Saturday, January 23, 2021

"After waiting another moment": The first focalization on Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

After Anne Elliot's first words in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" defend the navy, her second words identify a sailor, Admiral Croft, who is being discussed as a possible tenant for her family's seat, Kellynch Hall. But only in the setup of her third statement does the narration focus on her, when she identifies a name her father's agent, Mr. Shepherd, has forgotten: "After waiting another moment – / 'You mean Mr Wentworth, I suppose?' said Anne." So her first and second words are about the navy, but when the novel turns to her thoughts, it is also the first moment when the name of her ex-fiancé and future husband, Captain Wentworth, is mentioned. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 January 2021)

Friday, January 22, 2021

Memories of Hank Aaron (and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)

In the early 1970s, I read and reread two short biographies of athletes, both written for children. One was old enough that its title was basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's birth name, "Lew Alcindor"; the other was a life of Hank Aaron published before he broke Babe Ruth's record for career home runs in baseball in the United States. Now, about fifty years later, I remember none of the details of either book. Instead, when I read of Aaron's death at 86 today, my first thought was of something I do remember: the death threats Aaron received after the 1973 baseball season when he was one home run short of that record. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 January 2021)



Thursday, January 21, 2021

"A very handsome letter": Repetition and the establishment of truth in Jane Austen's "Emma"

When Mr. Weston marries Miss Taylor in Jane Austen's "Emma", the women of Highbury expect his son, Frank Churchill, to visit his stepmother: "There was not a dissentient voice on the subject, either when Mrs. Perry drank tea with Mrs. and Miss Bates, or when Mrs. and Miss Bates returned the visit." The expectation increases when Mrs. Weston receives a letter from him, but the gossipers only "hear of" it; they "understand it was a very handsome letter"; Mr. Woodhouse tells them "he never saw such a handsome letter in his life." Repetition turns hearsay into understanding, and the subsequent reference to an authority figure fully establishes a truth beyond dissent. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 January 2021)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

"The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people": The passive voice is not the problem with McConnell's statement

As Greg Sargent observes, Mitch McConnell's statement yesterday about the "violent criminals" who attacked the US Capitol is obfuscatory: "The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people." Unlike many people who decry it, Sargent correctly identifies the passive voice here ("was fed"; "were provoked"), but McConnell's "by" construction actually does name the "feeders" and "provokers": "the president and other powerful people." The problem is the vagueness of "other powerful people". As Sargent correctly puts it, McConnell "elides the role" of "many members of the Senate and House GOP — and McConnell himself"; however, he does so with that vague phrase, not with the passive voice. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 January 2021)


Still from the video in the Sargent article.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What kind of times make a blog post popular?

The most frequently read post on my blog (which I started in 2006) is an interpretation of Adrienne Rich's poem "What Kind of Times Are These", which has been getting a steady stream of hits ever since I wrote it in 2012. When it struck me over the holidays that it wasn't getting much attention for once, I concluded it was because no university students were working on the poem and plagiarizing my interpretation – but then the post got a big spike of hits on 6 and 7 January. So perhaps people are turning to the poem for political reasons after the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol two weeks ago. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 January 2021)


Photograph by Eamonn McCabe / Camera Press / Redux, from Claudia Rankine's New Yorker review of Rich's Collected Poems.
Years after her death Adrienne Richs poetry and prose still retain their power.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Morrison's "The Bluest Eye", Ellison's "Invisible Man", and Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain"

In two broad ways, Toni Morrison's 1970 debut The Bluest Eye echoes debut novels by Black writers from the previous generation, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) and James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953). Like Invisible Man, The Bluest Eye contains a story of incest in which a father impregnates his daughter, with the father's version of the story absolving him of responsibility. And like Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Bluest Eye explores the biographies of the parents of the children who are the main characters. Morrison's concern with genealogy is thus both narratological (within the novel) and historical (between her novel and those of her predecessors).  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 January 2021)


Toni Morrison on the back cover of the first edition of The Bluest Eye.


Toni Morrison first author photo

Sunday, January 17, 2021

"An equal claim with any other set of men": Anne Elliot's first words in Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

Anne Elliot may be the main character of Jane Austen's "Persuasion", but she is not seen to speak until midway through the third chapter, when her first remarks respond to her father's critique of sailors as possible tenants of Kellynch Hall, his ancestral home: "The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men, for all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give." So Anne's first words challenge her father with an appeal to equality based on merit and deserts that contradicts his insistence on absolute social hierarchies based on heredity, land, and titles. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 January 2021)


Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot in Adrien Shergold's 2007 film of Persuasion


 Anne Elliot - Persuasion Photo (2624396) - Fanpop