Monthly Archives: October 2010

Austen for Progressive Church Reform

Spiritual Sunday I have come to admire, a great deal, the heroine of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Under unbelievable social and family pressure, the modest and overlooked Fanny Price sticks to her moral principles as she resists a marriage proposal from an eligible bachelor, the wealthy and dashing Henry Crawford. I have learned only recently […]

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

San Fran Giants Strike out Mighty Casey

Sports Saturday We are well into the World Series but I want to hearken back to game six of the National League championship series where the San Francisco Giants won the pennant. It was a game eerily reminiscent of that described in poetry’s greatest poem about baseball, Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.” Baseball […]

Posted in Thayer (Ernest Lawrence) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Walt Whitman, William Blake, and Baseball

Film Friday The World Series between the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants gives me an excuse for posting on what is, in my opinion, the greatest movie on baseball. Among the many virtues of Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham are its literary allusions and its literariness. Each year Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) chooses to […]

Posted in Blake (William), Whitman (Walt) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Revenge, Understandable but Unhealthy

I’ve been talking a lot about rightwing anger this past year.Today I write about my own.It is an anger I try to keep hidden but that nevertheless washes over me from time to time, usually when I hear about some act of gross injustice where the perpetrator seems to escape scot-free. At such moments I […]

Posted in Beowulf Poet, Webb (Charles) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Beware! Attacking Elitism Can Rebound

All the talk in this election season about the tyranny of elites has got me thinking about Walter Miller’s 1960 post-apocalyptic sci-fi classic Canticle for Leibowitz. And no, it’s not because I think this is an apocalyptic election, despite all the heated rhetoric we’re hearing. As commentators have pointed out, people who complain about elites often […]

Posted in Miller (Walter) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Season of Mellow Fruitfulness

In Southern Maryland our eternal summer appears finally to be fading and the fall, my favorite season, is a’cumin in. To celebrate it, I am posting one of my favorite seasonal poems, John Keats’ “To Autumn” (1817). The poem takes on added significance as the news continues to get worse for my friend Alan. Despite […]

Posted in Keats (John) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

The Faustian Bargain of Juan Williams

I was upset to hear about Juan Williams and National Public Radio parting company the other day because of comments that Williams made on Fox Network’s Bill O’Reilly Show. The affair got me thinking about Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. We say all kinds of stupid things in the […]

Posted in Marlowe (Christopher) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

A Harvest Love Poem to God

Spiritual Sunday Here is a harvest poem that moves quickly from an actual harvest (in the first line) to a heavenly one. The clouds are like sacks of grain, their meal drifting across the skies, and we can gaze upward and glean them with our eyes. As Gerald Manley Hopkins sees it, God reveals himself […]

Posted in Hopkins (Gerard Manley) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Football’s Culture of Violence – A Response

Sports Saturday Discussion of violent football hits has dominated the sports airwaves ever since the nation witnessed a series of frightening high-impact collisions last weekend.  In apparent panic, the National Football League has been handing out large fines and threats of suspension to players, including a $75,000 fine to James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers […]

Posted in Atwood (Margaret) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Tolstoy and Celebrity Culture

Film Friday Before there was celebrity culture there was celebrity culture. That’s what we learn from The Last Station, the fascinating recent film about the last days of Leo Tolstoy. The year is 1910.  Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) is seen as a national treasure and there is a struggle underway over who owns his work.  His […]

Posted in Tolstoy (Leo) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

The Arc of the History Bends towards Kafka

Literature provides a special way of knowing, a way different than, say, philosophy. But it’s hard to prove this because we need to use the language of rational philosophy to make literature’s case. Once we have done so, philosophy can seem more effective than literature. After all, it tells us things straight up, without resorting […]

Posted in Kundera (Milan) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Do Mistaken Idealists Apologize?

Watch out for political purists and dogmatic idealists. They can do a lot of damage. A writer who delivers this warning is Milan Kundera, a Czech novelist who owes his insights to his experience with communism and the 1968 Soviet invasion. Expect to encounter regular posts from me about Kundera because I am mentoring a […]

Posted in Kundera (Milan), Sophocles | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Would Tolstoy Today Mention Facebook?

A recent article in The Huffington Post complaining about a significant omission in contemporary novels reminded me of a similar complaint that Jane Austen makes about novels of her own time period. Read the complaint below and then, if you know Jane Austen’s works, see if you can guess which passage I’m thinking of. Asking […]

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , | Comments closed

Thy Eternal Summer Shall Not Fade–True?

