love of a beautiful woman. Don Quixote takes such limitations in fiction as rules for conducting oneself in the real world (in this case, as a member of the lower nobility if you happen to be one); to some extent, he is correct, but Don Quixote has been reading the wrong sort of books, the implausible kind, which do not portray characters adequately in respect of social reality. Further, he supposes that the rules may be easily read out of fiction, as if they were manuals of instruction-telling you what is proper and improper behavior among members of a particular social group. This is of a piece with the Don's literalism-his sense that books of chivalry incorporate all relevant minor details of the action truthfully, and if something is not mentioned, its absence must be in accord with a rule of behavior. The Don does not grasp that in fiction there are rules about irrelevant details-what needn't be made explicit because the competent reader will take them for granted. Don Quixote is an incompetent reader-he supposes that omitted details signify something about the impropriety of the details with regard to knightly conduct. (One might contrast the Don's failure here with his impatience over Sancho's ferrying of goats, where Sancho is the literalist and Don Quixote, for a change, is a sensible reader.)
There seem to be two aspects to the Don's literary madness-the first concerns what makes fiction plausible, believable, verisimilar (like the truth); the second concerns how the rules governing plausibility in fiction may be translated into rules for behavior in fact. In a book concerned with reading and the nature of fiction, it is unsurprising to find explicit discussions of these topics among the characters themselves. Inspired by Don Quixote's antics, sensible readers like the curate or canon talk about the nature of fiction and its relation to fact. In all literary fiction, there is a kind of pruning and simplification going on; there is also what we might call an excess of meaning granted to the actions of characters, a larger scope for success or failure, than is available in the real world. In connection with these two features, the theory of fiction subscribed to by the curate and canon is roughly Aristotelian in nature, appealing to the notion that fiction idealizes its subject-matter in order to offer humanity a clearer glimpse than history can furnish of what is most typical about human relationships, particularly in martial exercise and in matters of love. What is verisimilar(like the truth) need not be truthful; what is believable may not be true. Worth-while books provide models for imitation, in the sense of offering an ideal that is worth living up to; the truth that can be found in them is ethical truth. Worth-while books, however, need not be relentlessly lofty or inspirational. There is, evidently, a range of genres, or literary kinds, extending from the epic (which deals with legendary heroes), exemplary tales, like the story of inappropriate curiosity (which deals with gentry) or the captive's tale, and there is even room for outright fantasy (but not enchantment) in pastoral romances, which present images of what simple refinement was like when all people were country people, the corruptions of civilization had not yet come into existence, and nobody had to spend a lot of time working for a living. Because such idealizations are exemplars (object meant to be imitated), their depiction engages rules about what should not be said in relations to them; it would be improper to describe the personal toiletry of an exemplary character in a heroic work of fiction, for example. These fictive characters are a valuable kind of artifice, and the ruder necessities of life do not touch their description or receive mention in accounts of their activities. (It becomes important not to say of an exemplar of beauty, capable of inspiring good in a man, that she has a faint moustache, hair on her legs, sweats heavily, experiences menstrual cramps, or knows anything about sexual practice.) Exemplary characters still exist in modern fictions, but the nature of their exemplarity has changed somewhat since Cervantes's day. In consequence, the presence of Cardenio, Dorotea, or the Captive's Zoraida may cause us to raise an eyebrow where verisimilitude is concerned-they seem so unlike our notions of realistic characters.
