Posted in Reading, Teaching, Theatre

ENG 242: Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of May the Fourth

What links English 242 to the British actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller? The answer is three characters, two that we reflected on when we moved online in March and a third that’s the focus for the final week of the course, which begins today.

Both Cumberbatch and Miller have played the role of Sherlock Holmes; Cumberbatch portrayed him in the BBC series Sherlock (2010-17), set in present-day London, and Miller played him in the CBS series Elementary, which transformed the Scotland Yard detective into an investigator in present-day New York City. In between the launches of those two series, Cumberbatch and Miller performed together in the Royal National Theatre production of Frankenstein (2011). The two actors alternated the roles of Victor and the Creature and shared the Olivier Award (the equivalent of Broadway’s Tony) for their performances. The pairs of photographs that follow feature Cumberbatch and Miller as Holmes and in their dual roles in Frankenstein.

Top: (L-R) Cumberbatch and Miller as Sherlock Holmes / CBS, BBC; Bottom: Trading the roles of Victor and the Creature in Frankenstein / Royal National Theatre

Playwright Nick Dear‘s Frankenstein and the series Sherlock and Elementary are but three of the many adaptations that attest to the enduring appeal of the narratives that bookend our semester. The popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s detective and his many incarnations in film and television inspired the first of three options for your blog response this week.

Option One:

Have you watched Sherlock, Elementary, or one of the Holmes films featuring Robert Downey, Jr. as the title character? If so, address the similarities and differences between the portrayal of the detective on screen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s portrayal of him in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” If you write about Sherlock or Elementary, don’t focus on the obvious difference in the time setting, ditto for the location (New York City) of Elementary. Include both the title of the series/film and the actor’s name in your response.

Option Two:

The Adventure of the Speckled Band” belongs to the subgenre of detective story known as the locked room mystery, in which a murder occurs in a closed space where the perpetrator seemingly vanishes into thin air, and there are few, if any, suspects. Which detail about the locked room mystery of Julia Stoner’s death, or her bedroom where the murder took place, do you find most intriguing?

Option Three:

In The Norton Anthology of British Literature, the editor notes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle named “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” as his favorite Sherlock Homes story and that “[m]any fans have agreed; readers’ polls over the years have frequently rated ‘The Speckled Band’ as the best Holmes story of all” (920). If you have you read another Sherlock Holmes story that you favor over “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” write a response that addresses its merits. If you’ve read other Holmes stories and prefer “The Speckled Band,” explain why.

Extra Credit:

It’s no mystery why the force is with us today, but how does May the fourth figure in one of the works of Victorian literature that we’ve studied? In your response, cite the two lines that together solve the mystery. Follow each quotation with a parenthetical citation.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates.

Work Cited

Robson, Catherine. Biographical Note: “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859-1930.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Age. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W.W. Norton, 2018. pp. 920-21.

Posted in Reading, Teaching

ENG 242: Still Stranger than Fiction

PART I

Part I of this blog post offers a look back at excerpts from some of the comments that you posted last week. Although I never would have chosen for us to communicate exclusively online as we are now, I am grateful for the opportunity to see your thoughts on the screen. And I hope that reading your classmates’ comments has been a comfort. I know it has been for me. If your gravatar isn’t on your blog, I encourage you to add it. It puts a human face beside your words.

From Crowson Roosa:

The past two weeks have definitely shifted my views of the novel. As Jeremy said, “being under quarantine has definitely caused me to become very cautious.” After being alone in isolation, I never really appreciated interacting with my classmates and friends until I could not see them anymore.

From: Joe Van Story:

I have learned to not look at everything at face value and to try to look deeper and try to find the good in what is happening. An example of this is the COVID-19 virus, while it is a tragedy it has brought unexpected joy in my life, such as spending more time with my family.

From Jenna Ramsey:

In regards to Del Toro’s remarks, he states how reading the book showed him “how deep, how life-changing, a monster parable could be–how it could function as art and how it could reach across distance and time to become a palliative to solitude and pain.” This also goes hand-in-hand with the virus. This virus is the ‘monster parable’ that has been life-changing to most everyone, in at least one way or another. While this virus has been ‘a monster parable,’ it could also be considered an ‘art’ of sorts in the way it has caused us to stop and think about what we truly need to be buying (if we truly need to run out to this store or that store), has caused us to spend more time at home with our families and rethink what we are doing with the time we have on our hands. It has also spread all over the world, affecting many people, leaving us to solitude/quarantine and caused pain to those who have had life-altering things happen due to the virus.

From Jacob Palmer:

As Caeley Arney mentioned in her comment, it is true that Victor Frankenstein hid himself from his creation in disgust. But we must not forget that the monster too isolated himself from society, intently watching over the DeLacey family from the safety of their hovel. Being deprived of the company of fellow creatures for such a long time, the monster took an uncharacteristic liking of this intriguing family, longing to be embraced by them and admitted into their ranks. It is in this time of isolation that we may really understand what the monster is feeling, and come to sympathize with him more so than before. One may come to recognize this desire to socialize to be unmistakably human. Thus, while the monster may be confined to the body of a monstrosity, it is evident that the feelings he expresses are none other than those of a human being. This raises questions as to what constitutes humanity and may challenge original notions over who the real monster is in this harrowing story.

Below I’ve included a works cited list as a model for citing comments on a blog post. Yes, there’s actually an MLA-style format for that, and there’s one for tweets as well. If you want to cite one of your classmates’ comments in your Victorian project, look to these entries as models. For more sample entries, see OWL’s page devoted to citing electronic sources.

Works Cited

Palmer, Jacob. Comment on “ENG 242: Stranger than Fiction.” Jane Lucas, 31 Mar. 2020, 11:56 a.m., https://janelucas.com/2020/03/31/eng-242-stranger-than-fiction/#comments. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.

Ramsey, Jenna. Comment on “ENG 242: Stranger than Fiction.” Jane Lucas, 31 Mar. 2020, 10:36 a.m., https://janelucas.com/2020/03/31/eng-242-stranger-than-fiction/#comments. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.

Roosa, Crowson. Comment on “ENG 242: Stranger than Fiction.” Jane Lucas, 31 Mar. 2020, 9:38 p.m., https://janelucas.com/2020/03/31/eng-242-stranger-than-fiction/#comments. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.

Van Story, Joe. Comment on “ENG 242: Stranger than Fiction.” Jane Lucas, 31 Mar. 2020, 11:29 a.m., https://janelucas.com/2020/03/31/eng-242-stranger-than-fiction/#comments. Accessed 6 Apr. 2020.


PART II

As we begin our study of Victorian writers, observe how their fiction differs from the prose and poetry of the Romantics:

On the one hand romances were writings that turned, in their quest for settings conducive to supernatural happenings, to distant pasts, faraway exotic places, or both . . . . On the other hand romance also named a homegrown, native tradition of literature, made unfamiliar and alien by the passage of time.  (Lynch 18; emphasis added)

The Celtic ballad “The Dæmon-lover” exemplifies those two seemingly disparate accounts of the writing of the Romantic period; it features the supernatural, and its renewed popularity in the nineteenth century illustrates the revival of interest in older forms, “native tradition[s] . . . made unfamiliar and alien by the passage of time” (18).

Turner, J.M.W. Interior of Tintern Abbey (1794). / tate.org

We’ve also seen the Romantics’ renewed interest in medieval literature in Victor Frankenstein’s early account of his friend Henry Clerval: “He was deeply read in books of chivalry and romance. He composed heroic songs, and began to write many a tale of enchantment and knightly adventure (Shelley 33).

Much later in Frankenstein, Victor’s description of Henry elucidates another trait of the Romantic period, the adoration of nature: “The scenery of external nature, which others regard with only admiration, he [Henry] loved with ardour” (Shelley 139). That observation of Victor’s serves as an introduction to the verse that follows in Chapter 28, eight lines from William Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey,” the first-generation Romantic’s own recollection of his attachment to nature.

