British and Postcolonial Literary Studies

  • Created by: LauMarPel
  • Created on: 27-05-19 18:12

What is literature?

  • fictional writing
    • BUT: Distinction between facts and fiction can be questionable. Not everything that is fictional is literature and not everything that is non-fiction is not literature.
  • use of specific language, which differs from everyday speechLiterature as ‘non-pragmatic’ discourse, which serves no immediate purpose
    • Language, that draws "attention to itself"
    • specific texture, rhythm and choice of words
    • BUT: "I used to go to bed early" -> this is Proust, but sounds like everyday speech
  • Focus on the language itself -> self-referential language
    • BUT: a lot of literature is assessed for its practical relevance (essays, anti-war literature)
  • a numer of ways in which people relate themselves to writing
  • highly valued kind of writing
  • not objective
  • constantly re-written and reinterpreted
1 of 103

Russian Formalist Definition

  • Literature relies on a particular organisation of language
  • Poetic language has its own laws, structures, and devices
  • literary work as a material fact, that could be analysed on its own terms
  • The relation of the work to social reality or the author’s intention are insignificant
  • Literary language ‘deforms’ ordinary language and thus makes the ordinary world seem unfamiliar


  • what is ‘ordinary language?
  • language depends on social status, education, region, etc.
  • Literature can only be seen against a particular normative linguistic background; ‘literariness’ relies on a differential relation to other types of discourse
  • realist or naturalistic writing is not self-conscious in the way that poetry is
  • ‘ordinary’ statements can appear estranging
2 of 103

Classification of literature

  • GenreNational Origin
    • Poetry: oldest form, verse
    • Prose: nonmetric language
    • Drama: meant to be performed
  • Subject Matter
  • Historical Period
3 of 103

What is British Literature?

  • Literature associated with or produced in the United Kingdom
  • literature written in the English language
    • But: to be distinguished from English literature / literatures in English
    • But: comprises literature written e.g. in Welsh or Scottish Gaelic
    • First known poet in English: Cædmon
  • Works written by British authors
    • But: this may also comprise the work by authors working/publishing in Britain, although they are not British-born or British citizens
4 of 103

Canon of British Literature

  • Term literary canon: to designate authors who are recognised as especially significant to a particular national literature
  • works considered as “classics”
  • unstable product of ongoing debates
  • Process of “canon formation” involves work of scholars, critics, teachers, publishers, journalists, etc
  • Critiques of the canon emerged since the 1970s, from feminist, queer, postcolonial viewpoints
  • Canon of literature is dominated by white, male, European writers, reinforcing the values of an elite classDemand: open the canon to writings of women, minority ethnic, working class, or queer writers; abandon distinctions between “high art” and “low art”
    • Works of the canon sustain racism, patriarchy, and imperialism
5 of 103

What is Postcolonial Literature?

  • Postcolonial: former colonies of England (and other imperial powers)
  • Sometimes applied to British literature in the 18th and 19th centuries, if viewed through a critical lens that uncovers traces of imperialism and colonialist ideology in these works.
  • One of the founding texts: Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), which uncovers the tendency in major Western works of literature to “exoticise” and “other” Oriental populations and cultures
  • Central aims of postcolonial studies:
    • Replacing the master-narrative of Western imperialism, according to which the “other” is inferior whereas the white subject is superior, with a counter-narrative that gives a voice to colonial subjects and revises Eurocentric versions of history
    • Critiquing the Western construction of a colonial “other”, or subaltern
    • Reworking Eurocentric norms of lit. values, expanding the canon
6 of 103

What is Literary Studies?

  • The study of literary works (and sometimes films, or other texts)
  • Five theoretical approaches to literature:
    • text-oriented approaches
    • author-oriented approaches
    • reader-oriented approaches
    • context-oriented approaches
    • literary critique or evaluation
7 of 103

Types of Literary Criticism

  • Structuralism
  • Poststructuralism
  • Marxis Criticism
  • New Historicism
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism
  • Feminist Criticism
8 of 103

Medieval Times

  • The Britains got invaded and were helped by the Anglos and the Saxen!
  • Earliest forms of English literature: songs / orally composed verses
  • Oral poetry: heroic (Journey of Anglos and Saxen) and narrative themes; storytelling; metrical form
  • Christian missionaries taught the English to writeEarliest English poems by Cædmon(c. 658-680) and Bede (c. 672-735). Caedmon himself was not literate!
    • English was first written around 600: law code
  • Heroic elegies, love elegies (=sad poems)
  • Unnamed speaker; dramatic monologue
  • Christian values
  • Battle poetry
  • Historical events
  • Homilies, hagiographies (saints’ lives)
  • Political and legal writings
9 of 103


  • most well-known poem
  • author unknown
  • Longest Old English poem, 3182 verses
  • made for oral presentation
  • Manuscript dated to the early 11th century, poem dated around 8th/9th century
  • West-Saxon dialect of Wessex; English was not standardised yet
  • Recounts political and dynastic events during the reign of the Danes and Swedes over three generations around the year 500
  • supernatural and mythical creatures
  • Ethical recipe for heroism: responsibility + honourSocial ideal of the good young hero and the wise old king
    • Responsibility: Should the protagonist defend the king or his family?
  • Poem shows glory and human cost of the heroic code
10 of 103

Middle English Literature

  • 1066-15001066: French became language of court, law, and literature
    • from the arrival of Norman conquerors until innovation of printing press
  • Three languages of literature: Latin, Norman French, English dialects
  • Classical Old English verse died out
  • English survived in sermons and chronicles
  • Lack of written standards
    • Middle English dialects differed in vocabulary and grammar
  • 12th century: change from epic to romanceMiddle English writing flourished in the late 14th century
    • Embellishing details, heightened emotions
    • Rise of feudalism
    • Cultural prestige of chivalry
11 of 103

