Wordsworth: The “Whiteness” in the Arab

I know that I talked a lot of the problematic handling of the Arab in the Prelude, but when asked about how to take/interpret the fact that the Arab was “not the Knight/But was an Arab of the desert, too/Of these was neither, and was both at once,” I didn’t really have an answer (ll.123-125). My first thought was that maybe Wordsworth was trying to understand a person that exists outside of British society and someone he would have never had any personal interaction with. I did not necessarily see Wordsworth’s description as positive or negative, but more problematic with an acknowledge that it was a step in the right direction (and was not era-typical racist depiction of a non-white, non-British person). However, my Studies in American Literature class had a discussion about the protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God that has made Wordsworth’s Arab even more disturbing to me.

In the class, we were discussing how Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God was not completely black (and may not be as dark as the other African American characters) and perhaps the African American, male characters loved Janie for her “whiteness” (at least in some capacity; not necessarily entirely for her “whiteness”). We discussed that perhaps her hair was not that typical of African Americans since all of Janie’s love interests seemed so in love with her hair. The reason that I bring this up is because thinking of “whiteness” in a non-white character made me look back at the Arab and how he is described.

When I reread the passage dealing with the Arab, I found a passage that is reminiscent of “whiteness” in a non-white character:

“. . . Lance in rest,

He rode, I keeping pace with him; and now

He, to my fancy, had become the knight

Whose tale Cervantes tells; yet not the Knight

But was an Arab of the desert, too;

Of these was neither, and was both at once” (ll. 120-125)

My first thought was that Wordsworth was attempting to understand the Arab by using his own culture’s equivalent because of his lack of actual interaction with actual Arabs and terminology. I did not think it was necessarily a good thing, but I did not think was necessarily an awful thing either. With the idea of “whiteness” in a character and Janie in mind, however, my opinion and interpretation has shifted a bit. I still give Wordsworth brownie points for not making the Arab a violent person (as I was expecting when I started reading the Arab’s section), but what Wordsworth has done is given the Arab a “whiteness” for a British audience to like.

For instance, we as a class (in Senior Seminar) discussed how the lance could be a biblical reference. During Wordsworth’s time, Christianity was very much a “white” person religion with Jesus depicted as a “white” person. I will be completely honest when I say that I am not completely sure what religion an Arab  would have practiced during that time period, but I am willing to bet that the British audience would assume it was either Islam or some kind of “savage” religion. On top of the lance, the fact that Wordsworth thinks of the Arab as knight-like also reads as “whiteness” because the knights that the British audience (and possibly Wordsworth himself) would think of are white and British, not really Arab or non-white. So, what Wordsworth has done between the lance and connecting the Arab to knights is injected items of the white, British culture into a non-white character, giving the Arab some “whiteness” to go with his “Arab-ness.”

(FYI: Maybe I want to do this for my final paper instead?)

(Word count: 615)

 

“The Two Part Prelude” and St. Leon: Nature as a Guiding Force

As we were talking in class today, Dr. Gates said something that got me thinking: in “The Two Part Prelude,” nature is a constant guardian for the speaker in the poem; that nature (the parent) would outlive the mortal parents. I find the concept fascinating, especially when it is applied to Reginald in St. Leon.

Reginald had never known his father because the man had died before Reginald was born. He had his mother until he was about seventeen or eighteen, losing her to death. He then had his maternal uncle for a couple of years until the uncle died. Reginald also had a kind of relationship with the king (if I am remembering correctly), but the king was kept prisoner and Reginald is never able to rekindle that relationship. Without a guiding force, Reginald succumbs to his vice of gambling and righted only when taken under the wing of his wife’s father. He, of course, loses this guardian as well, and Marguerite stepped up in fulfill that role by marriage. After this, Reginald is at peace until he is once left without a guardian and wrecks his life. His wife takes the reins, Reginald finally rights himself, and they manage to build a peaceful life once again. That is, until the stranger appears who, like Marguerite’s father, assumes a parental authority over Reginald.

Like how Marguerite’s father saw Reginald’s gambling as a problem, the stranger is upset with how Reginald is living his life under the “thumb” of his wife. The stranger continues in the man’s footsteps by attempting to “fix” Reginald’s relationship with his wife (along with getting Reginald to take care and listen to him, but that is irrelevant to my point). Much like Reginald’s other guardians, the stranger is successful and dies as well.

Once I looked at the line of succession for Reginald’s guardians and thought nature as a guardian, I realized that Reginald once found comfort in nature when he had gotten himself and his family exiled from France. He was distant from his family and walked for long stretches of time in nature. Nature actually functions as the other guardians do and gets Reginald to clean up his act. If I remember correctly, Reginald pulls himself together in that section because of a natural disaster and realizes the error of his ways. I don’t recall Reginald taking comfort and being disciplined by nature again further in the novel, but I think nature shows up in another way: he follows in the footsteps of nature.

