All posts by platipenguin

Historical Line: Urban Society

  • Henry James, The Jolly Corner (1909)
  • James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1918)
  • Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body? (1923)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

These works, to a greater or lesser degree, represent urban life, whether in New York City, Dublin, or London. Two trends, specifically, seem to stand out:

First, the idea of communal social interaction. Only explicitly seen in Mrs. Dalloway, there is a sense of shared consciousness among the denizens of the modern city, who experience the same locations and events, as well as the same sorts of social interactions.

Second, and more applicably to all four texts, is a sort of “urban mystery.” The Jolly Corner and Whose Body? are mysteries, peripherally in the case of the first and primarily in the case of the second – but Portrait and Dalloway also explore the mystery of the human consciousness, particularly Portrait’s first half, where the reader is meant to feel “lost” within the sea of human history and culture.

Authorial Perspective on the Father in Untouchable

“Then he frowned in the gruff man of a man who was really good and kind at heart, but who knew he was weak and infirm and so bullied his children, to preserve his authority, lest he should be repudiated by them, refused and rejected as the difficult old rubbish he was.” (31)

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London, England: Penguin, 1986. Print.

Unclear authorial perspective – is he actually good and kind at heart, or is he difficult old rubbish?

As I Lay Moaning

“The cow lows at the foot of the bluff. She nuzzles me, snuffing, blowing her breath in a sweet, hot blast, through my dress, against my hot nakedness, moaning.” (61)

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print.

This sexualization of an animal, which occurs also with Jewel and his horse, seems to follow the development of Dewey Dell’s own sexuality.


“Away and away the aeroplane shot, till it was nothing but a bright spark; an aspiration; a concentration; a symbol […] of man’s soul; of his determination, […] sweeping round the cedar tree, to get outside his body, beyond his house, by means of thought, Einstein, speculation, mathematics, the Mendelian theory – away the aeroplane shot.” (28)

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Inc. 1925. Print.

The widening of subject as the aeroplane goes further and further away is a clue to the way we ought to view the novel – the seemingly mundane widening out to encompass the human condition.

Whose Clothes?

“He had drifted across the passage into his bedroom, and was changing with a rapidity one might not have expected from a man of his mannerisms. He selected a dark green tie to match his socks and tied it accurately without hesitation or the slightest compression of his lips; substituted a pair of brown shoes for his black ones, slipped a monocle into his breast pocket, and took up a beautiful Malacca walking stick with a heavy silver knob.”

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

The shift from black to brown walking shoes signifies a shift to a lesser formality. As previously remarked, Peter doesn’t think dressing formally would be enough to rattle Mr. Thipps – instead, he wants to dress familiarly and comfortingly, so as to make Thipps confide in him. Changing into a grey suit and brown shoes, as opposed to frock and black shoes, brings his clothing into Thipps’s social register.

Modernity and the Classic

“The modern work is condemned to become dated unless, by achieving the status of a classic, it manages to free itself from the fluctuations of taste and critical opinion… Literarily speaking, a classic is a work that rises above competition and so escapes the bidding of time. Only in this way can a modern work be rescued from aging, by being declared timeless and immortal.” (92)

Casanova, Pascale. The World Republic of Letters. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Whereas the modern author tries desperately to be as modern and contemporary as possible, his real success, paradoxically, is creating something that is timeless and classic – and by doing so, defining what it is to be literature.

James and Metaphors

“This sense of the story being the idea, the starting-point, of the novel is the only one that I see in which it can be spoken of as something different from its organic whole; and since, in proportion as the work is successful, the idea permeates and penetrates it, informs and animates it, so that every word and every punctuation-point contribute directly to the expression, in that proportion do we lose our sense of the story being a blade which may be drawn more or less out of its sheath. The story and the novel, the idea and the form, are the needle and thread, and I never heard of a guild of tailors who recommended the use of the thread without the needle or the needle without the thread.”

(Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” in Majors stories and essays. Literary classics of the United States, New-York, 1999, p582.)

James really likes to use metaphors, even back to back.