Summer I, 1998
Directions: Please answer three of the following in essay form. You may consult your books if need be. Please answer all questions in as complete a form as possible. You should provide support for your claims by citing evidence from the poem or story, but more important than that is your developing your claims beyond the obvious. Please do not spend more than 2 hours on this exam. When you have completed it, you may send it to me as an attachment to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or you may drop off a hard copy of your responses at my mailbox in the English Department office (5th floor Language and Literature). In either case, you should hand your answers in no later than 5PM on Wednesday, 6/17.
1) Discuss the function of time in Swinburne's poem "The Triumph of Time." Does it seem to have the same function it has in "Hymn to Proserpine"? Would it be accurate to say that the speaker of the former poem seems to welcome death the way the speaker of "Hymn to Proserpine" seems to? Discuss.
2) In Rossetti's poem "Jenny," what is the function of Nell, the cousin with whom the speaker compares Jenny (Sections 118 and 119)? Is he simply tearing the mask off all pretense at purity here by suggesting that all women, even those who seem pure of heart, are at base desiring creatures and therefore fallen women (in spirit if not in actual fact)? How do you read the final lines of the poem (Section 127)? Is the poet suggesting here that his interest is finally not in the nature of Jenny but rather in his own redemption? Is the "dark path" he wishes to "clear" his own path or the path to Jenny's true nature? Might they be one and the same?
3) In the "Conclusion" to The Renaissance: A Study, Pater seems to suggest that his preoccupation with "impressions" stems from a conviction that they are the only portals through which the outside world impinges on the self living within its own prison ("Experience, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without" [p. 196]). Would it be accurate to say that "The Child in the House" demonstrates the truth of this claim? Discuss.
4) There is plenty of evidence that Denys L'Auxerrois leads a life which is something of a work of art: he emerges first in a panel of a stained glass window and is celebrated for having helped convert life in Auxerre to a "stage-play" (see p. 93). Does the ending of the story suggest that Pater is hinting that he is being punished for having done this, that the people of Auxerre, tired of living life at an intense pitch, have singled him out for embodying the intensity of a life lived as art?
5) On p. 80 of Against Nature, Des Esseintes adopts a 16-year-old boy and takes him to an expensive house of ill-repute in hope, as he tells the madame, of spoiling him by introducing him to pleasures he will only be able to afford on his own if he turns to a life of crime. Des Esseintes says his scheme is an attempt to show how mass education is ruining people by introducing them to things they can never afford (p. 83), by, in effect, opening them to the imagination of desire. As perhaps the most callous thing the character does in the whole novel, this episode sticks out, begging us to account for why it was included in the novel. Are there other suggestions in the novel that the true aesthete must be someone with the coldly manipulative ways of a despotic mad scientist? Why is this episode in the book?
6) Does Huysmans' Against Nature demonstrate the wisdom of Pater's claim, at the end of the Conclusion to The Renaissance, that art awakens great passions and gives one a "quickened sense of life" that other modes of experience cannot awaken quite as readily:
For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of life, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion -- that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake (p. 196).
Does Des Esseintes, in other words, qualify as a Paterian aesthete? Discuss.