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

  • Tales have survived in 80 manuscripts, in separate sections/fragments
  • 24 popular tales: saints’ lives, moral fables, rude jokes
  • Pilgrims: types familiar to medieval social satire
12 of 103


  • ‘rebirth’ in Italian art of the 15th century; general cultural revival of classical scholarship and values in western Europe
  • Renaissance ideals: perfectability of ‘man’, self-education, self-fashioning
  • Renaissance hero: courtier, gentleman (someone who is learning); humanist ideals
  • From 1590s onwards, these ideals coexisted with disillusionment and later scepticism (because murder still existed)
13 of 103


  • Protestant Reformation begins in 1517 with Martin Luther
  • 1533: Henry VIII (guy who beheaded all of his wives) becomes head of the Church of England
  • Elizabeth I imposed compromise between Catholics and Protestants
  • 1611: Authorized Version (AV) of English translation of the Bible, or King James Bible
14 of 103

Elizabethan Literature

  • Cult of the Virgin Queen (she never married)
  • Edmund Spenser -> invented his own verb form, the Spenserian stanza
  • Golden age of English verse
  • 1590-1610: steep increase in number of poets
  • Previous sites of theatre: the church, the street, the court; now new theatres are created outside the City (e.g. in South Bank, which was considered a very bad part of London)
  • 1576: first permanent public theatre
  • 1599: The Globe; audience up to 3000
  • Plays would run up to ten days and rarely be revived
  • Plays put on in the afternoon, in daylight. That's why the plays always started with the characterization of place and time.
15 of 103

William Shakespeare

  • born 1564
  • First play: Two Gentlemen of Verona (1590-01)
  • 1606: Macbeth
  • Last play: Two Noble Kinsmen (1613-14)
  • Comedies, Histories, Tragedies
    • History: turns chronicle into drama
    • Comedy: ends in marriage
    • Tragedy: ends in death of the hero
16 of 103

17th Century and the Restoration

  • 1603: begin of reign of James VI of Scotland/James I of England
  • Under James I and Charles I (from 1625), flourishing of public theatres
  • 1642: outbreak of the Civil War
  • 1642: Parliament closed theatres
  • 1660: return of King Charles II
  • Cornwell established the parliament and the republic
  • Metaphysical poetry / devotional poetry (Christian poetry) / cavalier poetry
17 of 103

Restoration Poetry

  • 1660: reopening of theatres; rejection of Puritan ideals
  • Theatre dealt with current affairs: political, clerical, sexual
  • Restoration Comedy: comedy of manners
  • Characters: types with descriptive manners
  • First professional female playwright: AphraBehn(born in 1640)
18 of 103

The 18th Century

  • ‘Professionalisation’ of literature; demise of the aristocratic patron
  • New middle-class writers
  • Enlightenment: universal authority of Reason
  • Augustan writers: Pope, Addison, SwiftMagazine culture
    • Combination of satire, analysis, and criticism
  • 1740s: rise of the novel
  • Emergence of sensibility; celebration of emotion, triggered by the novel "Pamela"
  • 1790s: beginning of Romantic literature, primarily poetry
19 of 103

Robinson Crusoe

  • 1719: first published
  • First edition credited Robinson Crusoe as author of autobiography
  • first English novel
20 of 103

Victorian Literature

  • Queen Victoria: 1837-1901
  • Industrial Revolution, Imperialism, Charles Darwin: theory of evolution
  • 1840s: novel rises to new popularity (Dickens, Trollope, Eliot, Gaskell
  • Popularity of realist novels
21 of 103

George Eliot: Middlemarch

  • 1871-72: serial publication
  • over 900 pages long
  • published in installments, over the course of 2 years
  • fictional town (typical for Victorian Novels)
  • Social analysis
  • Several plotlines
22 of 103


  • 1914-1927
  • Cultural shifts: technology, weakening family ties, decline in religious belief -> cultural shifts lead to shifts in literature
  • Break with formal conventions
  • Post-war disillusionment
  • surrealist elements
23 of 103

James Joyce: Ulysses

  • 1922
  • Book is set in Dublin on 16 June 1904 -> still 500 pages long
  • Satirises the epic (Odysseus)
  • Intertextuality, allusions, jokes
  • Form: stream of consciousness -> incomplete thoughts, comments on the stream of life
  • the main character is very ordinary
24 of 103

Orwell: Shooting an Elephant

first-person narrator/protagonist is a subdivisionalpolice officer in Mulmein/Burma

Mulmein, main city of British-controlled Burma

During the British Raj (lasted from 1852 to 1948) -> probably first half of the 20th century

The narrator is called to take control of an elephant that has gone ‘must’ and ends up shooting him in front of a Burmese crowd

25 of 103

Is "Shooting an Elephant" Literature?

  • Literature relies on a particular organisation of language (Russian Formalists)
  • Use of rhetorical devices
    • Repetition: “I did not in the least want to shoot him […]. But I did not want to shoot the elephant.”
    • Use of symbolism/allegory: “One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse […].”
  • Literature depends on “ways in which people relate themselves to writing” (Eagleton)
    • Is “Shooting an Elephant” a reflective essay on the demise of empire … or on human freedom vs. determinism?
    • Is it an autobiographical piece of writing?
    • Is it a fictional short story? -> it does not matter, if the story is ficitonal
26 of 103

Structuralism in "Shooting an Elephant"

all elements of a text in the context of the larger structures they are part of (Colonialism, Genre conventions)

Genre conventions, language, narrative, poetic structure:

  • Intertextual connections  (Universal narrative structures, recurrent patterns, motifs)
    • Autobiographical? -> "I was hated by large numbers of people.”
    • Bureaucratic conventions: writing of imperial police report
    • Narrative conventions: tragedy, fable?

