THOMAS CARLYLE QUESTIONS FOR E335 VICTORIAN LITERATURE
Assigned: "Signs of the Times" (E-Text); from Sartor Resartus (1005-1024); Past and Present (1024-33).
"Signs of the Times"
1. To what extent do you find Carlyle's style in this essay journalistic? In what ways does his style differ from that of journalism?
2. What is "the mechanical" according to Carlyle? Why are those who seek reforms in a "mechanical" way unable to solve Britain's problems?
3. How does the "dynamical" power (169) oppose the mechanical? How does Carlyle describe this force? What is the proper relationship between the mechanical and the dynamical power?
4. How does Carlyle, who lost his Scottish Calvinist faith by early adulthood, nonetheless preserve the rhetorical structures and value system of Christianity? For example, what is the value of "mystery" to human beings?
5. Where should Carlyle's readers look for relief or sustenance, if not to existing governmental structures or political debates between utilitarian Benthamites and aristocratic conservatives? What does he say about the present state of institutional religion and literature (most particularly romantic poetry)?
6. Does Carlyle closely define the most important of his terms, such as Nature, the Dynamical, Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Inward Perfection, Mystery, and the Infinite? Why might he not want to define such terms -- does linguistic vagueness help him achieve his rhetorical purpose? If so, how?
7. Some critics have said that Carlyle insists upon belief in moral absolutes even though he no longer believes in the Christian faith from which those absolutes derive. If you find that "Signs" fits that description, is the essay a convincing response to the "crisis of authority"? Or do you consider Carlyle a reactionary who wants to return his countrymen to some modern approximation of feudal, conservative values rather than to accept the need for systemic (i.e. scientific and wide-reaching) social and political reforms?
From Sartor Resartus
8. Look up the dictionary meanings of the word "sage." How do "sages" relate to their hearers or readers? How does Carlyle function as a sage-writer for Victorian readers?
9. What are some characteristics of Carlyle's prose style in any of the selections we are reading? What do you think he is trying to accomplish by means of the attitudes, poses, or styles he adopts?
"The Everlasting No"
10. On 1006-08, how does Teufelsdrockh deal with his loss of religious faith, according to the Editor and Teufelsdrockh's own words? In what sense is he "full of religiosity?" What begins to look like the replacement for his once firm faith in the Christian God?
11. On 1009, how does Teufelsdrockh characterize the threat that yawns before him if he can't find the answer to his spiritual difficulties? How does the admission that the universe might just be "one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-engine" clarify the problem that confronts Teufelsdrockh?
12. On 1010-11, what is "The Everlasting No" -- what has it spoken to Teufelsdrockh in his bewilderment? How does he respond -- what assertion allows Teufelsdrockh to defy such resounding negation? What is the "Baphometic Fire-Baptism" that he undergoes?
"Centre of Indifference"
13. On 1011-12, what is "the old inward Satanic School"? How does the Editor characterize its effects in Teufelsdrockh?
14. On 1012-14, how does Teufelsdrockh begin the process of casting out the Satanic School ? To what observations, what travels, does he turn his attention for that purpose, and what effect do they have upon his spirit?
15. On 1015-16, Teufelsdrockh waxes eloquent on war. What does he have to say about the causes and effects of war, and what thoughts does he offer concerning his brief interaction with the Great Man, Napoleon? How might Teufelsdrockh's ideas about war and Napoleon mark some progression in his understanding of his predicament?
16. On 1016-17, Teufelsdrockh goes to the North Cape and meets a cantankerous Russian smuggler. What happens between the two men, and what do you take to be the point of placing such a ridiculous episode here at the end of the chapter on the Centre of Indifference?
17. On 1017, what exactly is the Centre of Indifference at which Teufelsdrockh has arrived? In what state of soul or mind does Teufelsdrockh find himself at this point?
"The Everlasting Yea"
18. On 1018-19, how does Teufelsdrockh describe the stage through which he has just passed? What has it made possible for him to move forwards
19. On 1019 top, the Editor interrupts Teufelsdrockh and offers his own gloss on the Doctor's remarks. What reason does the Editor give for this interruption? Why isn't it a good thing for the readers to hear the whole of what Teufelsdrockh has said in his then-current state of mind?
20. On 1019-20, how does Teufelsdrockh characterize nature? How does this characterization represent a change in his understanding of nature, and how does he now view his fellow human beings?
21. On 1021-22, what, according to Teufelsdrockh, is the cause of "Man's Unhappiness"? Why isn't happiness an appropriate goal for human life? What, then, is the appropriate thing to do, the "Everlasting Yea," as Teufelsdrockh calls it?
22. On 1023-24, what tasks does Teufelsdrockh set for those who, like himself, have realized the necessity of creating new beliefs and institutions to replace the old? How are we to do that, according to the Professor? How do you interpret Teufelsdrockh's statement (borrowed from Goethe) that "America is here or nowhere" (1024)?
From Past and Present
23. On 1025-27, what examples does Carlyle offer of proper relations among humans? How does he describe relations between humans during feudal times? (See his comments on "Gurth.")
24. On 1027-29, how does Carlyle redefine "liberty" and then explore the social and political implications of his new definition of that concept? How does his definition undermine more common ones?
"Captains of Industry"
25. On 1029-32, what is Carlyle's solution to Britain's social problems? What, that is, does Carlyle say should be done with the working classes and the unemployed, and who should do it?
26. On 1029-32, why does Carlyle borrow a feudal term like "aristocracy" for his new hero-class? What is the implication, that is, of such an anachronistic borrowing for Carlyle's view of historical progress and of his own day's social and political developments?
Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.