Archive for April 14th, 2010

While in graduate school, one of the most interesting seminars I participated in was Dr. Kristin Bluemel‘s semester covering the history of the novel.

While reading Mrs. Dalloway, my favorite novel, and Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns, I, and a few other students, became very interested in the ways history is recorded in these novels. Bennett uses historical fact and  vivid descriptions of landscapes as one form of citation; another form of citation is the intertextual London created by Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway.

While her essay for The Common Reader focuses on Sophocles and Euripides, Mrs. Dalloway’s intertextual influences are based in the epic poetry of Homer.  Scholarly examinations of the novel like Molly Hoff’s 1999 article The Pseudo Homeric World Of Mrs. Dalloway argue that Woolf, “paraphrases, parodies, and burlesques” a number of Greek texts.

Brian J. Hudson’s The Geographical Imagination Of Arnold Bennett argues that geography was one of Bennett’s primary concerns in novel writing.

Mrs. Dalloway can be broken down into three sections: the beginning, when Clarissa goes out to buy flowers at ten; the ending, her “rebirth” after a long, nearly fatal, illness, followed by the central part of the novel, including flashbacks and the preparation for the dinner party in the evening; finally, the third section of the novel, the thirty, “dead,” years in between.

As Hoff notes, the working title for Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours, also suggests Homer’s Odyssey: the Latin word for hour is “hora,” which comes from the Greek and can also mean “a complete day.” Odysseus’ journey home to Ithaca takes ten years.  Clarissa’s “rebirth” takes a bit more than 10 hours.

Both narratives begin in the present, in the middle of the story, but use flashbacks to engage with the past. Both protagonists are disguised before their returns and rebirths: Odysseus upon his return to Ithaca and Clarissa in her patriarchal role as Mrs. Richard Dalloway.

Arnold Bennett’s pastoral novel Anna Of The Five Towns has some things in common structurally with Woolf’s novel. The novel takes place in a single space and involves a patriarchal social system that constrains women to traditional gender roles.  The difference is while Clarissa, Sally, and others ponder their roles and fates in Woolf’s novel, there is a decided lack of that in Anna Of The Five Towns.

Anna cannot fall in love.  She is not only trapped by the patriarchal social system Clarissa and Sally set out to defy, but, because of her patriarchal obligations, she has a pattern of thinking which does not allow any alternatives to her current situation.

Whereas Mrs. Dalloway is extremely intertextual, Anna Of The Five Towns is firmly rooted in what is written on the pages in front of the reader.  There is little, if any, intertextual sourcing or citation.

What is cited, however, is spatial geography. This was a primary concern for Bennett, who wrote in The Author’s Craft that it was absolutely required for any sort of good writing: “the main factor in life on this planet is the planet itself.  Any logical survey of existence must begin with geographical and climatic phenomena.”

Both authors are somewhat working towards the same kind of goal and are not quite as different as their legendary feud had made them seem: Woolf and Bennett are concerned with oppression.

Woolf had a strong desire to explore how people like Clarissa, Sally, and Peter, independent and free, end up conforming to the establishment and patriarchal gender roles.  Bennett is also concerned with the shaping of the individual, but his concern seems to be, obviously, in their geographical situation.

Brian J. Hudson writes in The Geographical Imagination Of Arnold Bennett that the reason for “Bennett’s interest in geography was his belief human life was, to a considerable degree, determined by environment.”

Anna is molded by the oppression of her living situation, which literally hangs over her like an unseen oppressor:

As it were under compulsion she ran outside, and down the garden path to the low wall which looked over the grey fields of the valley up to Hillport.  Exactly opposite, a mile and a half away, on the ridge, was Hillport church, dark and clear against the orange sky.  To the right, and nearer, lay the central masses of the town, tier on tier of richly-colored ovens and chimneys.

Not only do social obligations hang over Anna, but the local geography lords over her, always watching and haunting her every movement.  Clarissa, when she decides to “buy the flowers herself,” does not have a similar situation in London.

How does textual allusion come to mean or create history in the novel? While Anna Benjamin and others have tried to accurately map Clarissa Dalloway’s day down to the hour, and minute, she also argues that the ambiguity of the beginning and ending of Mrs. Dalloway “represents her view of time as a continuity of past, present, and future” that is all one gigantic, woven, intertextual map.

The weaving of past, present, and future makes Woolf’s intertextual incorporation of Greek tragedy and epic poetry rather successful.  By using the “familiar unities,” Woolf fulfills rules laid out by Aristotle, but also brings the novel into contemporary times, which satisfies “both the Aristotelian canon and the organic view of reality” which she wanted to use to criticize the social structures of England.  The past is brought forward in Mrs. Dalloway and allows the story to unfold bit by bit, not chronologically, but by their relation to what is happening on that June day in London.

Ian Watt, while discussing time, remarks that “space is a necessary correlative of time.”  The way in which geography is used in Anna Of The Five Towns is a useful scholarly compliment to the use of time in Mrs. Dalloway.  History’s manifestation via geography and social facts is just as enlightening as intertextual allusion.

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