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“But once she found herself in the long hall and close to the glass table.  “Now, I’ll manage better this time,” she said to herself and began by taking the little golden key, and unlocking the door that led into the garden.  Then she set to work nibbling at the mushroom (she had kept a piece of it in her pocket) till she was about a foot high: then she walked down the little passage; and then- she found herself at last in the beautiful garden, among the bright flower-beds and the cool fountains,” (last paragraph of the tea party chapter from Alice in Wonderland).

“My mind. I can travel with my mind.  With my mind I’m in Rome, where Margaret lived.  Where Harry descended.  I’ve put aside their books.  My turn now.  I walk the streets.  That’s the power of a mind.  I see the washerwomen.  The palaces.  I smell the garlic.  Orange peels in the gutter.  I hear the bells of the nearby convent.  People are bawling and gesturing, try to sell you things.  Children beg, mothers with children beg.  They’re professionals, I suppose.  Carriages go smashing past me,” (first paragraph of the chapter after the tea party chapter from Alice in Bed)

Initially, I was surprised by the idea that there might be anything in common between Alice in Wonderland and the life of Alice James.  After reading the tea party chapters in both Lewis Carroll’s story and Susan Sontag’s play, the similarities started to appear.  Both works are about a woman’s journey of self-discovery and invention.  Each Alice is learning about herself and her place in the world.  The problems they face and the solutions they make are surprisingly similar. 


“The most important contribution here is the metaphor of an ecological niche in which mental illnesses thrive.  Such niches require a number of vectors… One inevitably is medical.  The illness should fit into a larger framework of diagnosis, a taxonomy of illness.  The most interesting vector is cultural polarity: the illness should be situated between two elements of contemporary culture… Then we need a vector of observability, that the disorder should be visible as disorder, as suffering, as something to escape.  Finally something more familiar: the illness, despite the pain it produces, should also provide some release that is not available elsewhere in the culture in which it thrives.” (Ian Hacking, Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses)

Does Alice’s affliction answer to Dr. Hacking’s criteria for mental illness?  I think it does.  Firstly, hysteria/depression was a recognized illness during her lifetime.  There were a variety of treatment options available to her, several of which she actually tried.  There was a hereditary/genetic component from her father.  Secondly, her illness relates to the perceived weakness and extreme sensitivity of women.  Thirdly, Alice’s removal from society is accompanied by loneliness and anxiety.  Her excitability and exhaustion prevented her from engaging in intense activity.  Fourthly, her illness allowed her to escape many social conventions of the time: marriage, dinner parties, physical exertion.  It offered her intellectual freedom at the price of physical constraint.

Summary of Class 6

Discussed student papers, significant formatting problems- font, bold, italics, size? Putting Alice in bed with other women:
    aseidman, exsoloadsolem, Kylee Mason, Calamity
Fun fact- Mary James Vaught, Alice James niece was at bmc and donated English and Russian house to the college, she is buried at Harriton cemetery
Do we believe in ghosts?
    One or two yes
    A lot of maybes
    A no?
    Sharing our own stories about ghost experiences
    Do we like ghost stories? Horror movies?
        Some people really like horror movies
        Some really like ghost stories
        Only one person likes both
Ghosts or insanity debate
One person suggested that the governesses’ forceful/inappropriate attachment to the children indicated that there was something wrong with the governess, the ghosts fed her obsession, ghosts competed with her for the children’s affections and explained why the kids were pulling away from her
The fact that the governess could describe Quint indicates that they are not merely from her imagination
All or nothing interpretation, either the ghosts are real or everything is false, the unreliable narrator
    Is it possible to be confused in a good way
    There need not be a binary
The ghosts could exist and their evilness might be an invention of the governess
More ambiguity in a play, drama?
Not a ghost story but a case study in mental illness
Ghosts or hallucinations?
Homo-eroticism? Sensuality?
Why does Mrs. Grose go along with the governess?
    What is her motive?
        To remove the governess and become the head of the household
Or was she just trying to manage the mentally ill governess with least conflict
What do we as readers do with an ambiguous text?
English courses encourage us not to let ourselves be taken in, distance, skepticism
Does critical training make students into skeptics?
    Learning how to read all over again
In-between, seeking an explanation within the text, critical reading as a deeper exploration of the text
Cycle of questioning and believing
Pleasure of picking apart
Difference between experiencing a work in class and for pleasure

