Abstracts of Literary Criticisms in Course Texts:
James, Henry, and Peter G. Beidler. The Turn of the Screw. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 287-301.
The new historical criticism of Turn of the Screw, “He began to read to our hushed little circle”: Are We Blessed or Cursed by Our Life with The Turn of the Screw? by Wayne C. Booth, focuses on the fact that–despite what some critics claim–the novel is actually widely popular, because readers have responded to the text by finding a variety of values in it. While many agree that there is value in Turn of the Screw, there is major confusion about why it is considered a valuable work of literature and whether or not there is any universal meaning in it. Booth calls readers to question what value there is–if any–to read and write criticism about a work that may not elicit the “correct” response from a reader. He continues by analyzing the text with an ethical criticism, calling readers to examine “what good or harm a given story or kind of story might yield” (290). Factors that may affect readers’ responses (ie: how thrilling and horrifying the “turns of the screw” are found to be) include their interpretation of a piece in terms of ethics and censorship, whether or not they believe in ghosts, and whether or not they are “straight,” “ironic,” or “mazed” (292) readers. Finally, Booth argues that because there are multiple ways of responding to the text the true inherent value of the novel is its ability to spark continual discussion and debate.
Chopin, Kate, and Nancy A. Walker. The Awakening. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 352-373.
The new historical criticism of The Awakening, The Construction of Ambiguity in The Awakening: A Linguistic Analysis by Paula A. Treichler, focuses on how the syntax of language is used to create the reader’s interpretation of the text from Edna’s point of view. For instance, there is a complex ”syntactic interplay between active and passive voice” (353). In addition, there are multiple possible uses of the word “awaken” as well as the transition from third-person pronouns that signify property toward first-person singular pronouns that give Edna her identity. The lack of clarity of meaning within the language used in the novel reflects the ambiguity of Edna’s awakening, specifically in regards to both Edna and the reader’s inability to reach a solution for her internal conflict. As the novel progresses, the “simplicity of Chopin’s style gives way to a rather complicated and intense reading experience” that “offers a verbal resolution… which is nearly perfect and… transcends the profound contradictions and ambiguities of the story” (353). The linguistic style is shown to have been a deliberate choice by Chopin, which gradually depicts to the reader Edna as actively gaining consciousness rather than simply being passively subjected to the forces that surround her. The increasing use of complex language creates a dramatic reading experience of the narrative. For example, this is shown by the repetition of words associated with sleeping and awakening, which on their own are simply words but by the end of the novel become a powerful metaphor to the reader. Ultimately, this interplay of active and passive language is used in Edna’s suicide to demonstrate how a woman’s control over her body can be simultaneously active and passive, whereas her “active passivity, a decision to no longer decide” (372) leads to her personal victory and inevitable death. Edna’s suicide becomes the “perfect human emblem and perfect literal, and literary, resolution” (373).