Saturday, January 29, 2011

For Credit: Understanding Eloisa

Use this post as a way to start getting a sense of who Eloisa is and what she's like. Here's a place to start: According to the information supplied in the poem, what elements of the religious life appeal to Elouisa?  What it is she seeking in religion and why?  She expresses different ideas at different points in the poem; how does her thinking change?  (You can respond by tracking only one of her shifts--you don't have to go through the whole poem!)

Let's see where the conversation goes from there...

Deadline: Monday (1/31), start of class.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For Credit: How to Read a Really Long Poem (DEADLINE EXTENDED)

Alexander Pope's Eloisa to Abelard may look daunting.  Here are some things to help you make sense of it:

1.  Read the explanatory notes.  The line numbers in red in the online version have footnotes, which you can go to by clicking on the line number (the footnotes will appear at the end of your printout, if you want to print it out before reading).  The first footnote (to line one) is particularly useful as it explains who Eloisa and Abelard are and gives some useful background.

2. Forget that it's a poem.  Read it as if it were a story or an essay, sentence by sentence.  Don't try to focus on those poetic things like imagery, rhythm, and inflection that we are usually taught to look for in poems--concentrate instead on following the story it tells, the feelings Eloisa describes, and the progression of her reasoning.

3. If you get lost or confused, slow down and take it one sentence at a time.  Make sure you are reading each sentence as a complete whole--from the period that ends one sentence to the period that ends the next.  Try to identify the main subject and verb of the sentence, and then figure out how the other clauses and phrases modify it.  You won't have to read the whole poem this way--if you take the time to make sense of one or two sentences this way, the next ones will come more easily.

4.  Look for ways to divide up the poem. What are some of the big transitions in the poem?  If you were going to divide it into sections for the ease of other readers, where would you show the major shifts in the direction of Eloisa's thoughts?

For credit you can do any one of the following:
  •  Identify a sentence that you find particularly baffling: supply a line number, and then quote enough of it to illustrate your brief explanation of what about it confuses you. 
  •  Suggest some ways of dividing the poem into more manageable segments, as in suggestion #4 above (indicate one or two places where it seems to you like the poem is making a significant transition from one idea to another).
  • Offer an explanation to clear up someone else's bafflement (or kindly and collegially improve upon someone else's explanation, if you think that person has missed the mark).
Deadline: Friday (1/28), start of class Saturday (1/29), midnight.

For Credit: Fantomina Follow-Up

Everyone had such great things to say in class today about Fantomina's four identities, that I never got to a couple of data points that I wanted to spell out.  So here they are, for your edification:

1.  The role and recognition of women writers (like Haywood) in the Enlightenment era.  A couple of people after class have expressed surprise at encountering a woman writer writing so freely about women's experience and they wanted to know just how typical she was.  Short answer: there weren't a lot of women writers, but there were more than you might think and they had a wider and more mainstream audience than you might think.  It can be helpful to think of women writing for publication in the Enlightenment era as being kind of like female firefighters or male elementary school teachers in 2011: they are certainly out there, and you're not particularly surprised to come across one--but you do notice, in a way that you don't notice, for example, the gender of a grocery store clerk or pediatrician. 

2.  Working class experience.  It's worth pausing on Haywood's explanation of how Fantomina's Celia disguise works, as a snapshot of the assumptions surrounding female servants.  When Fantomina dresses as a servant and applies for the job at the inn where Beauplaisir stays in Bath, the text notes that "Fortune in this exploit was extremely on her side; there were no others of the male-sex in the house but an old gentlemen, who had lost the use of him limbs...and her beloved Beauplaisir, so that she was in no apprehensions of any amorous violence, but where she wished to find it" (p. 575, emphasis mine.)  Note the assumption here: if there WERE other male lodgers at the inn, she WOULD be subject to "amorous violence." Note too that her looks help to get her hired ("she was still very pretty; and the mistress of the house...was glad of the opportunity of taking her").  Readers of the time (largely middle and upper class, as we discussed) would have shared the assumption in play here: that pretty servants are there for the taking and that "amorous violence" is part of the job description.  It's worth noting as well that the sex scene that follows is the most explicitly narrated encounter in the story.

 What would you have liked to say in class today but didn't have a chance to?  What elements of this story didn't get covered that you would have liked to explore further?  What additional observations, questions, reflections do you have?   Feel free to post any relevant thoughts or comments here before we move on to Pope's Eloisa to Abelard.

Deadline: Friday (1/28), start of class.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

For Credit: Progression of Identities?

The young woman we are referring to as "Fantomina" takes on four separate identities in her quest to sustain Beauplaisir's interest: Fantomina, Celia, the Widow Bloomer, and Incognita.

What significance (if any) do you detect in this sequence of identities?  Is it just a haphazard array, reflecting Fantomina's imagination, ingenuity, and acting ability--or is there some greater significance behind these particular identities and/or the order in which they appear?

Deadline: Wednesday (1/26), start of class.