Thursday, April 28, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: April 28-May 1

Welcome to the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase!

This blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.

How do I know if my blog qualifies as "literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes your blog qualifies as "literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure. YA literature may fit into this category, but if your blog focuses primarily on non-literary YA, fantasy, romance, paranormal romance, or chick lit, you may prefer to join the blog hop at Crazy-for-books that is open to book blogs of all kinds.

Instructions for entering the Literary Blog Hop:

1. Grab the code for the Button.

Literary Blog Hop

2. Answer the following prompt on your blog.

(Suggestions for future prompts? Email to them us at

Discuss your thoughts on sentimentality in literature. When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous? Use examples. 

Our answer comes from Ingrid:

(Note: I wrote this bit on a personal blog I had awhile ago and thought I would repost it as my answer for this week's question.)

Emotions are states of being that move us, or disturb us, from our normal equilibrium, tending to force us to action, and cause measurable bodily sensations (chemicals in the brain etc.) Emotions are learned behaviors and can be changed and altered over time. They are constantly in flux, and therefore undependable. But emotions are what make life interesting, if we didn't experience emotion then life would be flat and boring and perhaps not even worth living. So exactly what role does emotion play in our lives?

Or, to bring this question into my own particular area of interest, what role does emotion play in literature? I've witnessed many, many different reactions to and "analyses" of assigned readings in high school and in my University literature classes--through comments in class, presentations of papers, etc. There seems to be a common thread running between most of these analyses, being they are all reactions, not observations. Joe Student can't separate himself from the literature. You argue, it's impossible to separate something completely from oneself. What I mean to say is that Joe Student can't view the text objectively, as an entity in itself, which is vital to any legitimate literary study. To assume that the purpose or meaning of the text lies in the emotional reaction it engenders in the reader is called the Affective Fallacy, and from what I've witnessed it is far more prevalent than you may think.

Unfortunately, there exist many texts, films, and other media that use emotion to manipulate the audience. It's natural to react emotionally to a novel, for example, but then the question becomes - is there an aesthetic basis for this emotion? Does it weave itself into a fuller meaning or purpose within this novel?

Recall that emotions move us from our equilibrium, force us to action, and cause measurable sensations within the body. If a character and/or the reader experiences any of these things, there must first be a cause, and the emotion must fulfill a larger purpose and draw the reader into this purpose. If not, the emotion is gratuitous, and, in my opinion, the text is manipulative and shallow.

Let us compare two novels: Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (both of which I read and enjoyed.) Let's give Joe Student another chance. Say he reads both of these novels and reacts similarly to them - he feels a longing for romance. We then ask, what in each of these texts causes him to feel this way?

Lady Chatterley finds that her sexual relationship with the groundkeeper brings her closer to the earth (at times quite literally,) more at one with nature (think about it--groundkeeper,) and leaves her entirely fulfilled. The cause of her desire stems from her inability to engage in an entirely physical relationship with her handicapped husband. Through Lady Chatterley's experience Joe recognizes that his longing for romance, specifically sexual desire, is really a longing to become a part of a greater whole and gain fulfillment. Congratulations, Joe. You understand this novel through your objective observations as well as through your emotional engagement.

In Twilight, Joe reads that Bella's romance with Edward makes her feel really good, and they do all kinds of crazy things for each other because they love each other so much. Why does Bella love Edward? ... because of his brooding good looks? Because he loves her? There is no clear and legitimate cause. Stephenie Meyer has said that the ultimate purpose of the story is to show us that "love conquers all." Why does it conquer all? Because it is such a strong emotion, it forces us to action. Why? For what purpose? She does not make it clear. Joe recognizes that Bella is pushy and (frankly) quite needy, and that Edward is overbearing and controlling. Joe doesn't see a connection in this story with his own longing for romance.

Thus Lady Chatterley's Lover is an engaging story that works out to be a detailed and integrate whole, whereas Twilight is just a series of events and little girls (& me, and apparently Joe Student) buy it just because they like the feeling they have when they read it.

I can claim my interpretation of Lady Chatterley to be legitimate because
a.) My very initial emotional reaction (for example, DH Lawrence uses words I consider vulgar, some specific sexual situations are very descriptive and make me uncomfortable) is not the basis of my final interpretation.
b.) I recognize that Chatterley's emotions, (and the naturally consequent emotions evoked in the reader,) point to a higher purpose, being the innate human physical desire to become one with the wholeness of nature.

As Joe found in reading Lady Chatterley, and as you can see through my interpretation, both our objective analysis as well as our emotional engagement in the work bring us to a higher understanding and appreciation for its beauty.

3. Add your link to the Linky List below.

Happy Hopping!

*PLEASE NOTE: if you do not answer the question and link back to The Blue Bookcase in a post on your blog, you will be removed from the Linky list.