Essay on Books

    Books are of different types. Some of them are useful and delightful while others are not. The exact value of books is greatly related to their content and purpose. 


books (Photo credit: brody4)

   Francis Bacon, a famous English essayist, classifies books into three categories in his formal essay ” Of studies”: ” Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.” In other words, some books should be read in parts; others hastily, without much concentration and attention; and some few thoroughly and steadily.

     In essence, books are used as a source of knowledge and information; they are also used as a source of pleasure and amusement. As a source of knowledge, books are considered valuable stores and treasures of information, wisdom and moral advice, for they widen the horizon of the reader’s thoughts, deepen the meaning of his life and enrich his experience. By reading a useful book in the field of history or science, for instance, one can learn a lot about past generations and live with the most honest people of past centuries. In fact, a valuable book is to the mind as nourishing food is to the body. As a source of delight, there is no companion like a good book, specially when one feels lonely and sad. One can drive evil thoughts, anxiety and boredom out of one’s mind by reading an entertaining book. This certainly relates to the positive side of books. 

   As regards the negative side, there are books that are very dangerous to read, for they poison the reader’s thoughts and spoil his character. Examples of such books are those on crimes, violence and immoral or indecent behavior. Books of this category are a waste of time, specially to our children; they may  instill evil thoughts in  their minds and, subsequently, affect their behavior adversely. Consequently, parents should be very careful and cautious  when selecting books for their children.

     In conclusion, books, if well selected, can be regarded not only as faithful friends but also as unfathomable wells of knowledge. Although they can not control the length of our lives, they, undoubtedly, can control their width and depth, thus rendering them more  meaningful and enjoyable.


Andrew Marvell’s Poetry

Andrew Marvell, English poet.

Andrew Marvell, English poet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The larger number of Marvell’s modern admirers, I believe, have come to his poems with the assumption that the relatively short, supposedly ‘private’ poem, uncommitted to cause or action, is the most desirable or highest kind of poetry. But a number of Marvell’s poems, may shock us with their kind of ‘privacy’. But if these poems are in one way more ‘private’ than anything we can easily imagine today, they also use the rhetorical devices of an age supremely conscious of the powers and problems of the social, and particularly the persuasive, uses of language. Recently the conventional opinion has been clear about the contrast; Marvell’s good poems were the ‘private’ ones, Marvell could even serve as the prime exemplary proof for the ‘cultural break’ the ‘dissociation of sensibility ‘ which set in at 1660; before that date, supposedly, Marvell wrote the poems which we all admire; afterwards, he was the victim of politics, satire and an age, when thought and ‘feelings’ were hopelessly split apart.

Marvell seems to have been a gentleman who for a time wrote a kind of poetry that we have come to admire greatly. Although he was, with Ben Johnson and John Milton, one of the most ‘literary’ poets of the century, unlike them he conceived of himself neither as a professional nor as a dedicated poet. When the inspiration or the occasion  for a particular kind of verse was past, his choice seems to have been either to quit writing verse altogether or to turn to a new kind of poetry.Smoothness and polish might easily be preferred to roughness and ‘strength’. We can tell that Marvell’s practice differed from the normal responses of his age chiefly in agility and elegance.

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysica...

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysical Poets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The attempts to place Marvell in a specific ‘school’ of poetry have also occasionally misled or perplexed. A student who has learned that Marvell belongs to the ‘School of John Donne’ may be disconcerted when he discovers Marvell’s concern for euphony, his usual rejection of impatient or impassioned speakers, and his preference for simple metrical schemes and Johnsonian diction. Marvel delighted in considering the meanings of overtones of another poet’s phrases or images and in bending them to new and often surprising uses. When one comes to recognize some of the things Marvell took from Donne, Johnson, George Herbert, Crashaw, Dryden, and Milton. Marvell’s lines may come to seem strewn with words and phrases so redolent of other contexts that they should properly be printed in Italics. And this is the same poet whom T.S. Eliot called the most Latin of all seventeenth-century poets.

The poems are considered in terms of their general subjects. Many can be described as predominantly concerned with love, or religion, or politics. The most popular of Marvell’s poems today either clearly fit into one of the categories or mark the transitions from one to another.Frank Wranke has recently recently remarked that a large number of Marvell’s lines or poems are literally playful. T.S. Eliot’s memorable phrase about ‘a tough reasonableness beneath the slight lyric grace.’

