English 3142 • Everitt • Take-home Midterm
For each paper topic, write a 600-700 word essay (think 3 pages for each essay). Your essays should focus on close analysis of the texts. Whereas you may also comment on literary, historical, or social contexts in your essay, avoid generalizations that are not backed up by examples or analysis of specific passages.
Essay prompt 1:
“The Bildungsroman as the ‘symbolic form’ of modernity,” says Moretti because it relies on the sign of youth “to accentuate modernity’s dynamism and instability. Youth is, so to speakmodernity’s ‘essence’, the sign of a world that seeks its meaning in the future rather than in the past” (5). Allon White, sees a similarly forward-looking orientation in the way the Bildungsroman is about a progress from illusion to truth:
I will risk saying that I think it [truth as a journey] the single most important organizational metaphor in Victorian fiction. On it depends not only the inner structure of all nineteenth-century ‘Bildungsroman’, of which Great Expectations may be taken as paradigmatic, but also those narratives which characteristically chart the progress of someone who is prisoner of illusion and (self) deception, and who finally achieves—in sadness or in joy—a “true” conception of himself and the world. The demystification of the personal capabilities and qualities from Emma to Isabel Archer is articulated upon this metaphorical journey through illusion and falsehood to true conception of self. (Uses of Obscurity56)
In a 3-page essay, explore the implications of Moretti’s and White’s arguments for Dickens’s Great Expectations. In what ways does this novel express a value in an unknown, dynamic future? And to what degree are “illusion and falsehood” trappings of a past that must be escaped through a journey of discovery?
Keep in mind that Great Expectations may be ambivalent towards these descriptions. So don’t be afraid to explore ways that the novel does and does not follow these formulas.
Also, the success of your paper will in part depend on the degree to which it can focus its attention on specific aspects, scenes, and chapters. In other words, avoid arguments that rely only on generalized plot summaries.
Essay prompt 2:
Franco Morreti’s “Serious Century” mines the world “serious” for its various implications as a cultural value in the 19th Century. He first gives us the term’s most common definition: “Serious, as in the magic formula that defines realism. . . . [as] what is ‘in opposition to amusement or pleasure-seeking.’” (368) But soon, Moretti shows how the word might be central to the 19th century bourgeoisie’s sense of itself:
Accuracy, definiteness, intelligibility . . . it is a second semantic layer of “serious”. . . Serious as “serious,” not as “earnest,” because at stake here are not the supposed good intentions of ethics tout court, but the sober sense of responsibility of professional ethics: the vocation of the specialist who—like Eliot’s narrator, that great specialist of language—places herself entirely in the service of the task to be accomplished. (383)
Third face of seriousness: the ernsteLebensführung(serious way of life), the solid and responsible conduct of life that was for Mann the cornerstone of the bourgeois world. Beyond ethical gravity, beyond the concentration of the specialist, seriousness is here a sort of sublimated commercial honesty—the “almost religious respect for facts” of the Buddenbrook family book—extended to life as a whole: reliability, method, precision, “order and clarity,” realism. In the sense, indeed, of the reality principle: where coming to terms with reality becomes, from the necessity it always is, a “principle”; a value. Containing one’s immediate desires is not just repression here: it’s a culture; style. (385)
If we first assume that novels are cultural productions as much as they are works of an author’s conscious intention, we can begin to see how “seriousness,” as a cultural “value” or a style, might be a constitutive element of 19th century novels. How might Moretti’s reading of the cultural connotations of “serious” for the 19th century apply to Austen’s Persuasion? What aspects of the novel can be accounted for using Moretti as a lens? To assure that you don’t spread your analysis too thin, consider limiting yourself to one of the following: how does Moretti’s articulation of the important of “seriousness” relate to: