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Friday, March 18

March 19, 2016

pulp.: Saw some spreads and discussed release party stuff. If you still have fundraising money out, we’ll be wrapping that up by April 1, so you have some additional time.


Cultural Lit: I collected the Romantic poetry homework. Then we recapped Five Things You Should Know About Shakespeare (1564-1616):

  1. We don’t know much about his life, especially certain periods of it.
  2. That being said, only a tiny handful of scholars believe that he didn’t write the works attributed to him; that he didn’t exist; or that he was gay. In other words, the conventional knowledge about Shakespeare appears to be accurate.
  3. He was an actor and businessman: an astute businessman, at that. He owned a share of the Globe Theater, built in London in 1599 by his acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. (Side note, which you don’t need to know but which is interesting nonetheless: not long before his death, he bought a building adjacent to the Blackfriars in London, which was a well-known Catholic safehouse — Catholics were under heavy persecution at the time in England. It is almost certain Shakespeare knew of the building’s use, which is one piece of evidence among many that, of all the theories that have surfaced about Shakespeare, the most likely to have been true is that he was Catholic.)
  4. His fame rests on the 37 plays which wrote, and the 154 sonnets. (The numbers vary somewhat because of disputed authorship.) He also wrote a handful of longer poems.
  5. Among his plays he wrote histories, comedies, tragedies and a few romances. The Big Four tragedies upon which most Shakespearean scholars would agree are: Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear.

Following this recap of the star of the Elizabethan era, we raced through the other four literary eras. Here’s a recap:

Romanticism (1800-1830, roughly) — and remember that here we’re talking about Great Britain:

  • Romantics valued emotion — strong emotion, at that — over reason.
  • They valued nature (a source of beauty, which, quoting Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” equaled truth) over the growing industrialization of England.
  • They also valued childlike innocence over knowing adulthood — see Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us,” or much of William Blake’s poetry. (Side note: this is partly because they were descendants of the 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who famously said “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” and was also the intellectual father of the French Revolution.)
  • Poetry was the primary literary vehicle of the Romantic era (although there were works of fiction; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein might be the most influential of all.)
  • The Big Five of Romanticism were George Gordon, Lord Byron; Percy Shelley; William Wordsworth; William Blake; and John Keats. It’s important to note that many Romantics (Byron and Shelley, most prominently) challenged the social mores of their time. They were popular, yes, but they also rebelled against the status quo. In that sense, they were no different from the Beats and hippies, a century-and-a-half later.

Victorian Era (1830s-1900, roughly) — again, we’re talking primarily about Great Britain:

  • Named for Queen Victoria, who ruled England for an almost-unimaginable 70 years.
  • Growing industrialization led people out of the countryside and into the cities, where the jobs were.
  • The author who best captured this shift was the beloved Charles Dickens, author of such works as Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and of course, the novella A Christmas Carol (which, you will remember, had as a major component the poverty and struggles of London’s underclass. So did Oliver Twist, which we didn’t mention).
  • Dickens is also the guy who helped make the novel the primary literary unit. His works were serialized — available chunk by chunk — and this delivery method helped swing the popular pendulum away from poetry and toward fiction — where some would say it’s been ever since.
  • While outwardly this is a stable and conservative era, beneath the surface the world is changing dramatically, and not just because of industrialization. Karl Marx is writing Das Kapital and his Communist Manifesto, which won’t be put into practice for another 70 years. German philosophers like Ludwig Feurbach are beginning to question Christianity openly, and atheistically. The publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1860 is a game-changer, opening the door for a wholesale re-evaluation of religious belief. Matthew Arnold captures this change best in his 1867 poem “Dover Beach,” when he writes of the “Sea of Faith” retreating with a “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” This reaches a peak during the “Fin De Siecle” period of the 1890s, where Oscar Wilde becomes enormously popular while openly flouting societal convention with works like The Portrait of Dorian Gray, widely considered obscene. So once again, don’t be fooled into thinking that all these questions are recent, or that modern writers have any sort of monopoly on challenging faith and authority. (If you’re in, or have taken, WWT2, you already know this.)

The 20th Century, Part I: Modernism (1900-1945, roughly) — here we begin to shift our attention to America as well

  • Again, it’s easy to believe that this was a staid, uneventful era, epitomized by presidents like “Silent Cal” Coolidge and traditionally-minded poets like Robert Frost. That is really not the case.
  • Two of the most successful, controversial and talked-about works of this era were avant-garde in their execution. T.S. Eliot’s long, challenging epic poem “The Waste Land” is dense, difficult and full of allusion. (Here’s a recording of him reading it:
  • Meanwhile, Irish writer James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses, written in an even more challenging, stream-of-consciousness style, was considered both unreadable and obscene when it was published. It’s now considered one of the most important novels ever. Here’s an excerpt: 

    Get a light snack in Davy Byrne’s. Stopgap. Keep me going. Had a good breakfast.

