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English 1022 Lecture on As For Me and My House (first lecture on the novel)

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Western University
English 1022E
David Bentley

English Lecture “As For Me and My House” March 22, 2011 As For Me and My House - in 1938, published in 1941, set during Great Depression on the Prairies, so early 1930’s - Classic Canadian Modernism - Canadian manifestation of Huxley, Eliot, etc. - It’s a very deeply layered text. All kinds of levels that we have to work to uncover. - Perspective on Mrs. Bentley is very masculinist and condescending. - Strong tendency to privilege the male in this text - Mrs. Bentley and her husband have contrasting values and contrasting artistic assumptions. Good way of seeing how different they are. - Mrs. Bentley is the narrator, keeps a diary in the first person, highly subjective in her responses to the world around her so the narrative is highly subjective - She is a romantic, in the sense that Keats and Wordsworth were. It’s all about emotion, personal responses to nature etc. - Her favourite composer is List, the quintessential romantic composer. He was a huge show off, playing two pianos at the same time, used mirrors, the Elton John of his day. - Bentley uses her music to manipulate men - In contrast, Philip Bentley is a modernist. He is much more objective, detached, ironical. - On pge 62 Paul describes a prairie landscape as a modernist abstraction, which also applies to Philip’s sketches - Since Ross is a modernist, there is a lot of overlap between him and Philip. Ross gives us a clue as to what the assumptions are that he and Philip share - p.219, Philip asserting to Mrs. Bentley that his male, detached perspective on art is superior to her subjective, emotional, romantic view on Art. - This page gives us a clue as to how we should read the text - For a moment, Mrs. Bentley sounds like a modernist. She has used the word “detachment”. - “Palimpsest” - piece of writing to save paper. Just writing over what you’ve already written - “Paraphrase” - summary - Mrs. Bentley paraphrases the stories of the lives of people around her, of Philip, Steve, and the rest of the characters. She produces a palimpsest of them. In paraphrasing them, she partly obliterates her stories that are hidden behind her writing. - How accurate is Mrs. Bentley’s paraphrasing? - Is her take on people true, or false, somewhat true, or somewhat false? - What are the other stories that are hidden under the surface, what are the stories of Philip, Steve, Paul? - She gives us a hint that we should not allow ourselves to be tricked by the superficialities of the text on page 3 - How can you say that a house looks “smug”? Surely Mrs. Bentley is responding emotionally to this image. She is bringing her own feelings to this architecture. - Emphasis on pain. Is it really there, or is she fabricating the emotion? - “Second story of the house” --> pun, second stories. - Is she telling us that we should be looking behind false fronts, to the second story. Should we be ridiculing her, finding her ridiculous? - page 76 - Mrs. Finley is speaking and says that “Stories do get twisted...what we’re hearing isn’t really true” - How do they get twisted? - Bentley = bent, twisted - Several emphasis’ in the text on her twistedness - “I see a single figure bent low walking away” English Lecture “As For Me and My House” March 22, 2011 - “I discover in myself something of a social bent” - She tends to bend stories to her own interests and assumptions - How do we get past this and find the stories that lie below? - Need to identify exactly what kind of character we’re dealing with. Who is Mrs. Bentley, how does her personality shape and conceal parts of the narrative? How can we see that it conceals things? -Mrs. Bentley was constructed by Sinclair Ross as paranoid. Ross was a huge fan of Freud. He deliberately makes her into a figure that has all the characteristics of a paranoid. - What are the components of her character that fit with this paranoia diagnosis: - Delusions of Grandeur and Persecution. Thinking that you are the center of the world and people are out to get you - Project their own troubled mental state onto the external world. - Desire to Control Others. (Philip) - Obsession with Cleanliness, rage for order which paranoids experience. - Imagine themselves to be the center of a hostile world. Everyone is out to get them. If a paranoid were to walk into this room, they would feel threatened by everyone in this room. - page 15 (early example in which we can see Ross constructing Bentley according to this model) - Image of Philip behind closed doors, shutting Mrs. Bentley out - Low ceilings, small windows in prairie houses, but
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