Thursday, October 29, 2015

Works cited

Here is the protocol to follow with papers for this class. A good practice is to always ask the professor to provide an example of how they would like citations referenced---although citing practices are becoming more streamlined and more consistent across the disciplines, there are still some differences in style guides and citation procedures (if you are publishing an article, the journal or editor will always provide you with a style sheet to follow).

Embedded citations (used in MLA style) are nice and simple. For an embedded citation, you simply put a parenthetical reference to the work from where you got your information. This information may have been paraphrased or directly quoted; either way, the information is not your original work and must be attributed to its author.

The idea of parenthetical references is to keep the flow of the paper as smooth as possible and make it easy for the reader to find the reference in your Works Cited page at the end of your essay. Your Works Cited page will list all your references in alphabetical order by author's last name (or title in the case of work with no author given).

Thus, if you have mentioned the author in your writing, you simply cite the page number, if you have not, then you cite both author's last name and page number. For example:

In the opening of The Turn of the Screw, Douglas remarks, "The story won't tell...not in any literal or vulgar way." (James, 5)

At the beginning of James's novel, Douglas remarks, "The story won't tell...not in any literal or vulgar way." (5)

If you don't have an author to cite, use a shortened form of the work's title.

In organizing your Works Cited page, follow these examples (MLA style):


Lastname, Firstname. Title. City: Publisher, Date.

Essay in a Book of Essays:

Lastname, Firstname. "Title of Essay." Title of Book. Editor's Firstname Lastname. City: Publisher, Date.


Lastname, Firstname. "Title." Periodical day month year.


Lastname, Firstname. "Title." Journal volume (year).

Web page (blogs and other online sources): Web page format and content vary widely. Use the following guidelines (blogger software will not allow me to type the term "URL" enclosed in <> marks. But that is the format you should follow):


Lastname, Firstname. "Article Title." Site Name. Organization name if pertinent. Article date. Date of access. End with URL enclosed in <> marks

With no author and no page date:

 "Article Title." Site Name. Organization name if pertinent. Date of access. End with URL enclosed in <> marks

Site with no site name:

Lastname, Firstname. "Article Title." Home Page. Article date. Date of Access. End with URL enclosed in <> marks 
Note: If there are no page numbers, as is usual with Web documents, do not make up one or use the number one (as in "Jones 1") to cover the whole document. Use a number only when there is a number.

Class materials with no publication information/page numbers/other data:

Craft a citation using the information you have; you will at least have author's name and the title of the story or essay.

I think this covers all the situations you will encounter in writing this paper.

For any other questions you may have, feel free to ask.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

First Essay: The Turn of the Screw and the Uncanny

In our last class, some students asked that I post the first essay assignment now, although we haven't yet begun to explore The Turn of the Screw to any great degree. I think that's a good idea, too, because we can use the questions posed in the assignment to guide our discussion in the coming weeks.

Discuss Henry James' novella, The Turn of the Screw as an instance of the Freudian Uncanny. Can you see similar or parallel elements in this narrative to those Freud finds in "The Sandman" and his further definitions of the category, "das Unheimlich," in his essay?

Think about how Freud investigates the Uncanny. He describes many features of this estranging effect; his discussion of the concept centers on examples of doubling, repetition, ambiguity, above all the unfamiliar face of the familiar. His first move in his essay is to demonstrate the unheimlich hidden in the heimlich: the uncanny in the "home-ly." In this way he connects the Uncanny with the return of the repressed:

"It may be that the Uncanny (the 'unhomely') is something familiar ('homely', 'homey') that has been repressed and then reappears, and that everything uncanny satisfies this condition...I believe that it...can be traced back every time to something that was once familar and then repressed..."

Freud also associates the Uncanny with Oedipal anxiety; he pays particular attention to "The Sandman" as a story about Fathers and Children.

What is the return of the familiar, the homely in The Turn of the Screw? The unfamiliar familiar? The hidden familiar? Family and familiar share the same root and indeed a family, a displaced and disrupted family is at the heart of The Turn of the Screw. We have two children and three sets of parents----the children's biological parents, the surrogate parental couple of Jessel and Quint, and the Master and the Governess. Four of the six are dead; of the two living, one has abdicated his (legal, biological) position entirely and given the other an absolute authority. The Governess is The Father in this case.

Also consider the way this "coupling" of characters sets up patterns of repetition and doubling: Quint/the Master, Jessel/the Governess, the Governess/Quint. Although the Governess's story is premised on a clear distinction between Good and Evil, the various similarities in situation and activity between the Governess and the Ghosts blur those lines and render motive and meaning ambiguous.

