April 2009 Archives

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"But One Expects That": Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and the Shifting Light of Scholarship


Slide 1/2- Introduction- Dock's Thesis


Slide 3/4-Modern Misidentification of Texts

Initial publication in 1892 with New England Magazine

10 reprintings

Then the 1973 Feminist Press edition

Feminist Press's "all-time best-seller"


What is the edition in the Feminist Press?

It claims to be the 1899 edition published by Small, Maynard, Boston- this is Elaine Hedges edition with the afterword

Actually the 1892 New England Magazine text with "a few variants of its own" (472)


Two entire sentences are omitted

I see her in that long shaded lane, creeping up and down. I see her in those dark grape arbors, creeping all around the garden.

I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines (472).


Slide 5- Supplemental Texts

Begin with the supplemental texts by various authors

1980 The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader by Ann Lane

She claims it's the 1892 version, it's actually the 1933 Golden Book magazine version that contains many anomalies of wording, as well as section breaks that differ from the 1892 and 1899 texts (472).


Catherine Golden's 1992 The Captive Imagination: A Casebook Study on "The Yellow Wallpaper" (which I have read and used)

1899 text with the 1892 illustrations (claim)

Misaddresses the omissions of the sentences flip-flopping the texts (she says 1892 did the omitting)


Erskine and Richards seem to have tried to split the difference between the two." When variants arise, they choose now from one text, now from the other, giving no rationale for their choices" (472).


Slide 6- Textual Variants and Diary Entries

"Gilman's manuscript has no necessary textual priority, for she would have expected editors to regularize punctuation in accordance with standards of her day" (473).   


After Lane's 1980

"John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage."


"John laughs at me, of course, but one expects." (How  does this change the statement?)


"Gilman is bashing marriage in particular, not men in general" (473).



Slide 7- Cont.

 Original manuscript has twelve breaks.

The section breaks were accurate until the 1933 Golden Book version, removing seven of the original breaks and adding five new breaks (473-474).


"Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?"

"So of course I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long." (Question)


"...the 1892 New England Magazine text shows the narrator completing her thoughts unless she is interrupted and forced to stop writing" (474).


Slide 8- He says, she says

Publication History


"The story of a heroic woman author fighting valiantly in defiance of a thwarting male editorial presence makes for great drama, capped as it is with a male agent's theft of the profit that should have gone to the woman..." (Dock 476).


"...critic's have treated men's testimony with "resistance" and women's with "empathy" ( Dock 476).


Slide 9- Ghosts and Male Murderers

Was it read upon its first publication as a tale of horror or did the people get the deeper meaning modern critics pride themselves on for discovering?


"Modern critics, beginning with Hedges, seem to imply that "The Yellow Wallpaper" has been read either as a horror story or as a story of sexual politics, more specifically that the late-nineteenth-century audience read it as horror but that the enlightened readers of a century later see it accurately" (Dock 477).


Reviews from around 1899


Blackwell, a male reviewer says, "Nothing more graphic and suggestive has ever been written to show why so many women go crazy, especially farmer's wives, who live lonely, monotonous lives. A husband of the kind described in this little sketch once said that he could not account for his wife's having gone insane--"for," said he, "to my certain knowledge she has hardly left her kitchen and bedroom in 30 years" (477).


"There would be scant pleasure in unearthing a nineteenth-century story if the original audience read it exactly as twentieth-century readers do" (478).


Slide 10- Perilous Doctors and Mitchell's Conversion

"Gilman chooses to interpret the initials as a doctor's signature. Then she reprints the letter, she closes up the space between the initials, presenting the writer as an "M.D." (Dock 479).


"In this final retelling Gilman falls back on melodramatic clichés--"the error of his ways," "I have not lived in vain" - as if to cast herself as the noble heroine who reforms the wicked villain" (479).


Slide 11- Critical Watchfulness

" American literature would certainly be the poorer without "The Yellow Wallpaper," but an understanding of such stories and the culture that produced them requires careful scrutiny of assumptions made by critics and by texts and writers of the past" (Dock 480).


Slides 12-16- How has the cover art reflected changes in societal beliefs? (Photos from Amazon.com) 

The Urn In Limbo

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"The urn, serenely isolated in a purely aesthetic space, is--like an object in a museum--"liberated" (in both the standard and the colloquial senses of the word) from its national and cultural context."

Garson 455


It seems that Garson is saying the urn has become universal. We understand that it was part of the Greek culture but in the context of the poem it is a piece of artwork that can be identified by anyone of any culture and it will change with each person who imagines it. But it remains in this sort of limbo because no one knows exactly what it looked like.

Culture Within Text

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Cultural analysis has much to learn from scrupulous formal analysis of literary texts because those texts are not merely cultural by virtue of reference to the world beyond themselves; they are cultural by virtue of social values and contexts that they have themselves successfully absorbed."

Greenblatt 438


This quote reflects a bit on the nature of the formation of culture within texts. When we write we are unconsciously adding our own culture into our writing. We have grown up as a member of a culture and our writings will reflect aspects of our culture without us intending to do so.

