Absolute Beginners Response Paper

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A Little History about Witches and their References in Lolly Willowes

Throughout Lolly Willowes there is a variety of references to witches (and the history of witches) before Laura Willowes makes a deal with the devil. As we find out later in the novel, Laura’s interest in brewing, botany, and nature is because she is a witch. Although Laura has a fascinating connection with nature and the feminine, I will save this discussion for my response paper on Thursday. For this post, I will take a quick look at a few (not all) of the references or allusions to witches or witchcraft in the novel.

The first encounter with witchcraft history is alluded to in the setting of Somerset. Though Laura did not commit herself to witchcraft during her youth in Somerset, her interests in brewing, botany, and nature are rooted there. In my brief searching, I found that witchcraft has an interesting history in Somerset (and still has an active Wicca culture today). During the 1660s the Somerset Witch Trials took place (though not as prominent as the Salem Witch Trials). Though I did not find extensive research on the Somerset Witch Trials, I found that Robert Hunt, an English lawyer and politician, uncovered a cult of witches in Somerset. I think it is interesting and purposeful that Townsend chose Somerset as Laura’s first home considering the history of witchcraft. (Somerset pictured below).

 

There are also a few places in the novel where specific books are referenced that discuss witches. On page 25, Laura mentions learning from “Locke on the Understanding or Ganvil on Witches” (Townsend 25). Though I couldn’t find exactly what Laura was referring to, I found that John Locke and Joseph Glanvill did some writing about witches. I could not find exactly what Locke wrote about witches; however I found that Glanvill wrote Saducismus Triumphatus (pictured below), which is a book about the existence of witches and witchcraft.

 

After moving to Great Mop, Laura develops an interest in getting her landlady, Mrs. Leak, to talk to her. Though this relationship takes time to build, eventually they discover their shared interest in distillery. Mrs. Leak begins opening up to Laura and telling her vivid stories about the townspeople. During some of Mrs. Leak’s stories, Laura compares her to “the Witch of Endor calling up old Samuel” (Townsend 115). The Witch of Endor (pictured below) is an interesting character in the Bible’s Book of Samuel. This is also a fascinating connection to make because the Witch of Endor brought Samuel back from the dead. I would say that this comparison implies that Mrs. Leak has the ability to “bring” people “back to life” through the use of her stories. However, I think it is also significant to note that Laura is comparing Mrs. Leak to a witch (and a biblical witch for that matter) before she even knows that she or Mrs. Leak are witches.

 

Here are a few other links to sites with history about witches and witchcraft:

http://www.historyextra.com/witchcraft

http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/history_modern.html

http://www.pendlewitches.co.uk/witchcraft/

And here is an interesting video about witch trials that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries:

 

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Lolly Willowes. New York Review Books, 1999.

~~Meghan~~

Timothy Box

ENG 629

Dr. Cornish

8 September 2016

Fear No More: Shakespeare in Mrs. Dalloway

                  In her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf takes the reader through the winding, shifting, and wandering view of several different character’s viewpoints. Each character, like all of us, has layer upon layer of thought going on at any given time. As I followed the narration from person to person, small things began to reveal more and more about each character. Although there are so many things going on between characters, I found Woolf’s allusions to Shakespeare’s work in the novel were very interesting. I initially noticed that Clarissa and Septimus demonstrate an understanding of poetry that other characters did not. Woolf is able to connect the souls of these two seemingly different characters using Shakespeare’s poetry. She also, however, uses it as a way to demonstrate a contrast between these two characters, and others who represent the traditional British “carry on” mentality.

