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Contemporary Irish Poetry and the Pastoral Tradition Cover

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Contemporary Irish Poetry and the Pastoral Tradition

Donna L. Potts

In Contemporary Irish Poetry and the Pastoral Tradition, Donna L. Potts closely examines the pastoral genre in the work of six Irish poets writing today. Through the exploration of the poets and their works, she reveals the wide range of purposes that pastoral has served in both Northern Ireland and the Republic: a postcolonial critique of British imperialism; a response to modernity, industrialization, and globalization; a way of uncovering political and social repercussions of gendered representations of Ireland; and, more recently, a means for conveying environmentalism’s more complex understanding of the value of nature.

 

Potts traces the pastoral back to its origins in the work of Theocritus of Syracuse in the third century and plots its evolution due to cultural changes. While all pastoral poems share certain generic traits, Potts makes clear that pastorals are shaped by social and historical contexts, and Irish pastorals in particular were influenced by Ireland’s unique relationship with the land, language, and industrialization due to England’s colonization.

 

For her discussion, Potts has chosen six poets who have written significant collections of pastoral poetry and whose work is in dialogue with both the pastoral tradition and other contemporary pastoral poets. Three poets are men—John Montague, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley—while three are women—Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. Five are English-language authors, while the sixth—Ní Dhomhnaill—writes in Irish. Additionally, some of the poets hail from the Republic, while others originate from Northern Ireland. Potts contends that while both Irish Republic and Northern Irish poets respond to a shared history of British colonization in their pastorals, the 1921 partition of the country caused the pastoral tradition to evolve differently on either side of the border, primarily because of the North’s more rapid industrialization; its more heavily Protestant population, whose response to environmentalism was somewhat different than that of the Republic’s predominantly Catholic population; as well the greater impact of the world wars and the Irish Troubles.

 

 

In an important distinction from other studies of Irish poetry, Potts moves beyond the influence of history and politics on contemporary Irish pastoral poetry to consider the relatively recent influence of ecology. Contemporary Irish poets often rely on the motif of the pastoral retreat to highlight various environmental threats to those retreats—whether they be high-rises, motorways, global warming, or acid rain. Potts concludes by speculating on the future of pastoral in contemporary Irish poetry through her examination of more recent poets—including Moya Cannon and Paula Meehan—as well as other genres such as film, drama, and fiction.

 
 

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Conversations with Edna O'Brien

Alice Hughes Kersnowski

"Who's Afraid of Edna O'Brien?" asks an early interviewer in Conversations with Edna O'Brien. With over fifty years of published novels, biographies, plays, telecasts, short stories, and more, it is hard not to be intimidated by her. An acclaimed and controversial Irish writer, O'Brien (b. 1932) saw her early works, starting in 1960 with The Country Girls, banned and burned in Ireland, but often read in secret. Her contemporary work continues to spark debates on the rigors and challenges of Catholic conservatism and the struggle for women to make a place for themselves in the world without anxiety and guilt. The raw nerve of emotion at the heart of her lyrical prose provokes readers, challenges politicians, and proves difficult for critics to place her.

In these interviews, O'Brien finds her own critical voice and moves interviewers away from a focus on her life as the "once infamous Edna" toward a focus on her works. Parallels between Edna O'Brien and her literary muse and mentor, James Joyce, are often cited in interviews such as Phillip Roth's description of The Country Girls as "rural Dubliners." While Joyce is the centerpiece of O'Brien's literary pantheon, allusions to writers such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett, and Woolf become a medium for her critical voice. Conversations with contemporary writers Phillip Roth and Glenn Patterson reveal Edna O'Brien's sense of herself as a contemporary writer. The final interview included here, with BBC personality William Crawley at Queen's University, Belfast, is a synthesis of her acceptance and fame as an Irish writer and an Irish woman and an affirmation of her literary authority.

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The Cultural Production of Matthew Arnold

Antony H. Harrison

The career of Matthew Arnold as an eminent poet and the preeminent critic of his generation constitutes a remarkable historical spectacle orchestrated by a host of powerful Victorian cultural institutions. The Cultural Production of Matthew Arnold investigates these constructions by situating Arnold’s poetry in a number of contexts that partially shaped it. Such analysis revises our understanding of the formation of the elite (and elitist) male literary-intellectual subject during the 1840s and 1850s, as Arnold attempts self-definition and strives simultaneously to move toward a position of ideological influence upon intellectual institutions that were contested sites of economic, social, and political power in his era.

