Betjeman, Buchan, Wilde and The Yellow Book

This is an article released as part of The FrankenPod’s exploration of Oscar Wilde and his place in the gothic literary canon.

The poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel” is a subtle yet insistent condemnation of the society that allowed for the prosecution of Wilde. In depicting the final moments before Wilde’s arrest Sir John Betjeman talks of The Yellow Book.

Sir_John_Betjeman_(1906-1984)
Sir John Betjeman

“So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:

And Buchan has got in it now:

Approval of what is approved of

Is as false as a well-kept vow.

-Sir John Betjeman

To unpack this passage we need to know a little about the aforementioned Yellow book. The Yellow Book was a yellow clothbound publication that featured salacious and subversive stories, many of them French. Many note that a yellow book, similar to the future periodical was given to Dorian Gray by Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray written by Oscar Wilde in 1891.

Is it possible this could be part of the inspiration for the name of the periodical?

Well kind of. The phenomenon of the illicit French narrative was very much alive during the time Oscar Wilde was writing The Picture of Dorian Gray. But the yellow bound book is not an invention of Wilde’s but rather a common mode of publication for these transgressive tales. It follows that if Lord Henry was to procure such a corrupting, violent and heavily sexualized book it would more than likely have been presented in this yellow bound format. The periodical The Yellow Book is named after this publication presentation phenomenon that preceded The Picture of Dorian Gray.

It was also known as “The Yellow Nineties” due to its decade of publication.

The quarterly publication is cited as running from 1894 to 1897 and came under heat when Oscar Wilde was seen to be carrying a similar book, leading to outraged crowds throwing stones at the office of the publication. That gives you a bit of a clue as to the kind of societal outrage Oscar Wilde was facing. In this time of crisis in Wilde’s life, his arrest for gross indecency, surely seeing the publication whose name could have been inspired by his prose, give way to a style of writing so distanced from his own aesthetic style would be another blow to the great author.

The implications that this has for the poem is that these tales that challenge social mores are being supplanted by John Buchan’s more tame prose.

I am not entirely sure what Wilde’s opinion of Buchan’s writing really was but Wilde, as written by Betjeman, positions himself and aestheticism as the unconventional to Buchan’s conventionally appealing writing. By the Yellow Book publishing the work of Buchan, Betjeman is implying that challenging works such as Wilde’s that have achieved hard-earned success have been pushed aside to make way for less groundbreaking potboilers. This is a gross simplification of the two author’s works but that is not a reflection on the beauty of the poem.

The poem is the essence of the societal rejection of Wilde, his fall from favour and the sense that the world of literature will continue on without him.

John Buchan and his brand of thriller are the future and Wilde’s aestheticism is the past. Literature may have suffered greatly from the loss of Wilde’s unwritten work, but what is done is done. And in 1937 when Betjeman is writing this poem the literary scene had undergone a massive transformation, he seems nostalgic but resigned to the change that sweeps through everything eventually.

LILLIE_LANGTRY_-_Cadogan_Hotel_21_Pont_Street_Chelsea_London_SW1X_9SG
Cadogan Hotel By Spudgun67 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As the poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel” is the creative property of Betjeman  I will not be reproducing it in full but I am providing a link to the poem in full from Poetry By Heart who has permission to reproduce the poem.

So with that, we say goodbye to Wilde for now. The world of mystery and espionage that Buchan’s work forms part of could be in our future.

The passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray which introduces the nature of the yellow book:

“His eye fell on the yellow book that Lord Henry had sent him. What was it, he wondered. He went towards the little, pearl-coloured octagonal stand that had always looked to him like the work of some strange Egyptian bees that wrought in silver, and taking up the volume, flung himself into an arm-chair and began to turn over the leaves. After a few minutes he became absorbed. It was the strangest book that he had ever read. It seemed to him that in exquisite raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of the world were passing in dumb show before him. Things that he had dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he had never dreamed were gradually revealed.

It was a novel without a plot and with only one character, being, indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian who spent his life trying to realize in the nineteenth century all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except his own, and to sum up, as it were, in himself the various moods through which the world-spirit had ever passed, loving for their mere artificiality those renunciations that men have unwisely called virtue, as much as those natural rebellions that wise men still call sin. The style in which it was written was that curious jewelled style, vivid and obscure at once, full of argot and of archaisms, of technical expressions and of elaborate paraphrases, that characterizes the work of some of the finest artists of the French school of Symbolistes. There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour. The life of the senses was described in the terms of mystical philosophy. One hardly knew at times whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some mediaeval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner. It was a poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences, the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of reverie, a malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and creeping shadows.”

Thanks for reading

Morgan

The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati

byron-greek-dress
Lord Byron in Greek dress

This article was written to accompany The FrankenPod episode “The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati” and our continuing exploration of Frankenstein, Or the Modern Day Prometheus and it’s author Mary Shelley.

In 1816 the after-effects of a devastating eruption of Mount Tambora the year beforehand were seriously messing with weather patterns and consequently the harvest. Farmers across the globe were struggling to make ends meet and cost of food and produce skyrocketed. Byron was still travelling. He left England in disgrace and he would never go back until they transported his cold lifeless corpse back to England against his wishes. Mary, her husband Percy and her stepsister Claire were travelling too. Referred to as the Shelley Party, or Shelley and his two little wives. The two parties would cross paths between 10 June to 1 November 1816 at Lake Geneva that would be intensely documented and scrutinised.

 

Whilst Mary and her novel may be our primary point of interest, she is not the driving force behind the gathering of these remarkable people. No, it is her persistent and enamoured 18-year-old step sister, who had organised for the two parties to meet up using the kind of Machiavellian manipulation that only a strong-willed 18-year-old woman can orchestrate. Claire Clairmont had, through written correspondence, pursued Lord Byron and, he, exhausted from the constant scandal was absolutely willing to have an affair with a pretty, chaperone-less young lady who was the stepdaughter of one of the most esteemed thinkers of his age.

Their affair was short-lived and Byron unceremoniously ditched her. Claire, however, was not done with him and she began to utilize all the social capital she had at her disposal. If you haven’t caught on yet Byron is an arse. He was accused of all sorts of adulterous and licentious behaviour including a rumoured affair with his half-sister. He spent his time hopping from scandal to scandal, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. His behaviour was particularly devastating to the women he had affairs with as the scandal could ruin their lives. He was very assured of his own genius and place in the world and he thought nothing of dismissing the affections of this young woman until she introduced Percy and Mary into the mix.

Byron, like Percy and numerous other young writers of the time, was fascinated by Mary. This daughter of two literary greats must be special indeed. And Percy had previously sent Byron a copy of Queen Mab in which the older poet saw a budding poetic voice emerging. Plus Byron had dealt with his fair share of public scandal so he felt a certain affinity with the young unwed couple.

However, Byron was leaving for Geneva and Claire was not going to give up just yet. She asked for the address.

He said no.

She asked again but this time she offered to bring Mary and Percy along.

This idea appealed to Byron and an invitation was extended to the Shelley party who by this stage was essentially on the run from Percy’s creditors and the scandalous reputation they had acquired in England.

Byron was not travelling alone, his laudanum addiction provoked him to retain the services of a doctor to accompany him in his travels, one Doctor John Polidori. Literary lore and Polidori’s own account of his time with the genius poet depicts a Byron as a potential sociopath who would constantly berate and belittle his paid companion, whilst demonstrating an easy charm and playfulness with others. He enjoyed toying with the young doctor, delighting in his failures and missteps. But Polidori had a secret; he had been paid quite a large sum of money by publisher John Murray to document the trip for publication. Byron gossip was a high priced commodity, and though his motives were far from pure, it is Polidori’s notes to which we owe a large portion of what we know of the events that transpired at the on the holiday…

Listen to The FrankenPod League of Incense – The Villa Diodati now.

Or keep reading… Or both

Continue reading “The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati”

Strange Mechanical Grotesques, The Harlot’s House By Oscar Wilde

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The ‘Treues Liebes Herz’ of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
‘The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.

But she–she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.

“The Harlot’s House” by Oscar Wilde, can be found in Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde, first published in 1911.

The_First_Quadrille_at_Almack's

I am aware that the above image is of an upper-class quadrille, but I figure that they led a charmed existence compared with the Victorian sex workers referred to in Wilde’s deathly quadrille, so I think they can take the hit on this one.

In this poem of Wilde’s, we get another dose of heady voyeurism, such as would delight Lord Henry himself. We have an unfortunately common example of Oscar Wilde fetishizing or othering the poor and underprivileged, potentially taking advantage of the terrible conditions force some of them into sex work, for the narrator’s own voyeuristic intentions. This poem seems to be moralizing in a way that, if you had read the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray alone you would have thought he was entirely uninterested in.

The main reason to attribute morality to this poem is by way of the very clear link between the voyeurism of the couple beholding the spectacle of the brothel and the woman being tempted into joining the spectacle. The spectacle of the brothel is partially obscured to the casual observer who might find the scene tantalising and irresistible. But as soon as one passes over the threshold they find that there is nothing but corruption and death on offer in “The Harlot’s House”.

The sex workers, who are often interpreted as all female due to their shrill voices, and the description of one clutching “A phantom lover to her breast”, attempt to behave seductively and succeed on a surface level but they are simply going through the motions, they have become just another cog in the machinery of industrialised Victorian England. They attempt to play and dance like their heart is in it, but the implication (if we are to be generous to Wilde) is that they have become jaded. If we are less generous to Wilde then he is simply viewing the poor and underprivileged sex workers as mere objects that imitate human form. For all Wilde’s dress reform advocacy and beliefs about female independence, he is still a Victorian gentleman whose advocacy didn’t quite breach class divides.

I have a question, and I would love input so feel free to email me thefrankenpod@gmail.com :

Is the “tune” going “false” the corruption of the narrator’s partner or is it simply the discovery of the true nature of the brothel? It seems like the illusion is shattered, but also it seems like enough time has passed for the dawn to “with silver-sandalled feet, [creep] like a frightened girl.“. We are told it happens suddenly, but they appear to be there for quite some time, at least outside. So is it merely voyeurism and disappointment, or voyeurism and corruption?

Among other references, I used this as a springboard.

Thanks for reading!

Morgan of The FrankenPod

P.S. Obligatory Frankenstein and Gothic Literature links

I think we can agree that this macabre spectacle of the brothel and the part human automatons therein is inherently a gothic spectacle with imagery such as skeletons, phantoms and ghostly apparitions used to paint the picture of the decadent and ostensibly lively Victorian brothel. The othering of the sex workers as the undead and unnatural makes them of the Creature’s kin in Mary Shelley‘s novel Frankenstein or the Modern Day Prometheus.

A Drenched Rat Walks into a Library…

I know it’s early on a Friday but I think this may be the highlight of my day. It’s rainy, I’m soggy and I walk into the dry, warm comfort of the library to find a guy giving a poetry talk, he’s comparing Henry Lawson’s Australia bush to edgy urban landscapes. He has completely captivated the kids from the nearby highschool who’ve come to listen. 

He puts down the microphone to read one of his own poem and in a loud voice proclaims:

“Go back to where you came from you dirty terrorist…”

A man walking past jumps away in alarm

“That’s what he said to me*…” 

Those half listening visibly relax. 

It’s a powerful poem about not getting pushed into victimhood by bigotry. 

I saw the poster about this earlier in the week but completely forgot about it.  His name s Zohab Khan and he’s going to be part of Write Around the Murray this year. Definitely worth checking out.

I wish I had of caught the whole thing.

*Might be a slight misquote

The Renaissance Religious Experience in Poetry

Examine portrayals of religious experience by three authors whose work you have studied in this unit: what do you see as their main similarities?
The religious poetry of Renaissance England is at once both ferocious in its devotion and deeply conflicted. As a time of tremendous religious turmoil, the Renaissance period saw a great number of poets garner inspiration from spiritual and religious sources. The constant struggle between Anglican and Catholic faiths meant that faith was both a source of identity and conflict, making it a perfect subject for emotive poetry. In order to tie together common religious ideas in the poetry of this era this essay will examine the works of George Herbert as a potentially Protestant poet, John Donne as a formerly Catholic poet who became a Protestant convert, and Richard Crashaw who converted to Catholicism in adulthood. This diversity of religious perspectives, at least across the Catholic-Protestant spectrum, will both challenge and confirm religious motifs that cross dogmatic religious and political lines. In problematizing a Catholic-Protestant poetry dichotomy the aim is then to present a view of personal Christian devotional poetry in Renaissance England as represented by the works of the three select poets who, while writing nonsynchronous to each other, have both distinctive differences and similarities in the way they portray the religious experience.

The earliest of the three poets, and perhaps the most conflicted and vocal in his exploration of Christian faith is John Donne, whose mix of Catholic upbringing and Protestant conversion, in conjunction with his move from sensuous love poetry to holy  sonnet, makes his poetry riddled with contradiction and filled with strikingly passionate exclamations. Donne’s style and experience as a poet prior to The Holy Sonnets  (Donne, p.331-340) was lustful love poems that delved deep into the indulgence of sexual appetites or the desire for another. That lustful desire is transformed into devotional poetry, meaning that Donne’s poetry draws a parallel between human desire and religious devotion. The intensity of religious fervour is as powerful as the jealous love expressed in The Apparition (Donne, p.47-48). In Holy Sonnet 14 (Donne, p.328) Donne expresses his desire to be violently overwhelmed by the presence of God, in a manner that is almost sexual, beseeching his God to take him by force. He uses marriage as a motif to express his ties to evil; “But am betroth’d unto your enemie: Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe,” (Donne, p.328, Holy Sonnet 14, line 10-11). The interchangeability of lust and devotion in Donne’s poetry makes the divine into the other in his Holy Sonnets but unlike in his love poetry the other in these sonnets is immovable and impervious, with the Donne narrator unable to exert control. 

Donne also emphasizes the need for a manifestation of God to the devoted in Holy Sonnet 14 (Donne, p.328) with violent verbs such as “breake”, “blowe”, “force” and “burn” (Donne, p.328, Holy Sonnet 14, line 4) in his requests for divine intervention. Donne’s God is one who could deploy such violence with ease but may remain steadfast and illusive. This violence and passion of devotion is characteristic of all three poets examined in this essay. Despite his Catholic roots, post conversion Donne comes to perceive the Roman catholic church and its constructs as heretical and corrupt (Donne, p.442) as they deal in earthly concerns and the worship of the Virgin Mary (Marotti, p.359) Donne’s Protestant ideology is one of direct access to God, but only as god permits. There are no intermediaries, rather he is at the direct mercy of God in the struggle to achieve true devotion, a struggle which is ultimately in vain unless his God deems him worthy;

Oh I shall soone despaire, when I doe see

That thou lov’st mankind well, yet wilt’not chuse me,

And Satan hates mee, yet is loth to lose mee.

Donne, p.322, Holy Sonnet 2, lines 12-14

In Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10  he explores how the eternal life that continues after death is free of the woes of the mortal realm, so that death is at once rendered impotent and a gateway to salvation. He rejoices in the ineffectiveness of death in the face of everlasting life by addressing piteously the Anthropomorphic spectre of death “Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.” (Donne, p.326, Holy Sonnet 10, line 4)

George Herbert presents a more genial version of God. He is still creator and sits in judgement of man, but he is there to pick select a chosen few out from their humble beginnings, and through his divinity console and rescue humans from their own impious natures and the pain of everyday mortal existence. Herbert, following Donne’s lead, writes as a metaphysical poet about the abstract religious experience, whilst also anthropomorphising concepts such as Death and Love.

As a Protestant poet Herbert rejoices in the knowledge of the word of God and sees God as the only window to true beauty; without faith in God as a lens the world appears dark and joyless. The mortal realm hold very little but pain for Herbert with true hope lying in the idea of life everlasting. His preoccupation with life after death is similar to that of Donne with death presenting no threat after the poet discovers life after death through god. His fear of death has been so extinguished by faith that he proclaims “[Death] art grown fair and full of grace,” (Herbert, p.180, Death, line 15) as death now affords him passage into the afterlife. It is through his exultations and exclamations of the peace that comes through reframing the world in the context of his faith that he paints secularism as a poor imitation of the divine.

Herbert is diplomatic and vague in his deployment of identifiable ideological indicators is an example how religious ideologies in Renaissance England need to be understood along a spectrum. Herbert despite the puritan rejection of the excesses of the Catholic church shows his perceived need for sacrament even in protestant faith. Even the Eucharistic sacraments can be incorporated provided all perceived catholic superstition can be removed and those who receive the sacrament are not necessarily blessed by virtue of the sacrament (Whalen, p.1276).

Herbert also expresses the common Christian motif of mankind as inherently sinful and only redeemed through acceptance of God. Herbert sees people as corrupted and of an earth that is not divine but full of pain and suffering. He shows the struggle against human nature in order to embrace the love of God in this passage from Love III :

 “Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back 

Guilty of dust and sin.” (Herbert, p.183, Love III lines 1-2)

The “Love” of Herbert’s  Love III is Anthropomorphic divine love that has a tangible presence and agency: “Love took my hand, and smiling did reply”(Herbert, p.183, Love III, line 11). This anthropomorphising of love suggests a being that is possible to interact with and engage with. This is in line with Herbert granting personhood to death (Herbert, p.180, Death) and suggests an attempt to translate the metaphysical into easily understood physical, human terms. Herbert’s depiction of sin and redemption as an inescapable cycle that can only end in death or ultimately the day of judgement is inline with Donne’s view of the fallibility of mankind and redemptive power of god. Herbert’s expression of the  eventual endpoint of the cycle as the final relief and salvation of mankind is clear;

As at Doomsday; 

When souls shall wear their new array, 

And all thy bones with beauty shall be clad.

Herbert, p.180, Death, lines 18-20

Following the lead of Herbert and Donne into metaphysical devotional poetry, Richard Crashaw deals primarily with the personal religious experience but unlike Herbert and Donne, he takes his imagery from Catholic source material, such as saints and angels. The saint is the intermediary between man and his creator, so as a means of access  to God, Saint Teresa is both praised by Crashaw for her piety and purity but is also praised for her relationship with God. From the outset Saint Teresa is associated with the “seraphim” (Crashaw, p.152 The Flaming Heart, line 5), the Seraphim who have a direct line to god and further intermediaries between man and God.

Crashaw raises his objections to the soft femininity of the artists portrayal of the saint as she is strong and has a powerful agency as an intermediary of god. He objects to the inaccuracy of the portrait on the basis that words, not images can depict religious truth (Mebust, p.84)  but that they often fall short and are just a poor imitation of the divine. His critique of symbology and icons is less in line with Catholicism than the protestant aversion to what they considered idolatry. This has lead to a critique of Crashaw’s work as conforming to Protestant ideologies and beliefs (Teller, p.239) but the poet clearly views Saint Teresa as not just an example of devotion but also as a potent intermediary with agency to be a conduit to God. He gives her divine flame and power that does not conform to the puritanism associated with Protestant beliefs and though he condemns and parodies the sensationalist imagery of the Catholic portrait he revels in his own revision of the image.

Virgin mother and the female saint as a key component of spirituality is not something which is as heavily explored within Anglican devotional poetry as it is in Catholic poetry. This can be attributed to the construction of the divine hierarchy in the respective religions, where Catholicism places special emphasis on the Virgin Mary. Crashaw’s preoccupation, with the feminine and maternal in the divine is evident in The Flaming Heart (Crashaw, p.152) in which he examines and praises a religious portrait of Saint Teresa in lyrical and passionate terms. She is depicted as virginal, and it is from this virginal purity and her association with the seraphim, as an order of angels closely allied with fire, that she draws her fiery power. Feminine divinity in the form of Saint Teresa is represented by both a furious and loving fire. She is described as bringing forth “happy fire-works” and “mistresse flame” (Crashaw, p .153, The Flaming Heart, lines 17-18) The purity of the burning love between man, the saint, Christ and God. The imagery of the holy wound and the burning flame adds an intensity to the devotion that the poet feels for the Catholic God.

Crashaw draws out the inventive and purifying energy of god leading to the refinement and purification of humanities creative endeavours when he beseeches that divine forces “Resume and rectify thy rude design” (Crashaw, p.153, The Flaming Heart, line 39). He shows that man is weak and strengthened through devotion to, and by, the grace of god. Crashaw’s humanity is born as  “dark Sons of Dust and Sorrow” (Crashaw, p.39,The Name Above Every Name, The Name of Iesvs, line 96) and can only achieve true peace and salvation in life after death “Let this immortal life, where’er it comes,” (Crashaw, The Flaming Heart, p.153, lines 81)

Herbert, Crashaw and Donne agree in key Christian ideals such as man as inherently corrupt and whether by pre-determinism or redemptive action salvation can only be achieved through the judgement of God. Whilst the means to this salvation differ the role of God as the deciding factor is clear and absolute. There is also an agreement that it is through faith in God that a person can see and appreciate true beauty. The emphasis on the afterlife is also a common thread, with life after death being the focal point of all faithful and devotional actions. The striking use of violent language to convey the strength and potency of religious fervour is recurrent throughout many of the texts with Donne using impact verbs to describe his desire for spiritual awakening, Crashaw using fiery imagery to posit an alternate portrait of Saint Teresa and Herbert beckons “Doomsday” (p.180, line 9) when those not chosen will meet their reckoning. 

The unworthiness of mankind is noted with Herbert (p.183, line 2) and Crashaw (p.39, line 96) both referring to humanity as made of dust and unworthy, and Herbert and Donne noting the base human impulse to turn away from God. The base and earthly state of humanity and the divine is problematic for these metaphysical poets as the try to grapple with the abstract and intangible, leading to the anthropomorphising of “Love” and “Death” as in Herbert and Donne’s works and the embodiment of certain aspirational qualities in a human form as with Crashaw’s Saint Teresa. This humanising of the abstract allows the poet to interact with the divine and to exert some level of agency over their own salvation.

All poets fluidly move between Catholic and Protestant ideologies and even Donne in his strong condemnation of aspects of the Catholic church and faith does incorporate Catholic ideology in his works and bemoans a lack of unity (Marotti, p.361). Herbert is ambiguous in ideological allusions in his poems, favouring more generic explorations of the Christian religious experience and Crashaw, whilst evoking Catholic imagery also dismisses their ability to capture the divine as effectively as the written word, a decidedly Protestant viewpoint. This movement between ideologies ties these poets together and breaks down any possible dichotomy that can be drawn between Catholic and Protestant devotional poetry of this era.

In understanding the fluidity of ideologies in these texts it is important to understand the difference between the impact of sanctioned faith as opposed personal opinion (Gates, p.1) which by its very nature may transgress factional lines of Christianity. The deeply personal, first hand accounts of the religious experience detailed in the poems are the very reason that their religious conformity can only be understood on a continuum. It is personal not factional devotion that is at the core of these poems, for each poet has a unique take on spirituality and their place within it that is informed by both Protestant and Catholic factions.

While the ideological labels of Protestant and Catholic are potent and useful to determine the reasoning and origins of the methods and imagery used to depict and understand the religious experience of these poets, it is not a final, hard, fast or all encompassing definition. Understanding Catholic and Protestant devotional poetry as a dichotomy is deeply problematic as all of the writers of the poetic texts examined transgress or conceal their professed faith in one manner or another. Not only to we find transgressions but common threads throughout the religious experiences they depict , creating a collective portrait of the religiously devoted poet as being enamoured, joyous and conflicted, struggling, from humble earthbound beginnings, to achieve true spiritual alignment with God.

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References

Crashaw, Richard. The Complete Works of Richard Crashaw, Volume I (of 2). 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2015. Www.projectgutenberg.org, Web. 18th Nov. 2016.

Donne, John. The Poems Of John Donne [2 Vols.] Volume I & Volume II. 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2015. Www.projectgutenberg.org, Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

Gates, Daniel. “Faith and Faction: Religious Heterodoxy in Renaissance England.” Religion &Amp; Literature, vol. 32, no. 2, 2000, pp. 1–10. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40059863.

Herbert, George. The temple. Sacred poems, and private ejaculations. By Mr. George Herbert, Late Orator of the University of Cambridge. Together with his life. The twelfth edition corrected, with the addition of an alphabetical table. London,  1703. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Macquarie University Library. 18 Nov. 2016 

Marotti, Arthur F. “John Donne’s Conflicted Anti-Catholicism.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 101, no. 3, 2002, pp. 358–379. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27712244.

Mebust, Erik. “Words and Icons in Crashaw’s” The Flaming Heart”.” The Proceedings of GREAT Day (2016).

Teller, Joseph R. “Why Crashaw was Not Catholic: The Passion and Popular Protestant Devotion.”English Literary Renaissance 43.2 (2013): 239-267.

Whalen, Robert. “George Herbert’s Sacramental Puritanism.” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 4, 2001, pp. 1273–1307. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1261973

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Call out to clever cloggs

Got an idea you want to chat about?

Obsessed with something niche?

Are people tired of hearing about it?

Do they get that glazed over look in their eyes?

Do they sigh loudly when you mention it?

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Do they start screaming when you open your mouth?

Don’t stress we’ve got your back!

Starting this May our podcast gives a voice to the obsessed, the fanatical and the heartbreakingly earnest. We want to hear what you’ve got to say and if you can say it in 2 minutes we can give you the proverbial floor to convince us all that we should care about your thing.

What we need from you:

  • A 2 minute “pitch” for your idea, cause or obsession explaining why we should care about it too.  You can mention a specific project if you like  before your 2 minutes but it isn’t an ad so we can’t really take pitches that are just promotional.
  • 10 minutes of your time
  • A photo of you and/or the thing you care about

OR

If you are a performer you can share a song, poem, play or short story.

So if I can’t promote my stuff what can I talk about?

Well you can expand it to talk more generally. For example, if you have a podcast about true crime you can promote it before your 2 minutes, but in your 2 minutes you might talk about why people should care about wrongful convictions. Or if you have a small business you might want to talk about the importance of shopping local or buying handmade instead of mass produced. We are totally happy to plug your stuff, but the point of the 2 minute pitch is to squash as much information about the stuff you care about into it, your promotional message can be given pride of place before or after it when listeners will have time to process it.

No matter what you love we want to hear from you

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Female Desire in Donne and Shakespeare

Failed due to lateness. Poo. It’s not a wonderous essay by any stretch, but I said I would publish everything I could from my uni course…

So I present my take on female desire in Renaissance Poetry, such as it is…. warts and all….

How do Donne and Shakespeare differ in their representations of female desire, if at all? You should mention two poems by each poet (ie four sonnets in total).

Renaissance poetry and female desire have a troubled relationship which is unsurprising due to the overwhelmingly male proponents of the craft during this period. John Donne and William Shakespeare are two such poets who through their writings demonstrate a preoccupation with masculine notions of desire, but both of whom have a much less immersive approach to exploring female desire. Shakespearean sonnets appear to be much more deeply rooted in a realistic idea of female desire, until it is contrasted with the fantastical nature of masculine love in the earlier sonnets, creating a stark contrast between the treatment of genders in his works. Donne’s treatment of female desire is more sublime, but is more a matter of conquest than appreciation. If Shakespeare’s depiction of female desire is negative, or at the very least apathetic, Donne’s depiction is one of entitlement; female desire and females in general are there to be seduced or attained. 

