Saturday, January 30, 2010

Eve's Choice

Eve's decision to eat the apple is the crucial to understanding Milton's idea of free will, an essential theme to Paradise Lost. God gives humans the choice to commit sin, and might even desire them to do so. The choice to commit sin combined with curiosity is the powerful force that made Eve eat the apple. However, why does Eve choose to eat the apple, and how does Milton use this act to comment on feminism during the Restoration period.

Eve uses rhetoric to convince Adam to eat from the tree and therefore commit original sin. This power of persuasion amongst female characters is prevalent throughout Restoration writing as women couldn't hold political office, they were often seen as conniving, and able to assert their will through men. This depiction of Eve coincides with many other depictions of women and instead of showing her as a methodical negative influence on Adam, she should be seen as a strong character, able to assert herself through argumentation. After all, it was God's will for the apple to eventually be eaten.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Montagu, Swift, and Beauty

My reaction was very similar to Lizzie's when I read "The Lady's Dressing Room." It seemed like Strephon's findings just kept getting worse and worse, and definitely made me feel much better about the state of my own dorm room.

Looking at all the poems we read for class today, the prevailing theme seems to be Beauty, or rather, the lengths women will go to attain it. I especially liked Montagu's poem about the Small-Pox, because it gives an inside view into the woman's head that Swift does not show through his poem. One line in Montagu's poem struck me in particular as summing up all of the poems:

"How false and trifling is that art you boast; / No art can give me back my beauty lost." (67-68).

The "false and trifling art" are all the trappings of beauty that are seen catalogued in "The Lady's Dressing Room." It is indeed "trifling," to go to such extreme lengths to create beauty when it is so transient, and once gone can never come back. While Swift and Montagu poems are both satires, I think they show how women are pressured to conform to society, specifically London society, and all of their uncleanliness reflects the squalor of the city itself.

As an end note, it serves Strephon right for snooping around because afterwards, "His foul Imagination links / Each Dame he sees with all her Stinks," (121-122) and I find this pretty funny on Swift's part.

Swift Does Not Approve.

In two of the three poems written by Swift, "The Lady's Dressing Room" and "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed," he makes no attempt to hide his disdain for the practices of women at his time.

Despite the seemingly innocent or soft titles of these poems, they are riddled with satirical criticisms and venomous insults. In the first poem, "The Lady's Dressing Room," every single item that is even remotely related to the dressing of a woman is attached to extremely negative connotations. He even references one container as being kin to Pandora's Box, essentially saying it is full of all possible demons.

In the second poem, "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed," the description of "Beautiful" can be interpreted in two different ways. The first, more obvious way, is that Swift is using it as a condescending term. By calling her beautiful then discussing in disgust every attribute of Corinna, the subject of the poem, he is pointing out the folly in using the word 'beautiful' to describe one who has all of these adornments that cover one's true self.

It can also be interpreted that Swift actually means for Corinna to be beautiful. He describes her in an unfortunate setting with sub-par, even disgusting dressings, but he does not actually call Corinna herself ugly. In fact, there are times when he compliments her features by way of saying the fashion destroys them, such as in lines 35-36 when he says, "And smooth the Furrows in her Front / With greasy Paper stuck upon't" and also when he describes her as having a "Soft touch."

In either case, the message mimics that of the first poem: "The crap that women put on themselves that they think makes them pretty is ridiculous and does more harm than good."

Satan as the Epic Hero

Sorry! This was my post for the Paradise Lost reading I just couldn't figure out how to post it in that section.

After discussing Satan's similarities with Man while in class, it is easy for me to view him as the hero of Milton's epic. For one, we are able to sympathize with Satan because his faults are so human in nature. Greed and Envy are emotions that everyone experience, and so we immediately feel bad for Satan when he is punished for all eternity as the result of a flaw that is common among men. I think what truly makes Satan appear as a hero, however, is his absolute dedication to sinning and to vengeance. Just like humans, angels were created by God and are required to worship Him and ask his forgiveness for any transgressions. When people make mistakes, they usually appeal to God for mercy, fearing the consequences of his anger. Satan, on the other hand, is experiencing God's wrath in full, and yet still refuses to say uncle. He will never apologize, and is committed to fight an eternal battle that he cannot win. There is something admirable in the fact that he is sticking to his guns whatever the cost.