Ferdinand de Saussure: relational meaning of words -> Paradigmatic chain (meaning by comparison), Dyadic pairs

Structuralists look for:

  • Parallels, Echoes
  • Reflections/repetitions
  • Contrasts
27 of 103

Dyadic pairs in "Shooting an Elephant"

  • European/England vs. Burman
  • Pony vs. elephant
  • Rifle vs. elephant
  • “Small rifle” vz. “great beast”
  • Tame elephant vs. going ‘must’

Dyadic pairs show contrasts:

Police officer/European/English/Human/tame = empire
Burmans/sneering/wild/ animal/elephant = colony

The words pointing to the empire occur in connection to the genre of the police report and the genre of autobiography. The words pointing to the colony appear in connection to the genre of the fable and the myth.

28 of 103


  • Derrida: "critical reading must produce the text"
  • Fundamental instability of language/meaning, Lack of control over language, Linguistic anxiety
  • Scepticism surrounding ‘reason’
  • Poststructuralist subject: constructed, relational, incomplete
  • Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”: Independence of text, irrelevant author

Critical reading PRODUCES meaning:

  • fragmented, centreless texts with no absolute meaning
  • reading text against the grain: focus on one detail -> eg. elephant stands for colonised p.
  • Uncovering the unconscious dimensions of texts

Poststructuralists look for…and see them as evidence of the text's unconcious!

  • Contradictions/paradoxes; Shifts/breaks in tone
  • Absences, omissions; Conflicts
29 of 103

Poststructuralism in "Shooting in Elephant"

Description of skin:

1. The narrator seems to feel sorry for the colonised.

“The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lockups, the grey, cowedfaces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been floggedwith bamboos –all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.”

2. Doubt about whether the narrator actually feels sorry.

“I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes –faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun […]. Here was I, the white man with his gun”

3. The narrator, does not actually care about the empire, he only cares and feels sorry for himself.

“But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. […] I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

30 of 103

Psychoanalytic criticism in "Shooting an Elephant"

  • Id:
    • primitive feature, unconcious need for pleasure (pleasure principle), selfish, demands gratification
  • Ego:
    • develops around the age of 2, reality principle, reduces conflict between id and superego by using defense mechanisms
  • Superego:
    • develops around the age of 5, morality principle, guilt

Ice-berg concept:

  • the narrator's ego makes the concious and relational decision to shoot the elephant
  • the id feels like the narrator is better then the colonised people and idealises the gun, while thinking about whether or not to shoot the elephant.
  • the superego feels sorry for the colony and has to deal with the narrator's wishes and everyone else's expectations
31 of 103

Psychoanalytic criticism

Psychoanalytical critics look for how the impulses in the story play out!

  • The ‘covert’ content underneath the ‘overt’ content of a work
  • The unconscious feelings and motives of characters
  • The ‘psychic’ context of the work
32 of 103

Feminist Criticism in "Shooting an Elephant"

  • Where are the women in the story?
  • What versions of masculinity/femininity does the story subscribe to/promote?
  • Femininity/masculinity as polar opposites, or as something that can be changed?

How does is the Elephant approached? Is it connected to male or female symbols?

  • described as "grandmotherly"
  • no specific gender terms, when the elephant dies. He is probably male though!

Feminist critics…

  • Re-evaluate the canon (not only works about/by man)
  • Examine representations of women and men in literature
  • gender roles as historically malleable/constructed, not essential/unchangeable
  • analyse (evidence of) women’s lack of social power
  • Criticise essentialism (the view that there is a natural essence of gender)
  • Challenge representations of women as ‘other’
33 of 103

Postcolonial Criticism in "Shooting an Elephant"

  • narrator sees himself as a puppet of the colonie, as an actor
  • talks about having to wear a mask
  • at the same time sees Burmese people as a "crowd of yellow faces"

Postcolonial critics…

  • Examine the representation of other cultures in literature
  • Reject Western universalism
  • Criticise the inability to empathise across cultural differences
  • Celebrate hybridity
  • Re-evaluate ‘otherness’ as a source of energy and potential change
34 of 103

Ecocriticism in "Shooting an Elephant"

Focus on the elephant: How does the elephant get described? What does it do? How do people talk about it?

How does the nature get described? The description of the fields is important here: They are untouched by humans, but exposed to nature. They are a danger to the protagonist!


  • Study the relation between literature and the environment
  • Challenge anthropocentric perspectives on other living beings and nature
  • Do not consider character/humans as primary elements in a literary text
  • Pay particular attention to the natural world
35 of 103

Introduction to Drama

What makes drama qualitatively different from prose?

  • Written to be performed on stage
  • Specific speech situation:
    • absence of a mediating communication system/no narrator
  • dramatic text and reception take place simultaneously

Main Text: spoken dialogue

Secondary Text: text segments that are not spoken on stage

  • title, dedications and prefaces
  • stage directions
  • identification of the speaker

Paralinguistic stage directions: won't be read out loud, of no literary value

Implicit stage directions: "Give me your hand!"

36 of 103

Elizabethan Drama

  • no classical unities of time and space
  • epic techniques: asides or monologues ad spectators
  • all roles played by men; ‘boy actors’ had a high voice (very young) and used to play women
  • action upstage: closed communication system: 4th wall
    • Above stage was heaven (angels will be let down), beneath door was hell (trapdoor)
  • stages took place in daylight -> ‘verbal décor was needed to specify place and time

Teatrum mundi (“all the world’s a stage”):

  • very cheap tickets -> how the people were seated mirrored the victorian society. The play too mirrored society,
37 of 103


Aristotle, Poetics (4thcentury BC):

  • starts with tragic error/flaw (hamartia), e.g. hubris
    • In Macbeth the flaws are ambition and insecurity, error of judgement, taking the prophecy too literary, relying on it or not relying on it enough. Macbeth wouldn't have to do anything! Lady macbeths flaw is probably hybris!
    • common character flaws in Shakespeare: indecisivness, madness, stuborn
  • “arousing pity and fear” (catharsis)
  • tragic hero should be noble, but not too noble, neither thoroughly good nor thoroughly bad
    • kings and queens
  • plot: events develop towards catastrophe; anagnorisis leads to peripeteia
    • anagnorisis: moment of recognition
  • Shakespeare’s tragedies end in the death of the noble protagonist
38 of 103

Dramatic Structure by Freytag

only works with plays with 5 acts

1. Exposition: Introduction to everything

  • prediction and murder plot

2. Rising Action:

  • King Duncans Murder -> violated all rules of society -> trouble had to follow!

