Week 4

Madeleine Charne and Jeannette Leopold
February 11, 2013

Oliphant, Phoebe Junior, The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant, “The Library Window” ;Wimsatt and Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy”; Selections on Victorian reviewing: Suzy Anger, from Victorian Interpretation; Nick Dames, “On Not Close Reading”;  Leah Price from The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel

1. Intersection between faith and loss in The Autobiography, by Margaret Oliphant


  • “This the faith He demands of me […] It is to believe in the face of all appearances to the contrary, in opposition to my knowledge of myself, against the aching and yearning of my heart, that in this and all He does He has done well’ (40).
  • How do we see Oliphant’s attempt to reconcile her faith with her loss?


  • Michael’s close reading: “This sense of inevitability and ineffability shows up frequently, underscoring her personal understanding of the divine.  “There was no way but this,” she tells herself repeatedly (87).”
  • “Oliphant was a woman surrounded by death, and her writing reflects a certain morbid fascination.” (Michael’s close reading)—does this refer to Phoebe, or just the autobiography?
  • Religion vs. faith in Victorian novels; where do we see religion, and where faith in the novels we’ve read?
    • Why is faith such a big part of her autobiography?


2. Seminar papers: two perspectives on autobiography, narration, realism


Cathy’s paper: “What happens when the narrator in question is supposedly representing the actual story of the author, not ‘fiction?’ Is the authorial intent still relevant in interpreting the work? Reading Oliphant’s autobiography, a reader is presented with numerous instances that seem to question the supposed divide between the author and the narrator or internal evidence versus external evidence.”



  • Which parts of her autobiography are for her audience, and which parts aren’t?




  • Internal vs. External evidence. Internal evidence is public; external is private. (Go to page 10 in The Intentional Fallacy) Is one way of examining intention more valid than another?


Christina’s paper.

  • “How strange it is for me to write all this, with the effort of making light reading of it, and putting in anecdotes what will do to quote in papers and make books sell!  It is a sober narrative enough, heaven knows! and when I wrote it for my Cecco to read it was all very different, but now that I am doing it consciously for the public, with the aim (no evil aim) of leaving a little more money for Denny, I feel all this to be so vulgar, so common, so unnecessary, as if I were making pennyworths of myself” (140)
    • “What happens when the “pennyworth” she has made herself out to be is read as a work of realist fiction?  Is it even possible to read it as such?” (Christina)



  1. Opening out from the seminar papers: The criticism of this week talks about reading works of literature as either looking at the author’s life or not; can we read an autobiography as a work of literature separate from the author’s life?



  • “Intention is design, or plan in the author’s mind” (4)
  • Sierra’s Criticism Summary: The Intentional Fallacy
    • “They lay out three categories of  “evidence” with which a work can be interpreted: (1) internal evidence, which is conveyed through the language of the poem itself; (2) external evidence, which is conveyed through writing of the author made outside of the poem in journals or reflections, and (3) quasi-external details, constituting of semi-private meanings of the words known among a select group” (Sierra)
    •  “authorial intent, if it exists, is inaccessible and therefore not necessary; the poem is “detached from the author at birth” and becomes an entity “beyond his power to intend […] or control” (5) (Sierra).
      • Do we think authorial intent is important in analyzing literature?






  • How do we find authorial intention?
    • Can there be intentions that the author doesn’t know about?
    • “If the poet succeeded in doing it, then the poem itself shows what he was trying to do. And if the poet did not succeed, then the poem is not adequate evidence” (4)
    • “The poet’s aim must be judged at the moment of the creative act, that is to say, by the art of the poem itself” (an eminent intentionalist—J. E. Spingern)


5.The Library Window

  • What are our reactions to the story? Surprises?
  • How does it compare to Phoebe?
  • Thoughts about the ending?
    •  “Everybody had said, since ever I learned to speak, that I was fantastic and fanciful and dreamy, and all the other words with which a girl who may happen to like poetry, and to be fond of thinking, is so often made uncomfortable (252).
    • Compare Phoebe, Ursula, Oliphant (in autobiography) and the main character in “The Library Window?”


  • There is a lot of talk of seeing, of young eyes seeing more than old, in the story—what do we make of that?
    • “I felt unconsciously the contrast of my youngness to their oldness” (255)


6.Summarizing, excerpting, reviewing


Michael’s Criticism Summary: “On Not Close Reading”

  • What does it mean to take a chunk of writing out of literature and anthologize it or put it in a review?


  • “The excerpt itself seems to function not as a synecdoche—a part that can express the tendencies of the whole—but as a whole in itself: as a reading experience in miniature” (Dames 13).
    • “The extended excerpt, Dames concludes, is meant to stand alone, and to stand for itself.  It is rarely given any analytical treatment, serving instead to give readers a sense of the emotional content of the novel” (Michael)
    • How do modern day reviews differ from these? Which is more effective, and how have the goals of the reviews changed?


  • Where do we see Oliphant’s intentionality in Phoebe Junior, especially in regard to religion and death?


  • Alison’s Criticism Summary: Anthology and the rise of the novel
    • “[The anthology form] enabled and disabled certain ways of reading and relating to realism and text which ultimately formed the first generations of novel readers with a sensibility for intensive rather than extensive reading practices” (Alison)
    • (Jumping ahead to Anger): “Ruskin’s theory of interpretation is resolutely intentionalist, and, like many later Victorian critics, he warns against the error of imposing oneself on the text” (18)
      • Is it possible for a reader to look at a text without imposing herself on the work?
      • Is it possible to anthologize without imposing your own reading of the novel(s)? Do we agree with Ruskin—is it a problem to impose your own view?


  • Price: “Anthologies are more than a referendum. They determine not simply who gets published or what gets read, but who reads, and how” (3)
    • Do we agree?
    • To what extent do they determine what the other writes? To what extent the form that novels take? (Wilkie Collins couldn’t be excerpted properly)


  • Anger: “The conflict between two broad theories of textural interpretation. The first holds that meaning is found in the past, either in the original meaning of the text itself, or in the intention of the author. The second maintains that meaning is always found in the present; it changes in history. (4).
    • Where do we think we can find meaning in the literature? In the past, or the ever-changing present?
    • Lewis Carroll discussion
      • “The king’s theory obviously shapes the reading, and illustrates the necessity of context for interpretation” (16)
      • “If meaning were grounded solely in intention, as Humpty Dumpty wants to claim, then understanding would be impossible. Clearly, as  Schleiermacherhad contended, a shared system of language is also indispensable” (15)
      • A comparison between this and Trollope’s autobiography
        • How does each use form?
        • What are the similarities and differences of their purposes?
        • What kind of authorial personal does each present to the public?
        • Both discuss writing for profit; how do they deal with the tension between writing for profit and writing as art? Where in their novels do they deal with this question?