Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mid-Term Topics

For the mid-term essay, select one of the following three topics (irrespective of any previous written work that you might have done on the material specified) and write a twenty-five hundred word essay, using the stipulations in the English Department's published Style Guide, to be handed in the lecture of March 4th. Make certain that your essay engages each criterion in your chosen topic.

1.] In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty has the following exchange with Alice:

  • "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."
  • "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean different things."
  • "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all."

Using a word to mean whatever the speaker chooses it to mean is a definition of nonsense. Consider Tennyson's "The Higher Pantheism" and Swinburne's "Response" as a dialectical exchange, where the subject is nonsense. Continue that dialectic with your essay, using literary analysis to show which one of the two previous stages -- Tennyson's or Swinburne's--is Humpty Dumpty nonsense, and which one is sense.

2.] Robert Browing's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is arguably the most evocative poem of the Victorian Age. In lecture, for instance, we saw how it can work as a dolourous representation of the state of a Christian's faith after Darwin. Concentrating on the transformative effect that the final stanza has on the work as a whole, interpret the poem as an allegory of some specific dark state of mind or social condition. Keep in mind that as an allegory, each aspect of the work -- word, phrase, line, object, place -- must have some direct and precise analogue to that which is being allegorised.

3.] Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din" and "Without Benefit of Clergy" give literary representation of Indians during the British Raj. Concentrating on the texts themselves, explain what Kipling might intend by these representations in relation to the Empire. Use Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "The Burden of Ninevah" to inform your configuration of Victorian England's understanding of Empire.

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