What sort of a book is Don Quixote, then? Don Quixote is a comedy, a mode having its own genres, all dealing precisely with the material, circumstantial, ruder aspects of life, and how they interfere with the ambitions of those unsuited to be exemplars, mere pretenders to authority, refinement, grace, courage and intelligence (or in the case of clowns, mere pretenders to simple competence with physical objects). We note, for example, that Don Quixote's pretensions to enchantment are momentarily undone near the end of Book One by his need to do "what a man can do only for himself". And yet Don Quixote is not all comedy, for it includes the so-called "interpolated" tales, which are exemplary fictions, and even writes exemplary characters into the main body of the story. (Sancho reports at the outset of Part II that readers find the exemplary aspects of the book an annoying interruption of the really good bits-the comedy of Quixote's adventures and his conversations with Sancho.) It is the exemplary characters who talk about fiction and who remark of Don Quixote that if you found him in work of fiction, you wouldn't find him believable. In this respect, quite apart from its rhetorical achievements, the genius of Don Quixote is two-fold. First, it combines exemplary characters with comic ones, one of the first books to do so-confronting, let us say, the mad Cardenio, whose fictive derangement is in accord with the type of manly loved betrayed by its ideal object, with the madness of Quixote, who, fictively mad himself, pretends to go mad in compliance with the best literary examples and cannot do it properly. And second, it provides a comic figure whose pretensions all turn upon misconceptions about literature. In inventing such a figure, the text not only prompts its characters to engage in discussion about the nature of fiction; it also, by way of further entertainment, involves the reader in a continual series of jokes and games about what he or she is doing-reading a book, in which only the madman believes that things happen as they do because they are fit to be represented in a book.
It is this aspect of the Don Quixote that has chiefly attracted modern critics. We all live by fictions, many of them argue, because there are no large, encompassing truths, and we try to find out who we are by finding our place in the right narrative. But we are largely unaware of this fact, like the exemplary characters in the book. The book presents these exemplary characters in the first instance as if they have a fair sense of reality, in contrast to Don Quixote, who does not. And yet the book also insistently reminds the reader by a variety of devices that these characters are, after all, exemplary fictions-that their sense of reality does not touch the most important thing about them, whereas Don Quixote, in a twisted way, does seem to understand that what happens is happening in a narrative.
Lectures 6-8: Balzac. Pere Goriot
Consider three notions of the idea of "viewpoint" in connection with this novel, and also with the others that we will read:
- The interests that animate the various characters or supply their motives and thereby explain their actions; the value that they put on things.
- The values that the narrative itself seems to espouse in the way that it disposes of characters and deals with their ambitions in working out the plot; what used to be called the sense of "poetic justice" that the story exhibits in making each character wind up a certain way.
- The way in which what any given character knows jibes with or seems to provide the information that the narrative voice conveys. For example, "Paul's eyes glittered as he spoke" cannot express the viewpoint of Paul. It may express the viewpoint of someone in the story (in this case the person or persons to whom Paul is speaking), or it may express a viewpoint impossible to anyone in the story. In this text, the narrative viewpoint is largely identical with Eugène, its protagonist; the narrative voice even remarks at one moment that "were it not for the friendship between these two people [Eugène and Goriot], we might never have learned the outcome of this story." Since the story is a fiction, there is something odd about such an assertion. What is the point of tying the narrative viewpoint so closely to the viewpoint of a single character in a story when the story is not narrated in the first person? How many points can you identify where the narrative viewpoint is not available to Eugène?
Compare the tone of the narrative voice at the outset of Don Quixote with the tone of the first paragraphs of Père Goriot? The voice insists that "this is not a novel". What is the point of this assertion?
What does the word "success" mean in this book? What does the idea of "a career" mean? What does the word "society" mean? Compare the viewpoint of Madame de Beauséant with the viewpoint of Vautrin on "society". Eugène thinks to himself that they are the same. Are they?
How does Eugène win the affection of Mme de Beauséant when he first meets her? How characteristic is what he says at that moment of the ways in which people relate in the book? Do you believe that you would be as adept as Eugène in understanding motives and knowing what to say? More adept? Less?
Eugène discovers the existence of "triangular domesticity". What does this phrase mean? What sort of world is it in which love and marriage are acknowledged as distinct forms of commitment? Under what conditions in the world that Balzac depicts can a man be humiliated by others knowing that his wife is having an affair with another man? Why is the Vicontesse de Beauséant humiliated by the public knowledge that the man she loves is about to marry an hieress?
Why is the novel called Père Goriot? Is it badly named by its author? How did Goriot make his money and why is his existence an embarrassment to his sons-in-law?
What keeps Eugène from marrying Vittorine de Taiffer and achieving his ambitions in this way? Why does he not inform the police of Vautrin's murderous scheme with regard to Vittorine's brother?
