Politics and the English Language by George Orwell

I haven’t yet read enough of Orwell’s works to decide whether I like him or not, but one thing I have learned in our short acquaintance is that he’s not one to prevaricate or candy-coat his ideas.  If you don’t want his opinions, don’t read him, and if you do, get ready to duck!

Orwell begins his essay, Politics and the English Language, by speculating on the impending collapse of the English Language. Is its demise a mirroring of society’s cultural suicide, simply an innocuous descent that is only natural given the state of our world?  Yet Orwell believes that there is not just a natural cause, but more pointedly, political and economic ones, and even the effects themselves can become causes that reinforce the original cause.  For example:

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.  It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.  It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier to us to have foolish thoughts.”

There is a remedy though: if we clean up our bad habits when applying language to thoughts, our thoughts will become clearer.

A Song Without Words (1919)
John William Godward
source Wikiart

Orwell now gives five writing examples exemplifying problems with how people use language:

  1. an essay by Professor Harold Laski (who uses 5 negatives in 53 words)
  2. a paragraph from Interglossa by Professor Lancelot Hogben (mixed metaphors)
  3. an essay on psychology in Politics (meaninglessness)
  4. a Communist pamphlet (stale phrases)
  5. a letter in the Tribune (words and meaning part company)

The two main problems in all these examples are a “staleness of imagery” and a “lack of precision”.  Modern English prose is ripe with these issues, but they crop up continuously in political writing.   Instead of sticking with concrete thoughts, the abstract creepy in, melting away the valuable meaning of ideas, instead consisting of a stringing together of hackneyed phrases.  He then lists examples of the ways that the adequate construction of prose is habitually avoided.

Dying Metaphors:  These are metaphors between the good and bad, a garbage dump of metaphors that have lost all expressive power and are used only to avoid the trouble of creating new evocative phrases.  Whenever inconsistent phrases are mixed or the original meaning is convoluted, it is evidence that the person is not particularly interested in what they are saying.

Operators of Verbal False Limbs:  Used to avoid choosing correct verbs and nouns but give the appearance of a harmony by expanding the sentence with the use of extra syllables.  Examples of such are: make itself felt, exhibit a tendency to, etc.  In addition, the passive voice is preferred instead of the active, noun constructions are employed instead of gerunds (by examination instead of by examining), verbs are cut down by -ize and de- formations, clichéd statements are presented as intelligent by the not un- formation, clean conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by phrases such as, with respect to, the fact that, etc, and sentence completions are made to sound mundane by such phrases as deserving serious consideration, etc.

Pretentious Diction:  Catch words are used to adorn simple statements to give biased judgements an appearance of scientific authority.  He goes on to describe specific words used in political writings, claiming the result is slovenliness and vagueness, to obscure the real issues.

Meaningless Words:  Passages with a complete dearth of meaning abound in many areas of writing, but principally in art and literary criticism.  Orwell gives a few examples, such as:

“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far it signifies ‘something not desirable.’  The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another.  In the case of democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.  It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning.  Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.  That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”

In an attempt to show that modern writing does not choose words for meaning nor does it evoke powerful images for clarity, Orwell gives first an example from Ecclesiastes, and then his own modern translation.  His experiment is quite fascinating:

Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, or yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Modern English:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

He then analyzes them to show the weakness of the translation and claims modern writing is lazy, borrowing ideas and phrases and “gumming” them together in order to use minimal mental effort; also there is often an attempt to convey emotional meaning without attention to detail nor the actual point.

Language is Not Transparent
Mel Bochner
source Wikiart

A responsible writer will ask himself the following questions when writing:

What am I trying to say?
What words will express it?
What image or idiom will make it clearer?
Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
Could I put it more shortly?
Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

However, Orwell says, most writers are contend to string together cliches, obscuring their meaning even to themselves.

In politics, the writing is particularly dreadful, all the literary mistakes converging and causing the viewers to feel that “one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy,” who is being transformed into a machine by the very words he speaks.  By the constant bombardment of meaningless jargon, people’s consciousness becomes sleepy and allows atrocities to be labelled as pacification, or transfer of population, or elimination of unreliable elements.  This particular phraseology has no metaphor content and therefore images are lacking, allowing the reader/listener to easily dismiss the human connection and thus controlling our emotional response to it.  Inflated euphemisms are used to justify cruelty.

The Treachery of Images (1948)
Rene Magritte
source Wikiart

Yet while thoughts are able to corrupt language, the reverse is also true.  You can catch this impoverished writing, like a disease, and have your mind affected by it.  Orwell admits that in his essay he has committed some of the literary crimes he is attempting to reveal.  The only way to avoid these faults is to continually be on guard against them. We can start by eradicating worn-out phrases and metaphors, but the change must go deeper.  He goes on to explain what these changes do not imply, then gives the reader rules to follow when intuition fails:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

By applying these rules, one could still write badly, but one could not write the drivel of which he has been speaking or using as examples.  His goal with his essay is not to consider “the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”

For:

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Young Girl Learning to Write
Camille Corot
source Wikiart

A very powerful essay by Orwell and one that requires time and deep thought to digest. On most points, I agree with him wholeheartedly, but there are a few minor claims that poke at my passion for words.  To use less words that have Greek or Latin roots, seems overly particular.  These words have been in use for centuries and add to the language instead of detracting from it.  And while Orwell didn’t directly say that he takes offence at larger more complex words, the appearance in his examples was to severely diminish them (sorry, if I misread you, George, but that was my impression).  While I certainly do not advocate using complex words to diminish meaning or cloak intent, I do think that they are valuable for enjoyment in reading.  Would one rather have a French seven course dinner, or MacDonald’s?  If one is discerning in the culinary arts, certainly the former.  However, just as the ingredients for the seven course dinner would have to be used with style and attention, so must complex words be, when writing.

My next choice for my Deal Me In Challenge is suppposed to be a children’s classic, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aitken, but I’m having some trouble finding it (yes, those of you who know of my “issue” of losing my DMI choices can laugh at me), so next week might find a different post appearing.  Time shall reveal!

Week 5 – Deal Me In Challenge – Eight of Spades

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we heart it cry.
But were we burdened with like weight of pain,
As much or more we should ourselves complain.”

In a quest to focus on my Shakespeare Project for 2017, I’m reading through some of the plays following the schedule of the A Bard a Month group on Goodreads.  They have The Comedy of Errors listed as the first play of Williams Shakespeare yet my The Life and Works of William Shakespeare has it listed as the 5th.  From the evidence, the only thing that’s certain is that no one knows for sure, right?  In any case, it definitely shows in its structure and method a rather simple presentation of a budding farce that nevertheless manages to capture the audience’s interest and tickle their humour.

The play appears to be dated somewhere between 1589-1591.  It did not appear in Quarto form but made its first appearance in the Folio of 1623 and the first documented performance in the Gesta Grayorum was at Gray’s Inn on December 28, 1594.  In dating this play, the rhyme scheme is also of assistance, and classical allusions, fantastic imagery, wire-drawn wit, conceits and puns abound as in earlier plays.  The action occurs within a single day, and the buttressing of dual improbabilities in the duplication of the twin masters and servants, the romantic tension of the parties, and the blending of tragedy and comedy bring some complexity to this unseasoned work.  Resembling Plautus’ play, Menæchmi, portraying whimsical confusion and mistakes involving twins of Syracuse, The Comedy of Errors may also have the basis in another drama, The Historie of Error, performed in 1577-78, although the parallels are certainly less apparent.

source Wikimedia Commons

A trader from Syracuse, Egeon, is apprehended in the port city of Ephesus.  As the law forbids either inhabitant from entering the other’s city, Egeon is sentenced to death unless someone is found to provide the fine of one thousand marks.  In despair, he reveals to the Duke of Ephesus that thirty-three years ago in a storm at sea, he was separated from his wife, one of his twin sons, and one of his two twin servants; he and one son were picked up by a Corinthian ship and his wife, his other son and the other servant by an Epidaurian ship.  The years pass as Egeus grieves the loss, renaming his remaining son Antipholus after his lost son and the servant, Dromio, after the lost servant.  Now, against all statues, he is here in Ephesus to discover the fate of the missing part of his family.

Without a friend in the city, Egeon’s fate seems certain, but his son, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio, turn up in Ephesus unbeknownst to him, also looking for his missing brother as he has been searching for seven years.  And lo, the missing Antipholus of Ephesus indeed resides in the city with his servant, Dromio, and thence the “errors” begin, causing a rollicking adventure of humour and suspense. Adriana chastizes her husband, but why does he not appear to know her?  Lady Luciana, her sister, is horrified by the advances of her brother-in-law.  A gold chain ordered by Antipholus of Epheus, mistakenly ends up in the hands of his brother and accusations, threats and recriminations follow.  An abbey becomes a refuge, yet who exactly is the regal abbess, and will Egeon eventually be saved and the family reunited?

A Scene from The Comedy of Errors
Thomas Stothard
source ArtUK

In spite of all my questions, there wasn’t much mystery to the play, but while hilarity is perceived by the audience who can regularly guess at the outcomes of situations, the characters themselves are often in states of anguish, irritation, despair, and confusion, not at all comedic from their point of view.  The well-crafted tension between these two aspects of the play gives us a glimmer of promise for Shakespeare’s later works and taste of his genius to come …..

Further reading:

Vulgarity by G.K. Chesterton

Interior of a Tavern, Peasants Carousing (1635)
Master of the Large Jars
source ArtUK

I’ve been keen to read a Chesterton essay for awhile now, but have not drawn him for the Deal Me In challenge yet.  Luckily, this time, he’s my first draw of the year!

Wearing many hats, Chesterton is known for his poetry, philosophy, theology, orating, journalism, biographies, and literary and art criticism.  I haven’t read many of his essays, but of those I have, I’ve found his style entirely unique, a sort of meandering while at the same time being very pointed.  Reading this essay was similar to my previous experience.

Although more practical inventions such as telephones and aeroplanes have foreshadowings of their later inventions, vulgarity itself is so new that even its name is somewhat misleading.  The Latin word “vulgus” was generally used to describe “something that was not particularly common among the common people.”  In fact, the vulgar is not very common if one searches for evidence of it.  Farmers, peasants, the poor, and even savages are rarely vulgar.  This new “thing” requires a new name and definition and although Chesterton questions his ability to give it, because he has just been reading a book about love, he has a few ideas.  Curious ….. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Vulgarity consists of two elements: facility and familiarity.  The first means that a man may “gush”, that his words flow without any thought or self-control; they “stream from him like perspiration”.  He appears confident and admired but he “never need stop explaining himself, for he understands neither himself nor the limits of explanation.”  The second element can be defined as profanity, a “loss of holy fear and a sin against the mystical side of man.”  This man can “handle things confidently and contemptuously, without the sense that all things in their way are sacred things.”