Swift as Satirist in "The Lady's Dressing Room"

To begin, it seems clear that there at least a couple of different approaches we can take while analyzing "The Lady's Dressing Room." Daniela worded one perspective well when she wrote, "Swift uses the materiality of this culture to alienate women from men, in this case Strephon from Celia like kids in kindergarten going through the cootie stage." I think it is clear that Swift is suggesting there is a discrepancy between the way men of the time period wished (and expected) to see women, and the way women actually were behind closed doors. Swift asserts that once the lavish trappings of women's makeup and clothing are stripped away, what is left is both shocking and revolting (at least to Strephon). What is interesting to me about the poem's implication here is that Swift seems to claim women are actually the ones at fault for the mix up. Celia, and by extension all women, is portrayed as deceitful for trying to hide her ugliness. If Swift actually believed that, we could certainly accuse him of being a sexist.

In my opinion, however, I tend to side with Nathaniel that Swift is assuming the role of a satirist, and that the poem is "better read as a feminist rebuttal to the constraints society places upon women." Even as the poem is outwardly criticizing the perceived ugliness and deception of women, Swift is covertly taking a stab at men for requiring women to undergo the sham in the first place.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Lady's Room

In class we have often discussed the concept of women's roles in British society. We have have talked about the implications of those roles and how women were often treated like objects and expected to go through an almost ritualistic process of tedious, torturous, and strange procedures to make themselves "beautiful" in the fashionable manner of the day. Swift's piece is of course a great illustration of that. In her post, Daniela suggested that the construction of the poem is "very sexist" in certain places I think that a few things in the poem point to a different reading. Swift's history as a satirist suggests that the poem be better read as a feminist rebuttal to the constraints society places upon women. This is particularly evident in the last couplet:

Such Order from Confusion sprung,
Such gaudy Tulips rais'd from Dung.

These lines and the preceding text talk about how the expectations of pristine perfection placed upon women are both unrealistic and unfair. Despite this, he urges men to take pride in the fact that those things which they do idolize for their beauty come from a foul process, making their beauty that much more remarkable and worthy to applaud.

Violence and Beauty

As I read Swift's poems I was struck by the violent diction of his work, which correlates to the seemingly inhumane beauty ideals of his time that confined women to rib-breaking corsets and removed their self-sufficiency. At first I thought that only men used violent means to control women, but when I read Montagu's poem, I saw the duality of the violence. While the men violently control women, the women also use beauty to control and dominate the men. Montagu argues that through the beautification process "a new life shot sparkling from [Flavia's] eyes!" (12). Flavia revels in her beauty and the "presents," "lovers," "dresses," "empire," and "spirit" that it brings. Of particular interest to me is the allegory between women/romance and men/kingship. Men become kings through might and war, which implies that women also use violent means to gain hold over men and rise above other women. Montagu implies that beauty levels the playing field between men and women, "monarchs and beauties rule with equal sway" (85). Neither holds more power, but I think the kicker is that both hold power over "men" who "mock the idol of their former vow" (88). Does Montagu think that women in power disregard the sexism of their times and allow their sisters to be subjugated? Is she trying to expose the superficiality of Women and their selfish quest for power? What does the last stanza regarding nature imply about beauty ideals--is it unnatural for women to manipulate their beauty or is it embedded in their nature? And as one of the few female poets of her time, how does Montagu fit into the puzzle?

Beauty and Ugliness in the 18th Century

What I found most interesting in all four poems by Swift and Montagu was how each poem played with the contrasts of beauty and the things that cover up beauty. We discussed in class how elaborate the dress was at the time, and there is little doubt that this type of fashion was glamorous and perhaps even decadent. However, there was a purpose for these over-the-top garments. Because people at this time barely bathed it was necessary to wear wigs, elaborate fabrics, and excessive amounts of perfume and make-up to appear and smell more attractive. I think this is best portrayed in The Lady's Dressing Room. There are similar sentiments in the Young Nymph poem, but I don't necessarily agree that Swift viewed all women as being deceitful in covering up their ugliness (although it is an interesting idea after our discussion of Eve in Paradise Lost), because the woman in the poem is definitely a prostitute. I think this implies that she is below other women in morals, character, and beauty.