As a counterpoint, consider these descriptions of the Victorian age:

In the eighteenth century the pivotal city of Western civilization had been Paris; by the second half of the nineteenth century this center of influence had shifted to London, a city that expanded from about two million inhabitants when Victoria came to the throne to six and a half million at the time of her death. The rapid growth of London is one of the many indications of the most important development of the age: the shift from a way of life based on the ownership of land to a modern urban economy based on trade and manufacturing. (Robson 3; emphasis added)

Because Britain was the first country to become industrialized, it’s transformation was an especially painful one: it experienced a host of social and economic problems consequent to rapid and unregulated industrialization. Britain also experienced an enormous increase in wealth. (Robson 4)

Works Cited

Lynch, Deidre Shauna. Introduction: “The Romantic Period, 1785-1832.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Romantic Period. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W.W. Norton, 2018. pp. 3-27.

Robson, Catherine. Introduction: “The Victorian Age, 1830-1901.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Age. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W.W. Norton, 2018. pp. 3-27.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818, 1831. Introduction and Notes by Karen Karbeiner. Barnes and Noble, 2003.


PART III

Engraving by John Leech  (1843) / gutenberg.org, The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) / disney.com

One of the challenges of reading A Christmas Carol now is seeing beyond the images that are part of our collective memory. Even those who have never read Charles Dickens’ novella see in their minds Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghosts, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim . . . . We have watched the iconic miser’s story unfold on-screen over and over. Whether we see him as Michael Caine (in The Muppet Christmas Carol), as Disney’s Scrooge McDuck, or as Alastair Sim (A Christmas Carol, 1951), he’s there in our minds.

Your assignment this week  is too look beyond those images and see the story anew through Dickens’ own words. I have assigned each of you one of the five staves. Dickens labeled each section or chapter as a stave, an archaic term for a stanza of a song or poem, to underscore the idea that the story is a Christmas carol in prose.

Directions

  1. Study the stave assigned to you in A Christmas Carol (see the lists below), and identify at least one detail that isn’t familiar to you, something you haven’t seen or heard in an adaptation: a description, a line of dialogue, an unfamiliar term, etc.
  2. Compose a response of twenty-five words or more that addresses that detail. Include the stave number in your response. If you include a quote, follow it with a parenthetical citation: stave with a lower-case followed by the number (stave 1).
  3. If you’d like to address the experience of reading Dickens’ novella in the days of the novel coronavirus, you’re welcome to do that in addition to (not in place of) addressing your assigned stave.
  4. Post your comment as a reply to this blog post by 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 9.

To avoid the risk of students restating what classmates have written in earlier posts, I will not make the comments available for view until after the posting deadline on Thursday.

ENG 242.871AC 

Stave 5: Carmen Bonilla, Gabe Carswell, Dakota Clawson, James Erwin, Caleb Fountain, Deanna Grogan, Allison Lasher, Paige Lewis, Emma Maltba, Hayleigh Marshall, Jaanai Mendez-Santiago, Mason Nance, Shea Ortiz, Andrew Parker

Stave 4: Amelia Price, Caroline Riddle, Grey Sacona, J.D. Sharpe, Kenna Sipe, Josh Sloan, Joshua West, Autumn Yang

ENG 242.872AC

Stave 4: Cierra Ballard, Mariana Bonilla-Quesada, Ashton Canipe, Allie Desantiago, Sarah Fox

Stave 3: Cristian Gonzalez-Sanchez, Candace Johnson, David Long, Hannah Maltba, Keara McCann, Peyton Moore, Jacob Palmer, Roberto Perez-Perez, Jenna Ramsey, Chandler Rhyne, Joe Robbins, Jeremy Simpson, Alex Xiong, Madison St. Clair

Stave 2: Ahira Yanez, Anna Young

ENG 242.873AC

Stave 2: Bryan Alba, Caeley Arney, Eden Austin, Breanna Bowman, Emily Brown, Ruben Castillo-Martinez, Landon Childres, Breanna Church, Colin Coffey, Chandler Danner, Noah Dietrich, Courtney Gant, Cole Harris

Stave 1: Jachin Jenkins, Caleb Little, Kayde Morgan, Luke Noble, Declan O’Halloran, Brian Paz-Tellez, Courtney Powell, Crowson Roosa, Lauren Setzer, Cole Sharpe, Madison Starnes, Joe Van Story, Riley Whitener, Linsey Wike

The first ten students to post will receive bonus points, and the first student who correctly answers the questions below will be awarded an extra credit assignment in the participation and preparedness category.

Extra Credit Questions

Along with the ghosts that visit Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, there’s a reference to another literary ghost. Who is the ghost, and in what work of British literature does he figure?