On Feldman
    Helped illuminate portions of the text
    Her analysis assumes that the reader was taken in
Layers of sexual desires in the framing stories   
    Evidence for a Freudian reading
    Douglas’ attraction to the governess
Does that make him an unreliable narrator? Guilty of painting the governess in a more favorable light
Screens create a distance between what happened and the narrative we hear
    Like playing telephone…lack of accuracy
Homo-eroticism complicated by pedophilia?
An aspiring para-normal historian?

When james talked about tact, was that the actual justification for how the text might talk about alice
    Text is neither explicit nor specific

Ambiguity requires more thought than a single correct answer
Putting experience into words is a reduction
    Vulgarty is the removal of ambiguity in a text


A friend of mine has recently taken to bed with many symptoms similar to Alice James.  Her stomach is terribly upset; it is most aggravating just before and after eating.  All her senses are easily aroused and common activities she finds over-stimulating.  In particular, reading is problematic because her eyes refuse to remain focused without a conscious exertion of will on her part.  She is rapidly fatigued and finds herself sleeping more that half the day.  When awake her mind is removed as if she were sleepwalking.  However, her emotions run circles around her brain. 

Can you guess her diagnosis?  It is not hysteria, depression, breast cancer, or fiction.  She has a concussion.  Her symptoms are temporary and will probably resolve within a week.  Her circumstances are completely explained by a physical ailment, brain trauma.  What amused me about this case was how well her symptoms paralleled Alice James.  A set of symptoms can be summarized by more than one characterization.  There are many different interpretations for a set of symptoms.  The diagnosis of an illness is the practice of interpreting a particular person. 


"The particular impression I had received proved in the morning light, I repeat, not quite successfully presentable to Mrs. Grose, though I re-enforced it with the mention of still another remark he had made before we separated," (Henry James,  The Turn of the Screw)

My immediate impression of the governess is a woman suffering from schizophrenia.  She is an appropriate age for onset of the disease to occur; there are repeated examples of her experiencing mental discomfort; she sees things that the other characters do not.  Schizophrenia is a hyperactivity of the storyteller element of the human brain.   The stories that the governess’s brain constructs are not constrained by her unconscious.  The stories are not subject to checks and revisions.  Every observation she makes is woven into her story.  There are three main elements of her story: the ghosts are evil, they are trying to tempt the children, and they will harm the children.  Oftentimes the governess creates complicated and elaborate tales in order to weave all of her observations into a coherent story.  A more parsimonious account might call for an alteration to the original story.  


"There are no innocent readers," (Shoshana Feldman, Writing and Madness (Literature/Philosophy/Psychoanalysis))

Every reader comes to the text with a story of their own, the summary of their lifetime observations.  The previous experiences of a reader can influence their interpretation of the text.  If the reader has encountered a ghost, then they are more likely to interpret The Turn of the Screw as a ghost story.  Or in my case, I lived with a demented person in my childhood.  I suspect that this is why I was completely convinced that The Turn of the Screw was a case history of a mentally ill woman.  Perhaps the story's ambiguity is not only in the text, but also the reader? 


“She was only a freckled cockney, but she could represent everything, from a fine lady to a shepherdess; she had the faculty, as she might have had a fine voice or long hair.”
-Henry James, The Real Thing

In this quote, the narrator praises the plasticity of his female model.  A good model is malleable, able to be hammered and molded into the artist’s vision.  They represent infinite possibilities of class, history, and nationality.  The narrator argues that the ability of a person to appear so differently is a talent. 