Vautrin despises morality but professes to be absolutely trustworthy. Does he have any fixed principles of conduct or is he simply a villain? He says: "There are no principles, only events." What does the phrase mean? Explain in this context the problem posed by the "puzzle of the Mandarin" which Eugène elaborate to his friend Bianchon. What is the point of the puzzle?
Money is very important to the characters in Père Goriot and seems constantly to invade their lives. "Mixing money with love," says Delphine; "It’s awful!" Is it awful? Why do the various characters need so much money? And why are the sums involved left so unspecific?
"He [Eugène] had seen the three attitudes of men toward the world: obedience, struggle, and revolt; the family, society, and Vautrin. He dared not choose among them." Explicate this passage. Why dare Eugène not choose among them
The last thing that Eugène does is "to throw down the gauntlet to society by going to dine with Delphine." What is the implication of this phrase? How does Eugène wind up in his struggles between a desire for success and his hesitations about the means? Would he have been better to emulate Bianchon or accept the offer of Vautrin?
In the world of Balzac's Paris, power depends, paradoxically, upon the appearance of having power; that is why for those who want power, being mocked by the raised eyebrow of a servant can humiliate so deeply. (You might try explaining, in connection with this notion of the power of appearances, both the wit and the appropriateness of Rastignac's remark about his tailor: "I know two pairs of his trousers that have made marriages worth twenty thousand francs a year." [p. 99.]) In contrast, Don Quixote's power is all delusion, but also paradoxically, his delusion is such that he can never be convinced that he doesn't have any, and so he cannot be humiliated. Comment on the theme of humiliation or upon the contrast just drawn.
Lectures 9-12: Stendhal. The Red and the Black
Compare Julien Sorel's sense of himself at the outset of the book with Eugène's sense of himself at the outset of Père Goriot. What does "success" mean to each of them? What sense does each have of a vocation or a sense of purpose in life? Is it possible to imagine them meeting? Who would be more adept at describing this meeting, Balzac or Stendhal?
- The uncertain nature of Julien's goal leads him to entertain a sense of duty that does not derive its content from the requirements of the goal; and so he often tests his capacity to follow the dictates of duty abtractly, that is, in circumstances where a sense of duty may not exist. Examine three cases from the early parts of the book and comment on how they reveal Julien's character.
- Julien stands in contrast to people like Count Norbert in the book. They know their duty; it is tied to honor, which comes with birth and station. The book makes Julien more interesting than they (by having the admirable or interesting people in the book interested in him), but there is something a bit silly about him. Compare him in this respect with the figure of Don Quixote.
- Julien acts at moments to propel what he thinks of as his career by saying to himself that he has a "duty to himself"? How does one acquire a duty? Is it possible to have "duties to oneself" as well as duties to others? What does Julien mean by the phrase "duty to himself"? If there is such a thing as duties to oneself, does Julien embody a valid idea of it?
- Stendhal writes of Julien at the point when Julien is about to seduce the daughter of his friend and benefactor: "He was the unhappy man at war with all society." What is meant by this phrase? Can it possibly justify what Julien is doing? At the end of Pere Goriot, Eugene would seem to declare war on society--the high society in Paris. Compare the two in respect of this notion.
- Minor characters in The Red and the Black (Julien’s father, M. Valenod, the Abbe de Frilair) know what they want and how to get it. Does Julien know what he wants? If not, does this make him superior or inferior to other characters in respect of the capacity to succeed? Does this make him ethically superior or inferior? Does it make him more or less interesting than they?
- Knowing what you want can be a source of weakness, simply because it opens the possibility of others discovering what you want and using their knowledge to manipulate you. At the outset of the story’s action, old Sorel gets a good deal out of M. de Renal in bargaining for Julien’s salary. What does M. de Renal want from Julien’s employment and how does old Sorel learn what that it and use the knowledge to advantage?
- Julien imagines that the world is governed by vast conspiracies. Throughout the book, he imagines that people are secretly mocking him, judging him, conspiring against him. Is he correct in this? If so, does he understand the nature of the conspiracies appropriately?