    —Roast and mashed here.

    —Pint of stout.

    Every fellow for his own, tooth and nail. Gulp. Grub. Gulp. Gobstuff.

    He came out into clearer air and turned back towards Grafton street. Eat or be eaten. Kill! Kill!

    Suppose that communal kitchen years to come perhaps. All trotting down with porringers and tommycans to be filled. Devour contents in the street. John Howard Parnell example the provost of Trinity every mother’s son don’t talk of your provosts and provost of Trinity women and children cabmen priests parsons fieldmarshals archbishops. From Ailesbury road, Clyde road, artisans’ dwellings, north Dublin union, lord mayor in his gingerbread coach, old queen in a bathchair. My plate’s empty. After you with our incorporated drinkingcup. Like sir Philip Crampton’s fountain. Rub off the microbes with your handkerchief. Next chap rubs on a new batch with his. Father O’Flynn would make hares of them all. Have rows all the same. All for number one. Children fighting for the scrapings of the pot. Want a souppot as big as the Phoenix park. Harpooning flitches and hindquarters out of it. Hate people all round you. City Arms hotel table d’hôte she called it. Soup, joint and sweet. Never know whose thoughts you’re chewing. Then who’d wash up all the plates and forks? Might be all feeding on tabloids that time. Teeth getting worse and worse.

  • This era also saw the growth of genre fiction, epitomized best, perhaps, by the popularity of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes (who first appeared in the Victorian Era, but who maintained his immense following in the 1900s). Science fiction, mystery and detective stories, horror tales — all of them took off during this period, often appearing in cheaply-produced “pulp” magazines, especially popular in America.
  • Finally, we should note that in America, female writers and African-Americans (many via the Harlem Renaissance) began to have a pronounced literary impact during this period. Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein (a Pittsburgh native), Langston Hughes, Richard Wright — some of the many examples.

Finally, The 20th Century Part 2: Postmodernism (1945-1999, roughly):

  • The voices of women and minorities are heard fully during this period, from poets like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Lucille Clifton to novelists like Toni Morrison, Alex Haley and Alice Walker. Some speak primarily about issues of race and gender, others do not.
  • J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye creates an antihero who just happens to be a member of a newly-identified group: a “teenager.”
  • The Beats are perhaps the best-known literary group of this era; the Big Three of Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”), William S. Burroughs (the experimental cut-up novel Naked Lunch) and Jack Kerouac (the stream-of-consciousness travelogue On the Road) revolutionize and scandalize with their choices of structure and previously-taboo subject matter. Here’s Ginsberg reading his poem “A Supermarket in California”:
  • A new form appears during this era: first called “The New Journalism” in the 1960s, as epitomized by Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” and Truman Capote’s controversially-reported In Cold Blood, it later becomes known as creative nonfiction, a term coined by Pittsburgh’s own Lee Gutkind, the “godfather.”
  • Genre fiction increases its popularity: the works of British author J.R.R. Tolkien are perhaps the most successful novels in a return to fantasy.

NOW…what to do with all this?

Look it over. When you return, on March 28, Mr. Cageao will have for you an in-class assignment that will depend on your knowing this stuff. The quiz will be on Wednesday, March 30.


Middle School: Spelling quiz. You earned an average score of 17.5, which is pretty great! If you got a 15 or less, you may retake the quiz Monday, March 28, and I’ll keep the higher grade. (If you were absent today, you will take the quiz then.)

Mr. Cageao went over the guidelines for your papers. We’ll come back to our magical object stories after break.

Survey: Combined: Went over portfolio guidelines and Writing Awards guidelines. Here’s what was covered:

Portfolio guidelines and portfolio defense guidelines: Portfolio defense 2016

Submission form: Submission form Survey 2016

Writing Awards guidelines: Writing awards 2016

To recap:

Everyone has to do a portfolio, with at least three pieces in it, and with a list of at least three places where you have submitted your work this year (contests, for publication, etc.). These portfolios are due Monday, May 2, along with the portfolio defenses.

All portfolio reviews of Survey students will take place during the final week of school.

On Friday, April 8, we are going to talk about how to assemble a portfolio. On that date, please bring in as much of your writing as possible from this year. We’re not looking for short prompts, quizzes, tests, etc. — just poetry, fiction, screenplays and CNF you’ve written this year, as well as other writing of your own you may wish to include. (It can predate this year, as well.)

Entering the Writing Awards is optional. If you want to enter something in one of the six categories listed, follow the guidelines and turn in those pieces by the end of the day on Monday, April 11. You may enter in each category, but you may only enter one piece per category. For Survey students, this counts as one of your three required submissions.


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