Workshop on Teaching_Romanticism_in_Intellectual Heritage 52

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Workshop on Teaching_Romanticism_in_Intellectual Heritage 52

  1. 1. Workshop on Teaching Romanticism in IH 52 By Susan E. Bertolino After teaching the Romanticism unit for many a class, I realized it needed an upheaval. Students were resistant to poetry, and starting them off with the Romantics was not working in the classroom. Last summer I did a revamping on the unit itself, and it has revolutionized my teaching. I find that I work better when each unit, be it 51 or 52, has a theme within the given IH theme. So for Romanticism, the theme is slavery. I divide the unit into three readings: William Blake, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. For Blake, I work with the following poems: “Garden of Love”, “The Chimney Sweeper” (1789), “The Chimney Sweeper” (1794) and “London”. Only the first Chimney Sweeper poem comes from the Songs of Innocence (those of you who work with “The Lamb” will note that it also comes from that book), and the others come from Songs of Experience. (See http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/BlaSong.html for an ebook copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience.) Each poem deals with both mental and economic oppression. Blake is horrified by the Industrial Revolution and the effects it garners on the poor. One could safely ascertain that he predicted Marx. I. Blake I do not wish to repeat what Deb is addressing, but I want to show English Romanticism within this theme along with Blake’s interpretation of slavery. This is part of a more general discussion of Romanticism that I post online for my students: Romantics view the Enlightenment’s celebration of reason, rationalism, and scientific empiricism as limited, superficial sources of knowledge. It is a question of head vs. heart, so to speak. Romantics are critical of the Industrial Revolution, middle-class materialism and the exploitation of the poor. They fear, as Norman Mailer later writes in the 20th century, that man will become a machine. (Mailer’s quote: “The goal of the 20th century is to turn man into a machine.”) Romantics criticize technology as does Gandhi later—Romantics see the increase of technology as dehumanizing. Gandhi later writes that tech. makes killing more efficient. Romantics believe that men are meant to be happy; this was intended by the creator. There is a focus on emotion, imagination and the sensory experience. Creativity is man’s destiny. The limitations of dehumanizing factory work renders man uncapable to be creative. The slave is the harshest example of all: he cannot even begin to decipher his destiny or explore his creativity because his fate has been decided for him by the slave-owners. Romantics celebrate imagination and feeling as ways to connect with the world and oneself, and as liberating modes of truth that:
  2. 2. 1. free the mind of bondage of everyday separate existence in the external world(Blake, Wordsworth, Whitman) 2. free the human heart from unnatural restraints and injustices in the external world(Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth, Whitman) 3. free the human heart from unnatural restraints and injustices in social conventions(Shelley, Blake, Whitman) 4. free the citizen from the chains of political tyranny(Shelley, Blake, Wordsworth) 5. free the artist from rules and convention (Blake, Shelley, Whitman). Here is where Blake comes in: The role of Religion is negations and false beliefs. Blake is very anti-organized religion. He thinks that these religions, particularly the Anglican faith, teach false teachings, and encourage false beliefs. (very prevalent in the “Garden of Love”) God wants us to enjoy life; that’s why he gave us this body. Example: Restraint of desires. The only sin is unacted desire, when an individual uses reason to stop himself from fulfilling his/her desire. No one should ever hinder another from the other’s creativity and joy. Blake believes in God, not religion. He is sometimes referred to as an anarchist. He supported both the American and the French Revolution, even though the American R. was against the king. “London”, “Chimney Sweeper”: themes of poverty, dehumanizing of the Ind. Revolution, soldiers without choice but to fight. Children are exploited as workers, essentially robbed of their youth, the most creative part of their life. (Chimney Sweeper) Their only release lies in death. “London” is an agonizingly depressing depiction of 18th to 19th century London—harlots with disease, unwanted children, consummate filth throughout the city. People cannot make choices based on their abilities or their creativity; they have to do anything in order to survive. “Lamb”-spontaneity of Lamb—“The Tiger”—sense of awe of its power God made both creatures as dichotomies of good and evil: hinder our acts. Sometimes we must be tigers; sometimes we cannot be lambs. God is present in both. Lamb is more innocent, natural—tyger more of the man-made society. “Garden of Love”-contrast of an idealized version of Christianity, almost a kind of pantheism to the harsh reality of the institutionalized Church of England that Blake loathes. Garden of Love is freedom, nature at its purest in the beginning, then it turns into a sight of oppression and death. The institution of slavery here is the Church itself, personified in the images of the priests. They form a contrast to the beauty of nature that the Garden (like Garden of Eden) was intended to be for man: God wants his creation free from sin, joyous and innocent. Yet the church thrives on exploiting man’s weaknesses, enslaving him to his fear of sin and making him hate himself; thus he hates what God truly intends for him because he cannot see it; he only sees his human evil.