A dramatic interpretation of the mutability of human character is depicted in “Remorse,” the 11th episode of the 6th season of the television show, “House.”  ( see;recap for a full plot summary)  A young female patient is recognized as a psychopath; she does not have a conscience or experience empathy.  As a result, she feels completely comfortable lying and otherwise manipulating the people she encounters in order to get what she wants.  What is extraordinary is her portrayal of a normal loving wife.  The psychopath is able to convince not only her husband, but many other people in her life that she has a normal emotional repertoire.  There are several instances in the episode where the psychopath references her art of emulating human emotions.  Her imitation of others reminded me of the superior models.


Summary of Class 9

Paper on Henry James coming up…
Conferences are optional
Difficulties of reading the paper online
    Our class preferred old fashioned books
James published portrait of a lady serially in the us and England
Wouldn’t it be nice to read a chapter at a time?  Have chapters of a text sent to inbox one at a time? Weekly?
    exsoloadsolem did with "Anna Karenina"
    Digital humanities?
Studying another series of portraits of ladies?
    Softness as feminine
    Female gaze
    Portrait as opposed to a candid sketch
    The value of seeing the entire body
    Profile as opposed to direct view
        Subject acknowledging or not, the viewer
    Use of color, concentration and location of color
    Sharp and angular, severe face as opposed to softness
    Attitudes bitchy, judging, passive, vacant
    Something sexual about 1917-18
        Appearance of longing glance
Artist filling negative space with detail deemphasizes the importance of the woman
    Woman looks unfinished
    Visibly made up and artificial
Does pleasantness and approachability make a woman less of a lady
Comparing and contrasting two portraits
    More vague vs. more concrete
In the form of early portraiture invite less interpretation than paintings
Europe as a symbol of layered convoluted relationships
James teaching the reader how to read?  While Isabel is learning how to read people
     “this is not a lady, but a portrait of a lady”
doubleness in the conception of a portrait
    this is not a pipe image
    why interpret a pipe by painting?  Changing a 3-d object into a 2-d object
Isabel is a distant but sympathetic character
    HJ is good at writing women characters
    Do we understand her reasons for behaving the way she does?   
        Turning down her suitors?
        Do we like or dislike her?
    Isabel gets her ideas from books not experience
        Very idealistic
Why does she feel destined for unhappiness?  Her justification of refusing Warburton
Romantic ideas
Why doesn’t Isabel understand her reason for refusing Warburton?  Why cant the author know?  Why cant we know?
    She feels that she has to work for her marriage, happiness
Lack of experience negating happiness of the marriage
You have to be unhappy in order to understand happiness
    More mature argument
Isabel is immature
Unhappiness = loneliness?
She wants to make her own mistakes
Should one develop themselves before entering into a relationship
When are we ready to enter into a relationship?
    Must we be complete first
    Should be capable of being alone
    Mrs. Touchett has it both ways
Isabel as a superficial intellectual
    There are some things that she doesn’t want to know
        Selectively curious
    Part of the reader’s skepticism about Isabel
        Presented as the scholarly sister, but her scholarship is questionable
Are reading skills transferable from the text to the world
    Can you read a human being as a text
        Aren’t they harder to read
        Authorial intent vs. personal intent
Reader response theory- the text emerges in the interaction between the reader and the text
Authorial intent is irrelevant
Reader’s subjectivity as formed by experience is important is important
Why does Isabel misread Osmond?
    She doesn’t have access to the truth
    She picks what she likes and what she thinks she knows
        Not truly curious
We should read more carefully because the world is not transparent
Are we expressed by the things we wear?


Overwhelmed by the amount of text, I couldn’t restrict myself to a single quote, or even a single page of quotes.  All of the quotes I selected have an element of foreshadowing to them.  I suspect they were meant to put the reader on their guard against some misfortune...