Finally, this is a story established at the beginning as one which "won't tell, not in any literal or vulgar way." In other words, this is a story of suggestion rather than revelation, of "evidence" that can be construed in multiple directions, of questions that can be entertained but never assigned a final answer. Literary critic J. Hillis Miller commented on The Turn of the Screw, "The words on the page work infallibly as speech acts forcing the reader...against his or her will, to "read into" the words meanings that are not there. The reader will fill the blanks out of his or her imagination and so be responsible for whatever evil thoughts he or she may have."

This assignment should be very simple on one level and very challenging on another. Think of this first paper as a trial run: a place to “try out” some of the ideas we’ve been talking about in class, a place to try out new ideas and observational skills. Think about how Freud's essay illuminates James's novella. Do not perform a literal and vulgar "Freudian" reading: i.e., do not attempt to "psychoanalyze" the Governess and "solve" her "case."

And don’t forget to title your essay. A title is one of the elements which distinguishes a piece of formal writing from an informal series of notes. Your title should reflect something pertinent to your discussion. "Paper One," "Essay," "Freud Paper," and the like are not adequate essay titles. Neither is the title of the novel you are writing about.

Length: 4 1/2 to 5 typewritten double-spaced pages.
All papers must be stapled or they will not be accepted.
Due: Monday, November 2

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Victorian Cult of the Child: Innocence and Experience, Ignorance and Knowledge

Above are two images that illustrate aspects of Victorian beliefs about children and childhood. The first, "The Child Enthroned," pretty much says it all in its title. This 1894 painting by Thomas Cooper Gotch was wildly popular as an expression of "the child" as a quasi-divine icon. The second is a photograph of Alice Liddell by the Rev. Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. To our modern eyes, this image looks seductive and likely a bit sexualized. Yet both are rather mainstream images which would have been read as exemplars of childhood innocence by Victorian eyes.

According to the Victorian ideal, the child was viewed not as a miniature adult, as children had been perceived in an earlier era, but as innocents who were to enjoy a life of carefree happiness until old enough to assume the responsibilities of (a gendered) adult life. But for Victorians, the moral category of "innocence" was defined by ignorance. Well-bred young ladies and adult women were also expected to be "innocent" and childlike (in fact, both women and children occupied the same legal status in Victorian England as non-competent dependents) and this meant being in large part ignorant of the "brutal" sphere of public life (work, commerce, people from outside one's own genteel class). For children, innocence and moral purity was defined by their ignorance of adult life and adult knowledge. Above all childhood innocence was premised on a lack of sexuality: the child was seen not so much as a pre-sexual creature, but by definition, an asexual one. This is why Lewis Carroll's child photography---including nude studies that seem "obviously pedophiliac" to contemporary eyes---did not ring any alarm bells among Victorian parents who not only permitted, but were often present, during sittings.

Of course it goes without saying that all this angelic innocence and purity applies only to well-bred children, the offspring of ladies and gentleman. The spawn of the working classes were quite another thing indeed. (Here you can read about their pre-child-labor law innocence--don't miss the affidavits from child miners who started working at around age five). These images

contrast sharply with these

this portrait

with this one

Looking at Miles and Flora again, then, may reveal why they would be such disconcerting figures to their original audience: while they are no more intelligent than the average children of their class, they are knowing. Tainted by access to (adult) knowledge, they are no longer ignorant and therefore no longer innocent.

Here is a review from The American Monthly Review of Reviews, December 1898, which expresses unease with having children as fictive figures of "evil:"

"The malignant spirit is worsted, but the price of victory is death. There is something really great in the story and assuredly the skill is superb. But surely we are not merely sentimentalists in our protest again children being made pawns in this horrible contest."

The Outlook (October 29, 1898) finds: "The story itself is distinctly repulsive."

And a reviewer in the New York weekly, The Independent, January 5, 1899, is more adamant in his disgust:

"The Turn of the Screw is the most hopelessly evil story that we have ever read in any literature, ancient or modern. How Mr. James could, or how any man or woman could, choose to make such a study of infernal human debauchery, for it is nothing else, is unaccountable...The study, while it exhibits Mr. James's genius in a powerful light, affects the reader with a disgust that is not to be expressed. The feeling after perusal of this horrible story is that one has been assisting in an outrage upon the holiest and sweetest fountain of human innocence, and helping to debauch---at least by helplessly standing by---the pure and trusting nature of children. Human imagination can go no further into infamy, literary art could not be used with more refined subtlety of spiritual defilement."

While this probably reads to us as a distinctly over-the-top reaction to The Turn of the Screw, we should also remember that a similarly scandalized reaction first greeted Freud's initial theories of children's development because they were premised on both the existence of childhood desire and sexuality and its naturalness.

The Victorian Governess

The heart of The Turn of the Screw is a manuscript written by a governess about a singular experience in her employment. In order to appreciate the position from which she is writing, indeed, the position from which she is making sense of the experiences themselves, a quick look at the historical position of the Victorian governess is absolutely essential.