“The point is that the fool is so subjective that it never occurs to him to be afraid of the subject.”  He can be both a Pagan fool and a Puritan fool, because each is so familiar with his subject that he becomes blind to the depths of it and loses his objectivity.  On the other hand, a man writing to the woman he loves or the saint writing of his sin, is able to view each with a clear perspective because he has a healthy respect for each and the complexities are clear to him.

Phew!  I certainly understood the gist of Chesterton’s points but following his train of thought can be challenging.  I suspect that I need more practice!

Next week for my Deal Me In Challenge, I’ll be reading the short story, A Little Woman by Franz Kafka, my first reading of Kafka ever.

Week 1 – Deal Me In Challenge – King of Spades

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

An orphan child badly treated by rich relatives.  A grim and lonely school for girls where pestilence hangs in the air.  A Gothic mansion that houses a she-demon and a brooding and sardonic man who, underneath his caustic demeanor, hides a heart that waits to be awakened.  Who could resist such a story?

Well, not I, that’s for sure, and I jumped right into Hamlette’s Jane Eyre read-along that began in June 2016.  It was probably my fifth read of this enduring story, and this time it particularly captured my imagination and heart.  A tale of enduring love and a crossing of the class boundaries was particularly compelling in a time when no one seems to be getting along and division is rife between those would could easily be friends given more tolerance and grace for each other.

Richmond, Yorkshire
Edmund John Niemann
source ArtUK

My read along posts follow:

The Governess (1739)
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II
Chapters III & VI
Chapters V – VII
Chapters VIII – X
Chapters XI – XIII
Chapters XIV – XVI
Chapters XVII – XIX
Chapters XX – XXII
Chapters XXIII – XXV
Chapters XXVI – XXVIII
Chapters XXIX – XXXI
Chapters XXXII – XXXIV
Chapters XXXV – XXXVIII

We first meet Jane as an orphaned child, living on the charity of her relatives who heap upon her verbal abuse.  Finally, she is shipped off to a disreputable girls school, Lowood, and though the abuse continues from the head administrator, Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane forms a dear friendship with another girl, Helen, who teaches her quiet perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, while exemplifying a steadfast faith in God.  Upon reaching womanhood and taking a post as a governess at Thornfield, Jane encounters the master, a dark, taciturn, mysterious man, Edward Rochester.  Although her heart is awakened, Jane does not waver from her ideals, knowing with a certain wisdom that behaving with dignity and moral principles is the only way to inner peace and true happiness.

While the beginning of the book, chronicling Jane’s childhood, appears to have little to do with the later plot, it plays an important role in understanding the development of her character and her place in society.  As a reader, we are always reminded of her struggles to be treated with respect and dignity, to be treated as an equal, as a soul created by God instead of as a product of a social hierarchy.

“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 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!”

My most treasured memories of Jane Eyre is Brontë’s amazing ability to make the characters so intrinsically human, instead of perfect, implausible characters.  While Rochester’s machinations can be rather shocking, you can understand how a man who has had little chance to develop a good steady character and is used to giving free reign to his passions could end up a slave to them.  His emotions drive him without finer moral values to guide him.  Jane, on the other hand, while falling deeply in love with the man she sees he can become, can clearly recognize the pitfalls of ungoverned behaviour. While her heart cries out for him, she is mature and sensible enough to see where wrong actions would take them.  Instead of increasing their love, they would be left with nothing but emptiness.  She would rather remember the depths of the love that they shared in its purest form than degrade herself by being guided solely by passion.

Once again, thanks to Hamlette for this most excellent and measured read-along that allowed me to soak up the story and to spend time with two of my most favourite characters in the pages of literature!

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

“When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

Would you like to read a book with the setting in southern rural England, populated by stoic farmers, simple and often comical peasants, one that explores complex relationships between men and women of that time?  It sounds like a wonderful beginning doesn’t it?

Set in the fictional English county of Wessex, Gabriel Oak is a respectable and reliable farmer who loves the unreachable Bathsheba Everdene, a woman who disparages his hard-working, yet common lifestyle and refuses his proposal of marriage.  When Oak finds himself ruined financially, he must depend upon Bathsheba to give him work and a way to reclaim his reputation.  A thoughtless whim on the part of Bathsheba leads to an obsession in the case of Mr. Boldwood, a neighbouring landowner, and Sergent Troy, a jaunty philanderer, seduces Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny, without much remorse, then deliberately bewitches Bathsheba with his rakish manner and manipulative personality, not to mention his unparalleled swordsmanship.  After a fling in the town of Bath, they marry and he sets himself up at the farm as a rather lazy landowner, but lo!, Fanny Robin returns and Troy decides that he has never loved anyone as much as Fanny, and Bathsheba is as interesting as dirt to him.  His heart is loyal, his mind is captivated by only one and no other.  Tragedy devastates Troy causing him to wander senselessly until it is thought that he is drown in the sea.  But no!, another dramatic twist; he returns, wonders why he ever left Bathsheba and appears to want to re-enter her life.  Sound rather nutty?  It is.