Donne’s urge to conquer female desire and wrangle it to his will has the effect of not only giving his poetry a tinge of bitter disdain but also objectifies the women he desires (DiPasquale, 2012). He often denies his female characters agency and this denial of female agency in the poetry is also the result of placing the male as the protagonist. Donne casts himself or his narrator as the hero of the piece, therefore any parties acting contrary to his will are antagonists, but the woman who reciprocates his advances is evidence of his successes. When the female exercises her agency by rejecting the narrator she is deemed unworthy and potentially irreparable, to the point were he would not change her fate if he could; “I’had rather thou shouldst painfully repent, Than by my threat’nings rest still innocent.” (Donne, The Apparition, 47)

Donne’s apparent misogyny in the eyes of modern audiences is somewhat redeemed by the pains he takes to convey the woman as human, while he does objectify he does not treat them as subhuman as Shakespeare does. While it’s true that Donne’s narrator often considers women as lesser than men, he does at least credit them with a level of autonomy and a distinct voice (Coren, 2001) in certain poems such as Elegy 16 (Donne, 111) in which his lover concocts her own plan, in a show of a level of agency that Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” fails to achieve.

Shakespeare carries out his own brand of objectification, whilst he does not deny his ‘Dark Lady’ agency, he breaks down the woman into a collection of physical attributes, she is not praised or beheld as a whole but is broken down into the required parts to create the appropriate figure of a Renaissance woman (Shakespeare, Sonnet 30). The Shakespearean woman is a domestic earthly creature, desirable but always less so than man. In his sonnets men are capable of more than women, in fact they are even better at being a woman than women;

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,

Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;

A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted

– (Shakespeare Sonnet 20).

The love triangle implied in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144 is potentially the reason for his disdain of women and his unsympathetic depiction of female desire (Burnham, 1990). Female desire and heterosexual love appears to lead to the devastation of the narrators desire, leading to the dichotomy of men as divine and women as evil; “The better angel is a man right fair, The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 144)

Both Donne and Shakespeare depict female desire as fickle and cruel, bemoaning it’s inconstancy and injustice. In The Apparition (Donne, 47) Donne, by denying the man his love the woman is considered a murderer; “When by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead” (Donne, The Apparition, 47). Her rejection is seen as malicious and spiteful, rather than an exercise of free will. The scorned narrator Wails and gnashes his teeth as he talks of her cruelty and how he will exact his posthumous revenge. If female desire is fickle then it is necessarily toxic to the woman and the man involved. She is corrupted in The Apparition (Donne, 47), by her own inconstancy  and suffers both physically and psychologically as a result. When the female desire is not directed unwaveringly at the Donne narrator he considers it deceptive and cruel, positioning himself as the primary and rightful focal point of female desire. 

Shakespeare shows the inconstancy and fickleness of female desire in Sonnet 20, where Shakespeare beholds his androgynous love he shows, through the reaction of others the nature of gendered desire;

“Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.” (Shakespeare, sonnet 20) 

In this passage men merely turn their heads at the appearance of the man who looks like a woman, whereas women are deeply effected by the masquerade, perhaps jealous of the success and beauty of the illusion. This passage indicates not only the narrator’s worship of the man in the story but the extent to which women are more easily effected by shallow stimuli such as changed appearance.

Shakespeare’s dim view to female desire is perhaps best explained within the context of the masculine power hegemony of the time, to praise a man is natural, to praise a woman in such terms is scandalous (Matz, 2010). There is an inappropriateness in addressing the desire of women, whereas the exploration of male desire is less corrupting. Donne courts societal outrage by blatantly praising in detail the form of a woman and exploring her role in the passions of man (Coren, 2012) in a way that Shakespeare fails to do. If some of his more lavish praise was directed at a woman Shakespeare would run the risk of encountering the same level of outrage as Donne experienced.

Shakespeare tends to position himself somewhat differently; as in competition with and inherently suspicious of female desire. He does not flatter females as Donne does, they are not on pedestals, however the way their desire manifests appears to be inherently deceptive or malignant in their effects in the Shakespearean narrator’s own intimate sphere.

The nature of desire and its ability to change perceptions of reality is addressed by both poets, and whether the way that desire manifests this change is a deceptive or creative force is heavily gendered. The world building that occurs between two lovers is a reoccurring motif for Donne and Shakespeare, with the enamoured subjects carving out a metaphorical space for themselves and their mutual desire to inhabit. In Shakespeare this manifests as  room, Donne however carves out an extended world and alternate space for his lovers to safely inhabit. These visions of a safe place for desire to flourish a conjured up by masculine desire is explored by both poets but the context of this gendered creation of intimate space differ.