3. Climax:

  • Macbeth is king, Murder of Banquo -> we already see the downfall coming!

4. Falling action

  • Macduffs family gets murdered, second prediction

5. Denouement: Either resolution or catastrophe -> death of Macbeth

39 of 103


E.M. Forster: Round vs. flat characters

  • Flat character: built around a single idea/quality
  • Round character: complex in temperament and motivation

Indirect vs. direct characterisation

Recurring Shakespearean characters/Archetypes

  • Noble protagonist with a character flaw (Macbeth)
  • Character who turns mad (Lady Macbeth)
  • The fool, providing comic relief (drunk porter)
  • The scheming femme fatal (Lady Macbeth)
  • Supernatural characters causing mischief (three witches)
  • Women who dress as men (comedy)
  • Young lovers struggling against their elders (comedy)
40 of 103

Language in "Macbeth"

Most common form: blank verse

  • Half lines or shared lines: still blank verse

Prose: reserved for ‘common’ characters (working-class), comic characters or characters ‘going mad’

  • characterization by language use
41 of 103

Elizabethan Worldview

The Great Chain of Being

  • Fixed order: God –angels –men –animals –trees and plants –stones
  • Humans: fixed order from king down to servant

This order can't be changed! If you do, you end up like Macbeth!

In Macbeth are many references to this order!

The King: Duncan -> replaced by Macbeth -> replaced by Malcom

Noblemen: Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff,...

Commoners: Messengers, Murderers

The murder of a king is almost a religious murder. The king is godlike!

Wheel of fortune & fate: metaphor -> The wheel keeps spinning: If you are on top, you will fall.

42 of 103

Plot of "Top Girls"

Dramatic Structure by Freytag: mostly works out inside the acts, but not for the whole play!
Also none of the characters reapear after act 1.

Act 1: Marlene hosts a Dinner party outside ‘real’ time, in a restaurant, no action, but a lot of conversation

Act 2, Scene 1: ‘real’ time, one day in around 1980, in Joyce’s backyard, where Angie ‘tries to’ kill her mother (the killing never takes place)

Act 2, Scene 2: ‘real’ time, one Monday morning in 1980, in the Top Girls employment agency, Win, Nell, and Marlene conduct interviews; Angie arrives in London

Act 3: ‘real’ time, a year earlier than Act Two, one Sunday evening in 1979 (just before Thatcher's election), in Joyce’s kitchen, little action, a lot of conversation

The exposition only ends after the second act!

43 of 103


Act 1: Waitress, Dull Gret, Nijo, Marlene, Griselda, Isabella, Pope Joan -> All of the characters of Act 1 endured personal tragedies. Most of their problems stem from them being a woman in their specific society.

Dull Gret was painted as a revolution's leader. Here she is portrayed as dumb.

Isabella travelled the whole world.

All charcters show different coping strategies! Lashing out, camouflaging,

44 of 103

Multiple Castings

Angie and Dull Gret:

  • speak in cut-off, simple sentences
  • driven by anger about their circumstances
  • intellectual inferiors

Lady Nijo and Win:

  • submit to their circumstances, look for luxury

Pope Joan and Luise:

  • face obstacles because they are woman, so they camouflage

Griselda and Janine:

  • most traditional feminity
  • role of subservient wife
45 of 103


All-female cast: varying ages and backgrounds

  • In the 80s: very little interesting roles for woman, especially older ones

Multiple-role casting: emphasises similarities between women of different cultures and age

46 of 103

Dialogue in "Top Girls"

  • point of interruption is marked / -> adds realism
  • character speaking right through another’s speech -> shows, that the characters are egocentric
  • speech follows on from a speech earlier: marked *

Approval/Disapproval is acted out. This shows the complex power relations/hierarchies.

Quantity of lines corresponds to characters’ class status

Critical positions on overlapping dialogue:

  • Signalling competitiveness and egoism?
  • Building a mosaic of women’s diverse experiences?
  • realism?
  • Encapsulating women’s collaborative communication

Insignificant content being expressed by chit-chat. -> also shows efficiency

47 of 103

Genre of "Top Girls"


  • “assumption that reality can be mimetically reproduced on the stage and can be understood by the audience”

Postmodern features:

  • Pastiche

Brechtian features:

  • Episodic narrative
  • Social gestus

Kitchen-sink theatre:

  • Focus on working-class characters
  • Social realism; dialect
48 of 103

State of the Nation Play

reacts to the current situation of a country at a certain time

class conflict

  • Rise of capitalism
  • Election of Margaret Thatcher (1979)
  • 1984: Miners’ Strike
  • Marlene talks negatively about the trade unions. Thatcher is against them too. -> strikes!

The 1970s feminist movement

  • 1970: Equal Pay Act
  • ‘glass ceiling’
  • Marlene represents a small number of successful woman. Off course she is very optimistic!
  • Angie symbolises the underprivileged working class.

What is the link between the play and politics? Thatcher was the first female prime minister. She made the situation for women a whole lot worse, especially for working class woman.

