Author Archives: alixg

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

In Leighton and Surridge’s article they begin by discussing the layout of the pictures in the American version of The Moonstone as printed in Harper’s Weekly, focusing on the extra perspective that the images offered as opposed to merely complimenting the text. Their main argument is that “While at times the illustrations share the point of view of the verbal plot… at others they give an alternative perspective, that of a hypothetical outside observer…” (214). Yes, The Moonstone’s format was already complex because of the multiple narrators, but the article is rooting for yet another layer of complexity. “The illustrations thus form an intrinsic part of the novel’s interrogation of class boundaries and the British imperialist project; they are not mere decoration or addition, but form a key part of the text as it reached its American readers” (217) — in other words, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words.

A picture being worth a thousand words is a key component of another novel, one in fact that David mentioned in class: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. The difference between the level of usage of pictures in The Moonstone and in Persepolis is large: the images in The Moonstone are not attached or reliant upon the words and allow the reader to encounter them separately from the text, while in Persepolis the format of a graphic narrative ( a fancy way to say comics) force the reader to digest both image and text at the same time. Despite this obvious difference, the common thread remains to be that each novel leaves room for an alternative narrative. Leighton and Surrdige have pinpointed how exactly the serialization of Collins’ novel in America does so, but how does Satrapi’s?

Let’s backtrack for a second to Satrapi’s purpose in writing her novel about her life growing up in Iran: it was, as she states in her introduction, to educate the reader about Iran and to never forget her story. Utilizing the format of a graphic narrative, Satrapi is able to accomplish this goal. This is because there is not any one unifying experience that everyone in Iran went through— it was always subjective. Therefore, by being able to physically draw in two separate narratives Satrapi is introducing two truths, two realities; The Moonstone relies on the same tenets by having chapters narrated from different character’s perspectives. An example of this is on page 102 in Persepolis where the top panel shows young boys, who belonged to poor families, being blown apart on the minefields, while Marji and her upper–class friends have the luxury to dance to punk rock at a party. Satrapi is aware that each Iranian had their own experience, and thus she does not shy away from portraying the other stories because her goal is to educate the reader. This kind of effect is what the article highlights is at work in the American serialization of Collins’ novel, that the pictures offer another take on what the text narrates.

Another example of this can be seen in the image below, one of the chapter pages in Persepolis. A lot can be said about what’s going on, but I’d like to just point out the way that the gutter is working in much the same way that the images in The Moonstone do. The words read “The Veil” and then the image next to it is of just one eye and the outline of a nose on a face. The picture is therefore speaking to the narrative of the veil and offering a separate meaning onto the words. It is already suggesting that what the veil did was hide one’s identity: there is no way to distinguish a person based on their eyes alone, let alone by just seeing one eye.

“The Veil” image:

We’ve established how both The Moonstone and Persepolis interact with pictures as more than just decoration, but another interesting element is how both do so for the benefit of  American readers. The article’s whole premise relies upon the novel’s serialization in America, and how the way it was printed created a different effect than it did in England: “Collins thus unleashed in America a notably different version of his novel, one that through its layout and visual material created markedly different ideological effects” ( 234). Similarly, Satrapi’s medium of a graphic narrative encompassed the same effect, allowing her to relay a foreign tale through the recognizable and relatable medium of comics. My conclusion couldn’t be more simple: when boundaries of language or culture exist, art is the only way to penetrate those boundaries and indeed break through them. It worked in 1868, and it still worked in 2007 ( the year Persepolis was published).

I’ll end off with this: do you guys still agree that pictures possess the ability to help cross cultural boundaries? Or do you think that we’ve reached a point in our worldliness where we can digest foreign tales through words alone without the help of another medium? Additionally, I don’t think the article tackled the reason as to why pictures were needed in the American serialization of The Moonstone, simply discussing the effect of doing so but not the cause. Do you guys think that the cause could be because of what I mentioned, of helping American readers understand a tale from England?

 

Jane: As Belle or Delilah? A look at the troubling closing chapters of “Jane Eyre”

Jane Eyre has opened up the possibilities for comparisons to many literary works, and I just can’t help but to introduce the possibility of one more ( sorry if it’s overkill at this point, it’s just so tempting!). In the last few chapters I felt that there were illusions not only to the popular Beauty and the Beast but to biblical stories as well, so let’s jump right in.

“His form was of the same strong and stalwart contour as ever: his port was still erect, his hair was still raven-black… But in his countenance I saw a change: that looked desperate and brooding- that remind me of some wronged and fettered wild beast or bird… The caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look as looked that sightless Samson” ( 367). From the first time Jane describes Mr. Rochester, we know that he isn’t attractive and that she doesn’t find him as such: when she encounters him on the road before she knows who he is, “the frown, the roughness of the traveler” (97) sets her at ease, and then when he asks her a few pages later (112) if she thinks he’s handsome, she bluntly responds with a no. Thus, the character of the beast living in this mansion ( we are told through Jane’s observations that there are many rooms left vacant but all perfectly clean due to the upkeep of Mrs. Fairfax) arises, with Jane as the beauty, as Belle, not because she is beautiful but because she is so small and delicate.

