Weekend Miscellany: Ethical Criticism, Long-Awaited Reads, Literary Lines, and #AcWriMo

It’s the third dark, rainy day in a row, just the kind of weather to inspire gloom and brooding! Even David Copperfield isn’t entirely working its magic, not only because I don’t feel as if my class sessions on it have been going very well (in response to which I opted to not even try to elicit discussion on Friday — about which I now feel kind of guilty), but because we are deep into the Dora phase of the novel and I hate, hate, hate, HATE Dora. It helps a bit that I know perfectly well we aren’t supposed to adore her the way David does, but she’s still insufferable company, and I don’t like Agnes all that much better: this is the point in the novel at which I can understand why someone might turn against Dickens.

However! Happily, there are people on the internet doing more interesting things than grumbling, so I thought I’d revive an old habit and link around to some of them. I haven’t been a very linky blogger lately, and I feel bad about that, as I have always believed that the connections are a large part of what makes blogging fun, and the generosity of spirit I’ve found among bloggers, too, has always been one of my favorite things about the blogosphere. So without further ado, here are some posts that I’ve enjoyed this weekend.

sophyAt Something More, Liz gives a great example of ethical criticism in practice, as she works through concerns about the Goldhanger scene in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy:

I think Sophy’s judgment of Goldhanger (she tells him exactly what she thinks of his character) is of a piece with the other character judgments she makes in the novel, and the narrative asks us to accede to her judgments–something I do willingly in the other cases. We’re meant to think she is right about people. And her judgments about the right partners for her cousins are partly about who is “the right sort” in a class-based sense. It’s hard to articulate this (and maybe, really, it’s nonsense to see this as at least akin to judging people based on their class), because all the novel’s candidates for marriage are from aristocratic families, but they don’t all share the right aristocratic values and the right type of “good breeding.” Miss Wraxton may be “very English,” as the Marquesa says, but she is also Not Our Kind in some ways.

What I especially appreciate about her thoughtful exploration (brought on by listening to the book and thus being made more self-conscious about “every ugly word”) is that she doesn’t shy away from the problems but she also doesn’t become what Wayne Booth talks about as a “hanging judge.” We have complex responses and responsibilities when it comes to our moral differences from the past. It’s not enough just to say “well, people had different values back then” (because for one thing, even “back then” people did not all think the same — which is one reason why that’s such an inadequate response to the racism in Gone with the Wind). But it’s also inappropriate to say “well, I don’t agree with this book / author in every way and therefore this work is worthless” — though you might well conclude, as Lee Edwards did about Middlemarch, that it can’t be “one of the books of my life.”

At Things Mean a Lot, Ana announces the return of Long-Awaited Reads Month. I love this idea! It’s just the kind of little spur that will be helpful to make me pick up one thing instead of another when I’m browsing my shelves for my next read. I’m actually thinking that since a lot of my non-work reading is 20th-century fiction these days, I might use this as a spur to read one of the Victorian novels I keep meaning to get around to – Collins’s No Name, or Dombey and Son, or perhaps (inspired by Colleen and Tom) something else by Margaret Oliphant.

At Shelf Love, Teresa shows off an elegant Jane Eyre-inscribed coffee mug and invites us to post our own favorite literary lines. This turned out to be surprisingly hard for me! As she notes with a very good example from Dorothy Dunnett’s Pawn in Frankincense, some memorable lines don’t work well out of context. Also, some of my favorite bits are too long to fit on a mug — though I’m inspired now to think about how I might incorporate something from Middlemarch into my next effort at Clay Cafe. I did make my mother a tile there once with a line from Mrs. Dalloway on it — and I made a Jane Austen tile for my sister, too, that I was quite proud of. Do you think a mug that said “Children may be strangled, but deeds never” would give the wrong impression? How about a line of Mr. Casaubon products — perhaps a wall plaque that says “I trust I may be excused for desiring an interval of complete freedom from guests whose desultory vivacity makes their presence a fatigue”?


Teresa also stepped up to provide a great list of choices for the Slaves of Golconda group to vote on. Participation has been a bit sparse recently, though the posts that do get shared are as interesting as ever. If you think you’d enjoy a group read and discussion, you’re welcome to participate.

And at Read React Review, Jessica outlines her admirable plans for #AcWriMo. I’ve never participated in anything like this myself, but her post made me think I should consider it: I have writing projects I want to get done, and it is sometimes difficult (practically and/or psychologically) to give them the time they need. I was also quite struck by her remark that the biggest obstacle to progress is not the internet, but the inner doubts about the value of the work that become “a recipe for staring at a blank screen until the urge to check Twitter takes over.” I’ve been contemplating a “proper” academic article on a book I’ve taught often but never written about. That seems to me a good concrete objective that would be well served by an #AcWriMo. But I am motivated less by a sense that writing and publishing in that way is the best way to share my ideas about it than by a nagging anxiety about the dearth of peer-reviewed publications at the top (i.e. ‘current’) part of my c.v. But the prospect makes me kind of claustrophobic. Shouldn’t the process be the other way around, anyway — shouldn’t I begin by believing that the conversation I want / need to join is going on in those pages (or among their readers)? A well-meaning colleague said to me a while back, after reading one of my Open Letters essays, that I should “really” publish it somewhere. Putting aside the casual ignorance about the way in which the piece was already published, it seems to me a genuine question why I would want it in a less accessible form. Confusions such as these about form and purpose do indeed become recipes for writer’s block and refuge on Twitter — so using Twitter for “social writing” and accountability might be a good thing.