Exercise 2 for English 73 (1995)

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Directions: Papers due Friday, 25 October, at 3:45 PM in the English Department office (Horace-Mann). No late papers accepted. Answers must be typed with double-spacing, preferably in Word.

For each of the following passages identify its author's full name, the work's exact title, and its date. Then write mini-essays, such as you have encountered in the Victorian Web, for each that explain three ways in which the passage relates (whatever you take that term to mean) to Dickens's Pickwick Papers. Be as ingenious and specific as possible! One of these connections must concern theme, a second must concern technique (imagery, setting, characterization, style, ethos, and so on), and a third some aspect of the religious, philosophical, historical, or scientific context. Please do not repeat the same themes, techniques, or contexts; that is, if you discuss imagery in one answer, choose another technique for the next one. Before you begin writing, make sure you have clear the distinction between theme and context. Note: one of your essays on context may concern biographical context.

Hints: (1) To make your point include appropriate passages from Pickwick Papers. in your mini-essay. (2) Not all the relations you discover or create will turn out to be obvious ones, such as matters of influence or of analogous ideas and techniques. Some may take the form of contrasts or oppositions that tell us something interesting about the authors, literary forms, or times in which these works appeared. Others, particularly matters of context, may require you to use the materials in the web to formulate an hypothesis. In many cases the web provides the materials to create an answer but not an answer itself. (3) Provide the author and title of any hypertext or other materials, such as the Norton Anthology or reference works, from which you quote or draw. Do not use foot- notes but include this information within the text in the following form: (John Smith, "Characterization in Brontë and Gaskell," Victorian Web). (4) Use the materials in the Norton Critical Editions as well as the web. (5) Do not use period or stylistic terms, such as Romantic or Victorian, to explain a passage or provide a context. Remember, Carlyle, Gaskell, and Dickens did not write in a particular way because they were Victorian. Because they wrote that way, we call such writing Victorian.


The chamber looked such a bright little place to me as the sun shone in between the gay blue chintz window curtains, showing papered walls and a carpeted floor, so unlike the bare planks and stained plaster of Lowood, that my spirits rose at the view. Externals have a great effect on the young: I thought that a fairer era of life was beginning for me- one that was to have its flowers and pleasures, as well as its thorns and toils. My faculties, roused by the change of scene, the new field offered to hope, seemed all astir. I cannot precisely define what they expected, but it was something pleasant: not perhaps that day or that month, but at an indefinite future period.


"And I think, if this should be the end of it all, and if all I've been born for is just to work my heart and life away, and to sicken i' this dree place, wi' them mil noises in my ears for ever. until I could scream out for them to stop, and let me have a little piece of quiet -- and wi' the fluff filling my lungs . . . I could go mad . . . "


Sir King, I closed mine eyelids, lest the gems
Should blind my purpose, for I never saw,
Nor shall see, here or elsewhere, till I die,
Not though I live three lives of mortal men,
So great a miracle as yonder hilt.
Then with both hands I flung him, wheeling him;
But when I looked again, behold an arm,
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
That caught him by the hilt, and brandished him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.


I first got an idea of its calibre when I heard him preach in his own church at Morton. I wish I could describe that sermon: but it is past my power. I cannot even render faithfully the effect it produced on me.

It began calm- and indeed, as far as delivery and pitch of voice went, it was calm to the end: an earnestly felt, yet strictly restrained zeal breathed soon in the distinct accents, and prompted the nervous language. This grew to force-- compressed, condensed, controlled. The heart was thrilled, the mind astonished, by the power of the preacher: neither were softened. Throughout there was a strange bitterness; an absence of consolatory gentleness; stern allusions to Calvinistic doctrines- election, predestination, reprobation-- were frequent; and each reference to these points sounded like a sentence pronounced for doom. When he had done, instead of feeling better, calmer, more enlightened by his discourse, I experienced an expressible sadness; for it seemed to me -- I know not whether equally so to others- that the eloquence to which I had been listening had sprung from a depth where lay turbid dregs of disappointment- where moved troubling impulses of insatiate yearnings and disquieting aspirations. I was sure St. John Rivers -- pure-lived, conscientious, zealous as he was -- had not yet found that peace of God which passeth all understanding


Ravenous, and now very faint, I devoured a spoonful or two of my portion without thinking of its taste; but the first edge of hunger blunted, I perceived I had got in hand a nauseous mess; burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it. The spoons were moved slowly: I saw each girl taste her food and try to swallow it; but in most cases the effort was soon relinquished. Breakfast was over, and none had breakfasted. Thanks being returned for what we had not got, and a second hymn chanted, the refectory was evacuated for the schoolroom. I was one of the last to go out, and in passing the tables, I saw one teacher take a basin of the porridge and taste it; she looked at the others; all their countenances expressed displeasure, and one of them, the stout one, whispered--

"Abominable stuff! How shameful!"


Pick a passage of your own choosing from In Memoriam, "Mariana," or The Idylls and compare it to Pickwick.


'I tell you I must go!' I retorted, roused to something like passion. 'Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?- a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! -- I have as much soul as you, -- and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; -- it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,- as we are!'


[Choose a passage each from the final chapters of Jane Eyre and North and South compare it to one from the close of Pickwick.]


"Dixon," she said, in the low tone she always used when much excited, which had a sound as of some distant turmoil, or threatening storm breaking far away. "Dixon! you forget to whom you are speaking." She stood upright and firm on her feet now, confronting the waiting-maid, and fixing her with her steady, discerning eye. "I am Mr. hale's daughter. Go! You have made a strange mistake, and one that I am sure your own good feeling will make you sorry for when you think about it."


Research assignment: Go to the John Hay Library, which is open 9-5 on weekdays, and find in an article contemporary with one of the books read in English 73 thus far for some relevant material. In the scope of at least three double-spaced pages include selections from the material you found along with complete bibliographic citation and an introduction and discussion of the material that explains its relevance to the book you've chosen. You might go, for example, to The Illustrated London News, London Times, Punch, or one of the intellectual quarterlies, such as The Westminster Review, to which George Eliot contributed, or The Cornhill Review, which Thackeray edited. There you might find articles on, say, Australia, the condition of governesses, missionary work in India, orphan asylums, primary education, and so on. Make sure these contemporary materials are in fact contemporary -- that is, that they come from a few years before or after the work to which you relate them. In this part of the assignment, I am asking you to do scholarship, and scholarship is detective work. Last year several students found so much material that they decided to use these sources for the context sections of other questions. You can do so, too, but please use a different article for each context part of your essay.

Last modified 1996