A Mill at Gillingham in Dorset (1826)
John Constable
source Wikiart

Yet amongst the dramatic scenes and the emotional mood swings of the characters, Hardy manages to convey a bold impression of the area and a deep understanding of the characters.  And I can’t quite figure out how he does it.  If I examine the characters and their actions individually, I have all sorts of criticisms about their development and plausibility.  However, if I take the book as a whole, I feel that I have inhabited the county of Wessex with a familiarity that is startling; I recognize the types of characters who reside there, their passions and motivations.  Instead of painting a classical picture with bold lines, bright colour, and detail, Hardy has given us an impressionist canvas perhaps from which up close, is muddy and obscure, yet when one steps back, the big picture comes into focus.

Sheep
Charles Jones
source ArtUK

As for the strong and spirited Bathsheba, while on the surface Hardy appears to elevate her to function adeptly in a man’s world, nevertheless there is an underlying feeling of mockery in his treatment of her.  Although she runs a farm with men subservient to her direction, she is often needing the advice of the stoic, yet devoted, Gabriel Oak, and in the end, her feelings and passions are captured by Troy, a man who, to any astute and respectable woman, should be recognized as a charlatan and a gambler.  Instead of showing good sense and integrity, Bathsheba allows herself to be enslaved by him.

I’ve been a die-hard Hardy-avoider for years, not wanting to partake in the depressed nature of his stories, but I’m glad I’ve chosen to dip my toes into his narrative, exploring his richly created world.  A close inspection of the characters and the period drama shows an imbalance within the work, but nevertheless his prose shines with rich descriptions and elaborate detail.  Hardy shows man in his paradoxical state, both in harmony and conflict with nature, and in sympathy and enmity with each other and himself.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

From Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751)

The Well at the World’s End by William Morris

“Long ago there was a little land, over which ruled a regulus or kinglet, who was called King Peter, though his kingdom was but little.”

King Peter of Upmeads has four sons, Blaise, Hugh, Gregory and Ralph.  All resolve to set out to seek great adventures but the youngest, Ralph, decides to do so against his father’s wishes.  Encouraged by Dame Katherine, a newly married lady to the chapman, she gives him a beaded necklace of blue and green stones and inspires him to find the Well at the World’s End.

“Son, true it is that the water of that Well shall cause a man to thrive in all ways, and to live through many generations of men, maybe, in honour and good-liking; but it may not keep any man alive for ever; for so have the Gods given us the gift of death lest we weary of life ……

Of strife and of war also we know naught: nor do we desire aught which we may not easily attain to.  Therefore we live long, and we fear the Gods if we should strive to live longer, lest they should bring upon us war and sickness, and over-weening desire, and weariness of life.  …..

…. ye wear away your lives desiring that which ye may scarce get; and ye set your hearts on high things, desiring to be master of the very Gods.  Therefore ye know sickness and sorrow, and oft ye die before your time, so that ye must depart and leave undone things which ye deem ye were born to do; which to all men is grievous.  And because of all this ye desire healing and thriving, whether good come of it, or ill.  Therefore ye do but right to seek to the Well at the World’s End, that ye may the better accomplish that which behoveth you, and that ye may serve your fellows and deliver them from the thralldom of those that be strong and unwise and unkind, of whom we have heard strange tales.”


Ralph’s youth and inexperience are apparent at the beginning of the story, as he travels first to Bourton Abbas and then through the Wood Perilous, meeting up with various adventures and challenges on his journey.  He encounters two women, both of whom he loves, yet one whom he is not destined to keep.  Finally, with Ursula, his love, and with the help of the Sage of Sweveham, they manage to attain their quest, finding the Well and drinking of its bounty.  Their return home is also fraught with danger and intrigue, as Ralph learns the value of perseverance and the rewards of loyalty.

The Vision of the Holy Grail tapesty (1890)
Sir Edward Burne-Jones (design and figures)
William Morris (design and execution)
source Wikipedia

Born in Essex, William Morris had a number of accomplishments and careers during his life, including that of a textile designer, a poet, a novelist and a social activist.  Though classically trained at Oxford, Morris became an architect, and with his friends, the well-known artists Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and archtitect Philip Webb, they formed a decorative arts firm that became the rage of the Victoria era.  His renown as a poet followed, and he further exercised his literary talents as a novelist.    His interest in Marxism and concern for social issues developed an appetite for activism which lasted throughout his life.  He died in 1896 of tuberculosis at the age of 62.

The Merciful Knight (1863)
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikiart

The Well at the World’s End is a very curious mix of fairy tale, adventure, and rather risque scenes and actions for the time period of Victorian England.  While it reminded me very much of Le Morte d’ArthurThe Faerie Queene, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Morris was not reluctant to reveal the physical attraction between Ralph and the women he encountered, nor did he prevaricate about their physical relationship, however, he did so in rather a romantic knightly way.  Morris was a muse for writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who admired his pioneering work in the genre of fantasy fiction, and the names “Gandolf” and “Silverfax” which appear in The Well at the World’s End, are echoed also in The Lord of the Rings.

Danaë (The Tower of Brass) 1887-88
Edward Burne-Jones
source ArtUK

This book was a wonderfully rich and exciting read, full of heroic exploits, peril and satisfying resolutions.  Morris was indeed a talented writer and his love for the Medieval is apparent in every word of the story.  I own his book, The News From Nowhere, which I hope to read soon as a follow-up.  Being compared to Gulliver’s Travels and Erewhon, it’s a complete deviation from this story —an utopian novel of a libertarian socialist bent. In any case, his story telling abilities solidified themselves for me with this novel and I’m looking forward to exploring more works from Morris.