- Does the narrative voice of this text share Julien’s sense that conspiracy is everywhere? Does it share Julien’s understanding of the nature of these conspiracies? Consider, in this connection, the ceremonies surrounding the visit of the young Bishop of Agde to the town of Verrières.
- Consider Julien’s changing responses to the offer made by his friend, Fouqué, to put him in the way of riches. He seems to condemn himself for thinking to accept the offer and to condemn himself for thinking to refuse it. What does this say about his character?
- Why does Julien decide to seduce Mme de Renal? Why does he decide to seduce Matthilde? Compare his love for these two women and their love for him. What is the source of his attractiveness to Mme de Renal? What is the source of his attractiveness to Matthilde? Compare the responses of each woman to Julien’s death. Does the contrast imply anything about the love that each bears for him?
- Early in his residence at the Hotel de la Mole, Julien fights a duel. What is the occasion for it? Does dueling in response to this occasion make sense? Why does Julien accrue some benefit as a result of this duel?
- The Count Altimira is under sentence of death in his own country. Why? Julien regards Altimira’s failure to commit a certain act as the expression of weakness. What factors are at issue in this judgment?
- Explain the ruse employed by the Marquis de la Mole in giving Julien two suits of clothing. Why does he so admire Julien for his adeptness in falling in with this stratagem?
- The fix is in–the jury has been bribed to acquit Julien at his trial, yet Julien seems to throw his life away in his final address to the jury: he says things that will ensure his conviction of a capital crime. Why does he do this?
- At the end of The Red and the Black, Julien is happy in prison (where ambition has no place), disregards Mathilde (who has sacrificed everything for him and is soon to bear his child), and occupies himself by making love with Mme de Renal and preparing himself to meet the day of his execution. Is this an appropriate end to the book?
- The characteristics of the narrative voice in each of these texts implies something about the nature of the reader of them, who is occasionally addressed directly by the narrative voice. How would you describe the attitude of the narrative voice to Julien and to the other characters? How would you describe the implied reader of The Red and the Black?
Lectures 13-16: Flaubert. Madame Bovary
Introductory note: Flaubert's novel is the first to make extensive use of "the indirect free style". Le style indirect libre is a piece of French imported into literary criticism; the English indirect free style is also used, but less often. Like most features of utterance that seem perfectly natural, its function is not easy to describe. The oppositions involved are:
- free quotation, in which the words of the speaker are quoted but the speaker is not identified, as opposed to tagged quotation, which designates the speaker; for example, the phrase "You are to go home now", with its quotation marks, versus the phrase I said "You are to go home now", in which the quotation marks are within the phrase, which not only quote verbatim but also identifies the speaker.
- direct quotation, which encloses the actual words of the speaker in quotation marks, as opposed to indirect quotation which may or may not tag the source but which gives the thought rather than the actual words of the speaker. Thus I said, "You are to go home now" versus I told them that they were to go home immediately. Note the two-fold change in tense in the last example-the change in tense (from are to were), and also the change from now to immediately. Both of these changes refer to what linguists call deixis. This term designates elements in an utterance that refer to the time and place of the utterance as opposed to elements in the utterance that refer to the time and place of the events that the utterance is about. In the first phrase, the saying occurred in the past and so the verb indicating speech must be in the past tense; the deictic indicator in what is spoken in direct quotation, i.e. the now, points to the time of the quoted speech of which it is a part. In the second phrase the word now would also refer to the time of utterance, but here the time of utterance is not past; what is spoken of is in the past but the time of utterance is the present and so now is out of place and must yield to immediately. I told them that they are to go home now is not grammatical.
The point about the free indirect style is that violates the rule of grammar appropriate to reporting past utterance and does so in a way that we find so natural that it surprises us to learn that it does not appear in print as a regular feature of narrative texts-indeed, it has been argued that it does not appear at all-until the end of the eighteenth century. The device is exclusively literary, that is to say, a feature of fiction. It occurs neither in first-person narrative, whether fictive or true, nor in historical accounts of the past.
To illustrate. Suppose that a young in an overworked or depressed state of mind has fled the city for the countryside and sits down to write his beloved a letter about the effect of the scenery on his state of mind. In the examples, the elements in italics are deictics, referring to something contemporary with the moment of utterance or in proximity to the spatial position of the writer. Compare:
- Straightforward utterance: "By the time that you receive this, I will be downhearted once more, but for now I am delighted to be here. How beautiful it is!" The exclamation point expresses an emotion contemporary with the time of utterance.
- Indirect utterance: "I believed that by the time you received the letter, I would be downhearted once more, but at the moment I was nonetheless delighted to be there. I thought the scenery was extremely beautiful."The tenses have changed, the "this" and "now" have been replaced by explicit designations. The phrasing of the exclamation has been altered, and exclamation point has vanished; the upsurge of emotion is a sentiment belonging to the past that is described, not to the time of utterance. In the exchange the upsurge has been lost; one can think that something is extremely beautiful and yet have no emotional response whatever.
- Indirect free style: "He sat down to write a letter. By the time that she would receive it, he would be downhearted once more, but his present feelings were unaffected by this thought. How beautiful it was!" The exclamation is not quoted; it is not tagged. The sentence belong to the narrative voice; the young man would not say How beautiful it was but rather How beautiful it is. And yet the reader knows that it registers a sense of things that belongs to the person written about, not to the narrative voice. The words belong to one, the response to the other.
Although there is no play with exclamation points, there are some instances of the indirect free style in Balzac and many more in Stendhal. It is a major element in Flaubert. The indirect free style, so to speak, seals the bond between the narrative voice of the text and the character that is chosen as a source of information without identifying them, as first-person narration would do. One can easily see that it has no place whatsoever in Don Quixote.
Find examples of the free indirect style: most involve Emma but some involve other characters, particularly Rodolphe. How clear is the distinction between the sentiments or the perceptions, which belong to the characters, and choice of phrases, which belong to the narrative? What is implied about the characters by the ability to make this distinction?
In his letters, Flaubert described Madame Bovary as "a book about nothing". He described his prose as trying to fulfill the ambition to be "as transparent as a plane of glass". He argued that art should be "pure"- unalloyed by ethical judgment-and he wrote of his wish to ally art with science rather than with moral judgment. Elaborate on these three notions. What do they mean? Are they connected in some way? Does the novel exhibit them?
We are told at one point in the text that Emma, virtually throughout her years of maturity, has been "waiting for something to happen". Yet much happens-she falls in love, she marries, she has a child, she falls in love again, then again, and this time has an adulterous affair, she nearly commits suicide, and so on. What does it mean to say that she is "waiting for something to happen." It is generally the initial response of readers that nothing seems to happen in the book (until the end). Does this put them on a level with Emma, so far as their understanding of events in the book is concerned?
We have discussed the notion that characters in a text are defined in some manner relative to the world that the text presents and to the problems that circumstances within this world may pose for characters within it. In this connection, we asked whether certain characters were superior, equal or inferior to other characters in the text or (more importantly) to the implied reader of the text in respect of certain qualities. Discuss any aspect of the issue of ranking characters with respect to qualities by centering discussion on any four of the characters in Madame Bovary.
Emma has been described as a trivial person-the equivalent of a housewife in the hinterlands of rural America who stuffs her imagination with television dramas and runs away to the big city to realize her fantasies about love and romance. Is this account adequate to her presence in the novel? Again, Emma has been described as "a female Don Quixote". How just is this comparison?
At one point the novel says that Emma "was incapable of . . . recognizing anything that wasn't expressed in conventional terms" (p. 51.) and of Rodolphe, much later in the novel (p. 224) that he can't recognize the uniqueness or genuineness of feeling that might underlie conventional similarities of expression. Does this make them alike or different?
Almost all of the characters in Madame Bovary think and feel in conventional ways. The text is suffused with conventionalities of various sorts--conventionalities of religion (the Abbé Bournisien), of science (Homais), of politics (the speaker at the county fair), of art and literature (Emma, Léon, Rodolphe). In an important sense, even Emma's notion of unconventionality is a conventional notion; and the idea of conventionality needs some exploring to resolve this paradox.
