A full third of Grace Abounding recounts one traumatic experience: a voice coaxing Bunyan for over a year to “Sell him,” to sell Christ, “for this or that.” Criticism has ignored the economic form of this episode. I argue that in it we see the symptom of an early modern religious subjectivity coming to understand itself in evidentiary, economic terms; “Sell him” marks the incommensurability between economic logic and personal relation. Where criticism has long recognized the relationship between Grace Abounding and Pilgrim’s Progress as “creative reworking,” I argue that Pilgrim’s Progress relieves the particular wounds described in Grace Abounding.
According to the first law of thermodynamics, formulated in the 1830s and 1840s, energy could neither be created nor destroyed but could only circulate and transform within a closed system. This principle was especially well-received in Victorian England, where it suggested the possibility of a redemptive social or national self-sufficiency. While this ideal could not be achieved in the laboratory, both popular and scientific authors realized it through narratives that linked cause and effect, revealed hidden transformations, and enforced closure. Through their own narratives, many of the period’s novels also negotiated this tension between entropy’s inevitability and an ideal closure.
The Houyhnhnmland setting of Book 4 of Guilliver’s Travels is typically understood within the context of fable, because the talking horses seem designed to instruct humanity through allegory. Once among his family in England, Gulliver’s life conforms to realist literary conventions, so that the horses in Gulliver’s stable are typically assumed to be brute beasts, and Gulliver’s insistence on talking with them becomes a sign of his madness. I would argue, though, that Gulliver’s conversation with his pet horses--and consequently the meaning of Book 4--yields a whole new crop of interpretative possibilities if Jonathan Swift’s text is framed by contemporary debates about the nature of human and animal identities as well as by consideration of occurrences of pet keeping elsewhere in Gulliver’s Travels.
Felicia Hemans’s poetry develops an imagery of sounds and voices as a central thematic paradigm based on stratifications of acoustic effects usually uttered by specific figures or associated with specific places. The voices and sounds in Hemans’s poetry are regularly situated within cultural and ideological contexts drawn from history or historically grounded literary and non-literary sources or connected with men and women in identifiable settings and situations. Concentrating on Hemans’s 1820s poetic output, this essay suggests that, if her use of sounds undeniably conveys transcendental values and spiritual meanings, it also constructs a situated acoustic dimension that contributes to the narration of specific tales, of historically, geographically, and ideologically rooted narratives. In addition, this poetic elaboration of sounds and voices opens up a reflection on the nature and status of poetry as localized utterance and performance. This essay reconstructs and assesses the pervasive presence of sounds and voices in Hemans’s output in order to counter familiar charges of dullness or facileness leveled at her poetry and reveal its carefully orchestrated, as well as consistently situated, nature.
Andrew Marvell’s The unfortunate Lover narrates a gothic story of abuse, wounding, and incoherence for which the victim finds solace in the eternity of verse. Critics have lamented the poem’s extravagance and seeming failure of control; it is, however, as tightly controlled in its argument as any of Marvell’s more familiar verse, and its extravagance is scarcely unmotivated. The similarities between the gestures and images of The unfortunate Lover and insistent passages elsewhere in Marvell’s texts, both verse and prose, suggest that the story of this self imagined in the poem had deep and enduring meaning for the poet. The poem’s scenes of abuse and incoherence are in fact key to opening Marvell’s entire story of the self and to new ways of understanding the situation of the topical and occasional in Marvell’s lyric project.
This essay looks at the iconography of the telegraph in Hnery James’s major phase, and seeks to understand The Ambassadors as exemplary of his fascination with “the idea of connectibility.” The essay also inquires more broadly into the means by which technologies of communication become objects of emotional attachment, affective intensity, and even sensuous engagement. Reading across a range of period represetations of the telegraph, the essay shows how James’s stylistic prodigality--his “magnificent and masterly indirectness,” as James himself calls it--travesties a telegraphic economy of expression, even as his narratives fixate on the inscrutable pleasures of mediated communication.
This essay explores how sites of memory work a specific cultural function through what Melvin Dixon refers to as “a memory that ultimately rewrites history.” I look at two of the most well-known poems of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and Countee Cullen’s “Heritage,” one of which reveals a vested interest in producing identity by turning to the body as a locus of cultural memory, while the other ostensibly seeks to dismantle what it articulates as a fundamentally nostalgic and politically dangerous structuration of memory.
Mary Wroth’s Urania registers a widening fissure in seventeenth-century England between royal claims to discretionary authority and a communitarian view of sovereignty emphasizing counsel and consent. The depictions of erotic torment in Wroth’s romance literalize absolutist representations of political obligation as eager abasement to a beloved sovereign, and thereby show how such idealized narratives may compel subjects to assent to their own abuse. Yet even as the Urania relinquishes romanticized notions of rule in favor of a mixed monarchy, its fragmented, incomplete narrative suggests that there is no definitive solution to political discord, only a series of contingent, and necessarily imperfect, responses to the shifting Jacobean terrain.
The theory of commodity fetishism, in its received form, is too strong for critical cultural inquiry. However, while inflationary tendencies have been marked in post-Marxian developments of the theory--beginning with Lukács--the problem begins with Marx’s original formulation. The analysis of the value form in Capital does not logically support Marx’s thesis of universal fetishism in regularized commodity production. Rather, fetishism is a contingent phenomenon, to be probed in properly historical forms of analysis. Returning to its beginnings in a study of narrative disavowal in Conrad’s novels, the article then examines fetishism and the figuration of capital in Nostromo.
The oft described darkness of Roxana’s ending is more than thematic, going beyond Roxana’s mistreatment of her daughter Susan. Nor is it a result of Daniel Defoe’s lack of artistry. Instead it exposes the simplicity of the linear, single-character plotline that shaped novelistic assumptions (from Robinson Crusoe to Pamela to Emma) over the course of the long eighteenth century. Thus, Roxana should be seen not only as an important early monument in the representation of literary realism, but also as a critique of its very impossibility.