Mr. Rochester as the beast and Jane as the beauty come into full effect in the excerpt that I’ve highlighted for us. It is here that Mr. Rochester is as ugly as he ever was and where Jane is reminded of her slightness when her host describes the person with whom Mr. Rochester fell in love as “She was a little small thing, they say, almost like a child ” (363). Here she is like Belle returning to the beast after she has left him only to discover that he has been wounded and is dying from heartbreak. Jane’s first sighting of Thornfield Hall after a year speaks not only of a physical fire having ravaged it, but also reflects the mental state of its master and how he had given up all of his vitality even before the fire took away his eyesight. When Jane returns to Mr. Rochester, he is at the peak of his “beast” like countenance, but this is when Jane is able to give in to her love for him and marry him ( of course it’s also because Bertha is dead and Jane has her own money, but let’s not focus on the semantics for a minute here) much like how Belle admits her love for the the beast after he has reached his wits end. Alas, once she does so, the beast turns into a prince. For Jane her reality isn’t as instantaneous as this, but the experience for the reader is. Within a few pages we’re told that after two years of marriage, Mr. Rochester’s sight improved in one eye: his bestiality has lessened.

“Sightless Samson” is also mentioned in that verse. A biblical narrative that I’m sure most, if not all, of your are familiar with, surrounds Samson and Delilah who defeated him. Samson had grown out his hair ( he was a “Nazir”, someone who doesn’t cut his hair out of a symbolic gesture of disowning physical pleasures and committing oneself to God) and was known for his strength ( he rips a lion in half at one point). Delilah, his temptress, finds out that without his hair his strength would wilt, and so she cuts his hair because she is obviously playing for the enemy’s team. Jane compares Mr. Rochester to this “caged eagle” without his eyesight, equating his vision to that of Samson’s hair. It is here that I want to open up the floor to you guys because I couldn’t figure this out: why was Mr. Rochester’s vision so important to be compared to that of Samson’s hair? That’s a pretty drastic claim to make. What do you guys propose is the significance behind this? **

I think it’s also interesting how Jane is obviously not comparing herself to Delilah, but yet how the reader can’t help but to feel the similarities that Jane indeed intimates to. Yes, she didn’t set the fire to the house as Bertha did, an act that would undoubtedly make her the Delilah of the story, but it was because of her running away that Mr. Rochester entered into a depression. One could argue that if Jane would have stayed at Thornfield, none of those events would have transpired. Jane was the Delilah to the mental deterioration of Mr. Rochester; Bertha was the Delilah to the physical.

“If Saul could have had you for his David, the evil spirit would have been exorcised without the aid of the harp” ( 373). Another biblical narrative is from the book of Samuel and describes how David playing the harp was the only thing that could heal David. Again, Jane is described as the figure who comes in to save the day. Again she is the Belle to the beast.

Bringing all of these into their actual placement in the novel, it makes me like Jane less ( yes, I said it). She, as the writer and narrator, ends the book with all of these example that portray her as the savior and that portray the long path that the unhappy orphan has traveled since she started the novel. Of course, as a reader who has been invested in her growth since the start and waiting for her to be saved at last, I’m happy that she’s at the end of her trials and tribulations. But at the same time, I wish that she didn’t have to end the book on this ‘high and mighty’ tone; it was too happily ever after for me, but even more than that: it was as if she was preaching. The last words of the book are about St John, not even about the supposed fairy tale happiness, making me picture Jane as characterizing herself and deliberately painting herself as a do-gooder. I ended the book on a troubled note, overwhelmed with all of these blatant “look at how good of a person I am” details, rather than being able to enjoy that she was finally able to marry her true love.  How did everyone else feel about the tone on which Jane chooses to end her story on?

** St John seems to fit the technical “Nazir” description more than Mr. Rochester, which is again why I’m confused by this biblical allusion. St John believes that love comes after your religious obligation, whereas Mr. Rochester is much the opposite and believes in his right to true love despite having a wife already. 

 

Emma and Mr. Knightley; Benedick and Beatrice

Preface to this post: For those who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” here is a short synopsis. Benedick, Claudio and Don Pedro are all friends; Claudio is in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero. Hero’s friend Beatrice claims to be a perpetual bachelor, as does Benedick. Now, there are a ton of schemes that conspire, but the two main ones are the friends trying to set Benedick and Beatrice up and Don John trying to break up Hero and Claudio’s marriage by disguising Margaret, Hero’s servant, as Hero and then having her ‘flirt’ with Borachio on the balcony, thus appearing to anyone watching that Hero has been unfaithful; this leads Claudio to decide on embarrassing Hero at the alter tomorrow. For a much better and more detailed summary, check out this link, but I also suggest reading the play; it’s very short but oh so entertaining.

