My Major Reading List Presented by Dustin Drew Introduction • The following is a list of 34 categories of my major reading list. • Each category will have a statement of its relevance in literature. • I will comment and add insight as I have read different works from each category. • This is an ongoing project that will be updated accordingly. GROUP ONE—EPIC • An epic is a genre of classical poetry that originated in Greece. An epic’s plot centers around a hero of unbelievable stature who performs deeds of superhuman strength and valor. Most heroes are partially divine or protected by a god and the story takes place in not only geographical but also often cosmological space and involves supernatural forces. In most epics, the narrator sees and knows all and presents all perspectives. • I have studied the Odyssey many times starting in high school, and most recently in Media Studies where we looked at the correlation between Odysseus's journey home from Troy and the modern movie O Brother Where Art Thou. • The poem has all of the classical traits of Greek literature, where Odysseus’s life is mainly guided by fate but because he invades Troy and blinds Poseidon's son the cyclops, his journey home becomes a test of will between Odysseus and the gods. GROUP TWO—CHAUCER • For this group I chose to read the first half of Canterbury Tales which turned out not to be dry English writing like I expected. It contained a great deal of humor based on his satire of issues in religion and society that were going on during the end of the Medieval era. • I put together a presentation for Canterbury Tales attached to this blog that goes in depth about the politics of the poem. GROUP THREE—MEDIEVAL ROMANCE • Medieval Romance is a type of prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ Idealizes Chivalry (Code of Chivalry – hero-knights abided by this code) Idealizes the noble hero-knight and his daring deeds Women are idealized and held in high regard by hero-knight Imaginative, vast, fairytale like setting Mystery and supernatural elements abound Repetition of the magical numbers 3 and 7 Tale involves a quest for love and/or adventure by hero-knight Simple, predictable, inevitable plot GROUP FOUR—MEDIEVAL DRAMA • Medieval drama refers to the theatre in the period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D. and the beginning of the Renaissance in approximately the 15th century A.D. Medieval theatre refers to a variety of genres, including liturgical drama, mystery plays, morality plays, farcesand masques. Beginning with Hrosvitha of Gandersheim in the 10th century, Medieval drama was for the most part very religious and moral in its themes, staging and traditions. GROUP FIVE—CLASSICAL DRAMA • Classical drama developed in Greece, mainly Athens, and portrayed public and religious life during that time. The plays mostly consisted of the Greek Tragedy with an occasional comedy and were mainly performed in the City Dionysia, a dramatic festival in honor of the god Dionysus, where Athenians came not simply to be entertained but also as a religious obligation. • I studied the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles in my Evolving Stage class. In this Greek tragedy Oedipus, no matter how hard he tries, cannot escape his own fate of killing his father and marrying his mother which eventually lead him to tear out his own eyes because there was no longer anything pleasant for him to see. • Once again like with The Odyssey, the Greeks seem to focus on the premise that people’s lives are ruled by fate, and how the gods manipulate people’s lives around that fate. GROUP SIX—RELIGIOUS WRITING • This group consists of writings of the different world religions, and what they would consider sacred text. They explain the foundations and beliefs of said religions. • Although they might not sound appealing to most, they are important to read and study because they give us more insight into the human psyche, and also provide historical data to study ancient society. GROUP SEVEN—SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS • I could say a lot of things about Shakespeare, but there are two things that stand out in my head. ▫ He set the standard by which modern plays have evolved. ▫ He was a master with the English language, and the rhythm and flow that his plays were written in is still probably unmatched to this day. • I studied Othello, the Moor of Venice in Evolving Stage, and Macbeth in Informatics where we conducted character analysis using text mining. What seemed different in Shakespeare’s plays from previous eras of plays was that outside forces seemed to be the driving factor in his plays. They plant seeds of thought in the main character’s head which ends up changing the course of their lives. For instance the witches in Macbeth convince him they can see the future and that he will be king. If he would have left things alone and been the kings great general, he probably would have lived a very good life. GROUP EIGHT—16TH/17TH CENTURY POETRY • Poetry, not unlike the other writing during this time was influenced by many events that were happening. ▫ This time period was the beginning of the renaissance, and many ancient texts were being discovered that had influence on the writers. ▫ Religion still had a large influence on writing, but probably more so during this time because