Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Rebellious Thrill of Gothics

Emily in the Castle of Udolpho In yesterday’s post I discussed anxious parents and proposed Northanger Abbey as a sane approach to teenage reading (and movie watching and internet using). I elaborate here. I start first with the reading material in question. Heroine Catherine Moreland and her best friend Isabella Thorpe are enthralled with the […]

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Mocking Adult Anxieties about Novels

“Before,” by William Hogarth (1736) What can happen to your daughters if they read novels? According to William Hogarth, something like the above. Check out the lower left hand corner where a side table is falling over. The drawer has been left casually but deliberately open so that one can see the book that is […]

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Danger: Georgian Teens Reading Novels

Samuel Johnson  If we need proof that adolescence has always been a difficult age, we can look at those 18th century moralists that were panicked about young people reading novels. Of course if you’re young (to build off of a comment that Barbara makes in response to Friday’s post), part of the fun of reading […]

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Claims that Novels Are Bad For Teens

Jane Austen Last night I was teaching a Jane Austen class at a local retirement center and was talking about the defense of novels that appears in Northanger Abbey. Catherine, the book’s heroine, has just made a new friend in Isabella Thorpe.  They go everywhere together in Bath and, when the weather is bad, meet […]

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Less Sexually Liberating for Women

Jean Honore Fragonard, The Bolt (1776)   Yesterday I wrote about Aphra Behn giving us images of women’s sexual liberation in her 1677 play The Rover.  But there is a dark undertone that differentiates the play from male-authored Restoration comedies.  Behn’s play may not be as polished as the plays of William Wycherley and George Etherege.  […]

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Aphra Behn, Sexual Revolutionary

Aphra Behn, by Mary Beale I am having a great deal of fun teaching Aphra Behn’s play The Rover this week. Written in 1677 during the reign of Charles II, it is a rollicking sex comedy that proved to be very popular. A woman writing for the stage was in itself extraordinary. That the play […]

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Trading Stories with a Sick Friend

Virginia Woolf  I have been reporting on the salons we have been holding to honor my friend and former colleague at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Alan Paskow. Alan has an aggressive cancer that has moved into his lungs, and while the outlook is not good, he and his wife Jackie (also a former colleague) […]

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A Slave Novel about Race Today

Harriet Tubman, inspiration for the heroine   About our “One Maryland One Book” discussion at Leonardtown Library on Thursday, I’m sorry to report that (as expected) we didn’t pull in anyone other than our book group regulars.  The good news is that that group appears as solid as ever and we had a very good conversation […]

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Shadow Projections on the President

A couple of months ago I wondered on this blog whether some of the vitriolic attacks on Obama (as distinguished from reasoned disagreement) were driven by racism, and now I see that others are wondering the same, including Maureen Dowd and Jimmy Carter.  But a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish has a more […]

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Imagine Everyone Reading and Discussing

James McBride This evening our Leonardtown Library Book Discussion group discusses James McBride’s Song Yet Sung, a fine book that I will address in an upcoming post.  Today I want to talk about the occasion.  Readers from all over Maryland are reading this book as part of a “One Maryland One Book” program sponsored by […]

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Literature as a Leadership Handbook

Joseph Conrad  I have just begun reading a book that is very much in tune with this website: Joseph L. Badaracco’s Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership through Literature, published by Harvard Business School Press (2006). I report here on the introduction. The author talks about assigning Joseph Conrad’s “Secret Sharer” to a […]

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Obama as Wycherley’s Country Wife

As I teach William Wycherley’s The Country Wife, I am struck by the resemblances between Restoration society and our own.The play was written in 1676 during the age of Charles II, and in some ways our worlds couldn’t be more dissimilar.This was a monarchy and a very formal society in which sincerity was viewed with […]

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Discussing Literature without Teachers

My son Toby    My son Toby, who is with us for two more days before he leaves for the University of California-Davis English Ph.D program, gave a lecture to the St. Mary’s College Tolkien society on Friday. I am the club’s advisor but it was first time I had attended a meeting for several […]

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Empty Sex in an Empty World

John Wilmot, by Jacob Huysmans (1675) I’m have just finished teaching Lord Rochester and, as always, it has been an adventure.   I sometimes think I get more embarrassed than the students by his explicit sexual language.   My women students (they’re all women in this class) are more tolerant of his diatribes against their gender than I […]

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I Was a Secret Holden Caulfield

I contrasted Lord of the Rings with J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye the other day.    It’s not a contrast that anyone other than I would make, and it’s all based on the fact that I loved the one and hated the other.  In my post today I explore my dislike of the Salinger […]

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Fantasy As a Roundabout Road to Truth

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn  I didn’t do entire justice in Monday’s post to the Tolkien essay of my son Toby. In correcting that here, I also open up a more complicated vision of fantasy in general, as well as Tolkien’s fantasy specifically. I was wondering if Tolkien had retreated into fantasy as a refuge from […]

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Fantasy: Help or Hindrance?

My friend Alan Paskow, who is struggling with cancer, queried me about my post on Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman,” wondering whether the poem wasn’t just an insubstantial fantasy. I’ve been writing about The Lord of the Rings as a fantasy perhaps indulged in by a World War I veteran who wasn’t willing to face up […]

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Tolkien’s Ring and World War I

 Otto Dix, Trench Warfare (1932) I have gained some new insights into The Lord of the Rings since my son Toby wrote an essay about it for the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate English program.  Toby informs me that there are a number of debates around the book, especially whether it should be considered great literature. The […]

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Aspiring to Be a Dwarf

Continuing the Lord of the Rings discussion, here’s an interesting insight passed on to me by my friend Rachel Kranz about my last entry.  I was interpreting my adolescent fondness for Gimli the dwarf as an indication that I felt myself a dwarf, hunkered down and plodding.  Rachel says that she was stunned by this self-description […]

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A Legendary Elf-Dwarf Friendship

After a year’s sabbatical, I am resuming my duties, one of which includes being the advisor of the Tolkien Society. The group gathers regularly to hear talks, forge chain armor, attend masked balls (not that there are any masked balls in Lord of the Rings), and engage in other Medieval-related activities. I’ll mark the occasion […]

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Gathering to Discuss Novels

Woman Reading,  by E. Johnson For several years now I have been moderating a library book club, an experience I will reflect upon today. We read mostly novels, often alternating between past and contemporary works. From the past we have read all of Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Silas Marner, Gulliver’s Travels, King Lear, […]

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Bawdy Poetry and Male Insecurity

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester  Once again the poetry of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, is proving to be a jolt to my students. I always start my course “Couples Comedy in the Restoration and 18th Century” with this 17th century libertine, and the poetry does not hold back. Rochester freely uses the “f” word, […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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