Make-Up Blog Posts, Questions



[visualizations of the semester’s readings]

Since we’ve had a number of absences, flood days, and missed blog posts, rather than having people redo earlier work, I’ve decided that it would be more useful for you to pose or answer some reflective questions for the end of term. For every absence or missed blog post, please answer one of these, or post a question/response of your own. You may also answer a question posted by one of your classmates. Make these responses a few paragraphs in length, and try to anchor your responses in the texts at hand.

Here are a few suggestions of mine:

  • Name an aspect of the writers, genres, books, or themes of this semester that only became clear to you in the last few weeks of the semester;
  • Which of these books would you teach to undergraduates, in what kind of course would you teach it, and why?
  • Trace an important keyword from the semester (e.g., sentimental, passion, duty, pride, propriety, etc) across 2-3 novels.
  • Talk a bit about the theatrical, performative, or insincere characters in these books and their respective fates: why does this topic recur across the semester?
  • How are reading, writing, or taste discussed in one or two of the novels this semester?

You are welcome to create your own questions to answer, but include these in the response so that others can answer your question, as well.

Please post these as comments below, and don’t forget them when you assemble your portfolios.

Good luck!



Author: Dave Mazella

I am an Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston, Department of English, specializing in 18th-century British literature.

15 thoughts on “Make-Up Blog Posts, Questions”

  1. Question: Which of these books would you teach to undergraduates, in what kind of course would you teach it, and why?

    Answer: While most—of not all—of the works we have read in class would have a place in a variety of courses, I’ve been thinking about what a course about literary adaptation, or perhaps literature in film, would look like. Because of the myriad adaptations of Austen available, it’s easy to imagine an entire undergraduate course that reads selections from the Austen canon alongside adaptations from various media. In line with typical studies of adaptation, the course would seek to use adaptations of varying degrees of “fidelity” to discuss Austen’s relationship both to her time and to ours. But I believe she has a place in any course about adaptation, just as she has a place in so many books on the subject.

    Of the Austen texts we have read in class, Mansfield Park comes to mind first. In A Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon specifically mentions Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film version of the novel, which departs from its source material in notable respects. Elements of Austen’s like are incorporated into the film, as are issues like slavery and plantation life; the film becomes a source of postcolonial and feminist critique. Teaching the film alongside the novel would be conducive to a discussion about what is absent or implied in Austen’s text, and the reasons that an adaptation might seek to expose or interrogate those details. The effort would require a thorough understanding of both versions, and also some understanding of context drawn from theoretical/historical readings or studies of adaptation.


    1. Excellent, thanks. Are there gradations to fidelity in adaptation (as in translation), so we begin with literal transposition and end with something like wholesale reinvention? (I’m thinking about something like Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which retains only the floating island from Swift’s GT)

      And how should we handle the conflicting adaptations that emerge from a single model? What are the pros or cons of the differing approaches?


  2. Which of these books would you teach to undergraduates, in what kind of course would you teach it, and why?

    Personally, I would teach most like to teach Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa in a seminar on Rape Culture and Literature designed around teaching Clarissa. In Richardson’s novel rape is not merely a theme it dramatizes a problematic about the relationship between the body and mind, which is the first time in dramatic and narrative history that after a rape an individual woman’s body and mind is privileged over her social body and the honor of the patriarchal power as it is manifest in the family and/or nation. Starting with William Shakespeare’s representation of the self-sacrificing rape victims suicide in his poem “The Rape of Lucrece” and it’s avoidance by almost comedic misapprehension in his dramatization of the same source material in Cymbeline, to Madeleine de Scudéry’s Clélie (which retells the rape of Lucrece without the rape), and Aphra Behn’s The Dumb Virgin: Or, The Force of Imagination. In all of these narratives the woman is willing to be annihilated for the social body which she apprehends she has infected after having been raped (in Behn’s novel the suicide happens after the seduced woman discovers her lover is her brother but IMHO it’s close enough).

