Archive for February 24, 2019

The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, ca. 1783-91 / W. W. Norton

My previous blog post features the sample assignment that I wrote for my British literature students. This post presents a second sample that I wrote along with them.

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli depicts a blonde lying in her bed chamber with a demon crouched on her chest, eyeing her with a wicked grin. In the background, a wide-eyed, white horse gazes at the pair, his head parting the curtains that separate the irrational world of the nightmare from reality and reason. Though the painting’s title indicates that the slumbering woman is having a nightmare, her arched back and raised knees create an image that’s more erotic than horrific. The demon crouched on her chest heightens the eroticism of the painting, as the impish figure appears in the form of the iconic incubus of mythology and folklore, a demon who descends upon people in slumber, often to engage in sexual intercourse.

A painting of the Romantic era, The Nightmare evokes literature of the period as well works of earlier centuries that the Romantics turned back to for inspiration. With paint, Fuseli expresses the same themes that Mary Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge convey with words: Victor Frankenstein’s Angel of Destruction (Ch. 3) and the Ancient Mariner’s vision of death and his mate (line 189). Pre-Romantic-era works that The Nightmare echoes include John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost–the source of Frankenstein‘s epigraph–“The Daemon-lover,” from the oral tradition of Celtic balladry, and the New Testament Book of Revelation.

 Work Cited

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Romantic Period. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. pp. 448-64.

Fuseli, Henry. The Nightmare. The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Romantic Period. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. p. C5.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Introduction and Notes by Karen Karbiener. Barnes and Noble, 2003.

The Ring and the River

Posted: February 24, 2019 in Reading, Teaching
Tags:

Both Members of This Club, George Bellows, 1909 / National Gallery of Art

Each volume of The Norton Anthology of English and American Literature now features a full-color section of visual art that offers readers the opportunity to consider the parallels between the words on the page and the paint on the canvases of the same era. That opportunity prompted me to create an assignment series for my British Literature students that asks them to write a blog post about one of the works of art and make connections between that visual art and one or more of their readings. This blog post, “The Ring and the River,” is one that I composed as a model for my British Literature students. I chose a painting from the American anthology to avoid the risk that my students would think that the blog post they wanted to write had already been written.

As a member of the Ashcan school of artists, painter George Bellows championed the representation of American society in its many forms, in particular the working classes. Seeing Bellows’ painting Both Members of This Club in The Norton Anthology of American Literature brings to mind one of the novels included in the anthology: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Bellows turned to the boxing ring to depict America as Twain turned to the Mississippi River. The opponents in the ring evoke the racial conflict at the heart of Twain’s narrative, and the grotesque faces of the crowd mirror the images of the mob in Chapter 22. In the words of Colonel Sherburn, “[t]he pitifulest thing out is a mob” (200).

 Work Cited

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: 1865-Present. 9th ed. Robert S. Levine, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. pp. 108-290.