Because she was neither family member nor working class servant, the governess held a peculiar and ill-defined role in Victorian society, a society which found middle-class female employment problematic. The only time a woman of genteel birth was justified in seeking employment was if she found herself in financial distress and had no male relatives to give her support. The governess was usually a lady forced to support herself because of her father’s death or financial ruin. While it was paid work, it was “respectable” labour. In the gender-appropriate domestic sphere and among the respectable classes, she was kept from contact with the vulgar and “common” world of working class employment. But because she was nevertheless employed, her social status was lessened. Definitely not a servant nor a menial, she was nevertheless not quite a class equal of her employers. In fact, aristocratic and middle-class Victorians were often not sure how to treat the governess: while she was roughly from the same social class, her lack of financial stability made her their obvious inferior.

The governess occupied a grey area in the class hierarchy of the Victorian household: she was “above” the servants, but “below” the family. And in no area was her class dilemma more clear than in the attenuated marriage prospects of the governess. She would likely remain a spinster since she must not consort with men from inferior or superior classes.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The story won't tell: beginning "The Turn of the Screw"

In the framing prologue there are several statements which seem to prefigure what kind of story we will read. The tale is categorized as a "ghost story," and yet distanced from that facile label: "It's beyond everything." In describing the governess's feelings for her employer, Douglas remarks that, "I saw it, and she saw I saw it; but neither of us spoke of it." This statement could sum up a great deal of the "action" of the story: a series of "knowing" looks where everything is, and isn't, said. The narrator suggests that any mystery will be cleared up once Douglas reads the manuscript aloud and that "The story will tell." But Douglas is quick to reply, "The story won't tell...not in any literal vulgar way.

We begin, then, with a story which "won't tell," won't reveal. A story about a young woman hired under condition that she "but never, never...appeal or complain, nor write about anything."

This is a narrative of gaps and silences. Of letters whose contents are momentous, but of which we never exactly learn. A story of monstrous, shameful actions which are constantly hinted at, but never revealed.

It is also a story about a story---the prologue establishes that we are "hearing" a story through three sets of narrators: the governess (who has written her story down), Douglas (who reads the governess's manuscript aloud to the house guests) and the narrator who is transmitting to us "an exact transcript of my own made later." And this haunting story about the dead is "haunted" by death before it's even begun---not only has the governess died years before Douglas tells her story, but Douglas himself has died prior to the narrator's re-telling of the story read out to the "hushed little circle" of expectant listeners.

It is a story of returning presences--ghosts--and characters who replace/displace each other. The governess is initially hired as replacement, as a kind of double replacement for both the governess and the absent Master. Moreover, she is constantly stepping into the position of---replacing---both Miss Jessel and Quint (at the window, at her desk, sitting at the bottom of the stairs, standing on the shore of the pond, etc.)

It is also a story of people slipping out of their "proper places." Part of Quint's "evil" is that he overstepped or didn't know his place (he wore his master's clothes, he presumed relations with his betters). And part of Miss Jessel's "evil" is that she, too, "fell" from of her place through her alliance with a social inferior. And yet the governess, clearly marked as "not evil" in the (her) story, is also out of place, invested by the Master with a proxy authority well beyond a governess's traditional duties.

And finally, it is a story about...well, what is it a story about?

Turns of the screw...

As I spoke about in class, Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, one of the most famous ghost stories is also a very ambiguous ghost story.  And his novella is premised on many kinds of ambiguity: not only on the level of  content (are the ghosts "really" there? what exactly is so terrifying about them?) but also form. James' story is presented as a manuscript written by a woman long dead, read years later. James' use of this narrative frame creates a distance between the events and our understanding of them. It’s so ambiguous that there are questions about the questions.

As you might expect it has become a very popular text for literary scholars and critics to analyze. It's also been a very popular inspiration for other artists: there are countless film and theater treatments of the story.

After we discuss The Turn of the Screw, we'll be reading one of the more ambitious and fascinating responses to it, Joyce Carol Oates's short story, "Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly," a work which attempts to turn TOTS on its head, so to speak.

But the work has inspired many treatments, versions and responses. Here's a far from complete list of other works which derive from The Turn on the Screw, many of which are more or less "faithful" adaptations for stage or sceen:

Benjamin Britten wrote an opera based on "The Turn of the Screw" in 1954.

A 1959 live television version starring Ingrid Bergman.

The Innocents (1961) with Deborah Kerr as the Governess and Michael Redgrave as The Uncle. Truman Capote worked on the script.

There's a television version with Lynn Redgrave as the Governess in 1974.

Shelley Duvall directed a version in 1989 for her television series, "Nightmare Classics" with Amy Irving as the Governess and Balthazar Getty as Miles.

A 1994 British version with Patsy Kensit and Julian Sands updates the story to the 1960s.