    Satirical representations of rape and lampoons of chastity will follow with Alexander Pope’s The Rape of Lock, Jonathan Swift’s “A Lady’s Dressing Room”, Daniel Defoe’s “The True Born English Man”, and Henry Fielding’s Shamela. These texts will allow a cultural understanding of rape as a social hysteria, that was satirized as both an overblown symptom of female delicacy and somehow not a properly British problem, but attributed to the influence of otherness in the political context of an empire at war that sought to encourage social reproduction while discouraging cultural exchange.

    After that, we will read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748). What is interesting to me in Clarissa is how language is understood to be power. The eponymous narrator’s tragic flaw is that she wields it so powerfully that can’t see it is failing her until it’s too late. The narrator and the book’s relation of writing as selfhood is re-ordered by the elided violence in the novel. Just as Clarissa can no longer write as she did she can also no longer eat and as her letters become scarce she wastes away. The class will take up how rape has operated as a metaphor for the problem of meaning in language since Clarissa became central to literary studies’ understanding of the rise of the novel. We will question whether or not this sidelines the question of rape qua rape. Next we will read the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom (1785), and discuss tortured sensibilities and the kinds of horrors pursued and persecuted in the name of liberty, how both Richardson and de Sade can reveal how rationality and authoritarianism are often bedfellows.

    The question of women’s subjugation as natural and rape culture as a matter of education will be discussed alongside excerpts from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile, or an Education (1763), Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

    After this focus on the 18th Century, we would skip ahead to the Victorian era and read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles (1892) in which the fallen woman becomes a more stable trope than it had been in earlier narrative and dramatic literary history, which readers can recognize as reified across narrative forms and media. The last few meetings of the class would be movie sessions where we would watch Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Saló (120 Days of Sodom), Jim O’Connolly’s Mistress Pamela (a weird 70’s romp) and Roman Polanski’s Tess (which is supremely beautiful if very hard to watch given everything we know about it’s director).


    1. This is excellent, thanks. A few thoughts: it might be interesting to have students explore some works of contemporary feminist or gender theory, to see if any of these might illuminate the historical episodes or provide some other kind of framework. In other words, should we see some kind of periodization or larger scale set of changes in the literary texts or conversely some core problem getting worked through in different instances? Finally, I’m curious whether you see this as a class that argues for a strict boundary between violence in art and life (e.g., Sade or Pasolini are there to show the difference between representations of violence and literal, physical examples) or the collapse of those boundaries. Where might those examples lead you and your students?


  3. On Passion

    Only malicious, deluded or stupid characters admit to experience passion in a sentimental novel or marriage plot. Passion should be repressed or at least privately interrogated and outwardly disavowed or it will humiliate you.

    In Evelina, the first to utter the word passion is Sir Willoughby who uses it bemoaningly to Orville after calling Evelina ill-bred and complaining of her manners:
    “It was far from my intention,” answered he, “to offend your lordship; but, really, for a person who is nobody, to give herself such airs, – I own I could not command my passion. For, my Lord, though I have made diligent inquiry – I cannot learn who she is.”

    The next to speak of their passion is another Fop, Mr. Lovel, again at a dance, again after being rejected:
     “O, Madam,” continued he, “forgive my vehemence; but I am distracted to think there should exist a wretch who can slight a blessing for which I would forfeit my life! – O that I could but meet him, I would soon – But I grow angry: pardon me, Madam, my passions are violent, and your injuries affect me!”

    Madame Duval, is often in a passion, normally one that is provoked by Captain Mirvan who is always scolding her for her passionate feelings, which betray his own passions, as he is aligned with Willoughby and with Mme. Duval in the novel but is too manly to profess to the passions he so obviously indulges.

    Everyone of good character can stand a bit of regulation except those stupid, deluded and cruel characters who frankly deserve each other and the mean pranks they play.

    In Persuasion, passion is also a source of satire.

    The deluded Captain Benwick who is so readily smitten with Anne for the simple fact that she reads cannot stop himself from nattering on at her…

    “For, though shy, he did not seem reserved; it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints; and having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he showed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”

    His deluded self-indulgence, parodied in free indirect discourse is convenient for the plot, because he solves the Louisa problem with his lovelorn desperation.