While reading the novel, I was struck by the nature of Emma and Mr. Knightley’s relationship and how it called to mind that of Benedick and Beatrice in Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing.” To begin with, at the start of the play, Benedict, like Emma, declares that he will never marry and much looks down upon those men who do marry and place themselves at the mercy of being cuckholded by their wives; in much the same way both Emma and Mr. Woodhouse pity those like Miss Taylor and Isabella who marry. With the resolve not to marry, Benedick and Beatrice carry on a merry war of sorts between the two of them, constantly throwing verbal insults at one another. Although the same cannot be said about Emma and Mr. Knightley, I do think that their relationship bears the same irrelevance of any cause and effect in their actions between one another. In other words, Benedict can be nasty to Beatrice because he doesn’t view her in a romantic light and Emma can act like herself without thinking of any repercussions around Mr. Knightley because she views him as a sort of extension of her family, as a brother of sorts who reprimands her as he sees fit. In fact, the only time they have what can be considered an exchange of wit is when Mr. Knightley makes Emma promise to find him a wife who is just like her and that he will come back to her to retrieve such a woman ( 257-58). Additionally, the only person to whom Emma expresses her opinions of others to is Mr. Knightley, again which I believe to be evidence of her non-caring of how he perceives her ( I’d like to note that this changes once the reader, although maybe not Emma herself yet, begins to realize her love for Mr. Knightley when she obsesses over his rebuking her for her behavior towards Miss Bates on page 258).

However, again like in Shakespeare’s play, there is an abundance of scheming that occurs in the novel. In “Much Ado About Nothing” the characters conspire to inspire romance between Benedick and Beatrice by having his friends ‘secretly’ discuss Beatrice’s love for Benedick within earshot of Benedict himself, while Beatrice’s friends do the same thing for her; both secret confessions of love are fabricated, but the plan works and once each hears that the other is in love with them, they too begin to reciprocate the feeling. It doesn’t take a savvy reader to keep track of the amount of times that Emma tries to set up Harriet in a romantic entanglement, calling to mind the plot line of “Much Ado About Nothing,” but unlike the play, Emma and Mr. Knightley fall in love once all schemes and charades are given up upon. At that point, Emma has resolved to quit her meddling and doesn’t question Mr. Knightley about his feelings for Harriet. Indeed, when Mr. Knightley bears his heart to Emma these words follow: “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken…” (297), but at this moment Emma feels that what she is being told is nothing but the truth.

After she has gone to Miss Bates to patch things up, Emma observes the change in Mr. Knightley’s eyes when he finds out her actions. I picked this selection as the turning point in their budding romance: “Emma’s colour was heightened by this unjust praise; and with a smile, and shake of the head, which spoke much, she looked at Mr. Knightley. It seemed as if there was an instantaneous impression in her favour, as if his eyes received the truth from her’s…” (266); there in a shared palpable intimacy here. Their intimacy of knowledge mirrors the turning point in Benedick and Beatrice’s relationship as well, where Benedict stays behind to comfort Beatrice after Claudio has decided not to marry Hero and has shamed her. Asking her how he can help, Beatrice asks him to kill Claudio ( we’re not really sure if Beatrice was joking or being serious). Interestingly, both couples reach a new level once requests are made: Emma visits Miss Bates from an inferred request from Mr. Knightley, based on his disapproval of her actions and Benedick stays behind because he knows that Beatrice needs him, while Beatrice feels comfortable enough to make such an insane request from Benedick as to go and kill his best friend.

Perhaps I was drawn to comparing these two couples based upon the premise that the reader somehow all along suspects that the plot will make that unexpected turn and unite the two characters who are made to seem incompatible in both “Emma” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” Can you guys think of any other ways in which Emma and Mr. Knightley are similar to Beatrice and Benedick, or to any other literary couples?

By the end of “Emma,” the title of “Much Ado About Nothing” seems to be a more appropriate fit. Emma fusses over Harriet marrying Robert Martin, but learns at the end of the novel that Harriet has indeed accepted his proposal; Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax were secretly engaged, after Emma permitted herself to accept his love for her as merely a form of flattery; and Emma ends up marrying the one man who has always been by her side.

I think that the following clip from the most recent on screen adaptation of “Much Ado” is very telling for my lens of focus. Although it’s a preview for the movie, it pretty much includes everything that I’ve mentioned about Benedick’s and Beatrice’s “merry war.”