Lamia and the Soldier (1905)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

The Faerie Queene – Book II (Part I)

The Faerie Queene

Book II

Contayning
The Legende of the Sir Gvyon
Or
Of Temperaunce
Canto I
Guyon by Archimage abusd,
The Redcrosse knight awaytes,
Findes Mordant and Amauia slaine
With pleasures poisoned baytes.
Temperance
Giotto
source Wikiart
As soon as Archimago discovers that Redcrosse has departed, he uses secret means to escape from the dungeon.  There is nothing he likes better than tricking people and making them miserable and so he endeavours to ruin another life.  Coming upon a goodly knight, Guyon, accompanied by an old Palmer, Archimago leads him to a woman with rent clothes and dishevelled hair, and with his prompting, she reveals her rapist as the Redcrosse knight!  Guyon is astounded as he knows Redcrosse as an honourable knight, but there is nothing to it but to wreak revenge on his licentious behaviour.  He does not know, however that the woman is false Duessa who was found wandering by Archimago after Arthur had defeated Orgoglio.  
Yet as Guyon goes to attack Redcrosse, he has second thoughts upon seeing the cross on his shield, and begs his forgiveness.  He explains why they were almost foes, whereupon the Palmer approaches and blesses Redcrosse in his endeavours.  Plighting their goodwill, the knights go their own ways, Guyon and the Palmer meeting many challenges, until one day they come across a lamenting mother and child, but even more astounding, a bleeding woman with a baby playing in her lap and a corpse of a knight at her feet.  Removing the knife from her body and repairing her wounds, he inquires of her plight.  Her name is Amavia, and her husband Mordant left her pregnant to pursue exploits, but he is captured by the enchantress Acrasia, who lives in the Bower of Bliss and tempted him with immorality and pleasure.  Dressed as a pilgrim, she seeks her husband but he knows her not when she finds him.  They escape but not before Acrasia places a fatal curse on the man.  As Amavia finishes her story, she dies of grief and Guyon and the Palmer bury the couple, plotting revenge for the waste of these two lives.
Canto II
Babes bloudie hands may not be clensd,
the face of golden Meane.
Her sisters two Extremities:
striue her to banish cleane.

Allegory of Temperance (1685)
Luca Giordano
source Wikiart
Guyon, with compassion, attempts to wash the blood off the orphaned baby’s hands, yet they will not wash clean.  The Palmer explains that fountains and pools may have different properties and there is a story behind this one.  At this particular well, a nymph met Faunus, and fleeing and having no escape, Diana transformed her into a stone. The stone is shaped like a maid and the waters flow around like tears.  The baby’s hand cannot be cleansed by this well, but allows it to be a sacred symbol of his mother’s innocence.
Arriving at a castle inhabited by three women with different mothers, Guyon is welcomed by the middle sister, Medina, who leads him to a lovely bower.  However, the news of his arrival reaches the sisters who are entertaining their knights, Sir Hudibras and Sir Sans-loy, the latter who had tried to kidnap Una.  Before they can attack Guyon, they fall into battle among themselves, leaving Guyon to inquire as to what is happening.  When they see him, they fall upon him, but he defends himself quite adequately until Medina attempts to separate them with pleas and recriminations.  Finally they bow to her wise arguments and agree to dine with her, but the two sisters are unhappy.  Elissa refuses to eat, feeling the entertainment base, yet Perissa enjoys all in excess.  But Medina, with strong grace and behaviour, keeps all in check and inquires of Guyon’s purpose.  He is a knight of the Faerie Queene, on a mission with the Palmer to overcome false Acrasia. Then at Medina’s behest, he tells the story of Mordant and Amavia, until it is bedtime.
Canto III
Vaine Braggadocchio getting Guyons
horse is made the scorne
Of knighthood trew, and is of fayre
Bephoebe fowle forlorne.

Maidens picking flowers by a stream (1911)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart
Guyon names the orphaned child, Ruddymane, and leaves him with Medina to care for. Since his steed was stolen by a secret thief, he continues on foot to Acrasia.  But now the horse thief is revealed: Braggadocio, who comes upon a man, Trompart, and threatens him into becoming his servant, although we wonder if servant might be more clever than master?  They meet up with Archimago, who because of Braggadocio’s bearing, thinks he may be able to assist him in his search for Redcrosse and Guyon.  
He asks Trompart why his master has no sword, but the servant swears that he is a doughty knight even with only a spear.  Archimago suddenly blurts out his vengeful plan and the two promise to help, although Archimago is still concerned with Braggadocio’s lack of a sword.  In spite of Braggadocio’s bragging of his conquests without one, Archimago promises him King Arthur’s flaming sword, disappearing unexpectedly, severely scaring the master and servant.  With trepidation, they journey through a forest and discover a maiden, Belphoebe.  She is so astoundingly beautiful that to attempt to describe her would disgrace her beauty, and she is clad in lily white garments.  She inquires of Trompart if he has seen a deer which she had maimed, then seeing Braggadocio behind the bush where he’d crept in cowardice, thinking him game she moves to kill him yet is stayed by Trompart.  Braggadocio attempts flattery, asking why with her beauty she is not at court, yet Belphoebe instructs him that true honour is found in the woods doing honest labour.  When he tries to embrace her, she flees, and the two set off again, the poor horse disgusted with his ignoble burden.
Canto IV
Guyon does Furor bind in chaines,
and stops Occasion:
Deliuers Phedon, and therefore
by strife is rayld upon.