49 of 103


"She may be a woman, but she is not a sister!"

  • Free-market capitalism
  • Emphasis on individual initiative
  • Cuts to the welfare state
  • Privatisation
  • Rise in unemployment
  • Uneven tax cuts
  • affected low-income mothers
  • Growing economic and geographical division
50 of 103

Second Wave Feminism (1960s-1980s)

Is the play feminist?

  • two sisters -> One rises to power, the second one gets no support & has to work four jobs.

protests against beauty standards

  • "Griselda, I hope you’re not anorexic."

Break with women’s domestic role

  • Win: "You could marry him and go on working." - Nell: "I could go on working and not marry him"

Equal pay, equal opportunities

Contraception and abortion rights/sexual liberation

  • Marlene: "I’ve been on the pill so long / I’m probably sterile."
51 of 103

Feminism: Essentialism

Stresses women’s and men’s ‘essentially’ different features
Celebrates women’s different, unique qualities

  • Kit: "There, see, I got my own blood, so."
  • Nell. "The lady wife wouldn’t care to relocate. She’s going through the change."
    • Talking about periods and menopause is used by women to disqualify and ridicule other women
  • Mrs Kidd: "You’re not natural."
    • not natural = too powerful
52 of 103

Bourgeois Feminism

  • Marlene and Thatcher stand for this

‘Fair’ competition with men and among women

Achieving equality within existing social structures

  • Marlene: "I believe in the individual. Look at me."
  • Marlene: "I don’t believe in class. Anyone can do anything if they’ve got what it takes."
    • "I'm exceptional, my power has nothing to do with feminism."
53 of 103

Materialist Feminism

Socialist feminism
Emphasis on the group
Acknowledgement of class/social differences within the group

54 of 103

Victorian Literature

Queen Victoria: 1837-1901

Jane Eyre: 1847

55 of 103

Jane Eyre: Bildungsroman


  • Follows hero/heroine from childhood or adolescence into adulthood
  • Journey/quest motif, e.g. quest for identity
  • protagonist gains maturity with difficulty; personal, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, moral growth
  • Closure: typically ends on a positive note
    • "I knew, partly from experience & partly from instinct" -> Even in childhood Jane knows what is right & wrong, because she already has some experience.
    • "difficulties in habituating myself to new rules"-> Jane learns, even if she has a hard time
56 of 103

Jane Eyre: Gothic Novel

Gothic Novel:

  • Architecture: medieval type (Pointed arches, flying buttresses etc.)
  • Setting: gloomy mansion or castle with secret rooms and passages
  • Staple characters: innocent heroines, lustful villains, ghosts -> black & white: innocent heroine seduced by lustful villain.
  • Narrative elements: disappearances, ****, murder, diabolism
  • macabre, uncanny elements
57 of 103

Jane Eyre: Victorian Novel

Publication context: Novel published in 1847 under pseudonym Currer Bell

Plot: episodic; well-knit, chronological

Narrative voice: Homodiegetic narrator, First-person narration, reliable narrator

Self-reflexive elements: “reader, you must fancy […]”

58 of 103

19th Century

Industrialisation -> less home industry -> seperate gender speres!

  • Polarisation of male and female realms within the middle class
  • blurred gender boundaries within the working class
  • Governess: intersection of middle-class and working-class identity -> she was a poor middle-class woman

Victorians were fascinated by Governesses

  • they don't have to pay for their living, but can't afford nice clothing!
  • The Governess and Gender roles: fear, that a governess would become involved with their male employer! This happens in Jane Eyre!
  • Jane's communication with her male employer is revolutionary for the victorian age!
59 of 103

Jane Eyre: Feminist Criticism

models of femininity in Victorian writing: angel in the house vs. monster -> madwoman as feminist rebel: radically differs from Jane -> sexually liberated

female Bildungsroman: goal: freedom; universal female problems (encountered even by kids)

Progressive elements:

  • Victorian gender binaries destabilised through performance -> eg. dressing up.
  • J.’s rejection of male authority; goal: independence, refuses marriage
  • equal relationship -> sees herself as a human being -> strong statement for Victorian times

Conservative elements:

  • Rochester’s superiority in terms of economic status & sexual experience
  • Rochester situated at peak of love triangle -> two woman compete for Rochester
  • Jane’s deference to male authority
  • ending: patriarchy restored, J. only transitions in upper circles because marriage/heritage
  • love unfree from hierarchies -> master/servant -> supresses feelings -> wordfield "master"
60 of 103

Jane Eyre: Psychoanalytic Criticism

Common pairing: young woman + older man

Subservient role of female vs. dominant role of male -> Oedipal attraction to lost father Sexual interest from a domineering father (paedophiliac desire of domination)

  • “He might almost be your father”

Symbolic castration: Rochester loses his sight and his right hand

Victorian superego
Id: Jane’s “constitutional ire”

Bertha as Jane’s double

  • Jane’s imprisonment in the red-room > Bertha’s imprisonment in the attic
  • Bertha tears up the bridal veil for Jane, expressing the unconscious wishes of the latter
  • Bertha tries to incinerate Rochester in his bed, expressing Jane’s unconscious fear & frustration triggered by his previous sexual experiences
61 of 103

Jane Eyre: Postcolonial Criticism

Why imagery of slavery/suggesting possibility of slave uprising, after emancipation of British slaves had already taken place?

