Essay #1 Prompts

Please respond to one of the following prompts.

1. The literary critic Lionel Trilling said the following about E.M. Forster:

Forster’s plots are always sharp and definite for he expresses difference by means of struggle and struggle by means of open conflict so intense as to flare into melodrama and even physical violence.  Across each of his novels runs a barricade: the opposed forces on    each side are Good and Evil in the forms of Life and Death, Light and Darkness, Fertility and Sterility, Courage and Respectability, Intelligence and Stupidity—all the great absolutes that are so dull when discussed in themselves.  The comic manner, however, will not tolerate absolutes; it stands on the barricades and casts doubt on both sides.  The fierce plots move forward to grand simplicities but the comic manner confuses the issue, forcing upon us the difficulties and complications of the moral fact (“E.M. Forster”  Kenyon Review 164).

Do you agree with this assessment?  Does Forster’s “comic manner” challenge moral absolutes?  What “difficulties and complications” does A Room with a View force upon us?  In what ways does Forster qualify or call into question the seemingly simple message of the text?  Please pick one or two scenes or passages to support your argument.

2.. A Room with a View seems to offer a challenge to many traditions and attitudes leftover from the Victorian era: church doctrine, class hierarchies, social conventions. But does it offer a possible vision to replace the world that it rejects? How would you characterize the politics of the book?  What kind of society does it imagine? How does Forster suggest we should treat each other? How should we behave? On what basis should we decide how to live?  What is wrong with the way society is structured and the way people like Lucy are asked to lead their lives and what alternative does Forster propose? Please support your argument with specific passages from the text.

3.Time is obviously a central preoccupation for Virginia Woolf. What is she trying to suggest about the way we experience the passage of time, and how do her stylistic or narrative strategies allow her to capture that experience?

4. According to the philosopher Martha Nussbaum, the central problem of Woolf’s fiction is how we can ever have knowledge of another person’s inner thoughts—how we can escape the isolation of our own minds. Speaking about the novel To the Lighthouse, she writes: “by working patiently to defeat shame, selfish anxiety, and the desire for power, it is sometimes possible for some people to get knowledge of one thing or another thing about some other people; and they can sometimes allow one thing or another thing about themselves to be known.” Does Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, in your view, teach us how we might better know each other?  Does she give us access to the minds of other people?  How so?  If Woolf offers a more complete picture of subjective experience than other novels, what is unique about her techniques? Please give some concrete examples from the book.

5. Focusing on either A Room with a View or Mrs. Dalloway, explain whether you think his/her work espouses a feminist or an anti-feminist stance. Does the text appear to celebrate those actions which further independence and empowerment for women? What kind of depiction does it offer of its female characters?

6. Again, focusing on either A Room with a View or Mrs. Dalloway, what makes that author’s text modern? How does the text demonstrate an awareness of the newness, the novelty, of its historical moment? Does the text break with tradition?  How so?  In answering this question, please consider both the themes explored and the styles employed by the author in question.

3-5 pages double-spaced (not including Works Cited). Due June 28.