alright buddies. i rediscovered my blog. (note: my schtick right now is that i am too old and backwards for blogs. i mean my computer is from 2009 which is basically the student equivalent of being almost dead, still trying to figure out windows 97 and yelling at kids to get the hell off my lawn. so bear with me.)
here’s what i’m going to do. i intend to pick a bone with wollstonecraft with regard to her ideas about “stupid novelists,” the novels they write, and the role those novels have the potential to play. i am going to write a bit about a prolific novelist and journalist, george orwell (another brit!) and more specifically his essay “Why I Write” first published in 1946 in an effort to challenge the idea that the majority of fiction is frivolous, wasteful, and ultimately, purposeless.
afterward, in an effort to placate you (and myself) i am going to post some links to some (mildly) relevant historical comics.
Jill already shared this in lecture, but i’m going to post it as a jumping off point.
“These are the women who are amused by the reveries of the stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which equally tends to corrupt the taste, and draw the heat aside from its daily duties.” (page 330)
It sounds to me like she is speaking about a specific type of novelist, and therefore a specific type of novel, which might suggest that she isn’t in fact implying that because something is fictitious it is inherently invaluable. even so, i think she is asserting that most fiction and prose is. (or at least the kind that is being consumed by women at this time.) in any case, she goes on to say,
“Yet, when I exclaim against novels, I mean when contrasted with those works which exercise the understanding and regulate the imagination.” (page 331)
Later, she commends a man she knew who, upon discovering that his niece was reading “desultory” texts succeeded in convincing her to read “history and moral essays” (page 332) instead.
It is clear that whatever the degree of her contempt for novels, she would certainly prefer an essay or a political/philosophical analysis. Something with a clear, impassioned political or philosophical aim, which lacks all the “sentimental jargon” she expects from a work of fiction.
To draw such a distinct line between useful, (“academic”) writing and pointless works of fiction, especially with regards to creating social awareness and change, is incredibly problematic.
Mainly because, art has historically had the capacity to transcend class inequality, and to appeal to individuals from all walks of life, and academia has not. Education is something that many people do not have access to, and so many of the discourses that take place within it remain out of reach, and remain largely regulated by a specific group of people.
(wollstonecraft actually makes no mention of class in her book, and i’m inclined to believe that she is classist herself.)
something like 150 years after wollstonecraft, george orwell becomes famous for writing highly opinionated, political novels. his most famous novels are probably 1984 and animal farm and they are so canonical that i’m not going to elaborate on them. they’re great, check them out if you haven’t. i’m going to talk about his 1946 essay, “why i write.”
in it, he gives some background for where he imagines some of his hatred of authority has come from. he spent five years as part of the indian imperialist police in burma and upon returning to britain was incredibly poor and claims “he became for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes.”
some time after this he publishes his first novel, “burmese days” and goes on to write a pseudo-journalistic, pseudo-fictitious novel about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. (an experience which he claims solidified his stance “against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.”)
but of his writing, he writes,
“I can see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” (page 10)
dang, does that sound familiar. it seems that orwell too is of the opinion that there are “stupid novelists,” but he himself is evidence that they needn’t always be so. his works are an excellent example of art that continues to reach all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds, while retaining an undeniable political message.
elsewhere in the essay he says,
“the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”
i think he is right. i think some degree of art, or subtlety and craft, is necessary to perpetuate social awareness/change.
wollstonecraft should just have a little more faith in prose writers.
some hilarious comics about the french revolution (i wanted to share last week when they would have been more relevant)
1 about mary antoinette (a little more relevant?)
1 about orwell
unfortunately i couldn’t find one about mary wollstonecraft but i did find one about her daughter, mary shelley.
anyways if you made it this far thanks and see you later.