Temperantia (1872)
Edward Burke-Jones
source Wikiart
The Palmer continues to assist the horseless Guyon and lead him in the ways of temperance.  Together they approach a mad old man dragging a young man by the hair, and an old hag limping behind them shouting insults at the stripling and striking him with stones and her cane.  Her face was unpleasantly wrinkled and her hair hung down the front of her face, but a large bald patch was at the back.  Guyon is appalled and tries to free the youth, but the madman goes bezerk and the Palmer introduces him as Furor and the hag, his mother, as Occasion.  He cannot be killed by the sword, and it is best to subdue Occasion first, whereupon Guyon overpowers her, then binds Furor in chains.  
The captive man then begins to tell his story:  he once had a friend, Philemon, who betrayed him upon his pending marriage to Claribell, implying that his fiancée was not faithful.  He tricked him by setting up a scenario where Philemon seduced a maid, Pyrene, who was pretending to be Claribell (yes, this is the same plot as in Much Ado About Nothing). Enraged, the man killed Claribell, and when Pyrene confessed all, he also dispatched Philemon with poison.  The two find that the man’s name is Phaon from the house of Coradin, and the Palmer begins to counsel temperance, when they are interrupted by a squire, Atin, who is looking for Occasion for his own master Pyrocles, who loves battle and war.  The Palmer is shocked that someone would look for an occasion to fight since occasion will find you without the looking. Guyon agrees, and the squire, in pique, shoots a dart at them before running off.
Canto V
Pyrochles does with Guyon fight,
And Furors chayne vnbinds
Of whom sore hurt, for his reuenge
Attin Cymochles finds.

Two Knights Fighting in a Landscape (1824)
Eugene Delacroix
source Wikiart
Pyrochles makes an appearance, riding a blood-red horse and he summarily attacks Guyon.  Guyon is fortunate enough to wound the horse, whereupon Pyrochles must fight him on foot.  The two exchange staggering, intense blows until Guyon brings his foe to his knees, then lays him out until he cries mercy for his life.  Using temperance, Guyon mediates his rage until he concedes to spare his life if he will be loyal to him.  Pyrochles is embarrassed but Guyon says he need not be, only control his rage and lust for war as it does not benefit anyone, either friend or foe.  Pyrochles frees Occasion who wants him to fight Guyon again but Furor, when freed, begins battle with Pyrochles.  When he calls on Guyon for help, the Palmer stays him, saying Pyrochles deserves his fate, but Atin thinks his master is slain and runs to tell Pyrochles’ brother, Cymochles, who is known for his feats in battle and whose lover is Acrasia, keeper of the Bower of Bliss. Finding him being petted and tended by women in the bower, Atin taunts him to embarrassment and he rushes off to avenge his brother.
Canto VI
Guyon is of immodest Merth,
led into loose desire,
Fights with Cymochles, whiles his bro-
ther burnes in furious fire.

Young Woman in a Boat (1870)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart
Inflamed with rage, Cymochles comes to a river where a little boat adorned with boughs and arbours lies.
And therein sate a Ladie fresh and faire,
     Making sweet solace to her selfe alone;
     Sometimes she sung, as loud as larke in aire,
     Sometimes she laught, that nigh her breth was gone,
     Yet was there not with her else any one,
     That might to her moue cause of meriment:
     Matter of merth enough, though there were none
     She could deuise, and thousand waies inuent,
To feede her foolish humour, and vaine iolliment.
She agrees to ferry Cymochles across the river, but refuses Atin in spite of her passenger’s entreaties. Phædria, for that is her name, continues her frivolous behaviour by placing flowers in her hair and generally acting silly.  When questioned by him, she reveals they both serve Acrasia and finally she lands him on an island in Idle Lake.  With Cymochles lulled to sleep, she returns and picks up Guyon, (less the Palmer, to whom she refuses passage) who is at first polite to her, but when she begins her immodest merriment, “her dalliance he despised”.  When they land on the island, Guyon is frosted because he did not want to come there.  Cymochles awakes, finds the pair, and he battles Guyon, yet Phædria finally assuages their rage, entreating love and romance instead of war.  Guyon returns to shore and spies Atin, who soon sees a knight running for the lake.  It is Pyrochles, who thinks he is burning with fire though none can see it, and he launches himself into the lake. Atin jumps in to save him from drowning and they are both captured by the muddy waters and have to be rescued by Archimago.  Then with herbs, balms and a spell, Archimago quenches Furor’s fire.
Spell Fire
Konstantin Vasilyev
source Wikiart
There is a curious echo of appearance versus reality at Idle Lake.  The lake itself appears different to each of the characters and while Pyrochles claims he’s burning, no one can see the flames.  Is there an element of illusion that comes with intemperance?
✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ 
It’s a relief to pick up The Faerie Queene again and resume my posts.  For some reason, it seems like less effort this time.  
Phew, what drama!  The lessons of Temperance are quite easy to spot in these cantos. We’ll see how Books VII- XII progress and if Guyon is eventually tempted to intemperance.  He’s done quite well so far, better than Redcrosse I would judge, but the book is yet young.  And does Guyon ever regain his horse?
⇦  The Faerie Queen – Book I (Part II)   The Faerie Queen – Book II (Part II)  ⇨


Other Reading:

Henry V by William Shakespeare

“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that shed his blood with me
Shall be my brother.”