The least and probably the most poorly read of Marvell’s poems today are the fully public ones which Marvell wrote for anonymous publication and with which he meant to influence public opinion. Marvell devoted his major energies to public matters-and numbers of people knew it.

Political Poetry

Marvell used and mastered more than one style. When he wrote occasional poems, he was aware of a potential public audience and of immediate political possibilities. And he seems to have realized that political poems, like other poems, are less immediately effective and less ultimately interesting if the poet assumes that he is merely voicing common sentiment, formulated before his poem is written-or read.

Marvell and Milton

Marvell’s association with Milton had been long: he had admired and used Milton’s early verse soon after it was published; with the publication of Paradise Lost, Marvell may have recognized that, despite his use of Johnson’s lyrics in his earlier poems, Milton was the first major poet after Donne and Johnson who was not primarily an heir of either. If Milton had a single important English ancestor, it was, of course, Spenser.Marvell clearly recognized and admired the miracle of Paradise Lost, but except in a few lines, he did not imitate it. Perhaps he recognized that Milton’s combination of blank verse and high style, divorced from greatness of subject and greatness of spirit, was likely to result merely in windiness or bombast. And Marvell, ostentatiously staying with the couplets that had served him so well.

Are the Romantic Poets, Poets of Nature???

English: Samuel Taylor Coleridge at age 42. Fr...

English: Samuel Taylor Coleridge at age 42. Français : Samuel Taylor Coleridge à 42 ans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before going into this critical discussion about Romantic poetry, let me briefly introduce romanticism and the theory of romantic poets about poetry.Romanticism comes from “romance” which is the term used by romantic poets in France who relied on their imagination that is able to create a new reality and not as a tool to escape from reality. The stress is on the individual and not on the society (believe in capacities of man). In other words, English Romantics who adopted this movement  believed that there must be a departure of the static (rigid conventions) of the 18th century. This movement is not a sudden  change it is a part of a chain, although French and German poets had a direct influence on the English romantic movement, because poetry is poetry which has roots.

The romantic movement is supported by a certain romantic theory, which backs up the romantic trend. In their theory, English Romantics gave a great importance to imagination (fundamental role). For the English Romantics the belief in imagination was like the belief in individual self. Mind is the central point and governing factor and the most vital activity of the mind is imagination. They believed when they exercised imagination, they partake of the divine activity of God. Romantics combine imagination and truth because their creations are inspired and controlled by a peculiar insight. What matters to the Romantics was an insight into the nature of things. They refused Lock’s (an English philosopher) limitation of perception to physical objects because it robbed the mind of its most essential function (perceive & create). Romantics wanted to explore the world of spirit. Visible things are not everything unless they are related to an embracing power.  They believed that through imagination and insight they could understand the things of spirit and present them in poetry.  Therefore, it was this search of an unseen world which awakened the inspiration of the romantics and made poets of them. In nature Romantic poets found their initial inspiration. It wasn’t everything to them, but they would have been nothing without it.

Coleridge classified imagination onto primary and secondary imagination; they differ only in degree. To Coleridge, poetry is the product of the secondary imagination. He believed that imagination partakes of the divine activity of God. Imagination is related to truth and reality and connected with a special insight. It sees things to which the ordinary intelligence is blind. Coleridge believed that insight and imagination are inseparable; they complete each other. Moreover, Coleridge had a deep trust in imagination as something which gives a shape to life. He believes that nature live in us, and it is we who create all that matter in it. Coleridge is a little hampered by the presence of an external world and feels in some way he must conform to it. But when his creative genius is at work, it brushes these hesitations aside. He thought that the task of poetry is to convey the mystery of life. He was fascinated by the notion of unearthly powers and it was their influence he sought to catch. He believes that life is ruled by powers which can’t be fully understood. The result is a poetry more mysterious.

English: A portrait of William Wordsworth. Thi...