Sunday evenings are for visiting our friends Alan and Jackie.  I feel blessed that Alan is sharing his dying with us and that I get to have with him the final conversations I did not have with Justin, my son who drowned. We don’t talk that much about death. Mostly we talk, as we always […]

Posted in Keats (John), Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Looking to Poetry for Afterlife Evidence

Spiritual Sunday It has finally sunk in with me that my friend Alan will not recover from his cancer, and I find myself wrestling once again with the questions that arose after my son drowned.  The biggest question, of course, is whether death is the end. Every Sunday in my Episcopal Church I claim that […]

Posted in Herbert (George), Rossetti (Christina) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Real Men Play Football AND Read Poetry

Sports Saturday Professional football is a super violent sport and its 16-game season is a war of attrition. One never knows, from one week to the next, what team will have its Super Bowl hopes derailed by critical injuries. For a while this year, everyone was certain that the NFC would send either the New […]

Posted in Browning (Robert), Cather (Willa), Homer, Tennyson (Alfred Lord) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Austen Films Underestimate Her Heroines

Film Friday I’ve been amazed at the success of the Jane Austen industry in recent years. Fan though I am, I never could have predicted the hunger for movie and television versions of her novels, movie biographies of the author, sequels to Pride and Prejudice, horror versions of her novels, novels where characters from different […]

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

A Dickensian Response to the Mine Rescue

As I write this, the last of the 33 Chilean miners has just been pulled to safety after spending two months underground in a situation that once seemed hopeless.   It appears that the entire world is celebrating, probably because we are all in need of hope.  Given how we are continually battered by economic […]

Posted in Dickens (Charles) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Responding to Intruder Death

As we do every week, Julia and I visited our friends Alan and Jackie this past Sunday evening, Julia to administer Reiki massage and I to talk. Alan was tired from his chemotherapy treatments and in pain from a cracked rib (he doesn’t know how that happened). Nevertheless we talked about literature, including Sir Gawain […]

Posted in Sir Gawain Poet | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

No PhD Needed to Understand Lit

In today’s post I direct your attention to an article in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “In Defense of Naïve Reading.” It affirms the kind of literary interpretation this website specializes in. Author Robert Pippin, a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, is concerned that, because university literature departments have tried to emulate […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Hard Times in 1854, Hard Times in 2010

I am teaching Charles Dickens’ Hard Times this week and it is disconcerting to see how applicable is still is to modern life. To be sure, one needs to be careful with comparisons. Industrial England in 1854 is not America in 2010. Dickens was writing about a world in which there were no air quality […]

Posted in Dickens (Charles) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Renegotiating Our Spiritual Mortgage

Spiritual Sunday Today’s poem, a fabulous sonnet by my favorite religious poet, is also very much in the spirit of the times given our mortgage foreclosure crisis. The latest news is that federal attempts to aid homeowners have been meeting with indifferent success and that people continue to lose their homes. George Herbert’s “Redemption” (1633) […]

Posted in Herbert (George) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Doc Halladay No Longer Blushing Unseen

  Sports Saturday The baseball postseason is off to an amazing start, what with Roy “Doc” Halladay pitching only the second no-hitter in playoff history to begin it. And it was his first game ever pitching in the postseason! The other no-hitter is enshrined in legend: Yankee Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World […]

Posted in Gray (Thomas) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

“Up” Battles Aging Like . . . Beowulf?

Film Friday I was rewatching the Pixar film Up last week (it kicks off a series I am running on “animated films for adults”) and saw one scene that was simply too fantastical for belief. Geriatric hero Carl Fredricksen is battling with the even older Charles Muntz and both throw their backs out in the […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Forget Bootstrapism – We Need Each Other

  Always be suspicious of people who talk about pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. The image is an excellent one since you can only rise if you have help from others. Yet many people think they are somehow diminished if they can’t claim to have risen on their own. Thanks to Dickens, there […]

Posted in Dickens (Charles) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Death Wears a Parka–or Is It an Anorak?

Today’s post is coming to you through the lens of two illnesses. Mine is the milder one: yesterdat I twisted the wrong way in the bathroom and suddenly found myself on the floor undergoing terrible back spasms. They got worse as the day progressed and I wrote today’s post standing up, my laptop on my […]

Posted in DeLillo (Don) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Regency Teens, Same Issues as Today

Seldom have I enjoyed a course more than my current first year seminar on Jane Austen—specifically “Jane Austen and the Challenges of Being a Regency Teenager.” The title of the course isn’t historically accurate since young men and women in the early 19th century didn’t think of themselves as teenagers. Adolescence wasn’t as prolonged as […]

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Slouching towards Bethlehem?! Get a Grip

“We are starting to wonder whether Congressional Democrats lack the courage of their convictions, or simply lack convictions,” stated a recent New York Times editorial. The editorial was displeased that the Democrats were afraid of standing up against the Bush tax cuts, due to expire by the end of this year. What with cowardly Democrats […]

Posted in Yeats (William Butler) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Washing Away Michael Vick’s Sins

Spiritual Sunday In a follow-up to yesterday’s post on football quarterback Michael Vick, I want to elaborate further on Coleridge’s argument for penance. Penance is not only the right thing to do. It also can make you feel very, very good. Coleridge gives us images in Rime of the Ancient Mariner that drive this point […]

Posted in Coleridge (Samuel Taylor), Eliot (T.S.) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

The Ancient Mariner’s Lessons for Vick

Sports Saturday Last Saturday’s  post on Michael Vick as escape artist generated one of the most interesting discussions this website has seen. If you haven’t read the comments, I recommend that you go back and do so (although I will repeat some of them here). One particular line of inquiry brought up the issue of […]

Posted in Coleridge (Samuel Taylor) | Comments closed

Comparing Jane Austen and Frank Capra

Film Friday Teaching Sense and Sensibility in my Jane Austen First Year Seminar is giving me the chance to once again relish the magnificent way that the author dispenses poetic justice. This time through, I found that the ending of the novel reminds me of the ending of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Since […]

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed


  • 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.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete