Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Punch in the Gut of Excessive Sobriety

Punch and Judy Let’s declare another comedy Friday and celebrate again the wit of Henry Fielding.  My first passage is a continuation of the mock epic encomium (expression of praise) to the book’s heroine that I posted yesterday: Reader, perhaps thou hast seen the statue of the Venus de Medicis. Perhaps, too, thou hast seen the gallery […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Idealism Under Siege, Irony to the Rescue

The Princess Bride, True Love Triumphant  In my Tom Jones class earlier this week, one of my students (Erin Hendrix) noted that one of the passages made her think of a scene in the movie The Princess Bride. This led to a discussion of how both works employ irony to help us hold on to […]

Posted in Fielding (Henry) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Rumi’s Poetry and Weddings

Rumi           Rumi seems to be everywhere these days and has been for a while.  This past weekend I was at the wedding of Micah Vote, the son of a family friend, and a Rumi poem served as the foundation of the ceremony.  Here it is: May these vows and this marriage be blessed. May it […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Poeticizing the Pillory

Daniel Defoe pilloried  Poetry comes to our aid in all kinds of situations. Including when we’ve been condemned to the pillory. That, at any rate, is one of the ways poetry was used by Daniel Defoe, subject of yesterday’s post. Here’s what happened. Defoe was a Dissenter (or Puritan), which is to say, a fundamentalist […]

Posted in Defoe (Daniel) | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Satirizing the Intolerant

 Daniel Defoe My daughter-in-law sent me a wonderful poem by Daniel Defoe, “A True Born Englishman,” posted by Andrew Sullivan in response to a Patrick Buchanan editorial.  Buchanan’s column was one of those hateful “they’re taking our country away from us” pieces, and Sullivan rightly asks who this “us” is.  As Sullivan’s translates it, Buchanan is […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Henry Fielding’s Comic Touch

I’ve just written a series of serious posts about literature and virtue, but since it’s Friday, let me go out of the week on a light note. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones is not admired the way it once was, but one would be hard pressed to find any novel that is funnier. I share here […]

Posted in Fielding (Henry) | Tagged , , | Comments closed

For Vice: Novels, Not Stern Lectures

William Hogarth, “The Harlot’s Progress,” plate 4.  Continuing our discussion of whether literature can teach virtue, I present as an interesting case study Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, which I am currently teaching in my 18th Century Couples Comedy class.  I’ve mentioned in a past post that moralist Samuel Johnson attacked Tom Jones for corrupting young people. Furthermore, the Bishop of London accused […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments closed

Teaching Real Morality, Not Mere Piety

Hansel and Gretel In honor of the film release of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, I’ve been writing about children’s literature, when it’s truly moral and when it’s merely pious. It’s bad enough that the Victorians required their children to recite Issac Watt poems or that Christian fundamentalists rail against In the Night […]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Subversive Nonsense Poetry

Mother Goose I was highly critical of Stanley Fish last week for attacking those who are “instrumental” about the humanities. My claim that the classics can change your life attributes an instrumental dimension to literature. But when I look at how certain parents have tried to foist preachy moralistic tales on their children, I find […]

Posted in Uncategorized | 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!