Antony H. Harrison reopens discussion of selected works by Arnold in order to make visible some of their crucial sociohistorical, intertextual, and political components. Only by doing so can we ultimately view the cultural work of Arnold “steadily and . . . whole,” and in a fashion that actually eschews this mystifying premise of all Arnoldian inquiry which, by the early twentieth century, had become wholly naturalized in the academy as ideology.

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Curiosities and Texts

The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England

By Marjorie Swann

A craze for collecting swept England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Aristocrats and middling-sort men alike crammed their homes full of a bewildering variety of physical objects: antique coins, scientific instruments, minerals, mummified corpses, zoological specimens, plants, ethnographic objects from Asia and the Americas, statues, portraits. Why were these bizarre jumbles of artifacts so popular?

In Curiosities and Texts, Marjorie Swann demonstrates that collections of physical objects were central to early modern English literature and culture. Swann examines the famous collection of rarities assembled by the Tradescant family; the development of English natural history; narrative catalogs of English landscape features that began to appear in the Tudor and Stuart periods; the writings of Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick; and the foundation of the British Museum.

Through this wide-ranging series of case studies, Swann addresses two important questions: How was the collection, which was understood as a form of cultural capital, appropriated in early modern England to construct new social selves and modes of subjectivity? And how did literary texts—both as material objects and as vehicles of representation—participate in the process of negotiating the cultural significance of collectors and collecting? Crafting her unique argument with a balance of detail and insight, Swann sheds new light on material culture's relationship to literature, social authority, and personal identity.

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Dancing out of Line

Ballrooms, Ballets, and Mobility in Victorian Fiction and Culture

Molly Engelhardt

Dancing out of Line transports readers back to the 1840s when the craze for social and stage dancing forced Victorians into a complex relationship with the moving body in its most voluble, volatile form. Molly Engelhardt challenges our assumptions about Victorian sensibilities and attitudes toward the sexual/social roles of men and women by bringing together historical voices from
various fields to demonstrate the versatility of the dance, not only as a social practice but also as a forum for Victorians to engage in debate about the body and its pleasures and pathologies.

Engelhardt makes explicit many of the ironies underlying Victorian practices that up to this time have gone unnoticed in critical circles by partnering cultural discourses with representations of the dance in novels such as Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre, and Daniel Deronda. She analyzes the role of the illustrious dance master, who created and disseminated the manners and moves expected of fashionable society, despite his origin as a social outsider of nebulous origins. She describes how the daughters of the social elite were expected to “come out” to society in the ballroom, the most potent space in the cultural imagination for licentious behavior and temptation. These incongruities fueled the debates and in the process generated new, progressive ideas about the body, subjectivity, sexuality, and health.

Dancing out of Line will be of interest to scholars in the fields of Victorian studies, women’s history, the nineteenth-century novel, dance and theater studies, and medicine and literature.

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Dangerous Masculinities

Conrad, Hemingway, and Lawrence

Thomas Strychacz

In Dangerous Masculinities, Thomas Strychacz has as his goal nothing less than to turn scholarship on gender and modernism on its head. He focuses on the way some early twentieth-century writers portray masculinity as theatrical performance, and examines why scholars have generally overlooked that fact.

Strychacz argues that writers such as Conrad, Hemingway, and Lawrence--often viewed as misogynist--actually represented masculinity in their works in terms of theatrical and rhetorical performances. They are theatrical in the sense that male characters keep staging themselves in competitive displays; rhetorical in the sense that these characters, and the very narrative form of the works in which they appear, render masculinity a kind of persuasive argument readers can and should debate.

Perhaps most interesting is Strychacz's contention that scholarship has obscured the fact that often these writers were quite critical of masculinity. Writing with a clarity and scope that allows him to both invoke the Schwarzeneggarian "girly man" and borrow from the theories of Judith Butler and Bertolt Brecht, he fashions a critical method with which to explore the ways in which scholars gender texts by the very act of reading.

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Dark Victorians

Vanessa D. Dickerson

Dark Victorians illuminates the cross-cultural influences between white Britons and black Americans during the Victorian age. In carefully analyzing literature and travel narratives by Ida B. Wells, Harriet Martineau, Charles Dickens, Frederick Douglass, Thomas Carlyle, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others, Vanessa D. Dickerson reveals the profound political, racial, and rhetorical exchanges between the groups. From the nineteenth-century black nationalist David Walker, who urged emigrating African Americans to turn to England, to the twentieth-century writer Maya Angelou, who recalls how those she knew in her childhood aspired to Victorian ideas of conduct, black Americans have consistently embraced Victorian England. At a time when scholars of black studies are exploring the relations between diasporic blacks, and postcolonialists are taking imperialism to task, Dickerson considers how Britons negotiated their support of African Americans with the controlling policies they used to govern a growing empire of often dark-skinned peoples, and how philanthropic and abolitionist Victorian discourses influenced black identity, prejudice, and racism in America.

David Hume Cover

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David Hume

Historical Thinker, Historical Writer

Edited by Mark G. Spencer

This volume provides a new and nuanced appreciation of David Hume, the historian. Gone for good are the days when one can off-handedly assert, as R. G. Collingwood once did, that Hume “deserted philosophical studies in favour of historical” ones. History and philosophy are commensurate in Hume’s thought and works from the beginning to the end. Only by recognizing this can we begin to make sense of Hume’s canon as a whole. Only then are we able to see clearly his many contributions to fields we now recognize as the distinct disciplines of history, philosophy, political science, economics, literature, religious studies and much else besides. Casting their individual beams of light on various nooks and crannies of Hume’s historical thought and writing, the book’s contributors illuminate the whole in a way that would not be possible from the perspective of a single-authored study. Aside from the editor, the contributors are David Allan, M. A. Box, Timothy M. Costelloe, Roger L. Emerson, Jennifer Herdt, Philip Hicks, Douglas Long, Claudia M. Schmidt, Michael Silverthorne, Jeffrey M. Suderman, Mark R. M. Towsey, and F. L. Van Holthoon.

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Deadly Encounters

Two Victorian Sensations

By Richard D. Altick

In July 1861 London newspapers excitedly reported two violent crimes, both the stuff of sensational fiction. One involved a retired army major, his beautiful mistress and her illegitimate child, blackmail and murder. In the other, a French nobleman was accused of trying to kill his son in order to claim the young man's inheritance. The press covered both cases with thoroughness and enthusiasm, narrating events in a style worthy of a popular novelist, and including lengthy passages of testimony. Not only did they report rumor as well as what seemed to be fact, they speculated about the credibility of witnesses, assessed character, and decided guilt. The public was enthralled.

Richard D. Altick demonstrates that these two cases, as they were presented in the British press, set the tone for the Victorian "age of sensation." The fascination with crime, passion, and suspense has a long history, but it was in the 1860s that this fascination became the vogue in England. Altick shows that these crimes provided literary prototypes and authenticated extraordinary passion and incident in fiction with the "shock of actuality." While most sensational melodramas and novels were by lesser writers, authors of the stature of Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Trollope, Hardy, and Wilkie Collins were also influenced by the spirit of the age and incorporated sensational elements in their work.

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The Development of Milton's Thought

Law, Government, and Religion

By John T. Shawcross

With this pioneering book, John T. Shawcross debunks a common assumption about what we see in Milton’s work: that Milton’s views remained unchanged over time. Shawcross systematically analyzes this belief in light of Milton’s vocation, social life, politics, and religion, and presents us with a Milton who, indeed, changes his mind.

The one constant in Milton’s writing and thought is that of faith in God, but the theology that underlies this unchanging faith—such as his views on the Trinity and God’s providence—develops through reflection and adverse experience, often yielding more defined ideas. Shawcross also traces the development of Milton’s concepts about political thought, attitudes toward the church, financial matters, the “people,” and gender, some of which result in complicated (and often unresolved) issues.

Shawcross’s presentation of a Milton whose thought does indeed develop and change—albeit with an unbending belief that faith and God supervene—is an essential contribution to Milton scholarship.

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