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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

English 3621: Essay

Just finished my essay; since the syllabus says that we have to blog about the process, I figured I'd get that out of the way before I print it off and put it in my bookbag in preparation for passing it in this Thursday. (Are we supposed to put the essay itself up on our blog, too? I vaguely recall something to that effect being said, but I can't quite recall.)

My essay topic is an examination of the means in which Mary Wroth and Margaret Cavendish each create an authorial "vision," that is, a literary voice implied by their works that they seek to emulate, and how each measures up to this author-function (I know, "author-function" is a loaded Foucaultian term and I'm not using it precisely as it's meant to be used in this regard, but I find the term serves within this context.) My claim is that, despite the fact that both Cavendish and Wroth often write of similar issues (the silence and marginalization of women, frex), their voices manifest in very different ways, and they each attempt to achieve different things with their works. Wroth, for example, follows very traditional strategies and forms, to the point that many of her critics claim that she is far too derivative to be of much value (a claim I debunk in my essay, by the way), and her single foray into the world of widespread publication ended in disaster -- her authorial voice is frequently very tentative, and much more at home in a coterie setting. Cavendish, on the other hand, is very bold and confident, eschews things such as tradition and authorial genealogy (and even, to a degree, education), and it would be impossible to imagine her works as being anything other than designed for widespread public consumption without altering them (and their implied intent) considerably.

The reason I chose these two authors... Well, I've always loved Cavendish, even moreso than Lanyer. She's just too eccentric to not find fascinating, and though her work can be a little rough around the edges at times, it displays a vibrant energy that's so often lacking in her Jonsonian counterparts. I wanted to deal with Wroth because I've never done so before, and I found myself interested in her as a result of this class (which is odd since she's bored me whenever I've dealt with her in the past). As for the reason of the essay topic, I frequently find myself drawn to the extratextual, implied literary "space" surrounding works and authors. In fact, as far as my critical interests go, it's right up there next to things like examinations of narrative and genre discord, or the use of language and what it represents. Of course, I don't deal with these things too often -- it requires a lot of effort for me compared to, say, a focus on gender issues, or a freudian examination of a text, both of which have become fairly old-hat for me by this point (at least, in terms of the levels expected in undergraduate english courses -- I expect they'll become more complicated should I deal with such things during my Masters studies.)

Anyway... As soon as my topic was chosen, I faced a dilemma. I didn't have access to Wroth's full text of her prose narrative "Urania," which I felt was integral to my thesis, but rather I only had access to the excerpts found within the Longman Anthology of British Literature. Additionally, unlike Cavendish, Wroth never spoke of authorship directly (at least, not that I could find), so in constructing an authorial vision for Wroth I needed to do a lot of reading between the lines, so to speak. To help facilitate this, I sought out more secondary material for Wroth than I bothered to do for Cavendish -- four secondary sources among various literary journals compared to the latter's one.

In writing the essay itself, I put a great deal more focus on Wroth's publication history than on Cavendish's, since the former's was much more rocky. I get the idea that the legal troubles caused by Wroth's "Urania" essentially scared her away from mainstream publication, since pretty soon she was attempting to have the book recalled (unsuccessfully), and even went so far as to make the dubious claim that it was published without her consent (this claim was also unsuccessful, if the majority of critics are to be believed. Which, for simplicity's sake, they are as far as my essay is concerned). Wroth was also a lot less prolific than Cavendish, though she never stopped writing until quite late in life, so this also gave me less to work with (and re-emphasized the need for more secondary sources).

In the end, it's not the best essay I've ever written, but I'm fairly pleased with the result. I believe I accomplished what I set out to do, though admittedly I think my take on Cavendish (with whom I deal in the second half of the essay) is a tad stronger and more concise than my take on Wroth.

Either way, though, it's done with, which gives me a tremendously satisfying feeling. Another assignment out of the way, which leaves (I think) only one other outside of my stupid intro-to-french-course that's-the-only-thing-I-need-to-graduate-at-this-point.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 3:57 p.m.


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