By use of le style indirect libre Flaubert contrasts the viewpoints of two characters from time to time in the novel. Explore the contrasting viewpoints upon an episode in the book of Charles and Emma, of Rodolphe and Emma, of Lestibudois and Justin, of the Abbé Bournisien and Emma.
The test is full of images of realized ambition-images of the sort of realization that Emma never experiences. And these images are all images of grotesque hodge-podges: among them, Charles's school-cap, Emma's wedding cake, the cathedral steeple at Rouen, the festival platter at Vaubeyessard, the cast made for the cripple's leg, the tombstone Charles plans for Emma. What is the point of them in the book?
Emma in her affair with Rodolphe is controlled by him; he is the dominant figure, to the point where "he made her into something compliant, something corrupt. (p. 224.) Leon in his affair with Emma is controlled by her; she is the dominant and rather frightening figure. Are these relations transitive? that is to ask, is Emma placed between the two men in point of strength of character?
Near the end of the book, a character is briefly introduced- Dr. Larivière-who seems quite different from all the others and he is immediately withdrawn from the action. What was Flaubert's purpose in introducing him?
Lectures 17-20: Dostoyevsky. Crime and Punishment.
Like Vautrin, in Père Goriot, Raskolnikov is a "transgressor in principle". Compare him in this respect with Vautrin and also with that aspect of Julien Sorel's character in The Red and the Black which leads Julien to blame Prince Altamira for not committing a series of murders that would have undeniably benefitted the mass of humanity. How contemporary is the idea of "transgressing in principle"? Is it a possibility that confronts political leaders today in their efforts to "make war on terrorism"? Has it anything to do with the motives of terrorism itself?
- And yet, unlike Prince Altamira or a modern political leader, Raskolnikov is not in a position to confer benefits on the mass of humanity. He is only a penniless student. Why, then, does he commit his crime? He gives three accounts of his motive in one of his interviews with Sonya late in the book. What are his three explanations of his motives? Are they in harmony with each other? If not, are any valid?
- In that interview, Raskolnikov identifies himself with Sonya-or, rather, he identifies her with himself. "It makes no difference whether you sacrifice yourself or another," he says; "the act is still wanton and criminal." Is there any sense in this identification?
- Raskolnikov has written an article explaining or justifying the position of someone like Altimira (in The Red and the Black), only he has Napoleon in mind. The transgressor, he says, violates the morality of the present because he represents the future-his acts look wrong in the eyes of the present but the future will acknowledge their worth. Expound some details of Raskolnikov's theory. Razumihin, Raskolnikov's friend, says that Raskolnikov's theory is more horrible than "the official justification for murder". What is the official justification to which Razumihin is referring and is he correct in his assessment?
- There are five dreams in the story. Four of them are dreamed by Raskolnikov, and the first concerns an old mare who is flogged to death by the peasant who owns it. How does the dream relate to the waking events of the story? The dream convinces Raskolnikov for the moment to abandon his project of killing the old pawnbroker. But the pawnbroker is a vicious exploiter of the poor and the mare a helpless servant of her master. Is there some discrepancy here? Why does the dream have the effect (if only temporarily) that it does?
- Raskolnikov is reckless in distributing his few kopeks to those who need charity, but he responds to charity with anger. Among other things, Dounia (his sister) is offering to sacrifice herself for him by making a loveless marriage, and in refusing this offer he responds to it with hatred, not with gratitude. Is his response the right one?
- Luzhin, Dounia's suitor, has a theory of ethical conduct which is tied to the idea of economic progress. Razumihin immediately identifies this theory with a license to murder, which startles Luzhin. Is there any justification in Razumihin's view?
- Some of the characters in the book have a powerful wish to humiliate others-Luzhin or Svigdrigailov, for example-while others seem eager to humiliate themselves-Marmeladov and Mrs Svigdrigailov are instances of this. The idea of humiliation figures importantly in the careers of Eugène de Rastignac (in Père Goriot) and Julien Sorel (in The Red and the Black). In Dostoyevsky, it is tied to the idea of public exposure and public confession. It is urged upon Raskolnikov as the path of redemption by Sonya and also by the public investigator, Porfiry. How would you account for the differences in the notion of humiliation in the three books?