Donne uses masculine and feminine desire as a building block for an alternate reality, a world in which the two parties can exist without condemnation and fear, and indulge in their lust and desires. This somewhat insular attitude to desire puts the couple engaged in such world building at odds with the reality of the greater society. By contrast Shakespeare’s desire involving women is firmly rooted within social realities; he is keenly aware  and alludes to the reality of the human condition and lays bare the deception at work in the world view of those bewitched by desire towards women (Shakespeare, sonnet 130). Shakespeare does however explore world building in his depiction of homo masculine desire and the conditions which could allow this love to flourish without the need for pretence. 

There is a certain amount of antipathy towards desire of women in both poets bodies of work. Shakespeare in particular does not dwell on the emotions and desires of women, with the key allusions to the inner workings of the female being those of deception and ill-nature.  He paints a picture in his sonnets of female desire as a corrupting force which lays waste to true and pure love;

“Wooing his purity with her foul pride” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 144)

This corrupting force manifests in Sonnet 138 as deception, whether this deception is knowing or unknowing; “ I do believe her though I know she lies,” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 138) Here the Shakespearean narrator is convinced of knowing deception, but it is also possible that the lady so overwhelmed with the experience and emotions of love and desire that she believes what she says. However this lack for world building potential in the female desire is not true of the sonnets that deal with homoeroticism (Shakespeare, sonnet 112). Masculine homosexual desire is not as deeply rooted in the deceptive workings of everyday social constructs, enabling the world building such as the desire to which Donne’s poems alludes. Shakespeare heterosexual explorations of female desire are firmly placed within the domestic, whereas masculine desire has the potential to inhabit the sublime. The woman in Shakespeare’s sonnets is firmly positioned in the earthly sphere, she “treads upon the ground”, he is almost pragmatic in his description of her (Shakespeare, Sonnet 130) unlike his male love interest who is held in company off gods. Donne’s women, providing they are supplicant, are divine and desirable. 

The inherently masculine power hegemony in Elizabethan and Renaissance England meant that women were given limited power to exercise their will, particularly within the romantic sphere. Female desire, when it falls contrary to the will of the narrator of Donne’s poems is deeply problematic and prompts  a furious and irrational response. The Apparition (Donne, 47) shows a man struggling to regain power over a woman who by rejecting his advances is not under his power. 

Donne’s irrational female desire as exemplified in Elegy 16, (Donne, 111); “Which my words’ masculine persuasive force” (Donne, Elegy 16, 111) when he beseeches his love not to do anything foolish, he points out the folly of her potential plan. He even likens her ability to disguise herself as that of an ape. Desire has almost rendered her insensible, and it is up to the Donne narrator, the self proclaimed hero and rational mind of the piece to prevail upon her to behave in an appropriate manner to prevent dire consequences for them both.

By contrast Shakespeare is less enraged than despairing when the power balance is tipped in favour of female desire. When the lady of the final sonnets is triumphant in her desire it ultimately means that Shakespeare’s own desire is unattainable. Female desire in Shakespeare sonnets is primarily an obstacle to the happiness of the narrator preventing him from attaining his desires and destroying the world of mutual masculine desire he has constructed with his love.

Female desire is often problematic for the poets as it does not often line up exactly with their own agendas. Whether this problematic desire tales the form of direct rejection or competition it does not tend to yield sufficiently to create contentment and a satisfactory resolution for the poets, this leaves the ultimate mark of female desire as being one denoting frustration and disappointment. The masculine and feminine desires are set up in opposition to one another, but the feminine desire often is seen as being the antagonistic force that refuses to bend to the superiority or sensibility of masculine desire.

In their depictions of intimacy and relationships Donne and Shakespeare struggle to convey anything other than a male-centric view of desire, however their approaches that lead them to this outcome differ considerably. Shakespeare dissociates female desire from the divine nature of masculine desire, whilst Donne renders female desire sublime by association with the right man, that is the narrator. Shakespeare and Donne agree on the potential cruelty and inconstancy of female desire, meaning that women whose desire does not line up with the poets’ are ultimately problematic and destructive.
References

Burnham, Michelle. “Dark Lady and Fair Man”: The Love Triangle in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and” Ulysses.” Studies in the Novel 22.1 (1990): 43-56.

Coren, Pamela. “In the person of womankind: Female persona poems by Campion, Donne, Jonson.” Studies in Philology 98.2 (2001): 225-250.

DiPasquale, Theresa M. “Donne, women, and the spectre of misogyny.” (2011).

Donne, John. The Poems Of John Donne [2 Vols.] Volume I & Volume II. 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2015. Www.projectgutenberg.org, Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

Matz, Robert. “The Scandals of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.” Elh 77.2 (2010): 477-508.

Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2014. Www.projectgutenberg.org, Web. 28 Oct. 2016.

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