heart_in_the_margins: (Heart)
Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is on my orals list, "A Gossip on Romance" is not, and yet I have a lot more to say about the latter than the former.

It does make sense to put Jekyll and Hyde on my orals list, and in this swath of reading -- which also contains Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray. There are obvious connections between these three texts: all are interested in the supernatural, particularly as it relates to developing psychologies, and all involve strange doublings. Yet the things that really interest me about each of these works individually are not actually things that overlap. (For example, I care most about Dracula as a documentary novel, I care most about Dorian Gray as it relates epigram and narrative, and as for Jekyll and Hyde...well, I don't know that I have a thing I care most about!) And it doesn't help that I am discussing these three novels in the same meeting where I'm discussing Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and that my adviser really wants me to be able to talk for at least a little bit about some overarching connection between ALL of the works we're talking over in each meeting.

But Stevenson's interest in the "romance revival" is actually incredibly relevant, not only to bringing Hardy back into this conversation, but to my broader interest in "genre fiction" and the ways in which readers imaginatively engage their texts. Essentially, Stevenson's short essay (10 pgs in my Oxford World's Classics ed. of Jekyll and Hyde) describes early on in his career his thoughts on the difference between romance and realism, and it does so in a way that foregrounds the engagement of the reader in romance.

"Drama is the poetry of conduct, romance the poetry of circumstance. The pleasure that we take in life is of two sorts--the active and the passive. Now we are conscious of a great command over our destiny; anon we are lifted up by circumstance, as by a breaking wave, and dashed we know not how into the future. Now we are pleased by our conduct, anon merely pleased by our surroundings." (140)
--> This seems useful to me as a way to connect Hardy's novels to the other ones in this cluster. Hardy's characters are often passive, his novels often interested in surroundings.
--> Playing devil's advocate, though, what RLS goes on to discuss about the difference between novels of active consciences/morals vs. novels of active bodies once again aligns Hardy with the side of realism.

argument that scenes of action and romance are the ones that we remember in books, p. 142 --> discussion of Clarissa vs. Robinson Crusoe, pp. 143-4
--> "we read story-books in childhood, not for eloquence or character or thought, but for some quality of the brute incident" (139)
--> "perhaps nothing can more strongly illustrate the necessity for marking incident than to compare the living fame of 'Robinson Crusoe' with the discredit of 'Clarissa Harlowe.' 'Clarissa' is a book of a far more startling import, worked out, on a great canvas, with inimitable courage and unflagging art; it contains wit, character, passion, plot, conversations full of spirit and insight, letters sparkling with unstrained humanity..." (143)

"English people of the present day are apt, I know not why, to look somewhat down on incident, and reserve their admiration for the clink of tea-spoons and the accents of the curate. It is thought clever to write a novel with no story at all, or at least with a very dull one." (143)
--> connect this to the novel without a plot that "poisons" Dorian?
--> and yet I'm pretty sure what RLS says about "no story at all" is different from what Wilde calls the plotless novel...I wonder if RLS would have felt Dorian Gray had "story"? It certainly does have the kind of incidents that stick in your mind -- in fact at times it feels like it's all incident!

RLS' sense of how imaginative engagement works:

"In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, berapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind willed with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought." (139)

"Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwreck." (141)

"To come at all at the nature of this quality of romance, we must bear in mind the peculiarity of our attitude to any art. No art produces illusion; in the theatre, we never forget that we are in the theatre; and while we read a story, we sit wavering between two minds, now merely clapping our hands at the merit of the performance, now condescending to take an active part in fancy with the characters. This last is the triumph of story-telling: when the reader consciously plays at being the hero, the scene is a good scene. Now in character-studies the pleasure that we take is critical; we watch, we approve, we smile at incongruities, we are moved to sudden heats of sympathy with courage, suffering, or virtue. But the characters are still themselves; they are not us; the more clearly they are depicted, the more widely do they stand away from us, the more imperiously do they thrust us back into our place as a spectator. [...] It is not character, but incident, that wooes us out of our reserve. Something happens, and we desire to have it happen to ourselves; some situation, that we have long dallied with in fancy, is realised in the story with enticing and appropriate details. Then we forget the characters; they we push the hero aside; then we plunge into the tale in our own person and bathe in fresh experience; and then, and then only, do we say we have been reading a romance." (146-7)
--> romance as the genre of self-insert!
--> interesting that RLS suggests character individuation is almost what prohibits identification: instead, you have to push aside the real character and enter the novel as yourself
--> this is a mode of imaginative engagement with the text that actually isn't about character in a familiar manner

"Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child. It is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life." (147)

THOUGHT: Perhaps the thing I want to talk about to join together all of these novels is narrative perspective and its relation to spectatorship?


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June 2017



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