- Crime and Punishment has been filmed no less than five times. In all versions, the character of Svigdrigailov is omitted. How important is Svigdrigailov to the story? Surely, the plot can be managed without him. What difference to the book's overall effect does his presence make?
- Psychology, observes Porfiry, is a double-edged sword; it cuts both ways. He is referring here to the incapacity of psychology to fathom motives, when people can "double bluff". For example, a criminal thinks: "Only a guilty person would do such a thing. I am a guilty person and may be suspected; therefore I will forestall suspicion by doing such a thing blatantly. Thereby I will convince people that I am not guilty, for the thing that I do is such a give-away that a guilty person would never do it. By doing it, I will establish my innocence in their eyes." Both Raskolnikov and Porfiry "double-bluff" each other. Examine this notion closely in relation to any passage where it seems relevant and try to say something about how this notion of "cutting both ways" ties in with the nature of the characters who resort to this practice.
- Raskolnikov tries to alert a policeman to the plight of a young woman at the outset of the book, but after he arouses the policeman to protect her, he shouts: "Leave her alone. Why is she your business?" Again, he has occasion to think "Mankind is vile," but immediately adds: "But the person who calls mankind vile is really contemptible." How would you account for these violent swings of mood?
- The dream in the book that does not belong to Raskolnikov is dreamed by Svigdrigailov; it concerns a poor suffering child who is revealed during the course of the dream to be a perverted child-harlot. What is the significance of this dream and how does it bear upon Svigdrigailov's treatment of women?
Lectures 21-25: Tolstoy. Anna Karenina
The narrative voice that Tolstoy perfected for his major novels offers a fine example of what is meant by "the omniscient narrative". The phrase is sometimes taken to mean that the narrative voice knows everything, with the implication that it can know what is going on in the minds of his characters, a capacity denied to us with respect to our fellows in life. The idea of the omniscient narrative is better understood, however, in connection with the notion of the style indirect libre. As we have seen, the narrative voice can associate itself with the emotions, perceptions and thoughts of a character without adopting the first-personal "I" it can confine itself for the duration of a scene or an episode to the information that would be available to one character alone, creating the illusion that everything is "seen" from that character's "viewpoint", even though the account of it is not expressed in phrases that the character might have chosen. Or it may choose to confine itself only for some part of an episode to the information available to one character and for the rest provide information available to no character.
A good example is provided by a scene that bridges chapters xiii and xiv in Book One of the novel. Levin has come to St. Petersburg to propose to Kitty, who senses this and dreads the moment, for she has become infatuated with Vronsky. At last the moment arrives; Levin has come early to a dinner-party, expressly to catch Kitty alone and propose to her. In a few, brief paragraphs, we move back and forth repeatedly, from the viewpoint of one to the other. Levin proposes, Kitty refuses. At that moment, Kitty's mother, who dislikes Levin and favors Vronksy, comes into the room:
There was a look of horror on her face when she saw them alone, and their disturbed faces. Levin bowed to her and said nothing. Kitty did not speak or lift her eyes. "Thank God, she has refused him," thought the mother, and her face lighted up with the habitual smile with which she greeted her guests on Thursdays. She sat down and began questioning Levin about his life in the country.
The look of horror can be seen only by Levin, but since Levin has just averted his gaze from Kitty, the fact that his face and Kitty's are disturbed must be the perception of the mother. We have moved to her viewpoint, but are moved out of it midway in the third sentence on by the description of the mother's smile: "the habitual smile with which she greeted her guests on Thursdays". Levin would see the smile but would not know that it was her Thursdays smile. We have moved to the omniscient narrative voice, who knows that the mother has a distinctive smile for each social evening, presumably determined by the sorts of people that she invites to each soirée, as fit company for each other. An entire categorization of social distinctions is involved in that smile, and an immense judgement upon the triviality of those, like the mother, who make them-distinctions which lie behind the mother's sense that Vronsky is a superior choice for a husband and that the loss of happiness to Levin and Kitty involved in Kitty's refusal is something to be grateful for.