of the reformation, and that bibles were starting to be translated in English. ▫ Also more texts were being written in English as it was becoming more acceptable for written documents. ▫ Metaphysical poetry took root during this time with poets such as John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell and Henry Vaughan. This poetry questioned things that cannot be explained by science such as consciousness and reality. GROUP NINE—SPENSER/MILTON/ALLEGORY • Like with other texts of the time the works of Spenser and John Milton had to do with the religious, social, and political revolutions going on at the time. Both Spenser and Milton were genius in the way they used symbolism and metaphor to represent a different meaning in their writing than what it appeared to be at surface level. The Irish coined this and became very good at it. • In The Faerie Queene, an incomplete epic poem by Edmund Spenser, the poem follows several knights in an examination of several virtues. Many of the virtues which are: holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice, courtesy, magnificence, glory, and constancy have to do with religion and politics of the renaissance and reformation. • In Paradise Lost, which sounds like it is about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit at surface level, is actually about the removal of the monarchy and subsequent beheading of King Charles I, and later the Restoration when they restored the late king’s son to the throne. GROUP TEN—CONTINENTAL CONTEMPORARIES • Writers of the renaissance from continental Europe, mainly from Spain and France. Many such as Miguel de Cervantes and Giovanni Boccaccio influenced many future writers. • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is considered a founding work of modern Western literature and one of the first novels, also considered the most influential text to come out of the Spanish Golden Age. • Decameron from Giovanni Boccaccio came before the renaissance, but is also very influential on future Western literature. It is considered to be a major influence of the Canterbury Tales, since there are some tales that are very similar in both texts. GROUP ELEVEN—TUDORS AND ELIZABETHANS • Many of the writers in this group are considered peers of William Shakespeare. All were highly influenced by the renaissance, and logic and reason. • Ben Johnson is considered the first Poet Laureate of England. Even though he wrote poetry he was probably most well known as a playright with such plays as Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610). • It is interesting that Francis Bacon is in this group since he is known for being a pioneer of the scientific method rather than as a writer. GROUP TWELVE—ALEXANDER POPE • Alexander Pope is known for his satire and also known for his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. • He is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare. • Helped form the satirical Scriblerus Club with John Gay, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Parnell and John Arbuthnot, who aimed to satirize ignorance and pedantry in the form of the fictional scholar Martinus Scriblerus. GROUP TWELVE—ALEXANDER POPE (CONT) • In Essay on Criticism, Pope looks at whether poetry should be written according to classical rules of the past or whether it should be written natural or as one wants to write it. He also looks at the laws or rules when it comes to critiquing poetry and puts forth that a poetry critic should be an aid to a poet rather than to attack them. • The Rape of the Lock is probably Pope’s most famous poem. It is written as a mock epic and satirizes a quarrel between Belinda, who is believed to be Arabella Fermor, Lord Petre who had snipped a lock of hair from her head without her permission. The poem is meant to be a humorous indictment of the vanities and idleness of 18th-century high society, and to mock his society in its very failure to rise to epic standards of heroism and chivalry. GROUP TWELVE—ALEXANDER POPE (CONT) • In Essay on Man, popularized the optimistic philosophy, not only in England but throughout Europe. It was written as a means to justify the ways of god to man. It consists of seven major ideas: ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ ▫ A God of infinite wisdom exists He created a world that is the best of all possible ones The plenum, or all-embracing whole of the universe, is real and hierarchical Authentic good is that of the whole, not of isolated parts Self love and social love both motivate humans' conduct Virtue is attainable One truth is clear, “Whatever is, is right" GROUP THIRTEEN—CONTINENTAL WRITERS • These were influential writers from continental Europe during the Eighteenth Century • Voltaire was the nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet who was a French philosopher and writer during the Renaissance. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform, including the defense of civil liberties, freedom of religion and free trade. Despite the strict censorship laws and harsh penalties of the period, Voltaire made use of his satirical works to criticize Catholic dogma and the French institutions of his day, and his works and ideas influenced important thinkers of both the American and French Revolutions. ▫ Candide reflects Voltaire’s lifelong aversion to the church and the arrogance of nobility, but it also criticizes certain aspects of the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment. It attacks the idea that rational thought can stop the evils perpetrated by human beings. GROUP FOURTEEN—JONATHAN SWIFT • Jonathan Swift was considered one of the foremost prose satirists in the English language. Even though he was of English decent, he championed the plight of the Irish, and spoke out against their harsh treatment by England. ▫ A Modest Proposal is an all out satirical criticism of not only the English for their exploitation of the Irish people, but also at the Irish for letting it happen and not standing up against it. In the political pamphlet, Swift proposes selling babies as food to the rich to get Ireland out of its dire economic situation. What the pamphlet does is first shocks the reader, but then gets them to think critically about the situation in Ireland. GROUP FIFTEEN—THE NOVEL • Although works that could be considered novels date back to ancient Egypt, it wasn’t until Don Quixote was published in 1605 that novels started to become a literary genre of their own. Novels in this category were the forerunners of the genre and were written and published during the eighteenth century. To be considered a novel a book must have the following characteristics: • Written in Prose • Fictional • They are long and must be published separately • They have longer development of characters and plot GROUP SIXTEEN—18TH CENTURY WRITERS • This group of works was from authors that were both from England and America. Some of the works challenge English life and rule and speak of the American Revolution, while others talk simply about nature, possibly a forerunner of the Transcendentalists. All the authors seem to be laying the groundwork for the romantic period of literature. ▫ One of the poems that goes against this and still resorts to the old American theme of praising god is Phyllis Wheatley’s poem On Being Brought from Africa to America in which she is almost being grateful for being put into slavery because it brought her to God. ▫ Thomas Payne’s Common Sense on the other hand is a pamphlet that justifies America’s reasons for revolution. GROUP SEVENTEEN—ROMANTIC POETRY • Romantic poets embraced individualism, had love and respect for the natural world, idealism, physical and emotional passion, and an interest in the supernatural. Romantics rebelled against classical and neoclassical artistic ideas and embraced freedom and revolution in their art and politics. • William Wordsworth’s poems initiated the Romanticism by emphasizing feeling, instinct, and pleasure over formality and mannerism. Many of his poems, like Tintern Abbey that he is visiting for the first time in five years, elaborate on his connection and passion with nature. GROUP EIGHTEEN—VICTORIAN POETRY • The Victorian age poets were influenced by the romantic poets and are considered to be the link between the romance period and the modernist period. They brought forth increased use of the Sonnet as a poetic form, which influenced later poets. • This age also saw an influx of famous female poets. Many of the female poets’ works reflected the difficulties of women during that period. • The Victorian Era poets also tried reclaiming the past and incorporated themes such as chivalry and courtly love from medieval times into their poems. • Later poetry of the era focused on decadence and the idea they were destined for failure. Groups such as the Rhymers’ Club and the Yellow Book were formed whose texts emanated these ideas. They were the foundations of the Modernist movement. GROUP NINETEEN—AMERICAN LITERATURE • All writers from this group can either be considered American Romantics on Transcendentalists. ▫ Romantic writers revolted against the Age of Reason and celebrated imagination, spontaneity, subjectivity, revolutionary energy, individualism, and democracy. There was a feeling in there writing that things would always turn out better, and they believed there writing would promote human advancement. ▫ Transcendentalists took it one step farther and believed that society and its institutions, particularly organized religion and political parties, ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. GROUP NINETEEN—AMERICAN LITERATURE • Walt Whitman tried to identify with the common American. In studying the American epic leaves of grass, it can be said that Whitman strayed away from any type of classical poetry. It is all written in first person and free verse, and instead of presenting himself as an elevated hero he assumes the role of the common man. Also in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, there is the constant idea that he is trying to identify with everyone who has ever been on that ferry, and will in the future, in that he wonders if they see things exactly how he sees them. • Henry David Thoreau wrote to advance nature and humanity. In Civil disobedience he suggested that people should challenge unfair policy by peacefully disrupting the status quo. If that meant committing some minor infractions to make a statement, then so be it. Thoreau’s Transcendentalist manifesto was Walden, where he rejected society and lived off the grid and by his own means for a period of time. Even though it was not far from Emerson’s house. GROUP TWENTY—BRITISH FICTION • This