English: A portrait of William Wordsworth. This is apparently an 1873 reproduction of an 1839 watercolor by Margaret Gillies (1803-1887) Deutsch: William Wordsworth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any study on William Wordsworth’s poetry, we are faced with the following: “He is a romantic poet.” In fact, he is a romantic poet, but when we say “romantic”, the danger lies in   understanding that romantic means: the poet imagines, contemplates, meditates, and creates an illusion. But, when we study William Wordsworth’s definition of poetry, we see that he has to abide to a theory because the poem is a practice of the theory he believes in.  Wordsworth agreed with Coleridge about the distinction between imagination and fancy. He believed that imagination is the most important gift a poet can have; he didn’t relate reason to anything, but he insisted that the inspired insight is itself rational. As for Coleridge’s conception of the external world, Wordsworth disagreed with him. He accepted its independent existence and insisted that imagination must in some sense conform to it. Wordsworth believed that imagination must somehow be related to the external world because that world is not dead but living and has its own soul which is distinct from the soul of man. Therefore, man’s task is to connect with this soul because his life is shaped by nature. Wordsworth also believed that he helped this soul of nature to become closer to man and could show how the external world and the individual mind fits each other. As concerning nature, it was the source of his inspiration. He sought for a state in which the soul of nature should be united with the soul of man.

Many critics say  the following “William Wordsworth is the poet of nature.” However, when we read his poetry, we find out that in many lines he insisted that he is the poet of men. Even when it is a question of nature, if we ask Wordsworth himself, he says: “The mind of man creates half what it sees.” Therefore, when we say that he’s the poet of nature, the risk would be that one may think  he is a poet who describes nature and in that he is diminishing the estimation of Wordsworth because poetry does not describe but create. Many critics think that Wordsworth is a poet of nature because he says: “I’m a worshiper of nature. Accordingly, many readers misunderstand this statement. When critics say that Wordsworth is a poet of nature, they  mislead the readers of Wordsworth’s poetry. Moreover, saying that he is the poet of nature is dangerous because we will think that his poetry is about nature, or it is the mirror of nature. If we consider that the definition is true then the statement is wrong. If poetry is about nature then it is a reflection of nature. However, to Wordsworth nature was the source of his inspiration, and he could not deny to it an existence at least as powerful as man’s . He didn’t go so far as other romantics in relegating reasons to an inferior position. He preferred to give a new dignity to the word and to insist that inspired insight itself rational.

English: Title page from: Wordsworth, William ...

English: Title page from: Wordsworth, William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lyrical Ballads, with a few other poems. London: Printed for J. & A. Arch, 1798. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Wordsworth repeatedly described all good poetry as, at the moment of composition, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Thus, he located the source of a poem not in the outer world, but in the individual poet, and specified that the essential materials of a poem were not external people and events, but the inner feelings of the author, or at any rate, external objects only after these have been transformed or irradiated by the authors feelings. But to Wordsworth, although the composition of poem originates from “emotion recollected in tranquility,” and maybe preceded and followed by reflection, the immediate act of composition must be spontaneous-that is, arising from impulse, and free from all rules and the artful manipulation of means to foreseen ends-if the product is to be a genuine poem. In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth wrote that “I have at all times endeavored to look steadily at my subject”; and in a supplementary Essay he complained that from Dryden through Pope there is scarcely an image from external nature “from which it can be inferred that the eye of the poet had been steadily fixed on his object.” Therefore, because of the prominence of landscape in this period, “Romantic poetry” has to the popular mind become almost synonymous with “nature poetry.” Neither Romantic theory nor practice, however, justifies the opinion that the aim of this poetry was description for its own sake. Wordsworth in fact insisted that the ability to observe and describe objects accurately, although a necessary, is not at all a sufficient condition for poetry, “as its exercise supposes all the higher qualities of the mind to be passive, and in a state of subjection to external objects.” And while most of the great Romantic lyrics – Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, The Daffodils, and Ode: Intimations of Immortality; Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight, Kubla Khan, and Dejection; Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, Keats’s Nightingale- begin with an aspect or change of aspect in the natural scene, this serves only as stimulus to the most characteristics human activity, that of thinking. Romantic poems are in fact meditative poems, in which the presented scene usually serves to raise an emotional problem or personal crisis whose development and resolution constitute the organizing principle of the poem and not to describe this natural scene. As Wordsworth said in his Prospectus to The Recluse, not nature, but “the Mind of Man” is “my haunt, and the main region of my song.”

A Study of Celia’s Character in “The Cocktail Party” by T.S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot (Photo credit: Burns Library, Boston College)

Celia can be easily seen as an exceptional progressing character who has learned the value of her spiritual reality. She has succeeded in surpassing the ordinary and reaching a higher state of sublimation and salvation.

At the beginning of the play Celia was seen as a woman happy to be involved in adulterous relationship with Edward. She engaged in social conversations and seemed dynamic enough to talk to everyone and to argue with Edward. Celia was appalled at Edward thinking that she had ‘taken’ Peter. She was also spontaneous and honest to remark on the unidentified guest being the devil. Her private affair gave her the personality she needed; she wanted love and attention and Edward wanted sexual fulfillment, so they existed for each other’s interest. Thus, she is obviously a happy, lively socialite. This seems an account of the character of Celia in the early phase of her life.

The second and most critical phase in her life is concerned with Edward’s abandonment of her, learning that Lavinia has left Edward she immediately assumes that he will marry her, she doesn’t have moral hesitations and doesn’t seem to care what society might think of her. However, as it turned out Edward can’t return her affections, and she was forced into a state of solitude; she became aware of the abyss she has been thrown into. Then suddenly she sees light and realizes that in Edward she was seeking something that was substantial to her and she must go on looking. In act one, she was explaining to Edward what she was feeling towards him and how she looked at him differently then. She was telling him of the thing  she ‘aspired to’ that she thought was him. She said, “It must happen somewhere – but what and where is it?”

Continue Reading: Bloomy eBooks: T.S. Eliot: A Study of Celia’s Character in “The Cocktail Party”


The Theater of Revolt

George Dance (dramatist)

George Dance (dramatist) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The theater of Revolt is not a popular theater, nor are its dramatists much concerned with instructing the middle classes. Quite the contrary, they have apparently determined to be “the terror of the sleek, bald headed bourgeois” – their common enemy becomes middle-class man himself. Many of the rebel dramatists share in the contempt for the soft virtues at christianity and the reasonable, humanitarian values of liberal democracy. Detesting middle ways, scorning middle emotions, defying the middle class, the rebel dramatist begins to celebrate the values at the extreme – excess, instinct, emancipation, ecstasy, revolt, and the spectator himself comes under attack, either assailed from the stage directly, or represented on the stage as a satirical figure.

The theater of Revolt is a cosmopolitan movement nourished by international sources. While the dramatist continues to write of his country, even in exile, he no longer exalts it or advances its cause. Even when the rebel dramatist is not in geographical exile, he feels like an outlander, since he has lost his sense of belonging. A stranger to his family, a leper to society, a heretic to the church, he is also a metaphysical outcast, for he is spiritually destitute as soon as he ceases to believe in God.

When the dramatist declares the death of God, he declares the death of all traditional values as well. Man can create new values only by becoming God: the only alternative to nihilism lay in revolt. Rejecting God, church, community and family-vindicating the rights of the individual against the claims of government, morality, conventions and rules- he adopts the posture of the rebel, chatting against restraints, determined to make all barriers crack.

In the theater of revolt, a play proceeds by dialogue, and the dialogue implies debate and conflict without debate, the drama is a propaganda; without conflict, mere fantasizing. The rebel who wishes to transform the world is also an artist who must accurately represent it. Unable to master his contradictions, he dramatizes them in his plays, grateful for a form in which tensions do not have to be resolved. Thus, while each of the rebel dramatists takes revolt as his central theme, he also criticizes revolt in the name of reality; at the same time that he identifies with his rebel characters, he repudiates them too. The idea of revolt remains pure and absolute, but the act of revolt is usually a source of tension, suffering and despair.

It is this conflict between idea and action – between conception and execution – which forms the central dialectic of the modern drama. For the rebel dramatist is one who dreams and puts his dreams to the test. This may suggest why the conflict of illusion of reality is such an important theme in the modern drama: illusion and reality are the twin poles of the dramatist’s imagination. All true rebels hate reality and labor ceaselessly to change it, but no true artist can withdraw entirely from the world of matter. The more rebellious the artist, the more he takes refuge in a sphere of fancies and illusion.

English dramatist and theatre critic Edward Ro...

English dramatist and theatre critic Edward Rose (1849-1904) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rebel dramatist emerges as the spirit of denial, the man who says no, pursuing his eyes down the countless avenues of revolt. We can distinguish three main highways into which the avenues run: messianic, social and existential.

The messianic revolt occurs when the dramatist rebels against God and tries to take this place – the priest examines his image in the mirror. The messianic hero is a superman, combining the qualities of malefactor and benefactor of one who kills God and one who builds a church. The messianic drama is designed as an act of revelation.

The social revolt occurs when the dramatist rebels against the conventions, morals, and values of the social organism – the priest turns the mirror on the audience, the social dramatist concentrates on man in society, in conflict with community, government, academy, church, or family. As for characters, the social drama puts contemporary society or the stage and draws the characters from the middle class. The protagonist is subject to the same laws like us, shares the same ambitions, performs the same domestic duties. Social drama represents modern life for the purpose of whipping  and scourging it.

The existential revolt occurs when the dramatist rebels against the conditions of his existence – the priest turns the mirror on the void. The dramatist examines the metaphysical life of man and protests against it. Existence itself becomes the source of his rebellion. The world becomes a vast concentration camp where social intercourse is forbidden. Alone in a terrifying emptiness, the central figure of existential drama is doomed to a life of solitary confinement. It is a revolt of the fatigued and the hopeless, reflecting exhaustion and disillusionment.

If the existential drama is tragic, it is tragic in its perceptions. It lacks a tragic hero, but it evokes a tragic sense of life.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Cover of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Y...

Cover via Amazon

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man deals with the universal theme of the conflict of generations. It also deals with the growth of an artist who has to renounce social, moral and religious conventions. Briefly speaking, this novel examines not only the collapse of the family as a social basic unit, but also the Irish nation as a backward country.

A Portrait belongs to the province of the autobiography because the novelist has changed incidents and distorted characters in order to serve his fictive needs.

Initiation into adulthood: 

Stephen Dedalus as he appears in Portrait is far from being a hero. Groping painfully toward some understanding of himself and his place in the world, he is sometimes laughable, sometimes pathetic. Yet, despite his human failings he has the courage to face the world alone. Joyce’s concern is with the associative patterns arising in Stephen’s mind from infancy into adolescence. He is concerned with these only as they show the dialectical process by which a world-shape evolves in the mind. The process is conducted in the absolute solitude inside the skull, for Stephen has no trust worthy help from the environment. The technique of stream of consciousness is the formal representation of that mental solitude. We follow in the circumstances of the boy’s life the stages of breakdown and increasing confusion in his external environment, as his home goes to pieces. Very early the child’s mind beans to respond to that confusion by seeking in itself some unifying from that will show him the logic of things. His mental images are associations suggested by the words he hears, he struggles to make the associations fit into a coherent pattern. To the very young child adults seem to know what everything means and how one thing is related to another.

Hugh Kenner has pointed out “In the first, the deeper conflict is that between his implicit trust in the authority of his elders, his Jesuit teachers, the older boys in the school, his father and his actual sense of insecurity. His elders, since they apparently know the meaning of things, must therefore incarnate perfect justice and moral consistency. But the child’s real experience is of mad quarrels at home over Parnell and the priests, and at school the frivolous cruelty of the boys”.

James Joyce, one of the controversial omission...

James Joyce, one of the controversial omissions of the Literature Prize (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a shadowy guilty thing the boy has done for which he must apologize, else eagles will pull out his eyes? In this extremely short sequence at the beginning of the book, the child’s sense of insecurity is established, and with insecurity, guilt and fear. Immediately there is a transition to the children’s playground at Clongowes Wood, the child earliest experience of a community other than that of the home.

In the episode in which Stephen is beaten for heresy, the immediate community of his school fellows shows itself as false stupid and sadistic. On the visit to the Cork, Stephen early dim apprehension of sin and guilt is raised into horrible prominence by the word “Foetus” which he sees inscribed on the desk at Queens College and which symbols for him all his adolescent monstrosity. Meanwhile, his idealistic longings for beauty and purity have concentrated in a vaguely erotic fantasy of the dream girl Mercedes in her rose cottage.

As Stephen matures there is, mounted on the early association between the virgin and Eileen; an identification between his dream Mercedes and a whore. By extension, this association holds in it much of Stephen’s struggle between other-worldliness and this worldliness, for it has identified in his imagination flesh and spirit, while his intellect, developing under education, rebels against the identification.

Chapter 4 shows him absorbed in a dream of a saintly career, but his previous emotional affirmation has been wasted away in the performance of formal acts of piety, and he is afflicted with insecurities, and rebellions. Release from conflict comes with a clear refusal of a vocation in the church, objectified by his decision to enter the university. And again it is on a walk that he realizes the measure of the new reality and the new destiny.

After his first successful self assertion, his protest against the injustice of father Dolan, he is described “alone”, “happy and free”. This series of associations shows that the religious life is ultimately as hostile to Stephens’s needs as is the life of worldly self-indulgence exemplified by his brief career in the brothels and also by the equally self-indulgent career of his father. The kinds of life associated with the images of stagnation has one characteristic in common: they seem to Stephen to threaten his freedom of spirit.

Hugh Kenner says, “ultimately, as the insistent climax of the overture shows, its central theme is sin: the development of Stephen Dedalus from a bundle of sensations to a matured, self conscious, dedicated being. In Stephen’s aesthetic formulation, the names he borrows from Aquinas are names for those aspects of reality-wholeness, harmoniousness that he has been seeking all his life, from earliest childhood.

The technical devices:

In a time of cultural crisis, when traditional values no longer seem to match with the actualities of experience, and when all reality is thrown into questions, the mind turns inward on itself to seek the shape of reality there.

Joyce’s Portrait is an investigation of the creative effects of language upon life, for the artist at the end to find his vocation in language.

The auditory impression is predominant in the novel, sounds heard, words spoken – and the life directed attempt of the young mind is to understand their meaning in relation to each other and in relation to a governing design.

James Joyce, 1 photographic print, b&w, cartes...

James Joyce, 1 photographic print, b&w, cartes-de-visites, 9.2 x 6.1 on mount 10.5 x 6.5 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Through words the world comes to Stephen, through the words he hears he gropes his way into other people’s images of reality. Doubts and anxieties arise because the words and phrases are disassociated, their context frequently arbitrary.

The technique of the stream of consciousness is a formal aspect of the book which reflects the boy’s extreme spiritual isolation. There is a logical suitability in the fact that this type of technique should arise at a time when society failed to give objective validation to inherited belief, and when all meanings, values, and sanctions have to be built up from scratch in the loneliness of the individual mind. Joyce’s concern is with the associative patterns arising in Stephen’s mind from infancy into adolescence. He is concerned with these only as they show the dialectical process by which a world-shape evolve in the mind. The process is conducted in the absolute solitude of the inside of the skull, for Stephen has no trust worthy help from the environment. This technique is the formal representation of that mental solitude.

Those moments in the dialectical process when certain phrases or sensations suddenly cohere and a meaning shines forth from the whole, Joyce called epiphanies. They are showing forth of the nature of reality as the boy is prepared to grasp it. Minor epiphanies mark all the stages of Stephen’s understanding, as when the feel of Eileen’s hands show him. What tower of ivory means, or as when the word “foetus”, suddenly focuses for him his monstrous way of life. Major epiphanies mark the chief revelations of the nature of his environment and of his destiny in it. The story Davin tells Steve about stopping at night at the cottage of a peasant woman, and Stephen’s image of the woman is for him an epiphany of the soul of Ireland, “a bat like soul waking to the consciousness of itself in darkness and in secrecy and loneliness”.

The artist is a midwife of epiphanies. Joyce’s doctrine of the epiphany assumes that reality does have wholeness and harmony, and that it will radiantly show forth its meaning to the prepared consciousness, for it is only in the body of reality that meaning can occur and only there that the artist can find it.

A Study of the Point of View in Henry James’s “The Wings of the Dove”

English: Photograph of Henry James.

English: Photograph of Henry James. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Point of view signifies the way a story gets told – the mode (or modes) established by an author by means of which the reader is presented with the characters, dialogue, actions, setting, and events, which constitute the narrative in a work of fiction.

It is manifested in the person who tells the story a person who may be either the author himself speaking in his own voice or a fictional voice created by the author.

The analysis of point of view attempts to identify the voice to determine the qualities and characteristics of the speaker behind it, and also to determine the relationship between speaker and the narrative or argument: Henry James’s Preface to his various novels made point of view of the most prominent and persistent concerns in modern treatment of the art of prose fiction:

– James, who regarded the novel as a work of art and was therefore greatly concerned with questions of technique, always deplored the formlessness of omniscient narrative. Also, he rejected the first-person narrative because of “the terrible fluidity of self-relative” it entails.

Thus, he originated a new concept of narrative point of view which he called “The Central Consciousness”. It is the perceiving mind and eye of one of the characters involved in the novel – Kate, Dencher, and especially Milly.