In a world where English citizens are expected to carry on in a hardened and stoic state, poetry provides Clarissa a more realistic and comforting way to get through it all. Woolf first demonstrates this tactic while Clarissa reads several lines from Cymbeline from a shop window. The lines “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun/ Nor the furious winter’s rages” are read directly after Clarissa begins to ponder the dark shadow that the war has casted over England, and the “well of tears” that each person has hidden inside of them despite also having a “perfectly upright and stoical bearing” (9). Shakespeare’s words affect her greatly as she considers the vast amount of sorrow everyone holds on to. The lines from Cymbeline reference a funeral hymn in which death frees the living from the pain of life. In this post war state, death’s beckoning seems almost more appealing than living in perpetual suppressed anxiety and sadness. Perhaps the next most important Shakespeare reference comes after the death of Septimus.

Upon hearing about Septimus’ death, Clarissa is greatly moved. She realizes that Septimus has freed himself from the anguishes of life. She finds that she in fact is very much like this soldier that she never knew. His death makes her feel in a way that she has never felt before, which greatly excites her. His willingness to “throw it away” makes her “feel the beauty, made her feel the fun” (182). Septimus’ death allows Clarissa to be free. She immediately recites the same line from Cymbeline, “Fear no more,” and feels a weight lifted off her shoulders. Septimus himself refused to be subjected to the societal pressures of the time period that advocated the repression of emotion.

As a contrast to Clarissa and Septimus, Woolf also provides other characters reactions to Shakespeare’s poetry. Richard Dalloway, her husband, is a prime example. Richard does not connect to poetry whatsoever. His inability to appreciate poetry reveals much about him, mostly his inability to properly process his own emotions. Richard aligns with the traditional British mentality, that is, to repress them altogether.

This novel reveals the problems that came with this emotionally suppressive society. Whether it was PTSD, sadness, fear, or anything else, Woolf understood that the old British ways were not sufficient. People were hurting, and needed to process their grief to be able to carry on, rather than suppress it. Woolf’s use of Shakespeare was masterful in my opinion, because it powerfully invokes every emotion needed to get her point across, especially to a British audience.

Works Cited

Woolf, Virginia, and Bonnie Kime Scott. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando, FL, Harcourt, 2005.

 

Question #1: I mentioned allusions to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, but there are many more than just this. What other allusions to Shakespeare (or any other poet/writer) are in this novel, and why are they important? How does Woolf use these references?

Question #2: I mentioned above that Clarissa is greatly changed by Septimus, and that the two share a connection through poetry. In what other ways are these two connected, or perhaps even doubled?

Question #3: In what other ways does Woolf provide criticism of the traditional ways of British suppression?

Knowing is Half the Battle: The Full Story Makes the Difference

As I read Rebecca West’s Return of the Soldier over the summer, I found it to be a short and quaint novella with some rather unlikable characters; however, I soon learned that I received an edition that did not contain the introduction or appendices. As such, I was unable to capture how the subtle nuances of West’s life such as her relationship with H.G. Wells and his wife, and her convoluted relationship with her illegitimate son, and how much of her own life is reflected throughout the pages of this novel as presented through the introduction. Through the additional materials, I also learned about the prevalence of repression training for soldiers and the social class dichotomy of the lady and the woman presented through Kitty and Margaret and how that distinction affected women’s roles. As I had already formed an opinion of the story without the extra information conveyed through the appendices and introduction, I wondered if my opinion would be changed with the addition of this new knowledge.

When Kitty is first presented to the reader, one can see that she is a woman of importance, one who has been accustomed to being obeyed and catered to. I originally felt resentment for Kitty as the way she chose to present herself is infinitely better than the lowly Margaret and the sad and lonely Jenny; however, in comparison to the other characters, Kitty is merely presenting herself as the picture of the proper lady. Throughout the novel, Kitty continues to show disdain at the overall sense of shabbiness exhibited by Margaret as well as a desire toward keeping the Baldry home and its material objects safe and tidy. However, Kitty’s materialistic attitude can be read differently in that she is being a good steward of that which has been given to her. This alternate reading may also show that she cares for those under her charge as she explains to Chris that her mending basket is full of “Clothes for one of the cottagers […] With all the land you’ve bought there’s ever so many people to look after…” (68). Kitty is merely fulfilling her role as lady of the house in a more materialistic manner by protecting the household goods including those of the cottagers on the estate.