group covers all the different kinds of novels of the time, like gothic novels, science fiction novels, the detective novel, and the new woman novel. What this all stems from is major political changes during the time, and also major changes in technology. • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice takes on the idea the different social classes of the time and each classes perceptions of each other. What is interesting about the novel is that it gives out the idea that many social classes hold prejudices towards one another that many times are not true. Rather judgement of someone should be on their personality and values instead of what class they fall into. GROUP TWENTY-ONE—CONTINENTAL LITERATURE • This group represents realism in European literature, where they rejected the classical novel by writing about common people and the lower class. Many of the writers explore the shortcomings of modern society and its effects on the general public. • Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky was important in realism. The novel is about an individual who is on the fringes of society, and it explores the effects of modern society on the man’s personality. The Underground Man is a civil servant in St. Petersburg Russia who has gone insane over the course of his lifetime because of his inability to cope with the society. Therefore the Underground Man, in Dostoevsky’s eyes is a result of the depravity in modern society. GROUP TWENTY-TWO—AMERICAN FICTION • American realism also deals with the common man in real situations, but with American social issues involved. The main issues of this time were the end of the Civil War and the institution of slavery, and the rapid growth of the country. They focused on the here and now, and the consequences of said actions. • Another common trait of American realism is that it focused more on regionalism and vernacular to make the stories more realistic. • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was written after the Civil War but takes place before, focuses on Huck’s dilemma of whether to turn Jim, an escaped slave, in or not. During their trip on a raft down the Mississippi River, Huck is constantly questioning whether to turn Jim in because he is someone’s property, or whether to let it go because he starts seeing Jim as a person. GROUP TWENTY-THREE—DRAMA • Theatre during the nineteenth century followed the same movements as all other types of literature during the time, mainly Romanticism, Naturalism, and Realism. • There were also major technical innovations during this time which include the use of gas and electric light and the stage elevator. • A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen focuses on the realism of the time by looking at the roles of males and females in the institution of marriage in a male dominated world. The whole play focuses around Nora Helmer being blackmailed by an employee of her husband’s over a secret loan she acquire from him. Nora has to face the dilemma of trying to convince her husband to not fire the employee, or him finding out about the loan. In the end her husband finds out about the loan and worries only about his reputation rather than about Nora which in turn ends the marriage. GROUP TWENTY-FOUR—20TH CENTURY AMERICAN POETRY • Modernist poetry was a complete rejection of anything previous. It was highly influenced by the atrocities of WWI and by the new understanding of the world through science. Modernists looked at their works more as an art form than as anything with a moral message. ▫ T.S. Eliot focused on a the concept of fragmentation in many of his poems. In The Waste Land, Eliot focuses on the fragmentation of post World War II society caused by the horrors experienced during the war in Europe. ▫ When thinking of poetry as the art form, a good way to start is by reading some of William Carlos Williams’ poetry in which he focuses on writing about an object rather than an idea, as in The Red Wheelbarrow or The Yachts. GROUP TWENTY-FIVE—AMERICAN FICTION • This group covers American Modernist fiction in the form of short story and novel. Ideally these stories also follow the same beliefs as Modernist fiction. • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, follows the life of Jay Gatsby chasing after his only desire which is Daisy Buchanan, a lost love who has since married. What is interesting about the book is that it is narrated by Nick Carraway who is just an envious onlooker. There is a great deal of symbolism used in the book like the to represent modern society. There is a constant reference to the Buchanan’s green dock light which to many represents old money, since Daisy’s husband Tom comes from old money. It is almost like the green light at the dock across the lake is untouchable, even for Gatsby. There are T.J. Eckleburg’s eyes which represent that no matter how sneeky we think we are, we are always being watched by God. And then there is the actual valley of ashes that they must pass through to get to the city. To me this seems like a reality check as to how life really is, and an homage to Eliot’s Waste Land. GROUP TWENTY-SIX—BRITISH FICTION • British Modernism is very similar to American Modernism, probably because most of the authors were living in close proximity to each other in London and Paris. Like American Modernism there is