  • Possibility 1: critique of British slavery/imperialism in West Indies (Slavery Abolition Act 1833)
  • Possibility 2: Critique of American slavery
  • 1840: first World Anti-Slavery Convention, London

features of slave narrative: journey from slavery to freedom, resistance over submission
Jane’s progress: from defiant slave to self-determined individual

racist: Bertha as a white creole, who "behaves like a demented black person"

  • Uncertainty about Bertha’s racial identity (“a Creole”): dehuminized/portrayed as wild animal

Victorian racial discourse:

  • uncertain status of colonial whiteness; primitive blackness, fears regarding impurity
  • Black subjects are reduced to their bodies; white subjects exceed their corporeality
62 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Setting


Part I: Coulibri, near Spanish Town, Jamaica
Part II: Granbois, Dominican Republic
Part III: Thornfield, England

Sargasso Sea: sea without any land borders in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean


prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
Antoinette is born around the time of the liberation of the slaves (1833/34)

63 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Structuralism

Genette: relationship between two texts or among several texts

  • Quoting, rewriting, parodying passages of other texts

Text A: Hypotext

Text B: Hypertext

Transposition: source text is relocated in cultural, geographical, temporal terms -> into a new discourse

Adaptation: turning source text into a new cultural product

64 of 103

Adaption: Jane Eyre vs. Wide Sargasso Sea

Jane Eyre:

  • Bertha as antagonist/minor character without a voice
  • Gothic elements: all mysteries are resolved in the end
  • Realist/authoritative narrative voice
  • Possible reading: Bertha as Jane’s uncanny double
  • Bildungsroman: closure

Wide Sargasso Sea

  • Antoinette as protagonist; Rochester as antagonist
  • Gothic elements: recognition, rather than solution of mysteries
  • Narrative insecurity: “There is always the other side, always”
  • Mirroring and doubling as key trope
  • Open ending
65 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Narrative Voice

multiple narrators

no fictional reader to Antoinette’s voice

Lyrical quality of first-person narrative, sometimes close to stream-of-consciousness technique

Parts of Rochester’s narrative set in italics:he represses knowledge

narrative uncertainty -> e.g. is Antoinette going to set the house on fire or not?

66 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Postcolonial Criticism

Edward Said’s Orientalism: uncovers tendency in major Western works of literature to ‘exoticise’ and ‘other’ Oriental populations and cultures

Central aims of postcolonial studies:

  • counter-narrative that gives a voice to colonial subjects and revises Eurocentric versions of history
    • Wide Sargasso Sea revises Anglocentric versions of life in the colonies; English subjects are not superior to colonial subjects in the text
  • Critiquing the Western construction of a colonial “other”, or subaltern
    • Wide Sargasso Sea critiques the construction of Bertha as a colonia other and turns her into a round character
  • Reworking Eurocentric norms of literary values, expanding the canon
    • Wide Sargasso Sea challenges the position of Jane Eyre in the canon and critiques and expands the canon of writing on colonial subjects and themes
67 of 103

Colonial History

1833 Emancipation Act: outlawed slavery in England & British colonies -> Novel starts right after that! Many slave owners (like Antoinettes family) never received financial compensation

Over course of the 1830s: investors arrive in Jamaica -> Antoinette's Mother's new husband
new merchant class (Mason) supersedes old ‘planter aristocracy’ (Cosway) -> Antoinette Mason, née (=born) Cosway" -> Cosway is the name of slave owners!

1950s/1960s: decolonisation (Jamaican independence: 1962)

Complicated racial politics of colonialism:

  • White people
  • Jamaican/Black people
  • Martinique people
  • "We"
  • black Englishman: a white man, who sympathises with black people
  • White *******: White, empoverished people
68 of 103

The Empire Writes Back

Rewriting: questioning the status of the canon

Wide Sargasso Sea as hypertext reveals the colonial subtext of the hypotext (Jane Eyre)

Wide Sargasso Sea brings to consciousness “the unquestioned ideology of imperialism permeating the dominant discourse and canonicity of Brontë’s text”

“willed amnesia”: Willed forgetting of events happening during the time of the colonialisation

  • “‘who was massacred here? / Nobody remembers now.’”
  • ‘Many died in those days. They are forgotten.’”
69 of 103


Wide Sargasso Sea criticises Orientalism with a view to the position of white Creoles:

  • Antoinette is not able to control her own narrative > her cultural ‘otherness’ is highlighted
  • ‘names matter’: Rochester’s refusal to call her by her name results in a loss of self
  • But: Wide Sargasso Sea can be seen to enact its own Oriental framing in its dehumanising representation of black subjects
70 of 103


Bhabha: act of imitation which destabilises the position of the coloniser

e.g.: The parrot, Antoinette parroting Rochester, Antoinette's mother parroting her new husband

71 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Poststructuralism

No certainty or knowledge can be gained through language! No control over language.

Words have no efficiency! They have no meaning! There are gaps, there is a lot of silence and secrets, that are never disclosed.

72 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Psychoanalytic criticism

Role of dreams and the unconcious

  • The novel ends by a dream. We are not sure, if she is actually trying to set the house on fire.

Characters are split and doubled

  • characters get mirrored, until they no longer know, who they are
73 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Feminist Criticism

Antoinette speaking to Rochester as her equal vs. calling Rochester her "master"

Patriarchal proprietors / women as property:

Equivalence between slavery and marriage:

  • Rochester names Antoinette Bertha, similar to the way in which slaves were named by their masters
74 of 103

Wide Sargasso Sea: Ecocriticism

Animals symbolising and anticipating human fate:

“After Mr Mason clipped his wings he grew very bad tempered, and though he would sit quietly on my mother’s shoulder, he darted at everyone who came near her […].” -> “I’d been awake before and heard my mother screaming ‘Qui estlà? Qui estlà?’ then ‘Don’t touch me.’” -> Antoinettes Mother starts carrying out the same behaviour the parrot showed before!

Agency of nature

  • Antoinette accepts nature. She believes nature is poweful and it's almost too much for her, but she accepts it and stays away from it.

Nature rebelling against colonialisation

  • Rochester can't process Jamaican nature. He later starts squishing flowers and small animals.
75 of 103

Mrs. Dalloway: Modernism

  • 1914-1927
  • Cultural shifts: technology (bombs, planes), weakening family ties, decline in religious belief -> lead to literary shifts
  • Break with formal conventions
  • Post-war disillusionment
  • James Joyce, Ulysses (1922) -> like Mrs. Dalloway set on one day

Modernist tendencies:

  • away from representational realism and other conventions
  • Radical innovation, fragmentation, shock
  • Emphasis on introspection
  • failure of communication

representational realism: rounded figures, coherent plot
modernism: fragmentation, shock

76 of 103

Virginia Woolf

“Modern Fiction”

Dismisses existing literary forms as unfit to contain life/truth/reality

“Examine an ordinary mind on an ordinary day”

77 of 103

Mrs. Dalloway


Plot: Mrs Dalloway prepares for her party; her old friend Peter Walsh visits her; Lucrezia seeks help for her husband Septimus Warren Smith; Septimus commits suicide; the party takes place; Elizabeth Dalloway ‘comes out’ at the party -> comes out = being presented to society

Stream of consciousness: narrator moves freely between the thoughts and perceptions

78 of 103

British Empire Exhibition/Map

Map of 1924. The plot of Mrs. Dalloway takes place here.
The British Empire Exhibition was very popular and there were buildings constructed only for the purpose of this exhibition. Those buildings represented the empire.

In the upper right corner of the map, the exhibition’s title is adorned by the names of territories of the British empire at that period.

In the novel, London monumentalizes British imperialism.

79 of 103

Mrs. Dalloway: Protagonists

Clarissa Dalloway: hostess of party, center of story, not interesting or pretty, still attractive.

Septimus Warren Smith: Veteran of WW1, shell shocked/PTSD

Dalloway & Smith don't meet ->Clarissa hears about suicide ->jealous ("put an end to his suffering", she is still here) -> Clarissa: Insomnia, depression -> Woolf: depression-> mirrored

Lucrezia Smith: Septimus' wife, wants to help him, doesn't know how, met him, when he was a soldier in Italy.

Peter Walsh: rejected by Mrs. Dalloway, Administrative worker for British Empire in England

Septimus & Peter are both in a relationship with a foreign woman.

Daisy Simmons: 30 years younger then Peter, his Indian lover, will get a divorce, Peter doesn't want to marry her.

Helena Parry: 80 years old, Clarissa's aunt, travelled to Burma and India to look at plants

80 of 103

Imperial Visions: Peter Walsh

  • agent of England’s colonial system
  • descendant of Anglo-Indians which had administered “the affairs of the continent” for three generations
  • dislike for “India, and empire, and army,” as well as admiration.
  • sees himself as the perfect english gentleman, even though he is a failure.
  • sees himself as a generous colonizer, who "invented" culture
  • always thinking about what Clarissa is thinking about him
81 of 103

Imperial Visions: Helena Parry

The embodiment of the British colonialist’s gaze, which excludes the colonial other.

She is a botanist and an “indomitable Englishwoman.”

Only one eye, produces watercolour drawings of her botanical discoveries, thereby expanding the scientific knowledge of the empire.

82 of 103

Leonard Woolf

Ceylon Civil Service.

founded the Hogarth Press -> specialized in modern poetry and anti-imperialist political theory

Leonard gave Virginia the possibility to publish her experimental texts.
Leonard is a known anti-colonialist, but Virginia also wrote millions of notes for his books. She is an active contributor.

83 of 103

Stream of Conciousness: Mrs. Dalloway

accurate description of how conciousness works. The characters get lost in their own thoughts.

  • Flow of sense perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories
  • Often works with motifs taken from sense impressions then (dis)appearing among character’s flow of memories
  • May contain interruptions by narrator
  • violates norms of grammar and syntax

Clarissa: expresses to feel a certain pull towards death -> those are not her direct thoughts! There is still a narrator between us and her thoughts!

The insights may contradict each other, because the characters may think differently!

84 of 103

Stream of Conciousness: Mrs. Dalloway vs. Peter Wa

Clarissa is characterized by repetition. Plus there's a clear density of the present participle.
Clarissa often gets lost in her own thoughts, but the get's pulled back again.
She also tends to underestimate her knowledge.

Walsh is characterized by monosyllabic combinations and by the frequent usage of adverbs.
Here bureaucracy gets leveled on the level of language.
Welsh is very judgemental and judges everything he sees.

85 of 103

Post-War Disillusionment

Stoicism and resilience

  • Effects of World War I denied -> other side of trauma.
  • Bloomsbury group: war as catastrophe; war as the last resort to transform society

Optimism turning to disillusionment:

  • “Septimus was one of the first to volunteer […] he developed manliness; he was promoted; he drew the attention”
    • change from optimism to pessimism, Negative assesment of british society and the war.
    • Parallelism -> so neat it's suspicious
  • “He was right there. The last shells missed him. […] he became engaged one evening when the panic was on him –that he could not feel.”
    • the supression of the horrors of the war gets shown in this lines.
    • direct reference to "shell shock".
    • Septimus can not feel and feels haunted by it
86 of 103

Post-War Disillusionment: Shell shock

“sudden thunder-claps of fear. He could not feel.”

“beauty was behind a pane of glass”

87 of 103

Mrs. Dalloway: Technology

“The violent explosion which made Mrs. Dalloway jump and Miss Pym go to the window and apologise came from a motor car which had drawn to the side of the pavement […]. Passers-by, who, of course, stopped and stared, had just time to see a face of the very greatest importance against the dove-grey upholstery”

  • shows hidden effects of the war
  • The novel comments on motor cars. They were, at this time, still reserved for the wealthy.

“There it was […], actually writing something! making letters in the sky! […] Every one looked up. Dropped dead down, the aeroplane soared straight up, curved in a loop, raced, sank, rose, and whatever it did, wherever it went, out fluttered behind it a thick ruffled bar of white smoke which curled and wreathed upon the sky in letters. But what letters?”