Written in the Second Period of Shakespeare’s development, Henry V is the eighth of his dramas, and part of the Henriad, his historical tetralogy which also includes Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2.  The play is thought to be composed late in 1598, as it was produced between March 17 and September 28th of 1599.

The earliest known volume is the first Quarto printed in 1600, which was followed by Q2 and Q3, reprints of the first edition, published in 1602 and 1608 respectively.  The first Folio edition differs extensively from the Quartos, as it is twice the length of the latter, which omits the first scenes of Acts I and III, the second scene of Act IV, the choruses and the epilogue, as well as some of the characters.  Prose is also transformed into metrical form, it can only be supposed to effect an increased length of the play.

King Henry V
source Wikipedia

Set in 1415, immediately before and after the events at the Battle of Agincourt during the 100 years war, Shakespeare appears to have deviated from his promise at the end of the play, Henry IV, Part 2, where he assured a reappearance of the bumbling, comedic Falstaff.  Instead, the play echoes of tones of impressive military management versus French incompetence, and a king who is lauded as a hero.  The play shows technical weakness with an awkward chorus who speaks a prologue explaining the upcoming scenes in the drama, however with the sources drawn upon (Holinshed’s Chronicle and an old play, The Famous Victories of Henry V) and his own additions, Shakespeare has shown a legitimate constancy.

With very little constructive plot, the play ties in various episodes in Henry V’s leadership role before and after the Battle of Agincourt. As it begins, Henry appeals to the Archbishop of Cantebury as to whether he is justified in his claim of the French crown.  Supported by his conscience, he feels a duty towards his French subjects, but the French king has another view of the matter.  When the French ambassador turns up in the English court with an insulting gift of tennis balls from the king’s son, the Dauphin, Henry is incensed, but manages to keep control of his temper.

“We are glad the dauphin is so pleasant with us.
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have matched our rackets to these balls,
We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.  
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturbed
With chaces ……”

Henry will:

“…….. dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea strike the Dauphin blind to look on us,
But all this lies within the will of God,
To whom I do appeal.”

Yet soon after this honourable rhetoric is delivered, he learns that his friend, Lord Scroop and two lords, Cambridge and Grey, are plotting his demise and the king is forced to dispatch them in an execution.  The injection of this betrayal is quickly presented and appears awkward and unconnected with the whole, but it does afford us some insight into Henry’s character and the historical situation.

Henry V Discovering the Conspirators
Henry Fuseli
source ArtUK

The scenes move from England, to an English camp in Harfleur, to the French camp, contrasting English courage, fortitude and skill to the French forces and strength which threaten their much smaller contingent, but exemplify a bombastic and almost bumbling French confidence of an easy victory, that is obviously misplaced.  The eve before the battle, Henry is represented as not only a capable king, but as a man of the people, as he walks among them in disguise, learning of their thoughts and opinions of the coming war.  His responsibilities rest heavy on his shoulders and he asks God for strength in arms and His favour, in spite of the fault of his father’s taking of Richard II’s crown.  With the French more than confident in their strength of arms, and the English somewhat dismayed by their lack of soldiers in comparison, the battle begins.  With some of Shakespeare’s trademark humour, the fighting continues until the English, against the odds, claim victory and peace is negotiated.  Henry then woos Princess Katherine, daughter of the French king, bringing together the two countries with the bonds of love.

Lewis Waller as Henry V
Arthur Hacker
source ArtUK

As for characters in this drama, the principle one is certainly Henry V.  Henry’s motivations for ruling France do not lie in personal, monetary or territorial gain, but in a sacred trust for which he feels responsible.  He shows a marked similarity to his father, Henry IV, both sewing their wild oats when young, but extirpating their follies and irresponsibilities in time of need of their country.  Both become strong, forceful kings with a material sense of duty, to both God and their kingdom, and who successfully protect English identity and sovereignty.  Even in presenting the English forces, there is a unity in their soldiers as we are introduced to Captain Jamy, a Scot, Captain Macmorris, an Irishman, and Fluellen, a Welshman.

My enjoyment of the play somewhat fluctuated throughout my reading.  While it has a simple charm about it and Shakespeare’s heroic rhetoric draws the reader in, it is obviously not as clever, or elaborately structured as many of his other plays.  The reader can admire and rejoice in the honourable and admirable traits of the English king, the incarnation of England itself, but there is a definite lack of density and richness that imbues his other plays.  Nevertheless, it is enjoyable in its own right and a fine ending to the Henriad.

Further reading:

Different Tastes in Literature by C.S. Lewis

Art and Literature (1867)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
source Wikiart

Is there good literature?  Is there bad literature?  How do we make the determination, and do we even have the criteria to judge?  In his essay, Different Tastes in Literature, if Lewis does not directly answer these questions, he at least gives the reader criteria that makes it easier to judge, and challenges us to examine our reading experiences.

