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Rereading The Nun's Priest's Tale
Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is one of the most popular of The Canterbury Tales. It is only 646 lines long, yet it contains elements of a beast fable, an exemplum, a satire, and other genres. There have been countless attempts to articulate the “real” meaning of the tale, but it has confounded the critics. Peter W. Travis contends that part of the fun and part of the frustration of trying to interpret the tale has to do with Chaucer’s use of the tale to demonstrate the resistance of all literature to traditional critical practices. But the world of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is so creative and so quintessentially Chaucerian that critics persist in writing about it. No one has followed the critical fortunes of Chauntecleer and his companions more closely over time than Peter Travis. One of the most important contributions of this book is his assessment of the tale’s reception. Travis also provides an admirable discussion of genre: his analysis of parody and Menippean satire clarify how to approach works such as this tale that take pleasure in resisting traditional generic classifications. Travis also demonstrates that the tale deliberately invoked its readers’ memories of specific grammar school literary assignments, and the tale thus becomes a miniaturized synopticon of western learning. Building on these analyses and insights, Travis’s final argument is that The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is Chaucer’s premier work of self-parody, an ironic apologia pro sua arte. The most profound matters foregrounded in the tale are not advertisements of the poet’s achievements. Rather, they are poetic problems that Chaucer wrestled with from the beginning of his career and, at the end of that career, wanted to address in a concentrated, experimental, and parapoetic way.
The Rhetoric of sacramental Devotion in Early Modern England
Combining theoretically engaged analyses with historically contextualized close readings, Divine Subjection posits new ways of understanding the relations between devotional literature and early English culture. Shifting the critical discussion from a “poetics” to a “rhetoric” of devotion, Kuchar considers how a broad range of devotional and metadevotional texts in Catholic and mainstream Protestant traditions register and seek to mitigate processes of desacralization—the loss of legible commerce between heavenly and earthly orders. This shift in critical focus makes clear the extent to which early modern devotional writing engages with some of the period’s most decisive theological conflicts and metaphysical crises. Kuchar places devotional writing alongside psychoanalytical and phenomenological theories and analyzes how religious and conceptual conflicts are registered in and accommodated by the predication of sacramental conceptions of the self. Through a devotional rhetoric based on context-specific uses of linguistic excessiveness, early modern devotional writers reimagined a form of sacramental identity that was triggered by, and structured in relation to, a divine Other whose desire preceded and exceeded one’s own. Through readings of works by Robert Southwell, Richard Crashaw, John Donne, Thomas Traherne and other lesser known authors, Divine Subjection explores how writers reimagined the sacramental continuity between divine and human orders amid a range of theological and philosophical conflicts. Kuchar thus examines how rhetoric of sacramental devotion works to construct ideal religious subjects within and against the broader experience of desacralization.
Intimacy, Eroticism, and Violence between Servants and Masters in Eighteenth-Century Britain
From Daniel Defoe’s Family Instructor to William Godwin’s political novel Caleb Williams, literature written for and about servants tells a hitherto untold story about the development of sexual and gender ideologies in the early modern period. This original study explores the complicated relationships between domestic servants and their masters through close readings of such literary and nonliterary eighteenth-century texts. The early modern family was not biologically defined. It included domestic servants who often had strong emotional and intimate ties to their masters and mistresses. Kristina Straub argues that many modern assumptions about sexuality and gender identity have their roots in these affective relationships of the eighteenth-century family. By analyzing a range of popular and literary works—from plays and novels to newspapers and conduct manuals—Straub uncovers the economic, social, and erotic dynamics that influenced the development of these modern identities and ideologies. Highlighting themes important in eighteenth-century studies—gender and sexuality; class, labor, and markets; family relationships; and violence—Straub explores how the common aspects of human experience often intersected within the domestic sphere of master and servant. In examining the interpersonal relationships between the different classes, she offers new ways in which to understand sexuality and gender in the eighteenth century.
Milton and the Perils of Creation
That the writings of John Milton continue to provoke study and analysis centuries after his lifetime speaks no doubt to his literary greatness but also to the many ways in which his art both engaged and transcended the political and theological tensions of his age. In Dominion Undeserved, Eric B. Song offers a brilliant reading of Milton's major writings, finding in them a fundamental impasse that explains their creative power.
According to Song, a divided view of creation governs Milton's related systems of cosmology, theology, art, and history. For Milton, any coherent entity-a nation, a poem, or even the new world-must be carved out of and guarded against an original unruliness. Despite being sanctioned by God, however, this agonistic mode of creation proves ineffective because it continues to manifest internal rifts that it can never fully overcome. This dilemma is especially pronounced in Milton's later writings, including Paradise Lost, where all forms of creativity must strive against the fact that chaos precedes order and that disruptive forces will continue to reemerge, seemingly without end.