  3. 3. II. Douglass I’d like to outline why slavery in America is such a key theme in American Romanticism: Resistance to Slavery: The slavery question grew into a burning issue that threatened to separate the nation. Among the Romantic writers were former slaves themselves: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. The Transcendentalists opposed slavery as an aberration against mankind, and the Abolitionists took action on these beliefs, ranging from lectures, peaceful demonstrations to open rebellion in 1859 when John Brown attacked Harpers Ferry as an attempt to encourage the slaves to rebel against their owners. Many of the Romantic writers defined themselves by their attitudes toward the slavery issue. A writer such as Whitman was complex: he argued that runaway slaves must be returned to their owners, yet he objected to the law itself. He felt it was a state matter, not a federal concern, and this attitude sums up much of the Civil War—does the federal government have jurisdiction in the independent states or not? Whitman did not support slavery; like most of the Romantics, he saw it as an infringement on human rights, yet he was also perturbed by the growing power of the federal government in the life of the individual, likening it to tyranny. However, his poetry is sympathetic to the plight of the slave, not the slave-owner or the government. When I do allow time for Whitman, I would have the students look at the following link: http://www.classroomelectric.org/volume2/folsom/fugitive/index-whitman.html This site is great if you want to explore the tension in Whitman’s poetry about slavery and federal law. I used to teach “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” in our text. I recently stopped and began putting portions of his Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. The book itself is too long, so I choose certain chapters and put them online for them to download. There are three versions of the text; Douglass was often accused of being an abolitionist liar who fabricated his story, so he felt pressured to prove that his past actually was real, and that he was largely self-taught as a writer. I work with chapters V to X; these deal with his slavery as he became more rebellious and more self-aware. These chapters bring home the reality of slavery in America: I do a lecture on what institutionalized slavery is—I explain the laws within the Constitution, the changing mood of the South, the justification of bondage under Southern Christianity (I quote generously from Douglass’s Appendix, but I do not make it required reading—he was especially angry about the hypocrisy in the Southern Christian faith). We usually watch a film around this time: last semester I showed Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narrative. I have also shown selections from Slavery in America, a series narrated by Morgan Freeman. (This movie was suggested by Kim Wilson—it is available in the CLA movie area.) Next time, I teach the unit, I will probably show a different film. There are excellent documentaries that are able to bring slavery home to the student. Here is the link to the reading: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Douglass/ This is a great site. III. Harriet Jacobs
  4. 4. I find her writings to be pivotal for the slavery theme, as we have so few accounts of female slaves. Douglass brings forth the male perspective, and Jacobs completes the unit through her struggle with maintaining her dignity as a woman in a world that did not see her as anything but a breeding cow. The text we use is called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Harriet is her real name---the book came out under the pen name of Linda Brent in 1861. It was sold at Anti-Slavery Offices around the country, published in England during 1862 and received fine reviews. After the war, the book slipped into obscurity. Jacobs herself worked with the Quakers in their efforts to help free other slaves upon gaining her own freedom. She organized schools, orphanages and nursing homes. She ran a boardinghouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts; later she moved to Washington D.C. with her daughter. She is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Here is the online text: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/JACOBS/hjhome.htm There have been two controversies over Jacobs: one, as with Douglass, concerns authorship. Lydia Maria Child, an abolitionist and writer, helped her compose her narrative. Later critics charged that Child was the author, not Jacobs. But scholarship by Jean Fagin Yellin proved that the work was an autobiographical narrative, not a novel. Yellin showed that all of the characters and events were based on reality; Child’s correspondence claims that as an editor she added nothing and altered fewer than fifty words. Yet Child does admit to having taken “much pains” with it, “transposing sentences and pages, so as to bring the story into continuous order so that the story became “much more clear and entertaining.” Child divided the narrative into chapters and supplied chapter titles. She also asked Jacobs for incidents of slave abuse which were provided and added. Lacking the original manuscript, it is impossible to speculate on the level of interference on the part of the editor. Some scholars call it a collaborative effort and liken it to the T.S. Eliot’s work with