DAUGHTERS OF DECADENCE QUESTIONS FOR E335 VICTORIAN LITERATURE

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Assigned: From Daughters of Decadence. (Showalter, Elaine, ed.) Ada Leverson's "Suggestion" (38-46), George Egerton's "A Cross Line" (47-68), Olive Schreiner's "The Buddhist Priest's Wife" (84-97), Charlotte Mew's "A White Night" (118-38), Sarah Grand's "The Undefinable: a Fantasia" (262-87).

Ada Leverson's "Suggestion" (1895; Showalter 38-46)

1. Ada Leverson was one of Oscar Wilde's best friends, but how does this short story (published in Vol. 5 of The Yellow Book in 1895, during Wilde's trials) gently parody Wildean aestheticism? What characteristics, utterances, and actions mark Cecil as an aesthete? To what extent does the text portray him sympathetically?

2. What does the story tell us about Cecil Carington's father? What kind of life does he seem to have lived -- how does he rate as a Victorian patriarch or paterfamilias? How does his marriage to young Laura Egerton come about? What role did Cecil and his sister Marjorie play in bringing them together, and why did they want to do that?

3. How does the text represent the female characters, in particular Laura but also Marjorie and the widow Mrs. Winthrop? What is their relationship to Cecil? To what extent do Laura and Marjorie share his aesthetic sensibilities and attitudes?

4. Not much happens in this story, if by "happens" we mean dramatic material events. But it isn't exactly "a story about nothing." What, then, are the main issues and acts of interest here? One thing to consider is Cecil's dilemma with regard to his father, Laura, and Adrian -- what is that dilemma, and how does Cecil deal with it?

George Egerton's "A Cross Line" (1893; Showalter 47-68)

5. On 47-50, how does the married protagonist of the story meet the man who becomes her lover? How do they initially regard each other? In particular, what seems to be the man's motive in striking up an acquaintance with her? How does the initial meeting go -- who appears to have the upper hand, and why?

6. On 50-57, how does the text describe the protagonist's relationship with her husband? How well do they understand each other? What does she explain to him about a woman's supposed need for open expression of love? Does he seem to understand this explanation or accept it? Explain.

7. On 57-65, the protagonist reflects on her own desires and has an intense conversation with her lover. How does she "represent herself to herself" -- what situations does she imagine herself in, and what do they reveal about her? And how does she explain the supposed thoughts and feelings of women in general -- to what extent does her view differ from the male ideal of womanhood that she also references?

8. On 57-65, how does the protagonist's lover regard the state of his relationship with her as it seems about to end? What has he apparently been expecting from her? What offer does he make, and what request? How does she respond to him?

9. On 65-68, in this last section of the story, the protagonist realizes that she is pregnant. What effect does this development have on her -- what are her priorities and thoughts, and what resolution does she take regarding the affair she has had? What role does Lizzie the maid play in this section? (If you are presenting on this question, consider, too, how the story's end affects its overall exploration of gender relations and of women's supposed tendencies or nature.)

Olive Schreiner's "The Buddhist Priest's Wife" (1891-92, Showalter 84-97)

10. What relationship is posited between the man and the woman in this story? What plan does she lay out for her future, and how does her male friend interpret this plan? What does he, in turn, want his own future to be like, and what does she think of his views in that regard?

11. To what extent does the way the woman she lives before her departure promote her stated ideal of achieving equality between the sexes? On what basis does she think it is possible to achieve such parity? On pages 91-93 in particular, how does she describe the similarities and differences between men and women, and how do her thoughts on that matter relate to the issue of gender equality?

12. How do you interpret the enframing device of the story, whereby the narrative begins and ends with reflections on the body of the female protagonist? What relation do those reflections have to the main part of the story, in which the protagonist and her male friend discuss marriage, gender differences, and equality?

Charlotte Mew's "A White Night" (1903, Showalter 118-38)

13. Where is the story set? What role does the architectural description play in the development and resolution of the story? How, that is, does it establish atmosphere, affect the thoughts and feelings of the main characters, and contribute to the unfolding events?

14. The narrator repeats what she has heard from Cameron about his strange adventure of 1876 in Spain. How does Cameron explain his reaction to the event that he describes, and most particularly to its final horror? How -- and how intelligibly or plausibly -- does he raise and deal with the issue of his own complicity as witness to a live burial?

15. It seems reasonable to interpret this story not simply as an account of a bizarre clash between the civilized and the primitive but as an exploration of an unsettlingly "gendered" event and an equally gendered way of processing or interpreting it. Leaving aside Cameron's perspective, how do you interpret what happens to the woman at the hand of monks in a cloister?

Sarah Grand's "The Undefinable: a Fantasia" (1908, Showalter 262-87)

16. What is the painter's perspective on his art at the beginning of the story? What influences have led him to this view, and what seems to be his relationship to his art before Martha (his new model, or rather guest) rings his doorbell?

17. At what points in the story does it become apparent that the painter is beginning to undergo a transformation in attitude and perception that might lead him to regain his creative spark? How is the change described in terms of his interactions with Martha?

18. Who is the model Martha, insofar as the story tells us? What clues are given regarding her identity and her special qualities? What hints of a feminist interpretive framework do Martha's comments to the painter open up?

19. By the end of the story, what turns out to be Martha's fullest revelation of her value to the painter as he attempts to regain his creativity? How does she embody the proper subject of painting, and what does she teach the painter about the source of great art? Does he seem to take the full measure of what she has taught him, or is he unable to accept it? Explain.

Edition: Showalter, Elaine, ed. Daughters of Decadence: Women Writers of the Fin de Siécle. Rutgers UP, 1993. ISBN-13: 978-0813520186.