It is almost as if Montagu's poem serves the opposite purpose of Swift's. While playing with the same dualities of beauty and ugliness, Montague describes a woman who is covered by a disease that has taken her beauty away rather than something beautiful hiding ugliness. I also think it's interesting that what's covering up her beauty is something natural, but in the other poems it is the un-natural that covers up the ugliness.

A Beautiful (?) Young Nymph...

From our historical knowledge, we know that women were perceived in the 18th century as barely more than objects for men; their beauty was their most admirable quality, therefore, this aspect is most emphasized in literature. However, after reading Jonathan Swift's poem "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed," I think it is safe to say that Swift's intention is to question the value of women's beauty, at the very least. Of course, the initial irony of the poem presents itself in the title: the woman depicted is obviously anything but "beautiful" or "young", at least according to Swift's description. Swift literally peels the woman's appearance back, layer-by-layer, until all that is left is a vile image of an unattractive woman.
My first reaction upon reading this poem was a disgust. The imagery and descriptions were repulsive ("running sores", "flabby"), and I felt that Swift was commentating on the material and superficiality of the women of the time. However, after rereading the poem, I came to realize that Swift's commentary is arguably one on the degradation that society imposed upon women. Through all the falsity of appearance, a woman essentially became an artificial being - perhaps beautiful in outward appearance, but "broken" internally.
My reasoning comes from the conclusion stanza of the poem, specifically lines 68-72. Swift describes Corinna as an accumulation of "scattered parts", repeatedly and painfully torn apart and reassembled. In this sense, Swift's commentary on women's appearance becomes apparent.

"The Lady's Room"

As I read Swift's rather perverse poem, "The Lady's Room," i could not help but think of the boy/girl cootie craze of elementary school. Strephon, who is completely charmed by a woman named Celia, decides to raid her personal space. When he does this, he learns that she is not as "sweet and cleanly" as she looked outside the perimeters of her room (line 18). As he rummages through her things, he is disgusted to find her dirty belongings:

"The various Combs for various Uses, [20]
Fill'd up with Dirt so closely fixt,
No Brush could force a way betwixt.
A Paste of Composition rare,
Sweat, Dandriff, Powder, Lead and Hair;
A Forehead Cloth with Oyl upon't [25]
To smooth the Wrinkles on her Front;
Here Allum Flower to stop the Steams,
Exhal'd from sour unsavoury Streams."

Swift uses the materiality of this culture to alienate women from men, in this case Strephon from Celia like were kids in kindergarten going through the cootie stage. Although this poem is very sexist at times, it highlights the social climateof the culture at the time: Men were not supposed to understand the long and extreme procedures women were subject to in order to aesthetically please society. It is almost like Celia is not supposed to be human; someone who does not experience the same bodily functions men do. She is an artifact that should never age or change in condition. Like in Pope's Cantos, Swift is fascinated by the emphasis of materiality abnd the pervesion of the mind and a kind of beauty. Strephon has to invade Celia's private space to learn that women were a construction of things that enhanced their beauty. In fact, women, at the time, were objectified to satisfy social standards about appearances. Unfortunately, Celia, like many women, is reveered as merely an object.

The Witching Hour and Transformation (?)

I was struck by our conversation in class about the work of "The Rape of the Lock" in turning the body into something monstrous -- in its work in distorting it and turning it into something artificial (something away from the vision of Adam and Eve in "Paradise Lost"). This work is even more forceful in the next set of poems, particularly in Swift's "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed." Quite apart from making me not want to put on make-up this morning, the interplay between the natural and the artificial in this poem is illuminating, as it questions and complicates both sides of the divide. Swift describes the process of transformation at the moment of the witching hour, but the before and after images that the reader is given are not, perhaps, what one would expect. Corinna's body is certainly grotesque in its natural state, with "hollow jaws," "flabby dugs," "the lumps," "her shankers, issues, running sores." The suggestion of her made-up state, however, is really no more appetizing, consisting of descriptions of the "artificial," and eye that must be wiped clean, false eyebrows made of mouse. The reader is left, then, to wonder in what state Swift sees her as more natural, as his description of the process of decomposition leaves nothing of the beautiful.