Song explores the many ways in which Milton transforms an intractable problem into the grounds for incisive commentary and politically charged artistry. This argument brings into focus topics ranging from Milton's recurring allusions to the Eastern Tartars, the way Milton engages with country house poetry and colonialist discourses in Paradise Lost, and the lasting relevance of Anglo-Irish affairs for his late writings. Song concludes with a new reading of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in which he shows how Milton's integration of conflicting elements forms the heart of his literary archive and confers urgency upon his message even as it reaches its future readers.
Late Victorian Novels and the Fantasy of the State
Scholars have long argued that nations, as imagined communities, are constituted through the incitement of feelings and the operations of fantasy. Can we say the same about the set of disciplinary and regulatory institutions that we call the state? Can we think of it as constituted by feelings and fantasies, too? Zarena Aslami argues that late Victorian novels certainly did. Revisiting major works by Olive Schreiner, Thomas Hardy, and George Gissing, among others, Aslami shows how novels dramatized the feelings and fantasies of a culture that was increasingly optimistic, as well as increasingly anxious, about the state's capacity to "step in" and help its citizens achieve the good life. In this study of late Victorian culture, Aslami reveals how a historically specific and intriguing fantasy of the state was thought to animate citizens' psychic lives. This fantasy starred the modern state as a heroic actor with whom one has a relationship and from whom one desires something. While she tracks fantasies of the state in political writing, Aslami argues that novels were a privileged site for meditating on its more tragic implications.
No. 1 (2008) through current issue
Dublin James Joyce Journal is a co-publication of the James Joyce Research Centre at University College Dublin and the National Library of Ireland. It appears annually in December. It showcases the research activities of the Joyce Research Centre at University College Dublin and gives particular prominence to historicist, archival, genetic, and textual scholarship. It especially aims to feature interpretations of Joyce's work that make use of archival resources.
The Goddess Beckons
Like many men of his generation, poet Robert Graves was indelibly marked by his experience of trench warfare in World War I. The horrific battles in which he fought and his guilt over surviving when so many perished left Graves shell-shocked and disoriented, desperately seeking a way to bridge the rupture between his conventional upbringing and the uncertainties of postwar British society. In this study of Graves’s early poetry, Frank Kersnowski explores how his war neurosis opened a door into the unconscious for Graves and led him to reject the essential components of the Western idea of reality—reason and predictability. In particular, Kersnowski traces the emergence in Graves’s early poems of a figure he later called "The White Goddess," a being at once terrifying and glorious, who sustains life and inspires poetry. Drawing on interviews with Graves’s family, as well as unpublished correspondence and drafts of poems, Kersnowski argues that Graves actually experienced the White Goddess as a real being and that his life as a poet was driven by the purpose of celebrating and explaining this deity and her matriarchy.
Unlike most other ancient European, Near Eastern, and Mediterranean civilizations, Jewish culture surprisingly developed no early epic tradition: while the Bible comprises a broad range of literary genres, epic is not among them. Not until the late medieval period, Beginning in the fourtheeth century, did an extensive and thriving epic tradition emerge in Yiddish. Among the few dozen extant early epics, there are several masterpieces, of which ten are translated into English in this volume. Divided between the religious and the secular, the book includes eight epics presented in their entirety, an illustrative excerpt from another epic, and a brief heroic prose tale.These texts have been chosen as the best and the most interesting representatives of the genre in terms of cultural history and literary quality: the pious “epicizing” of biblical narrative, the swashbuckling medieval courtly epic, Arthurian romance, heroic vignettes, intellectual high art, and popular camp.
Hellenism and Orientalism in the Writings of E. M. Forster and C. P. Cavafy
What is the relationship between E. M. Forster’s quintessentially British novels, stories and essays and the abstrusely historical and erotic musings of the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy? The answer is both complex and illuminating.The apparent differences are bridged by Forster’s penchant for antiquities and interest in matters Oriental, by Cavafy’s Anglophilia and British education. While these facts have generated comparative criticism that places novelist and poet in a Hellenistic continuum, the scholarly discussion to date has overlooked the ideological tensions that separate these two important modernists along a cultural divide. Hellenism is a way into their shared interests in the classical past, yet it also marks a point of dissension regarding the essence of Greek civilization. Similarly, their Orientalist visions led them to radically diverse configurations of the East. Dr. Jeffreys’s parallel reading of Forster and Cavafy explains not only how Forster and Cavafy were both rooted in Western Hellenism, but also how their suppositions about it diverged significantly and how the two confronted the Orient in quite different ways. New light is also cast on their friendship; their different political views may have impeded its development. Eastern Questions: Hellenism and Orientalism in the Writings of E. M. Forster and C. P. Cavafy makes use of unpublished documents, newly edited unfinished poetry (here made available for the first time to an English readership), and lesser-known texts, both fictional and nonfictional. The exchange between literary and non-literary texts, prose and poetry, focuses the ideological center of Forster’s lifelong engagement with Greece and India and identifies the essence of Cavafy’s prolonged fixation on matters Hellenic. In the process Jeffreys’s New Historicist study applies contemporary critical trends in modern Greek studies to Forster criticism, producing an incisive, fresh reading of the relationship and the Cavafy and Forster canons.