Tolstoy has mastered to perfection the knack of moving from the viewpoint of one character to another in a single episode, encompassing the viewpoints of several at a time, all the while admitting information available to none of them. The apparent seamlessness of these transitions creates the impression that we see everything that the characters see and more; we penetrate the depth of their souls as far as they do, and further. Paradoxically, the technique allows Tolstoy to create the impression that the characters see very far into their souls themselves, that they have depths that they are capable of plumbing, and that when they fail to see as much as we do, they have knowingly shied away from properly knowing themselves. Tolstoy provides an explicit instance of someone who shies at knowing himself in the character of Sviazhsky, introduced about half-way through the book. Sviaszhsky is a minor character, of no particular importance to the plot; he seems deliberately introduced to provide a pure instance of a general condition, a character summed up simply by the fact that he shies at knowing himself. The sharpness of Tolstoy's characterizations-the sense felt across the literate world that his novels seem to transcribe life itself-has much to do with the extent to which the narrative voice locates the point where characters in the fiction cease to be as aware of what the narrative sees as the narrative is itself; each character of importance to the plot will fail at points or in ways particular to the character in question, distinctive from the failure of the others. The character receives its distinction from the others largely by this means-not, as in the works of other novelists, by quirks of speech or by description of conduct or surface features.
Tolstoy affixed an epigraph to the novel: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Is it appropriate? How does it apply to the novel.
- We meet one of the two main characters, Levin, by first becoming acquainted with Stepan Oblonsky, who is involved in a serious crisis in his life and who is described more extensively than any other character in the book shortly after his introduction. What is the point of introducing Levin in this way? What judgment would you make of Oblonsky on the basis of the description.
- Kitty's mother does not like Levin because he makes people feel uncomfortable. Why does he? The contrast between Levin and Oblonsky is understood by both of them: where Levin makes people feel uncomfortable, Oblonsky knows exactly how to put them at ease. Why does the book value Levin more than Oblonsky? Do you agree with the judgment?
- We are given two descriptions of the ways of in which people may be categorized by their place in society-one by Anna, one by Vronsky. Do they match up? What is the point of observing the distinctions represented by these ways of categorizing people?
- Illicit sexual liasons among married people are quite public and accepted by the highest levels of St. Peterburg society, but Anna's affair with Vronsky is not. Why is their affair publicly condemned?
- There are lengthy episodes, often widely separated from each other in the text, which stand in apparently deliberate contrast with each other. Among them: Vronsky's losing the race and Levin's mowing with the peasants, Vronsky's doing his lessive (French for "doing your washing") and Levin's final account of the principles by which he lives, Levin's night of inarticulate joy after Kitty has accepted his proposal of marriage and Anna's day of judgement, in which she marks the odiousness of all people and their enterprises as she goes her way to suicide. What is at issue in each of these contrasts?
- It has been remarked that Madame Bovary must have provided a part of Tolstoy's inspiration for this book. In what respects is Karenin like Charles Bovary? How does he differ?
- Midway in the story, Vronsky tries his hand at suicide and fails. What is his motive for the attempt? Is the state of mind depicted convincing? Does the attempt mark him as a more serious or a more trivial character than the reader might otherwise think?
- Kitty meets and admires someone called Varenka. How would you describe her? The book judges her an unfit role-model for Kitty. How is this judgment conveyed? What are the grounds of it and do you accept them?
- Near the end of the book, the Levins are visited by someone named Vasenska Vesslovsky, whom Levin ultimately throws out of the house. Why does he do so? Was he right?
- The capacity of the novelist to "enter the mind of his characters" extends at one point to Levin's dog, Laska. What is the point of endowing the animal with human perceptiveness?
- The two protagonists, Levin and Anna, do not meet until nearly the end of the book. What passes between them? What does the encounter contribute to the narrative as whole?
Lecture 26: Summation and Review