A 1995 television version called The Haunting of Helen Walker casts Valerie Bertinelli as the Governess.

Another television adaptation, in 1999, with Colin Firth as The Master.

A 1999 film adaptation Presence of Mind with Sadie Frost as the Governess, Harvey Keitel as the Master (!), Jude Law as The Secretary (!!?) and Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Grose (!!!!!!!)

The 2006 horror/thriller In a Dark Place is another TOTS adaptation, giving the story a contemporary setting.

Allegedly, the 2001 Nicole Kidman film, The Others is a TOTS version...but not very TOTS-y.

And probably the strangest film treatment I've come across is a 1971 prequel (!) to TOTS, The Nightcomers with Marlon Brando as a small-animal-torturing, BDSM Peter Quint. I'll have to try to track this one down soon.

The Return of the Sandman

A student once remarked that Hoffman's tale, "The Sandman," read like "a fairy tale for adults." I think this phrase is a good way to capture the fantastical and prosaic elements of the plot: on the one hand it's a story of tragic love affair, where the hero grows progressively out of touch with reality and descends into madness. On the other, it's a story filled with fantastical and implausible situations that are nevertheless real (that Nathaniel thinks Coppola is Coppelius is not just delusion, he actually is the same man, the clockwork woman Olympia does exist, Nathaniel does encounter the same violent struggle between father figures twice, etc.) And at the crucial points where the fantastical and the real overlap, the story lapses into a narrative indeterminacy, making it impossible to finally resolve the story as either a realistic portrayal of madness or a purely symbolic allegory.

And that's the element of the story I want to highlight here: that the uncanny elements of the story are not just in the plot but also in the narrative structure. The story is constructed in such a way that the reader is implicated in its uncanny effects.

As I remarked in class the story begins by drawing attention to its own formal features: it begins one way (an exchange of letters), but breaks off and begins again (the narrator interrupts and addresses the reader directly). And each of these beginnings is kind of a false one---both begin by telling their audience (Nathaniel tells Lothaire, the narrator tells the reader) that the story really started elsewhere, in other events beyond those that take place in the time sequence covered in the plot.

The motif of doubling, a striking feature of this story, further blurs the interpretive lines. Not only do some characters have dual natures or multiple identities---Nathaniel's Good Father is also an Occult Dabbler, Spanlanzi is both Respectable Professor and Occult Dabbler (and thus, resembles Nathaniel's Good Father), the Sandman is both Real and Fairytale, the Sandman-as-Fairytale has both benign and horrific versions---but nearly all the characters can be grouped in pairs of opposites which disclose a hidden bond or similarity. While Clara/Olympia are opposites as "real" and "artificial," they are "the same" as objects of Nathaniel's desire and are designated by the same term: automaton. So too, are Nathaniel and Olympia both opposite (real/fake) and the same: both are children of dual-natured fathers and victims of Coppelius's violence. Other pairings can be discussed in the same fashion; it is clear that in this narrative everything contains its opposite just as Freud discovered heimlich in the etymology of its other---unheimlich.

That the story is told in the third person, but nevertheless from Nathaniel's point of view, accounts for other problems of easy resolvability. Events are presented to the reader in a kind of simultaneously "objective" and "subjective" fashion. The most striking example, at least to me, is the first moment the reader tumbles into interpretive free fall: the story's Primal Scene. The revelation that greets Nathaniel---that the Sandman is real and moreover, not an unknown monster, but a familiar figure---is nothing compared to the reader's horror and shock when Coppelius roughly screws off Nathaniel's hands and feet and puts them back on again. Suddenly we don't know where we are; the incident breaks upon us without any textual warning as if we were reading an entirely different kind of story, or maybe had been all along. As Freud points out in his essay, "...Hoffmann already leaves us in doubt whether what we are witnessing is the first delirium of the panic-stricken boy, or a succession of events which are to be regarded in the story as being real." Thus, while we can try to resolve our confusion with a naturalistic explanation (i.e., this is something Nathaniel dreamed after he fainted in terror), such an explanation does not cancel out the anxious affect produced by the sequence. From this point on the reader is not just reading about the uncanny, but is experiencing it.

The Sandman, a narrative of returns

Here's a slightly expanded version of the plot line I drew on the board in Monday's class in order to help us visualize how the narrative structure of "The Sandman" is predicated on return and repetition. This is partly how Freud builds his reading of the story as an enactment of the Return of the Repressed (as always, more on that concept later). But he is also interested in the way the various returns hinge on parent/child relationships. This might be a good avenue into our next work, Henry James' The Turn of the Screw which is haunted by various combinations of families, none of them strictly "natural." And issues of sight, what exactly it is which we see with our mental and physical faculties, will also return.

(The diagram at the top of the post will enlarge if you click on it so you can read it better.)