Fiction It

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I want to add this: the literary institution has "fictioned" a criticism which uncritically protests its own truth; we must instead "fiction" a literature which renders up our true history in the interests of a politics of change."

Belsey 435


I really like the idea of "fiction" as a verb. I've always believed that fiction exists everywhere from the stories we tell on paper to the stories we tell verbally. Every time we related an occurrence to someone else we fictionalize the story. We fill in parts that happened before in order to create sense, we add words to describe actions and we tell the story through our own perspective.

New Criticism Is All Kinda Criticism

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"Yet these aspects of the play's "rich complexity" have been signally ignored by European and North American critics, who have tended to listen exclusively to Prospero's voice: after all he speaks their language. It has been left to those who have suffered colonial usurpation to discover and map the traces of complexity by reading in full measure..."

Barker and Hulme (449)


It seems like who the audience is becomes an important part of new criticism. It also pulls in aspects of historical criticism because as in the above quote certain audiences are better adept at understanding the play than others. Those who are familiar with living in a colony would catch Prospero's message.

Madness or Suicide? Is That Feminism?

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 ...there is debate among three feminist critics...which provides a representative sampling of critical opinions. Declaring that the narrator's final "confinement, infantililzation, trivialization, banishment from discourse, [and] madness" are a triumph for patriarchy rather than a statement of feminism..."

Feldstein (403)


I've debated about whether I feel "Wallpaper" is a feminist piece of writing or not. The protagonist comes to no great end, much like the protagonist in "The Awakening." Madness or suicide, I still believe each of the characters contributed something to the awakening of the feminist spirit. When "Wallpaper" was written, women were still struggling heavily with societal acceptance of a woman with a career versus a housewife. I think Gilman demonstrates the impact of societal constraints and issues a plea for women to look at themselves and discover what they need in life versus what is expected of them.

The Trappings of Formalism

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...no literary formalism, no matter how accurate and enriching in its analytic powers, is ever allowed to come into being without seeming reductive. When form is considered to be the external trappings of literary meaning or content, it seems superficial and expendable."

De Man (365)


De Man seems to be trying to fight for formalism, but he wants to erase all the qualities we know about a formalist reading. I'm not sure how tied to formalism he is because he talks about going outside of the text. I don't know how much I agree with form "trapping" a literary meaning because it is within the form that we discover the meaning.

Urn vs Pot

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"What it offers us does not even "belong," properly, to the Greeks or to any particular culture: the same poem would have been written about any human artifact whose historical identity has been erased."

Guetti (390)


This article makes you wonder just how important the identity of the Urn is. If it wasn't an urn and it was a pot, would your perceptions of the poem change? I believe they would because "pot" changes the aesthetics of the poem. An Urn is poetic and noted for being a piece of art. A "pot" is something you cook macaroni and cheese in. So I do not feel that Keats could have chosen anything. I think the Urn is very important to the poem.

An Outside Source Worth Your While

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The Wise OWL at Purdue

                Going back to the basics is often a god starting place. Every student learns differently and at a different pace. Exposure to examples of work without any prior explanation doesn't always mean the student is going to pick up on the basics of what that criticism style is about. Thankfully, Purdue again helps the struggling literature student. Purdue breaks down the styles of criticism, gives brief overviews and histories and provides outside resources, as well as books that are meant for beginning literary study.

                For some students a timeline is an excellent place to start. The OWL offers this timeline of literary criticism, as well as an introduction to the schools of literary criticism. And it doesn't hurt they add a disclaimer saying, "Our explanations are meant only as starting places for your own investigation into literary theory" (The Owl). Yes, a starting place is usually what students are looking for and a timeline provides needed perspective.

            Now on to formalism, the first theory studied in this class and one of the first theories historically. The Owl gives a great, simple introduction to formalism and provides a list of questions to ask if you are reading as a formalist would. The questions draw attention to aspects of the literature that a formalist would pay attention to, such as if there is "a central or focal passage that can be said to sum up the entirety of the work?" or "How do paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension work in the text?" A student would be brining some ammunition with them if they had a list of questions like the ones The Owl mentions.

            Psychoanalytic Criticism should be a comfortable area for students of this generation. Most students have had a psychology class in high school, and those who are education majors have had more psychology classes in college. The Owl offers the same introduction as it did with formalism and offers another question list to help focus the student on how to apply the critical theory to the work being read. As one delves into authors like Sears, it's easy to forget what to look for when you are psychoanalyzing a piece. Purdue's list includes this question, "How do the characters in the text mirror the archetypal figures? (Great Mother or nurturing Mother, Whore, destroying Crone, Lover, Destroying Angel)" which is a simple question, but when you read the question before you read the text your automatically going to be looking for those archetypes, whereas with no real introduction your fishing around in your brain for what it means to be Freud. At least that is what I did, and it wasn't nearly as effective as it should have been at increasing my comprehension level.