Much like how he did what his mother wanted him to, attempted to follow his father’s footsteps as a soldier, straightened himself as Marguerite’s father wanted, and did as the stranger wanted, Reginald became a constant much like nature and now watches humanity like nature does. He is separated from humanity, no longer mortal and instead is a circular immortal like nature (starting young, growing old, and starting young again like the seasons). Though Reginald did sort of follow the stranger’s example, Reginald attempts to help and better humanity which I see akin to how nature (despite how we don’t like ice, tornadoes, and such) grows and tries to provide what mortals need to survive. Reginald just does not do it as well.

(Just an FYI, I think I might want to run with this for my final paper so any comments are welcome.)

(Word count: 567)

“Michael” and St. Leon: Isolated Fathers

After finishing St. Leon, I still could not understand why Reginald was attached to his son Charles more than his daughters. I wanted to chalk it up to the fact that Charles is basically his heir and a way to pass on the family name, but that explanation fell flat. Charles had taken up his mother’s name so I do not think that his children would have the name St. Leon. I then shelved that theory and reread the ending of St. Leon and came upon this quote: “[Charles] was my constant attendant, my careful nurse, and my affectionate friend” (Godwin 449). Reginald is talking about how Charles had been so close to him and so dear, but I could not see the relationship as Reginald did. I saw his wife Marguerite in that role more than Charles. However, then I read Wordsworth’s poem “Michael” and reevaluated my understanding of Charles and Reginald’s father-son relationship.

In “Michael,” a family of three live in almost total isolation, much like Reginald and his family. Michael and his son Luke work tirelessly every day and spend so much time together that Michael says: “—But we were playmates, Luke; among these hills/As well thou know’st, in us the old and young/Have play’d together . . .” (Wordsworth ll. 363-365). Michael says this after describing raising and loving his son Luke as a father and then proceeds to describe their relationship akin to friendship. After reading about Michael and Luke’s relationship in which friendship and family bleed into each other, something clicked in my brain about Reginald and Charles: they were a lot like Michael and Luke. Though Reginald has a considerably bigger family than Michael, he lacks male companionship like Michael. Reginald does not seek out friend for much of the book and what male friends he does gain end up dying. That leaves Reginald not exactly lonely, but instead isolated from male companionship. He has his family, but he has no father, uncles, male cousins, or any friends. He has only his son Charles to have any sort of male conversation and companionship that he seeks for often in the novel, illuminating a touch of humanity in Reginald that I often thought was missing.

(Word count: 368)

Wordsworth: What a Poet Does with Nature

In his Preface, William Wordsworth talks about what a poem should be like and what a poet should do with his poetry. What is particularly relative to Wordsworth’s poem “Ode [Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood]” is what he says a poet should do:

“. . . he will apply the principle on which I have so much insisted, namely, that of selection; on this he will depend on removing what would otherwise be painful or disgusting in the passion; he will feel that there is no necessity to trick out or elevate nature: and, the more industriously he applies this principle, the deeper will be his faith that no words which his fancy or imagination can suggest will be to be compared with those which are the emanations of reality and truth” (339).

What I take him to mean is that the poet will write nature as it really is and not try to make nature as what is not is: superior and/or better than it really is. The poet should be writing a kind of truth. I think that Wordsworth does accomplish his own rule in “Ode [Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood].”

In this poem Wordsworth describes nature and parts of it quite a bit, but he does not go overboard or try to oversell nature. For instance, when he does refer to nature having been “apparelled in celestial light,” the description is prefaced with the line “to me did seem” which reads to me as a way to clarify that nature was perhaps so unnaturally beautiful in only his perspective; that is, his perspective clouded the true appearance of nature and therefore his vision was his truth, not applicable to everyone (ll. 3-4). In Wordsworth’s own way, he is simply describing how nature appeared to him when he was young and is not trying to say that nature was actually supernaturally beautiful. That is his truth.

This applies to every time he describes a part of nature. When he says “the sunshine is a glorious birth,” I cannot disagree with him because a sunrise is often referred to a kind of birth and/or beginning (ll. 16). I can see the truth that he is working with and writing in his poem. Wordsworth did not go on and on about that specific sunshine, but instead he gave us a single, simple line to describe it. This simplicity can be seen throughout the poem: “The Rainbow comes and goes/And lovely is the Rose” (ll. 10-11). These are truthful yet simple statements just like how Wordsworth said a poet should write about nature.