“She had become too flexible, too supple; she was too finished, too civilized.  She was, in a word, too perfectly the social animal that man and woman are supposed to have been intended to be; and she had rid herself of every remnant of that tonic wildness which we assume to have belonged to even to the most amiable persons in the ages before country-house life was the fashion.  Isabel found it difficult to think of Madam Merle as an isolated figure; she existed only in her relations with her fellow-mortals.  Isabel often wondered what her relations might be with her own soul.” (196)

“The worst case, I think, is a friend of mine, a countryman of ours, who lives in Italy (where he also was brought before he knew better), and who is one of the most delightful men I know.” (201)

“When you have lived as long as I, you will see that every human being has his shell, and that you must take the shell into account.  By the shell I mean the whole envelope of circumstances.”  (205)

“The peril for you is that you live too much in the world of your own dreams- you are not enough in contact with reality- with the toiling, striving, suffering, I may even say sinning, world that surrounds you.  You are too fastidious; you have too many graceful illusions.  Your newly acquired thousands will shut you up more and more to the society of a few selfish and heartless people, who will be interested in keeping up those illusions.”  (222)

A large fortune means freedom, and I am afraid of that.  It’s such a fine thing, and one should make good use of it.  If one wouldn’t, one would be ashamed.  And one must always be thinking- it’s a constant effort.   I am not sure it is a greater happiness to be powerless.”  (228)

“There was something in Mr. Osmond that arrested her and held her in suspense- made it seem more important that she should get an impression of him than that she should produce one herself.”  (253)

“It would certainly be hard to see what injury could arise from the visit she presently paid to Mr. Osmond’s hill-top.” (259)

“There was something rather severe about the place; it looked somehow as if, once you were in, it would not be easy to get out.  For Isabel, however, there was of course as yet no thought of getting out, but only of advancing.” (259)

“She is making fools of us all.  She will please herself of course; but she will do so by studying human nature and retaining her liberty.  She has started on an exploring expedition, and I don’t think she will change her course, at the outset, at a signal from Gilbert Osmond.  She may have slackened speed for an hour, but before we know it she will be steaming away again.”  (281-2)

“’You’re unfathomable,’ she murmured at last.  ‘I am frightened at the abyss into which I shall have dropped her!’
Osmond gave a laugh.  ‘You can’t draw back- you have gone too far.’

‘You are quite unfathomable,’ she repeated.  (292)


“With all her love of knowledge, Isabel had a natural shrinking from raising curtains and looking into unlighted corners.  The love of knowledge coexisted in her mind with still tenderer love of ignorance.  (Portrait of a Lady, 203)

Perhaps the greatest fault of the novel’s heroine is her penchant for a superficial reading of others.  She misunderstands the intentions of others.  The reader’s experience with the text parallels the protagonist’s story.  The style of writing that Henry James employs in the “Portrait of a Lady” prevents the reader from performing a superficial study of his text.  He is forcing his reader to take the time to make a complete study of the novel.  Without such work, the reader will misinterpret the text.


Who is the tyrant? (Imagination)

This question, and its suggested answer, provided fodder for an interesting class discussion on Henry James novel, The Portrait of a Lady.  My own interpretation is that the narrator is the tyrant of the novel.  The style of narration initially appears to be third person omniscient; however, it is actually first person omniscient.  The narrator rarely interjects his own opinions into his account of the text.  However, on the occasions that the narrator makes an I-statement; it is at the most delicate moments of the tale.  This strange behavior of the narrator is actually a reflection of the author.  So Henry James is the true tyrant of the text.  His imagination has created, chiseled, and conveyed the story to his reader.  We, the readers, are subjects of Henry James’ imagination. 


mid semester reflections

I am having a love-hate affair with my commonplace book.  I love being able to observe the evolution and development of my thoughts throughout the semester.  A quick glance at my commonplace book contains all my postings...but it doesn't provide the larger intellectual context for them.  Certainly not in the same way that the course forum for the other class I am taking with Anne, Literary Kinds does.  The conversations in class, ideas developed in conversation are absent.  Perhaps this is my own fault for not tracing my ideas more carefully, citing the origin of concepts, and linking to course notes, and class summaries. 