In the role of the lady of the house, Kitty can be likened to a soldier on the home front. To fulfill her duty as a soldier, Kitty practices the repression of her grief over her son and the sadness of watching her husband leave for war in order to maintain the responsibilities she has taken over for Chris during his absence. By viewing Kitty in this role of the soldier of the house, one can see that she is merely completing her duty by turning away Mrs. Grey when she arrives with news of Chris’ failing health. Kitty’s aloofness may appear that she is more about concerned about protecting the house’s best interest against the possibility of being caught in a costly scam than in news of her husband; however, like a good soldier, Kitty trusts the government to inform her of issues concerning the state of her husband and continues to repress any grief over his unknown condition.

Though Kitty may not express outward concern for those under her care, as she exhibits when she tells Jenny “don’t begin to fuss” (49) over lack of word from Chris, this does not mean that she does not care for the wellbeing of her husband and those around her. Upon my initial reading, I took Kitty’s statement to mean she was not concerned about her husband and seemed almost glad he was gone. However, by learning the importance of the lady of the house and the repression training experienced by soldiers, one can see that acting aloof and distancing oneself from the goings on of war shows that Kitty is practicing this same repression. As Kitty is filled with a happy relief when Chris is cured and returns “Every inch a soldier” (118), one can read Kitty’s actions as not those of a jealous woman attempting to win back her husband, but rather are the actions of a lady of the house returning her lost soldier to the home front in order to earn a reprieve for her efforts.

 

 

  1. At the beginning of the story, Jenny expresses a desire to keep Chris safe and “seal[ed] in this green pleasantness of his wife” (48). Is it simply that Chris is stuck in time with Margaret that upsets Jenny at the revelation of Chris’ illness? Would Jenny have been a champion for Chris to come back to the present time had he been sealed in a happy past with Kitty?
  2. At the end of the story, Jenny claims Chris looks “Every inch a soldier” to which Kitty replies with satisfaction “He’s cured!” (118). Do you take this to mean Chris had always appeared to have repressed his feelings regarding a dissatisfying home life prior to the war and losing his memory was an opportunity to bury those feelings he repressed? Or do you feel that this return to the “every inch a soldier” persona is Chris now repressing the disappointment he feels about regaining his lost memories and grief?
  3. Is Jenny’s change of allegiance from Team Kitty to Team Margaret due to Jenny’s misunderstanding of Kitty’s detachment to Chris after his return? Or has Margaret genuinely won Jenny over? Or do you feel that Jenny recognizes how Chris would have been a different person had he been coupled with Margaret?
  4. After a second reading, I still found Kitty an unlikable character. Although I feel I better understood her motives, I found the repression of her grief for the losses of her husband and son to make her distinctly difficult to relate to. Do you feel Kitty’s repression is what makes her unlikable?

 

 

Work Cited

West, Rebecca, Bernard Schweizer, and Charles Thorne. The Return of the Soldier. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview, 2010. Print.

Some Big Picture Queries

  1. What is Britishness and how does it change or amalgamate over time? How do notions of Nation, Nationalism, and duty inform our comprehension of Britishness?
  2. What impact does Empire and Imperialism still have on our readings of British Literature? What implicit ideologies must we make ourselves aware?
  3. How do attitudes about and constructions of femininity and masculinity feature in the works we read? How do they change or stay the same across the decades?
  4. How does literary style change and what informs those changes?
  5. What themes/political issues/social concerns persist across the literature we read this semester? What becomes less important, de-emphasized? What becomes more vital?
  6. What needs to happen within the critical conversations (scholarly debates) to widen our understanding and interpretations of these works, especially those for which there is little critical attention?

Feel free to use these questions as starting points for your thinking about the content. You may use these questions to springboard your posts, response papers, and projects. You may also add to this list by contributing more questions and comments to this post, and I hope you will.