It is this process of decomposition on a living body that make Swift's language all the more grotesque. Hinting at an unholy assemblage throughout the poem with words like "operator," "Plaister," and "poison'd," Swift concludes the poem with the image of a woman literally recollecting bits of her body, attempting to reassemble them. The only space for beauty in the poem is in the ironic terms in which Swift couches Corinna, transporting her into the tales of romance and gentleness as suggested by the title, Corinna's place as a "muse" in "her Bow'r." While these terms cement the irony and perverse humor Swift sees in Corinna's situation, there also seems to be a hint of melancholy, derived from the distance between her reality in the body and Swift's imagining of what might be.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Structure of The Rape of the Lock

I was really interested in the structure of the "Rape of the Lock" and found another example of the the rhymes not lining up all the time. I thought it was really interesting about the different meanings from the one poem in class today involving war. At the end of Canto II, there is an example of the rhythm shift. "He spoke; the Spirits from the Sails descend;/some, Orb in Orb, around the Nymph extend,/Some thrid the mazy Ringlets of her Hair,/Some hand upon the Pendants of her Ear;/With beating Hearts the dire Event they wait,/Anxious, and trembling for the birth of Fate." (the stanza before Canto II) There is definetly an emphasis on the lady's appearance and since the rhythm changes, the reader notices this fact. The capitalization of Hair, Ringlets, Pendants, and Ear add to the discussion on beauty. Once again I notice the scarcastic attitude once again. It seems like he has an ironic tone concerning the amount of time and lady spend on their appearance and attire! After looking at several images in class today, I completely understand why he would find it humorous!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Humor in the Rape of the Lock

Alas! The first two cantos of Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" left me with a sense that we had not gotten to the good part yet. I enjoyed how Pope sets the stage for an epic contest in lines 229-234 with the Baron's resolution to steal a lock of Belinda's hair. Pope's allusions to classical literature produce an appealing parody of the aristocratic portrait of femininity.

Swift's satires provide a stronger impression of the popular fascination with an absurd distortion of feminine beauty in this time period. "Lady's Dressing Room" especially helped clarify this condition by satirizing the incredible facade that a woman must construct each day. This extreme emphasis on appearance accentuates Pope's comedy. In many ways, "The Rape of the Lock" resembles "The Small-Pox" in expressing the inflated value of the woman's appearance. I think that these authors attempt to show that the social norms have disgraced both the essence of a woman's exterior beauty and her true value as a human person.

Body of Bird and Woman

I believe that Anne Kingsmill Finch’s poem substitutes the body of a bird for that of a woman. The bird is trapped inside although at first it is unaware: it admires the scene on the arras and then proudly decides to leave the “imitated Fowl” behind to explore the greater world. The ceiling, however, “strikes her to the ground.” I think the parallel can be made between this trapped bird and women because during this time women were restricted by the regulations of society and could not fly freely. It is interesting that Finch chooses a bird as the metaphor: birds are delicate like women and birds are easily trapped in a confined space, yet if there is a “kind hand” (God? Male benefactor?) they are unstoppably free—they can fly and explore the heights of the world.

After our class discussion, I agree that poetry is the answer to the question, as Liz suggested in her comment to my post. Expression through the written word is a powerful tool, especially for a woman who did not have many tools at her disposal during this time. I would like to connect Finch’s poetry to that of Montagu—they are both female poets and both use the image of a “glass” in their works. In Finch it is the “transparent Panes” which “stop” the bird from freedom and in Montagu it is the “faithless glass” which Flavia rebukes because it shows her a “frightful spectre”. Both of these glasses provide barriers to the woman’s freedom: the bird is locked in by the window and the woman is locked in by her disappointing reflection in the mirror. I believe that both of the poets use the glass in ironic ways—the window is clear, like an invisible wall that, as we discussed in class, is a metaphor for self-reflection; the “faithless glass” is a jibe at women who find all of their value and esteem in their appearance. Both women will need to surmount the glass obstacles in order to be truly free, and Finch and Montagu attempt to surmount them through their freedom of expression in poetry.