It was nice to add a little history to the melting pot of literature, psychology, and philosophy that is our course.  I really enjoyed our field trip yesterday.  I don’t think I have ever seen so small a cemetery.  So I thought I would share images my favorite enormous cemetery on Nantucket Island…


I'm going through an intellectual phase of pushing back against Anne's choice of images.  (No offense to Anne, apparently I'm turning into a  teenager...)  Anyway, I was thinking of the different perspective that current academics might have as opposed to contemporaries of William James.  For better or worse, I think our class discussion yesterday indicated the presence of an enormous omnipotent? octopus.  However, in William James time, the octopus was not quite so well developed.  The essay refers to the fact that not all institutions required PhDs for teaching appointments; the small liberal art colleges were guilty, not the larger older institutions.  So the octopus started out small on several levels...

tiny octopus

What I like about this particular image is that it shows an octopus dwarfed two larger objects.  These objects represent the Ivy League and other older institutions that towered over the tiny octopus. 


In his essay, “Hegel and His Method,” William James writes the following paragraph:

“The ideally perfect whole is certainly that whole of which the parts also are perfect- if we can depend on logic for anything, we can depend on it for that definition.  The absolute is defined as the ideally perfect whole, yet most of its parts, if not all, are admittedly imperfect.  Evidently, the conception lacks internal consistency, and yields us a problem rather than a solution, ” (526).

I would like to propose a solution to the above-described problem.  James makes the implicit assumption that the whole is simply the sum of its parts.  He does not consider that the whole might be an emergent system, something more that the sum of its parts.  Emergence is the complex behavior of a system as the result of simple interactions between smaller components.  The behavior of an emergent system can not be predicted by studying the behavior of its smaller components.  Naïve reductionism does not obtain with respect to emergent systems.  It is an act of reductionism to assume that in order for the whole to be perfect, all its smaller components must be perfect.  For example, an excellent fruit cobbler can result from a package of not quite ripe raspberries.  See if you can guess the solution… 


Reading Gertrude Stein's "Tender Buttons" into a recipe.  The text in purple is direct quotations of Stein's text and the text in black is my own cake recipe.

Not So Vanilla CAKE.
Cake cast in went to be and needles wine needles are such.
This is today. A can experiment is that which makes a town, makes a town dirty, it is little please. We came back. Two bore, bore what, a mussed ash, ash when there is tin. This meant cake. It was a sign.
Another time there was extra a hat pin sought long and this dark made a display. The result was yellow. A caution, not a caution to be.
It is no use to cause a foolish number. A blanket stretch a cloud, a shame, all that bakery can tease, all that is beginning and yesterday yesterday we had it met. It means some change. No some day.
A little leaf upon a scene an ocean any where there, a bland and likely in the stream a recollection green land. Why white.
Serves: 10 to 12 servings