            Reader Response theory is actually one of the easier types of criticism to grasp because it is something that most readers do naturally. However, the Owl points out that there are two beliefs associated with Reader Response according to Tyson author of Critical Theory Today, "1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and 2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature." If you think about it, the reader plays a role in nearly all types of criticism. In historical criticism the audience of the text is important because they would have made a different reader than a reader in today's society. Also, reader response is probably the most abstract form of criticism because it depends entirely on what the reader feels and thinks while they are reading a particular work. For the section on Reader Response the Owl offers a list of texts to read to further your understanding.

            The Owl uses several authors to describe what structuralism is. And it uses these authors to explain various aspects of structuralism, like Richter for linguistic roots, Tyson for structuralism patterns, and Frye explores structuralism and Western literature. The Owl also offers this as a caution for literary criticism students, "Note: Structuralism, semiotics, and post-structuralism are some of the most complex literary theories to understand. Please be patient," which made me chuckle with the realization that there should certainly be a warning label on all literary criticism.

            Last and perhaps most complicated is post-structuralism with the Owl defining it very concisely as, "Post-structuralism holds that there are many truths, that frameworks must bleed, and that structures must become unstable or decentered." Of course, thanks to Ellen's presentation we know this theory is far more complex than the above brief definition. But the point of going to the Owl as an outside source is to get that brief idea as your foundation and build on that foundation with the readings.

            Overall, the Owl at Purdue is a worthwhile source to build a knowledge base. I also believe it will offer students help with the final paper because under each topic there is a list of authors to read who specialize in that area of literary criticism.

Portfolio II

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The time has come once again to post a Blogging Portfolio. I will say that my interaction with blogging has increased as the semester has progressed because I understand the process of writing and posting and because my knowledge base for the readings has grown. I'm also quite proud of having learned how to leave the links up as words rather than a big long html address thing!!!!


Coverage: I covered the required blogs but here are a few that I thought were good blogs that sparked conversation and helped with both my own understanding of the material, as well as other's.

·         2009.03.30: Tomb Raider and Derrida?

·         2009.03.24: Calling All Linguistics Students! Remember "The map is not the territory?"

·         2009.03.16: Literature's Core

·         2009.03.16: Back To Eliot

·         2009.03.30: Taking The Easy Way Out

·         2009.03.24: Hamilton Is Good With Poetry "Stuff"

·         2009.03.03: Gender Blots

·         2009.03.16: Your Murky Conscious

·         2009.03.16: For Argument's Sake!

·         2009.03.16: Take Me Away...

·         2009.03.03: The Spaniards Weren't Down With That...

·         2009.03.03: Beastly Boy

·         2009.03.03: A Flattering Dream


Depth: One particular entry I went to an outside source as well as drew on prior knowledge from my Linguistics course and it sparked some good conversation.

·         2009.03.24: Calling All Linguistics Students! Remember "The map is not the territory?"


Interaction: A few of my blogs got several comments; some were even disagreements which made for a more interesting blog.

·         2009.03.24: Calling All Linguistics Students! Remember "The map is not the territory?"

·         2009.03.30: Taking The Easy Way Out

·         2009.03.16: Back To Eliot

·         2009.03.03: Make Literature Serve You

·         2009.03.16: Literature's Core

·         2009.03.30: Use Your Instrument!

·         2009.03.30: Can You Try That Again...In English?


Discussions: These blogs were interactions between my peer's comments and mine.

·         2009.03.30: Tomb Raider and Derrida?

·         2009.03.24: Calling All Linguistics Students! Remember "The map is not the territory?"


Timeliness: A few of my blogs created conversations before class and most of blogs were on time unless there was a technical malfunction. Also, there were a few reading changes so I know I have one blog that was done on a reading no one else did and a blog not completed because I didn't switch those readings.

·         2009.03.30: Tomb Raider and Derrida?

·         2009.03.24: Calling All Linguistics Students! Remember "The map is not the territory?"


Xenoblogging: I enjoy leaving comments for others. It's fun to see if someone liked your blog enough to comment on it.

Being Part of the Tribe by Mara

Make It Work by Bethany M

Swann's Article by JR

A Really Good Blog by Sue


Wildcard: I'm including a blog here that was done because I didn't know the article was dropped. Also, the Nafisi lecture because it was such an excellent lecture.

·         2009.03.16: Nafisi Lecture

Culler Article that got dropped and I thought it was a really worthwhile article to read.

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Recent Comments

james lohr on Culture Within Text: well here is a question for yo
Dennis G. Jerz on Tomb Raider and Derrida?: Michelle, I'll be offering the
Derek Tickle on Tomb Raider and Derrida?: Thanks, Michelle. The EL 250:
Michelle Tantlinger on Tomb Raider and Derrida?: Poor Lara Croft...no one ever
Mara Barreiro on Can You Try That Again...In English?: I also had a difficult time wi
Mara Barreiro on Use Your Instrument!: I agree with both of you. I a
Ellen Einsporn on Can You Try That Again...In English?: I've posted this on a few othe
Derek Tickle on Can You Try That Again...In English?: I, too, think that it was a ha
Angela Palumbo on Taking The Easy Way Out: I don't know about that. I do
Derek Tickle on Tomb Raider and Derrida?: I am so glad that you brought