Ezra Pound on The Waste Land. The second controversy involved Jacob’s handling of sexual harassment by her owner, Dr. Flint. Many have found her to be a poor role model in resisting the unwanted advances of white men. Dr. Margaret Washington from Cornell University spoke about Jacobs on the PBS series Africans in America: What is amazing is, she takes the position of asserting herself. And rather than give in to this master, she decides that she's going to make a choice that if she has to be in a situation where she's going to be either raped or take up with a man, then she's going to choose the man. So she chooses a young, handsome, white lawyer, and has a relationship with him, which angers her master. In the process of this relationship, she has two children with this man. One could probably condemn Harriet Jacobs for that, because many enslaved women were actually raped -- fought off white men; and yet here she is in a situation where she gives herself to one. Jacobs says later on, as she's trying to explain in her book to especially women in America, why she would do that: that there is something akin to power by taking your own life in your hands and making a decision of who it is that you want to be with. And Mr. Sands, the lawyer, was very nice to her. He comforted her when Dr. Flint was pursuing her. So, as she says in her narrative, tender feelings developed
  5. 5. about him. So she has these two children with him, and this angers her master, and she's forced to go into hiding. Jacobs considers herself a moral woman. And she was raised by her grandmother to be moral and to be virtuous. And this is a period in American history when gender conventions are considered to be purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness. A virtuous and a moral woman had to have those kinds of attitudes, and they had to have that kind of bearing. Of course, they had to be middle class. And this was a middle class concept. And it was also embedded in this concept of being a Christian. And Jacobs was a Christian, and she felt that she had done something that was sinful, on the one hand. On the other hand, she felt that she had no choice, that she was driven to it. She was so guilt-ridden that she didn't even want to tell her grandmother. And when her grandmother did find out she was pregnant, they had a horrible scene. And she finally was able to convince her grandmother, through the intercession of another black woman, that this was not her fault. And that gave her some sense of relief, that the woman who she loved most of all in the world understood her plight. The bonding that black women had about their situation, a situation that they couldn't control. So that part of her sense of guilt was absolved. ( This was taken from Modern Voices: Margaret Washington on Harriet Jacobs. See the following link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4i3089.html) So this is my way of dealing with Romanticism in IH 52. I am sure that I will find new ways to reinvent the unit. But I find this method to be effective because students see slavery in terms that feel true to them. We are constantly criticized for not having enough African American writers: our Chat group is working on that problem for 51, but in 52, there are so many ways we can address that issue. When I discuss Gandhi and King, I will develop my ideas further for you.
  6. 6. about him. So she has these two children with him, and this angers her master, and she's forced to go into hiding. Jacobs considers herself a moral woman. And she was raised by her grandmother to be moral and to be virtuous. And this is a period in American history when gender conventions are considered to be purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness. A virtuous and a moral woman had to have those kinds of attitudes, and they had to have that kind of bearing. Of course, they had to be middle class. And this was a middle class concept. And it was also embedded in this concept of being a Christian. And Jacobs was a Christian, and she felt that she had done something that was sinful, on the one hand. On the other hand, she felt that she had no choice, that she was driven to it. She was so guilt-ridden that she didn't even want to tell her grandmother. And when her grandmother did find out she was pregnant, they had a horrible scene. And she finally was able to convince her grandmother, through the intercession of another black woman, that this was not her fault. And that gave her some sense of relief, that the woman who she loved most of all in the world understood her plight. The bonding that black women had about their situation, a situation that they couldn't control. So that part of her sense of guilt was absolved. ( This was taken from Modern Voices: Margaret Washington on Harriet Jacobs. See the following link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4i3089.html) So this is my way of dealing with Romanticism in IH 52. I am sure that I will find new ways to reinvent the unit. But I find this method to be effective because students see slavery in terms that feel true to them. We are constantly criticized for not having enough African American writers: our Chat group is working on that problem for 51, but in 52, there are so many ways we can address that issue. When I discuss Gandhi and King, I will develop my ideas further for you.

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