  • In WW1 aircraft bombers were used.
  • exclamation marks show the excitement and amazement
  • Ends with a question mark. This has a tragic undertone.
  • The reading of the letters have different undertones to it. Everyone is reading different letters.
88 of 103

Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is an Hind

Sir Thomas Wyatt, “Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is an Hind” (1557)

Figure out the rhyme scheme & metre (rhythmic structure) -> ABBA

89 of 103


  • single stanza of fourteen iambic pentameter lines
  • Iambic: unstressed syllable followed by stressed syllable
  • Pentameter: five feet

Petrarchan Sonnet

  • 14 lines divided into: One octave (8 lines, rhyming abba), one sestet (6 lines)
  • Volta (break/turn) between the octave and the sestet
  • First imitated by Sir Thomas Wyatt in England

Shakespearean Sonnet

  • 14 lines divided into: Three quatrains and one concluding couplet
  • Turn occurs before the couplet
  • Variant: the Spenserian sonnet
  • Links each quatrain to the next by a continuing rhyme: ababbcbccdcdee
90 of 103

Sir Philip Sidney, “Loving in Truth” (1580s)

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain
 -> alexandrine: iambic hexameter


91 of 103

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Rhetorical Questions

Metaphors, Personification

eternizing conceit

92 of 103

Metaphysical Poetry

  • Common poetic style: use of figurative language
  • Typical organisation of thought process/argument
  • Donne opposed idealised view of sexual love
  • Donne’s metre and diction are modelled on actual speech
  • His poems often take the form of a heated argument
  • Use of paradox, pun, simile, and metaphor
  • Metaphysical conceit: Establishes a striking parallel between dissimilar things
93 of 103

John Donne, “The Sun Rising”

Paradoxes -> old fool and unruly (like a child)

chain of being -> who is more powerful? Who is bragging?

no regular metre, rhyme...

form and content mirror each other

94 of 103


Project: describing nature as alive and sensible
Nature: emblematic language, system of symbols, unified whole
Symbol: universal truth in specific form
Self: more open, attuned to nature; individualism

William Wordsworth, 1798 Preface to Lyrical Ballads:

  • “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”
  • “it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity”
95 of 103

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”

Iambric Tetrameter:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

Trochaic Inversion: Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

trochee = accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable

end-stopped lines

alternating rhyme, quatrain, rhyming couplet, masculine rhymes (rhymes that end on a stressed syllable), repetition, emjambement/run-on line, tranquility, imagination, oxymoron, inversion

simile (Vergleich), personification, metaphor, onomatopeia (Lautmalerei)

Pathetic fallacy: projection of feelings and sentiments onto natural elements

96 of 103


Who is speaking and to whom?

alliteration, pause, synechdoche, epitaph, oxymoron

  • Romantics were fascinated with archaeological treasures found in Egypt
  • Diodorus Siculus, author of Bibliotheca historica(60-30 BC) described a statue of Ozymandias (Rameses II; possibly the pharaoh referred to in the Book of Exodus)
  • Diodorus reports the inscription on the statue as follows: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him out do me in my work
97 of 103


Speaker and guide

… of life:
“Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?” / “From morn to night, my friend.”
… of death:
“A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.”
… of the Last Judgment:
“Of labour you shall find the sum.”

98 of 103

Modernist- Poetry

Foremost representatives of radical Modernism in poetry: Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot

Influence of Symbolism: ambivalent characters, journeys into exotic countries, nebulous settings, apocalyptic imagery

Influence of Imagism: cutting back on decorative embellishments; use of single, musical image

99 of 103

Waste Land (1922)

Pound and Eliot collaborated on draft

Influence of anthropology and myth -> Allusions to vegetation ceremonies and medieval romances of the Holy Grail -> imagery of fertility and sterility; regularity of the seasons; rebirth

Pound cut back on Arthurian allusions and iambic pentameter and reduced the poem to half its original length -> Result: archetype of Modernist, obscure, free-verse poem

Poem creates “heap of broken images” (22) from different source materials

Imagery I: The Seasons
• Four stanzas
• Stanza I: “April is the cruellest month” (1)
• Stanza II: “where the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water” (22-24)
• Stanza III: “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante, / Had a bad cold” (43-44)
• Stanza IV: “Under the brown fog of a winter dawn” (61

100 of 103

Waste Land

Imagery II: Death and Rebirth
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Imagery III: Religious Imagery
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images (19-22)

  • Luke 8:13, The Parable of the Sower: “Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away”
  • Ezekiel 2:3: “Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me”
101 of 103

Waste Land - Intertextuality

Anglican rite for “The Burial of the Dead”: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, I, verses 5-8

Greek mythology: myth of Hyacinthus, lover of Apollo, killed by the god of the West Wind; hyacinth sprung from his blood

Dante’s Paradiso, XII, 28: “heart of light”

102 of 103

Anti-Modernism (1950s)

  • “Poetry has lost its old audience” (Larkin qtd. in Motion 11)
  • “a victory of common sense and clarity over obscurity and mystification, of verbal restraint over stylistic excess” (Regan 209)
  • "language was more difficult -> more complex -> needed technical and professional knowledge to evaluate it at all levels -> This was the language of criticism of modern painting, modern poetry, modern music. Of course!” (Larkin 292)
  • Simple, clear, colloquial style
  • Style discarded both Romanticism and Modernism
  • Refusal to idealise the self or nature
  • Poetic speaker does not assert the importance of his own emotions or experiences
  • Rejection of elitism and obscurantism
  • Blunt representations of modern reality
  • Associations with English provincialism and the lower middle class
  • Adoption of ironic, self-critical personae
103 of 103


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all Revision resources »