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

Posted in Reading, Teaching

ENG 242: Stranger than Fiction

Dear Readers,

Oscar-winning director Gillermo Del Toro first read Frankenstein when he was a fourteen-year-old growing up in Mexico. Mary Shelley’s novel transformed him. As we conclude our study of Frankenstein, consider these words of his:

I saved my Sunday allowance for a couple of weeks and bought it [the paperback]. I read it in one sitting, and by the end of it, I was weeping. It was my Road to Damascus. It illuminated the reason I love monsters, my kinship with them, and showed me how deep, how life-changing, a monster parable could be–how it could function as art and how it could reach across distance and time to become a palliative to solitude and pain.

And here we are, two centuries later, faithfully depositing flowers to this most exquisite storyteller, this extraordinary Galatea who refused to be shaped by her circumstances and gave us all life. And we try, in return, to help her creature stay alive. We strive to turn a curse into a blessing.

We hope that in some way, somehow, our gratitude, our love, can reach him like a whispered prayer, like a distant song. And we dream that perhaps he can stop–amid that frozen tundra and the screaming wind–and can turn his head and look back. At us.

And we hope that then he might recognize in our eyes his own yearning. And perchance we can walk toward each other and find meager warmth in our embrace.

And then, if only for a moment, we will not feel alone in the world. (xiv-xv)

Although Mary Shelley’s novel may not have transformed you as it did Del Toro, you are reading, or rereading, its final chapters as the COVID-19 pandemic transforms all of our daily lives.

  • Have the unprecedented circumstances of the past two weeks altered your perceptions of Shelley’s novel? If so, how?
  • If you’d rather not write about finishing Frankenstein in the days of coronavirus, write about one of the novel’s themes or one of the moments in the narrative that lingers in your mind.
  • Or respond to Del Toro’s remarks.

Post your response of twenty-five words or more as a reply. If you address a point that one of your classmates has written in a previous reply, mention that classmate by name in your own reply. In the coming weeks we may turn back to some of your replies/comments as we study Dickens, Carroll, Stevenson, and Doyle.

Remember to check your CVCC email and Blackboard regularly for updates and assignments.

Sincerely Sequestered,

Dr. Lucas

Work Cited

Del Toro, Guillermo. Introduction. “Mary Shelley, or the Modern Galatea.” The New Annotated Frankenstein. By Mary Shelley, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, W. W. Norton, 2017, pp xi-xvii.

Postscript

And the early-bird bonus points go to these CVCC Red Hawks: Grey Sacona, Caeley Arney, Madison St. Clair, Gabe Carswell, Chandler Danner, Lauren Setzer, Jenna Ramsey, Joshua West, Ruben Castillo, and Joe Van Story! Well Done!

Posted in Reading, Teaching

Navigating Dark Passages

J.M.W. Turner’s “Slave Ship” (1840) / W.W. Norton

At first glance, the painting The Slave Ship seems primarily a showcase for the artist J.M.W. Turner’s use of light and color. But the painting’s title, its subtitle, and closer inspection of its details reveal that Turner’s painting speaks to the  consequences of slavery and oppression, as well as the ways in which we depict such injustices. Readers who encounter The Slave Ship in conjunction with other Victorian-age literature may be reminded not only of the words of John Ruskin–once owner of the painting, who described its “awful but glorious light” (385)–but also of the realization by Frankenstein’s monster that without money or social status, he was considered a “vagabond and a slave” (Shelley 107).

Those words of Shelley’s not only express the sentiments of nineteenth-century slaves and abolitionists, they also echo the words of her mother, pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. When the monster recounts Saphie’s education, he observes how “[t]he young girl spoke in high and enthusiastic terms of her mother, who, born in freedom spurned the bondage of which she was now reduced. She instructed her daughter in the tenets of her religion [Christianity], and taught her to aspire to higher levels of intellect, and an independent spirit, forbidden to the female followers of Mahomet” (110).

Works Cited

Ruskin, John. Excerpt from “The Slave Ship.” The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Age. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. p. 385.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818, 1831. Introduction and Notes by Karen Karbiener. Barnes and Noble, 2003.

Turner, J.M.W. Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying–Typhoon Coming On). The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Victorian Age. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. C1.