First, Lewis investigates the notion of “tastes” and indicates a determination between good and bad literature is complicated by the fact that there are no objective tests.  But the error people make is in assuming that people like bad art in the same way that they like good art.  Instead, Lewis proposes, bad art does not succeed with anyone.

Lewis defines bad art as very low art, such as novels, and popular music that are read or sung and then forgotten soon after.  When it goes out of fashion, it is never thought of afterward.

Geniuses of Art (1761)
Francois Boucher
source Wikiart

Yet while bad art itself is not so easy to describe, the consumer of bad art is more easily targeted:

“He (or she) may want her weekly ration of fiction very badly indeed, may be miserable if denied it.  But he never re-reads.  There is no clearer distinction between the literary and the unliterary.  It is infallible.  The literary man re-reads, other men simply read.  A novel once read is to them like yesterday’s newspaper …… It is as if a man said he had once washed, or once slept, or once kissed his wife, or once gone for a walk.  Whether the bad poetry is re-read or not …. I do not know.  But the very fact that we do not know is significant.  It does not creep into the conversation of those who buy it.  One never finds two of its lovers capping quotations and settling down to a good evening’s talk about their favourite.  So with the bad picture.  The purchaser says, no doubt sincerely, that he finds it lovely, sweet, beautiful, charming or (more probably) ‘nice’.  But he hangs it where it cannot be seen and never looks at it again.”

With bad art, there is no question of the ‘joy’ that good art brings. “The desire for bad art is the desire bred of habit: like the smoker’s desire for tobacco, more marked by the extreme malaise of denial than by any very strong delight in fruition.”

Art Critic
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

On experiencing good art, it is not like moving from one type to the next, but more like “when you opened the door, to lead to the garden of the Hesperides ….”  However, we must not say that some men like good art and some bad, rather that the term “like” is not the proper word for good art, and the response towards good art, has never been produced in bad.

Is it too simple to say that bad art does not ever have the same effect on a person as good art?  What about those books that captured our imagination in youth but that we now consider bad?  Might this simply mean that the reader’s imagination was superior to the author’s, but lacking both maturity and discernment?  In effect, we would not have been enjoying the book for what it was, but for what it was not.  But this “mirage” is quite different from the actual liking of bad art.  Bad art is “tepid, trivial, marginal, habitual.  It does not trouble them, nor haunt them ….. No one cares about bad art in the same way as some care about good.”  It is only when we eliminate the bad art that the discussions about the superiority of one work of art to another can have some value.

The Disquieting Muses (1916-18)
Giorgio di Chirico
source Wikiart

In this essay, Lewis more distinguishes what is not good art than what is, however his insights, as always, are invaluable.  We have so little time on this earth.  Life comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  Don’t we want to be discerning about our literary choices and choose to read works that add perspective, wisdom and purpose to our lives, instead of reading words that pass through us in the blink of an eye?  I do.

Deal Me In Challenge #10 

Jane Eyre – Chapters III & IV

Chapter III

Jane awakes from her fit to find herself being attended by the apothecary.  After her fright, she is strangely unsettled, unable to find joy in things that previously made her happy.  When the apothecary returns, he asks Jane a number of insightful questions with regard to her feelings and state of mind.  He then recommends that she be sent off to school, which agrees mightily with Mrs. Reed.

Jane’s ability to forgive is astounding.  While musing on her treatment by Mrs. Reed she says:  “Yes, Mrs. Reed, to you I owe some fearful pangs of mental suffering.  But I ought to forgive you, for you knew not what you did: while rending my heart-strings, you thought you were only uprooting my bad propensities.”  The power of Jane’s words elevate her over Mrs. Reed.  With her capacity for compassion, she can see intention through application, and her magnanimity shows her superiority over her tormentor. However, as the words spoken appear to be from an adult Jane, perhaps it took some time for her to learn this charity.
Bessie and Abbott once again meditate on Jane’s looks, saying if she were pretty like Miss Georgianna, it would be much easier to be kind to her.  Again, outward appearance is valued above good character.
Girl At A Window (1907)
Walter Sickert
source Wikiart


Chapter IV

Jane waits impatiently for a change, but none comes and she is relegated to an invisibility by the Reed household, which is both painful and cruel.  Made to stay in the nursery and have little contact with her cousins, one day a carriage arrives.  When Jane is called to the breakfast room, she meets Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood School, a harsh, imposing man who has a single-minded religious fervour.  Mrs. Reed relates Jane’s faults, emphasizing her tendency to deceit, and the master leaves, promising to take Jane on as a pupil.  Incensed at the unfair characterization, Jane berates Mrs. Reed, startling her benefactress with her intensity and articulation.

“How dare I, Mrs. Reed?  How dare I?  Because it is the truth.  You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity.  I shall remember how you thrust me back —- roughly and violently thrust me back —- into the red-room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress, “Have mercy!  Have mercy, aunt Reed!”  And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me —- knocked me down for nothing.  I will tell anybody who asks me questions this exact tale.  People think you a good woman, but you are bad; hard-hearted.  You are deceitful!”

Jane and Bessie have an exchange, where Jane admits regret at leaving Bessie, and Bessie is struck by Jane’s new-found confidence.

In spite of the cruelty she’s suffered under, we see Jane’s character expand and grow, and it is a comforting thought that one can build good character in the midst of persecution and uncertainty.

The Schoolmaster (1826)
George Harvey
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II                                                Chapters V, VI & VII