  • 3/8 pound (1.5 sticks) unsalted, at room temperature BUTTER.
    Boom in boom in, butter. Leave a grain and show it, show it. I spy.
    It is a need it is a need that a flower a state flower. It is a need that a state rubber. It is a need that a state rubber is sweet and sight and a swelled stretch. It is a need. It is a need that state rubber.
    Wood a supply. Clean little keep a strange, estrange on it.
    Make a little white, no and not with pit, pit on in within.
  • 1 cup SUGAR.
    A violent luck and a whole sample and even then quiet.
    Water is squeezing, water is almost squeezing on lard. Water, water is a mountain and it is selected and it is so practical that there is no use in money. A mind under is exact and so it is necessary to have a mouth and eye glasses.
    A question of sudden rises and more time than awfulness is so easy and shady. There is precisely that noise.
    A peck a small piece not privately overseen, not at all not a slice, not at all crestfallen and open, not at all mounting and chaining and evenly surpassing, all the bidding comes to tea.
    A separation is not tightly in worsted and sauce, it is so kept well and sectionally.
    Put it in the stew, put it to shame. A little slight shadow and a solid fine furnace.
    The teasing is tender and trying and thoughtful.
    The line which sets sprinkling to be a remedy is beside the best cold.
    A puzzle, a monster puzzle, a heavy choking, a neglected Tuesday.
    Wet crossing and a likeness, any likeness, a likeness has blisters, it has that and teeth, it has the staggering blindly and a little green, any little green is ordinary.
    One, two and one, two, nine, second and five and that.
    A blaze, a search in between, a cow, only any wet place, only this tune.
    Cut a gas jet uglier and then pierce pierce in between the next and negligence. Choose the rate to pay and pet pet very much. A collection of all around, a signal poison, a lack of languor and more hurts at ease.
    A white bird, a colored mine, a mixed orange, a dog.
    Cuddling comes in continuing a change.
    A piece of separate outstanding rushing is so blind with open delicacy.
    A canoe is orderly. A period is solemn. A cow is accepted.
    A nice old chain is widening, it is absent, it is laid by.
  • 2.5 extra-large EGGS.
    Kind height, kind in the right stomach with a little sudden mill.
    Cunning shawl, cunning shawl to be steady.
    In white in white handkerchiefs with little dots in a white belt all shadows are singular they are singular and procured and relieved.
    No that is not the cows shame and a precocious sound, it is a bite.
    Cut up alone the paved way which is harm. Harm is old boat and a likely dash.
  • 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1.5 CUPS.
    A single example of excellence is in the meat. A bent stick is surging and might all might is mental. A grand clothes is searching out a candle not that wheatly not that by more than an owl and a path. A ham is proud of cocoanut.
    A cup is neglected by being all in size. It is a handle and meadows and sugar any sugar.
    A cup is neglected by being full of size. It shows no shade, in come little wood cuts and blessing and nearly not that not with a wild bought in, not at all so polite, not nearly so behind.
    Cups crane in. They need a pet oyster, they need it so hoary and nearly choice. The best slam is utter. Nearly be freeze.
    Why is a cup a stir and a behave. Why is it so seen.
    A cup is readily shaded, it has in between no sense that is to say music, memory, musical memory.
    Peanuts blame, a half sand is holey and nearly. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup MILK.
    A white egg and a colored pan and a cabbage showing settlement, a constant increase.
    A cold in a nose, a single cold nose makes an excuse. Two are more necessary.
    All the goods are stolen, all the blisters are in the cup.
    Cooking, cooking is the recognition between sudden and nearly sudden very little and all large holes.
    A real pint, one that is open and closed and in the middle is so bad.
    Tender colds, seen eye holders, all work, the best of change, the meaning, the dark red, all this and bitten, really bitten.
    Guessing again and golfing again and the best men, the very best men.
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon

For the frosting:

  • 11 oz Ghiradelli white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy CREAM.
    In a plank, in a play sole, in a heated red left tree there is shut in specs with salt be where. This makes an eddy. Necessary.
  • 2 cups very finely chopped hazelnuts


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 9-inch round cake pans, then line them parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the MILK.
Climb up in sight climb in the whole utter needles and a guess a whole guess is hanging. Hanging hanging. to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned or a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.


In a microwave safe container, microwave CREAM.
Cream cut. Any where crumb. Left hop chambers. until boiling.  Pour hot cream over white chocolate chips and begin mixing with a fork.  Continue mixing until bowl has lost all warmth.  If chunks of chocolate are still present, microwave the mixture for NO more than 20 sec and resume stirring.  When a smooth consistency is achieved, mix in hazelnuts.  Pour over cake and allow to cool before serving. 

Thanks to my mother, Marjorie Lewis for providing the kitchen, photography, and moral support when the hazelnuts went wild!



In response to Anne's interpretation of the horse in poem as a platonic form... I have to ask is this still a horse?



jrlewis's picture

regrets for the late postings

There are a variety of things that one can not do from an island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts.  Most frustrating is the lack of reliable free internet access.  Everytime I had a post ready to save, I lost my connection and the work I had just done.  More exotic was getting stuck on the island when the ferry to the mainland stopped running and arriving back at BMC a day and a half late.  Very unfortunate was my severe sea sickness on the ferry and inability to take advantage of the wireless internet on the boat.  So today, 3/16, there will be a lot of catch up postings.  I'm sorry about all this...

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