First Essay: ENLT 201M

Your first 5-6 page essay is due on Monday, February 23. Choose one of the topics listed below.

Your essays should conform to the guidelines given in the sixth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. I particularly call your attention to Chapters 5 and 6, on documenting your sources, and section 7 of Chapter 3, on incorporating quotations into your essay. These are two areas that most beginning researchers (and many experienced ones as well) tend to stumble over.

Please do not hesitate to come see me if you have questions, if you want to run ideas by me, or if you just want to talk about your paper.

Some Suggestions for Topics

1. Explicate as fully as you can one of the passages below. The responsibility is yours to develop a workable thesis regarding the passage. Your overall goal is to show how the passage helps us better to see and perhaps understand an issue or problem or theme that you consider important to the novel as a whole. You will want to be closely attentive to the particulars of the passage itself: for example, an intriguing formal feature, or a striking metaphor or instance of figurative language. But you will also want to note the context in which the passage appears. Ask yourself who is speaking and in what circumstances. Where in the novel does the passage occur?

a) I resolved, in the depth of my heart, that I would be most moderate, most correct; and, having reflected a few minutes in order to arrange coherently what I had to say; I told her all the story of my sad childhood. Exhausted by emotion, my language was more subdued than it generally was when it developed that sad theme; and mindful of Helen’s warnings against the indulgence of resentment, I infused into the narrative far less of gall and wormwood than ordinary. Thus restrained and simplified, it sounded more credible: I felt as I went that Miss Temple fully believed me (Ch. VIII, p. 60).

b) “I see no enemy to a fortunate issue but in the brow; and that brow professes to say,—‘I can live alone, if self-respect and circumstances require me to do so. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure, born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld; or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.’ The forehead declares, ‘Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms. The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgment shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision (Ch. XIX, p. 171).

c) All men of talent, whether they be men of feeling or not; whether they be zealots, or aspirants, or despots—provided only they be sincere—have their sublime moments: when they subdue and rule. I felt veneration for St. John—veneration so strong that its impetus thrust me at once to the point I had so long shunned. I was tempted to cease struggling with him—to rush down the torrent of his will into the gulf of his existence, and there lose my own. I was almost as hard beset by him now as I had been once before, in a different way, by another. I was a fool both times. To have yielded then would have been an error of principle; to have yielded now would have been an error of judgment (Ch. XXXIV, p. 356).

2. We have talked in class about the way that literary works create their own imagined readers. Jane Eyre often addresses the reader directly. Compare passages where she does so, interpreting them alongside other motifs related to reading. Pursue the questions: why does Jane address the reader when she does? and: what kind of imagined reader is she making in the process?

3. Jane Eyre ends with a letter from St. John Rivers quoting the next-to-last verse of the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St. John. Why does Brontë choose to end her novel in this way? Given what has come before in the novel, is this ending surprising or unexpected? Or does it follow from and complete certain themes of the book?

4. In her essay “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” (reprinted on pp. 483-91 of our Norton edition of Jane Eyre), Sandra Gilbert writes that Jane’s “confrontation, not with Rochester but with Rochester’s mad wife Bertha, is the book’s central confrontation, an encounter not with her own sexuality but with her own ‘hunger, rebellion, and rage,’ a secret dialogue of self and soul on whose outcome the novel’s plot, Rochester’s fate, and Jane’s coming-of-age all depend.” Do you agree with this assessment? (In order to answer that question, you will of course not only have to read the remainder of Gilbert’s essay but also to come to your own understanding of Bertha’s role and function in Jane Eyre.)