also a major focus on post WW I Society and the view of their works as art rather than strictly commentary. • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was a novel that broke ground because it explored writing in Stream of Consciousness, or what they were thinking rather than what they say or do. The novel is about three main characters, Clarissa Dalloway, Peter Walsh who is one of Clarissa’s past loves, and Septimus Smith who is a WW I veteran with a bad case of shell shock. The story covers twenty four hours in preparation for Clarissa’s party that she will throw that night, and integrates all the characters by their relationships with each other and through other characters. The book is complicated to read, but is an integral part of Modernism because it not only opens up the world to a new artistic form of writing, but it also is a reminder of the horrors that happened during WW I with the use of Septimus. GROUP TWENTY-SEVEN—CONTINENTAL LITERATURE • This group covers the existentialists and modernist literature in Europe. The same values are true as far as the Modernists, but with the existentialists, there is a common belief that the individual is the only person that gives his or her own life meaning. • The Plague by Albert Camus focuses on the idea of existentialism by focusing on the drastic change in people when they are facing disaster. The novel starts out with everyone in their mundane and ignorant lives in Oran, Algeria. But when faced with the plague and being quarantined, people rise above themselves and show how good human nature can be when faced with hardship and suffering. This novel drives home the idea that individual human beings will make their own mark in the world. GROUP TWENTY-EIGHT—20TH CENURY DRAMA • Like everything else theatre followed the same ideas, like Modernism, Postmodernism, and Realism. But they also had to explore new ideas and ways of presenting because of decline in audience due to the advent of film. • Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is about the last twenty four hours of Willy Loman’s life and focuses on his own loss of identity and his inability to accept change. The play is made up of fragments of reality and what is happening in his own life which he sees as a failure, and other fragments of memories that Willy relives about how things could have been. Miller also brings up an affair that happened fifteen years prior to show how one event could change everyone’s perception of a person. After Willy’s son Biff found out about the affair, he always thought lower of him. And that ends up being the point of the play, to expose the false images people create for themselves. GROUP TWENTY-NINE—INTERNATIONAL • This group showcases notable authors that are not from England, America, or mainland Europe. Many of the works have to do with post colonial life after the withdrawal of many of the European countries from Asia, Africa, and South America. • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez encompasses this idea of post colonial life by telling the century long story of the Buendia family who live in an isolated area of Columbia. The story itself consists of multiple layers and generations, but there are two themes that are constant throughout the whole book. First is the idea that history is cyclic because it seems that events keep repeating themselves and the whole history may be predetermined. Second and most important is that the town of Mocando and the Buendia family keep trying to resist outside forces, whether it is the gypsies, the government, or the banana company. These outside influences seem to be portrayed as imperialist, and lead to change and eventually the demise of the village. And we can not only look at the theme of solitude as physical, but also as mental solitude from the ideas of the rest of the world. GROUP THIRTY—20TH CENTURY BRITISH POETRY • This group was very similar to the American poets during this time. Many talked about pessimistic views and discourse when it came to politics across Europe. • W.B. Yeats was a groovy poet who dealt with and wrote about his fascination with the occult in A Second Coming which deals with Jesus’ second coming as a beast rather than as the messiah • Another poem from Yeats I found interesting was An Irish Airman Sees His Death where writes about an Irish airman fighting in WW I and really doesn’t know why or who he is fighting against or for because he is indifferent to the prescribed enemy, and could care less about England who he is supposedly fighting for. It is an interesting way to look at fighting for England when they were still part of the empire. GROUP THIRTY-FOUR—FILM • This group covers art films based off literature. • For this group we watched Persona from Ingmar Bergman, which was a bizarre film to say the least. It reminded me of Fight Club thirty years before Fight Club because it dealt with duality and the theory of hyper reality. The film is basically about a nurse named Alma who is put in charge of an actress named Elizabeth Vogler who quit talking during a performance. Alma starts telling Elizabeth her secrets as therapy and eventually finds that her persona is becoming one with Elizabeth’s But one questions by the end if this wasn’t just something going on in Elizabeth’s head, but the movie ends with these questions still standing.