– The story is thus one of gradual revelation and the reader becomes involved not in the events themselves, but in the characters’ consciousness of them.

In “The Wings of the Dove”, the omniscient point of view dominates the characters’ subjectives point of view and remains consistent till the end. This is because the characters themselves rarely speak and James has to do all the talking through his own persons. This omniscient point of view proves to be reliable since whatever we are told is revealed through the characters’ verbal and physical actions.

This novel is the story of the European experience of America. The American side is represented by the character (Milly Theale) who is exposed to the European society with its shallow, superficial, and materialistic people. Milly can’t be other than a unitary manifestation-a focal point. Her qualities are revealed clearly in interview, with Kate Croy, Lord, Mark, and finally with Merton Dencher.

Film poster for The Wings of the Dove (film)

Film poster for The Wings of the Dove (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To the narrator, as well as to the characters, Milly is a “poor American girl”. She looms on the consciousness of the other persons as an image of the moral beauty, strikes them as conscience, and teaches them a new possible, impossible mode of love in which conscience and moral beauty are joined. Aunt Maud worships the very air she breathes, and is genuinely stricken when she hears of the death of the poor “mon-eyed darling”.

Kate Croy is genuinely enchanted with Milly. According to Kate, Milly is identified primarily with her fortune. To Dencher, she is the “littel American girl” and he treats her with the tenderest deference.

Lord Mark regards Milly at the dinner party as an American object to be taken”irreclaimably for granted”. Milly Theale’s English friends touch upon the subject of what they call her good luck. Her “good luck” is simply her money, which they desire, and this is one of the characteristic features of the English of that class. At the beginning Milly knows nothing of these material pressures: her innocence springs from a fatal ignorance of the complex world of Lancaster Gate. But as the story advances, she acquires her knowledge in the most incidental flashes.

In fact, the characters’ point of view towards Milly can determine the metaphorical space which is an aspect of the style. For example, the word “Dove”, which is a central metaphor, is a symbol. It is introduced not through an omniscient point of view, but through a subjective point of view, that of Dencher. This is his initial subjective perception of Milly, what James is doing that he is giving the chance to language to functioning this particular manner. The character who introduces the dove is capable of evaluating his perception of the world, and he is also capable of transforming perception of Metaphor. Also Kate, in her chats with Milly, goes so far in “her own shades of familiarity” as to use the endearment “duck”. Under such pet’s names, Milly is petted, patronized, and manipulated. In this case, Kate and Dencher become identical in their perception of Milly and their transformation of her into a symbol. However, Milly views her English friends with a look of intelligence despite their shallow and superficial appearance. Milly says that Kate “lets herself go, in irony, in confidence, in extravagance” on those qualities of the American Mind. Milly follows it, and participates in it, with intelligence, an appreciation of all Kate’s finest shades of veracity. It seems that Milly’s point of view determines the language she employs. Her description of Kate is her perception of her.

In fact, it is intended to illuminate the complexities of Kate’s own nature (her boldness and audacity) and to show that she is Milly Theale’s American ignorance and innocence that in the first instance expose her to the destructive power of Lancaster Gate.

Milly is also aware of Dencher’s indifference to her. By the time Dencher returns from America, she meets him and recognizes both how much she “likes” him and how much she regrets that he should share “the view” of her: “she could have dreamed of his not having the view, of his having something or other of his own.” Then Milly becomes fully conscious of her own ultimate solitude amidst the buzz of admiration and adulation of the Lancaster Gate circle. It is this knowledge that adds the last intolerable weight to the burden of her self-consciousness. From this terror of Milly Theale’s condition, all the characters withdraw. They are intelligent, but not intelligent enough to know what such a condition means.

In conclusion, by employing a number of points of view, James gives us the chance to see revelations about characters and their motivations without making any personal claim, but rather leaving the subject under discussion to the reader’s intelligence without disconcerting appeals to his emotion which enables him to achieve a certain degree of objectivity and to assert the importance of point of view in determining style and language. He desired to be absent from his creation, yet deep down he knows that he is present on every page. “The Wings of the Dove” holds a symbol of Jamesian consciousness, a symbol as moving as it is inclusive. When the dove dies, she is gathered up into James’s own consciousness. Milly’s fate and her forgiveness, hidden from us as they are, are deeply moving, but they remain humanly subject to what James called “variations of interpretation”.