    The only character who is constantly demanding the compassion of others is Mrs. Smith, and never has a more deluded character graced the pages of an Austen novel. Even the normally perceptive Anne seems to be driven to distraction by her numerous delusions, she doesn’t even fault her old friend for seeking to solve her own problems by marrying Ann off to a liar.

    In the perilous world of courtship novels passionate people are unthinking and therefore not worth thinking about.


  4. Yes, all true, but being devoid of passion is also a problem and a cause of ridicule or consternation. Lovel and the rest of the bon ton in Evelina feign indifference to everything. And being dispassionately cunning is the way that one gets marked as a villain in a sentimental plot. This might be clearer in a non-satiric sentimental piece of writing like Wollstonecraft’s Mary.

    I think Persuasion represents a break, again, from sentimental paradigms to the extent that it insists that the truest, most valuable passion is what has been internalized and to some extent regulated. Part of this is the result of the mixed characterization: Austen is able to combine both the satiric treatment of passion and the sympathy for the suffering in the cringey moments of Mrs Musgrove or Benwick.


  5. I will join several of my classmates in choosing to answer this question. I may be the first among us, however, to declare that I would choose to teach The Woman of Colour in an undergraduate course. This would need to be taught as part of either a British Literature class or an Introduction to Literature course that allowed for the natural inclusion of this book. I would teach this text because it’s so incredibly rich with discussion fodder, starting with the title; what would students make of this term—among the newest in our attempts to find a phrase that indicates “not white” in a way that’s an affirmation rather than a negation. When you add to that the dynamics of a biracial, illegitimate slave-child of the plantation owner traveling to the motherland to marry a white semi-relative in order to secure her inheritance, you have a text that’s overflowing with themes and plot developments that are not only worthy of discussion, but likely to spark conversation among even the moderately silent. It’s worth researching and discussing, too, the fact that the author remained anonymous—why would they do this? What might they have risked if they came out as the creator? Do we think that the author was, themselves, a woman or person of color? Ultimately, though I enjoyed each of the texts we read this term, The Woman of Colour is the one I would be most excited to put in front of undergraduates.


    1. Agreed about the points here. I have taught it and will teach it next term to undergrads for all these reasons: it feels contemporary in its themes and plot of race; it adds something new to the usual discussions of the–white–courtship and sentimental and radical novels of the late 18c; and it has lots of potential for inquiry about canonicity and canon-building. The stability of the canon assumed by students is belied by books like these, which come into view and force revaluations. For an interesting take on this, see this essay by Marcos Gonsalez:


  6. How are reading, writing, or taste discussed?

    The scene that comes to mind most rapidly when considering this question is that of Catherine’s tentative dismissal of novels in Northanger Abbey, when she suggests to Henry Tinley that he almost certainly does not read novels because only women and/or losers read novels. Taste, though, sparks some interest as I reflect back upon the trajectory of our readings this term. The idea of “taste” has interested me since I took a Literary Theory class during my Master’s program; as part of that course we read a lot of Kant and talked about taste.

    In a development that will shock no one who has met me, I resisted accepting the idea of “taste” as a quality of discernment in which a select few, possessing a refinement of judgment, were able to tell whether something is objectively “good” or “not good.” It seemed to me then—as it does now—that much of this “taste” and “good”ness of art, food, wine, writing, etc., was mostly predicated on normative and hegemonic aesthetics. That is to say, if redheaded women held the vast majority of power in the world, then we’d likely all believe that ginger was the most attractive hair color and that bold blues and greens were, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the best and most flattering colors to wear.

    Instead, of course, it’s usually educated white people of means who determine what is “good” and what is “normative.” As it pertains to the books we’ve read this term, I think that, as we’ve ended with Austen, we’ve seen a progression from “good taste” reflecting a devotion to art, poetry, and the classics to a place where we value and praise the English-language novel, that former trash pile of vernacular and prosaic laziness. It’s hard to imagine seeing the novel as an inferior form, steeped as we are in literary novels, but it’s still possible to imagine how moving from Spencer, Chaucer, and the epics into a 200-page prose recitation of someone getting married and/or kidnapped by ghosts in a castle could be an adjustment.


    1. Right, and academic historicization and curricula are important social and institutional mechanisms that transform one-time trash to present-day classics. Bourdieu’s Distinction is now the “classic” discussion of how once ordinary things get transformed into signifiers of privilege and taste. But that still does not answer the question of why some objects get picked up for these purposes and others are not by our social and institutional systems (JA was not always this kind of signifier) and what we make of emergent or established writers when the social coding is not so clear (is Burney “conservative” or “subversive” and what would those terms mean, in hers or our contexts?). So are “novels” as a class of cultural products coded as popular or elite, or somehow both at once, at this historical moment?


  7. Which of these books would you teach to undergraduates, in what kind of course would you teach it, and why?
    While I have no previous teaching experience in literature, only language, I’d still be interested in discussing amatory fiction, such as “Fantomina” and The Reform’d Coquet, alongside one sentimental novel with an undergraduate class. Naturally, this would have to be a British Lit course of some kind. Because the amatory texts are not nearly as fleshed out as, say Clarissa, it would be easier for them to trace reoccurring themes, such as deception, and the marriage-based plot from one narrative to another. Then, to compare these more basic cautionary tales with, say, Evelina or some other text (probably not Clarissa, given its length), they could witness not only the mature development of the stories but also the stark contrast against a sentimental novel. Perhaps this might begin a dialogue concerning the purpose of amatory fiction versus a work like Evelina, why they differ so greatly, and who the targeted audience is for both. Questions of realism, too, could appear, as the amatory fiction often relies on luck/chance to carry the plot forward. I suspect this pairing of a collection of amatory fiction with one or two of the novels would serve as the perfect opportunity for students to think about literature outside of just the story but also consider the influences and development of a type of literature.


    1. Thanks for this. I’d say up front that for a non-major course in lit that the amatory fiction could be paired with a more recent or even contemporary work about love and romance. Students are generally shocked that a centuries old work can be so concerned with a risk or fun-loving young woman, and it should get some people thinking about their assumptions. A majors course could compare it to a more staid and proper work by Burney, Austen, or someone like Edgeworth, which we could have read. This would help them think about the genre and especially the narrative questions, I think.


  8. Name an aspect of the writers, genres, books, or themes of this semester that only became clear to you in the last few weeks of the semester:
    This reply seems like the opposite of what the question is asking, but I felt I had to talk about this, as it is one of the most influential discussions I’ve taken from the class. That is to say, I thought I had a clear grasp on it going into the semester, but now I realize it is more complicated than I originally believed. My understanding of realism has only become more convoluted, as we advanced through the semester. From Watt’s straightforward mimetic realism to Bakhtin’s more three-dimensional novelistic realism, I’ve come to understand it as a spectrum of sorts, where a work of literature may fall as “less realistic” than another. Heteroglossia, temporal coordinates, and multilingualism, etc. were completely outside my understanding of realism before this course. However, this new awareness helps to better differentiate the later novels from the earlier and the amatory fiction. Before I would argue that “Fantomina” was not nearly as realistic as Evelina without any concrete theory as to why that was, now I am thinking about well a text is aware of its environment and present reality.


    1. Yes. Bakhtin did this for me, too, when I hit graduate school. And it’s good to become aware of the origins and possible directions of a critical or theoretical term you see getting used all around you. I’m glad this is helping you build up your own critical agenda.


  9. Question: Name an aspect of the writers, genres, books, or themes of this semester that only became clear to you in the last few weeks of the semester

    One of the realizations I’m having as I look through my notes in my reading journal and the trajectory of my ideas through the course is that I have an appreciation for Jane Austen as a literary writer more than I did before. I have always enjoyed her books and thought she was a good writer, but I have not formally studied her work in an academic setting, nor much of 18th century British literature. I think of Madeleine’s comment in class several weeks ago that “literary” fiction to her is different from other types of fiction in that it has in mind what other books of its kind have said. When I think of Jane Austen’s work now, I see her responding to the amatory fictions and to the less-feeling focused narratives of Richardson, Defoe, and Fielding. Her work reminds me of amatory fiction in that it is about romance and some of her novels contain the lighthearted tone of the Davys and Haywood novels, but she is subverting the tone and genre as she uses it: the juvenilia and Northanger Abbey, for instance, don’t have the serious tone of Clarissa, but it is using the lighthearted tone to make fun of amatory fiction or over sentimental fiction, itself, sometimes – I think again, as I have often, of the scene in Love and Friendship when, upon losing their husbands, the two female friends alternately faint or go into hysterics for several moments, and one of the “morals” the heroine take from her experiences is to—no matter how into hysterics she sinks—not faint. As Austen’s career progressed, I believe she did begin to take on more of the serious tones of the male novelists Ian Watt honors in Rise of the Novel: Persuasion, as we discussed in class, is quite more pragmatic than Northanger Abbey and less funny. Mansfield Park, as well, takes on more serious issues: the behaviors of the characters have heavier consequences. The tone of these later novels reminds more of the tone of Clarissa or Robinson Crusoe, even though we didn’t read the latter for this course: tackling the weightier issues of family honor, how to achieve happiness vs. misery, betrayal, finding the right people to spend your life with. If Mansfield Park had not ended well for Fanny, she might have ended back in a desperate living situation with her family. Whereas if Northanger Abbey had ended differently, Catherine wouldn’t have been happy but she’d have been safe and with a family that cares for her. Austen tackles these weighty topics with just as much dramatized scene as Defoe or Richardson.

    Yet, even though Austen seems to want to leave behind some of the lightheartedness and affect many of the female novelists of the time were using in their novels, she doesn’t part with it completely: her novels, after all, end happily, and endorse marriage as a potentially redeeming experience. Her heroines are women of feeling even though they are not overcome by their feeling. Fielding, though I have not read him yet, sounds like he reacted to amatory fiction in much more extreme ways: Shamela, as I understand it, eviscerates the love plot idea that so many enjoyed in Richardson’s Pamela. And one of the critics I have been reading as I write my longer essay for this course explains that Fielding also included a character in one of his novels that was a caricature of Eliza Haywood, as a way of making fun of her romance novels. Defoe, in Robinson Crusoe, contains a sense of adventure but not the sensibilities of the female heroines of amatory fiction. Richardson I see as containing characters who do show great feeling in a way closer to the characters of amatory fiction, but at its heart the one work I have read of his Clarissa, does not focus on feeling itself so much as psychology, the family system, social classes, and how these forces make a victim of Clarissa. They wonder what is the right thing to do in the face of these forces. Clarissa’s feeling (and for that matter, Lovelace’s) are not the stars of the show—the main plot question—in the same way that they they are in amatory fiction or Jane Austen novels. Amatory fictions and Jane Austen novels often take characters’ working out their feelings as their main subject matter: will Anne overcome her feelings for Wentworth and find her right place in the world? Will Catherine overcome her immaturity and tendency to fantasize and will she end up with the man she loves? Will Fanny survive the hurts often flung at her by her relatives and will she get to be with the man she loves?

    I also had the thought as I looked over my material that I wonder if the reason Watt overlooked female writers of the eighteenth-century was not merely an exclusion of form but an exclusion of subject matter. The amatory fictions by Haywood and Davys we have read do not have the same three-dimensionality of some of the later works we’ve studied (and the works Watt chose for Rise of the Novel: Fielding, Defoe, Richardson), but as I’ve said they also focus more on feelings as a subject matter. This next idea I am about to say is a shot in the dark, because I have not researched it, and it is also a huge generality about gender, but stereotypically (and, I suppose, historically) men are less comfortable expressing feelings than women are. I appreciate that Austen came onto the scene to say “yes, feelings have a dark side and you mustn’t let them overwhelm you, but all the same they are important and worth writing a whole novel about.” I believe, then, that she may have been the first to unite the three dimensional style Watt and Bakhtin see in their male authors, with the subject matter that the male authors were leaving out. Woman of Colour and Wollstonecraft focus on women’s feelings with a serious tone just as Austen does, but not in the same three-dimensionality. Haywood and Davys—at least in the works of theirs we have read for this course—focus on womens’ feelings, but not with the same serious tone and not with three-dimensionality.


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