Saturday, 29 September 2007

Looks as if it is shaping up for another deluge for gold stocks

I tried to sell some shares in various US goldstocks yesterday only for my automatic trading platform to fail in each execution. Prices then fell into the close. Gold and silver stocks are acting sluggishly as if this rise is being sold into in expectation of a plunge in October. The commercials are also short gold in a major way unless the latest COTS report suggests otherwise.

I'll either sell a third of the US stocks on Monday or endure the next ride down on the roller coaster and just hang on. Going into next year gold and silver stocks should be much higher from where they are now. Doing nothing may be the only option.

Friday, 28 September 2007

What is meant by language in Captain Corelli's Mandolin?

When you read chapters in greater depth consider the reasons for:

the style of narration

the tone of the narrative voice (is it reflective, mournful, ironic, cheerful, etc.)

the author's use of description

the use of hyperbole, if it is used

the imagery (metaphors, similes, personification, motifs, etc.)

the use of mythical imagery and how it is associated with characters

irony in chapter headings and within chapters by the omniscient third person narrator, etc.

How the main omniscient, third person narrator influences and positions the reader on characters through the use of loaded adjectives, comments and asides, etc.

the type of speech associated with characters, sometimes in different contexts: for instance Dr Iannis uses difficult words with some of his patients, such as Stamatis to create awe and to enhance his status on the island. To some degree he is living up to the cliched idea of how a doctor should speak when discussing medical ailments, etc.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

"The Credit Crisis Could Be Just Beginning" by John Markman

This article that appeared on The Street.Com is neccessary reading to get up to speed with what is happening economically in the world. The statistics given in the extract below are shocking. This is an extract from the article

"According to Das' figures, up to 53% of the $2.2 trillion of commercial paper in the U.S. market is now asset-backed, with about 50% of that in mortgages.

When you add it all up, according to Das' research, a single dollar of "real" capital supports $20 to $30 of loans. This spiral of borrowing on an increasingly thin base of real assets, writ large and in nearly infinite variety, ultimately created a world in which derivatives outstanding earlier this year stood at $485 trillion -- or eight times total global gross domestic product of $60 trillion. Without a central governmental authority keeping tabs on these cross-border flows and ensuring a standard of record-keeping and quality, investors increasingly didn't know what they were buying or what any given security was really worth."

For this important article in full find it by visiting this link:
The Street.Com article on the credit crisis

Themes Expressed Through Characters in Captain Corelli's Mandolin

The village of Fiskardo. It was untouched by the earthquake in 1953. The name is derived from the Norman adventurer, conqueror, murderer and poisoner, Robert Guiscard. (Known as "The Resourceful" and "The Fox", b.1015-d.1085)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Chapters 1-9)

Think about how the following themes are expressed through characters in Chapters 1-9 of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Scan these Chapters again for some examples of the themes and tie them, if you can to appropriate quotations from the text.

Relate these themes to characters • Varying Forms of Love
• Fate
• Honour
• Education
• Madness
• What it means to be Greek
• History and The Past (Cephalonia as a beautiful island where cruelty and tragedy repeats in cycles through history.)

Other themes to note for later Chapters

• The Effects of War on Human Nature
• The role of music
• Heroism, Nobility and Sacrifice
• The Position of Women in Society
• Death and Survival
• Wasted lives through War and Fate

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Fascism in the USA? Woman repeatedly tasered by a cop!

Luckily there is ONE US TV station that was prepared to air the following video.

This Is It! by the respected Aden Sisters

This Is It!
Mary Anne & Pamela Aden
The Aden Sisters
Sep 24, 2007
Courtesy of

All of the pieces have fallen into place.

Gold was near a 27-year high, oil was at a record high, stocks in the U.S. and globally, remained bullish, the currencies were strong and the U.S. dollar was near a record low.

The Fed then lowered the Fed Funds and Discount rates by a half percent on Tuesday, which triggered or reinforced strong breakouts in these markets, leaving no question that the major market trends are solid and strong.

The Fed saved the day. A recession is now less likely than it was a month ago, while inflation is indeed more likely. As a result, oil continues its surge and gold broke out strongly to a new bull market high.

Stocks are super strong, interest rates are on the decline, the U.S. dollar is at a record low, the Canadian dollar reached a 30 year high, the euro is at another new high, many resource and energy shares are also at new highs, and so are several gold shares. The asset boom continues (see Chart).

Gold: What's Next?

A strong C rise in the gold price is now underway. These are the strongest upmoves within gold's recurring cycle. Plus, the fact that gold has now reached a new bull market high is super bullish for gold, reinforcing that the over-six-year-old bull market is solid and well intact. With gold above its May, 2006 high (which was the last C rise peak), gold is now on its way to test the 1980 peak near $850 as its next upside target. Gold's C rise will remain super strong above $700 basis December.

Gold shares are also shooting up with gold. The XAU index is very strong above 150 and it's now above its May 06 high near 168.50. It'll be very strong if it can stay above this level.

Gold and oil are in the limelight and they've left the others in the dust. Yet silver, platinum and copper are on the rise and they are firm above $12.70, $1,290 and $3.40, respectively, and they have room to rise further.

Our strongest gold and energy shares are at new highs, while most of our natural resource shares are at new highs. This is a time to be buying new positions and holding on to the ones you have.

The best is yet to come.

Sep 24, 2007
Mary Anne & Pamela Aden
The Aden Forecast

Mary Anne & Pamela Aden are internationally known analysts and editors of The Aden Forecast, a market newsletter providing specific forecasts on gold, gold shares and the other major markets.

For more information, go to

Friday, 21 September 2007

Gold and the Dollar

Looks as if the gold train has left the station. The image says it all! The Dollar is sinking well below its historic low of .80. It appears the FED wants a managed decline of the Dollar. But will it get it?

INO.COM: Latest Dollar price

If the media was reporting it properly there would be talk of a currency crisis. Currently all the major currencies are falling in value against gold. That's the BIG story.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Baz Lurhman's "Romeo and Juliet": the cinematography of the introductory sequence

This should prove very helpful for students who need to develop their understanding of cinematography for film and media studies.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The Fed Cut Rates by 50 basis points - but will it make any difference?

The problem of 20 trillion dollars in the paper market for CDOs remains. It's a short term fix to make Wall Street happy. The Dollar is in freefall.

British banks rebounded today after the Government's desperate action last night. Again, this will make little difference. The short term, medium term and long term outcome will remain the same - a catastrophic recession, better termed as a depression.

Here's James Sinclair on the Fed's announcement of 2.15.

Posted On: Tuesday, September 18, 2007, 2:17:00 PM EST

Fed Actions A Bandaid On A Gaping Economic Wound

Author: Jim Sinclair

Dear CIGAs,

I doubt trying to goose the equity market via Fed action (that is all they have done) to return equities to a more positive wealth effect perspective will do much to improve anything but the equity market.

There is no doubt the Formula (Click here to view the Formula) is moving perfectly into place. Short rates could be hammered to zero as the credit and default derivative problem unwraps. The attempt is to make equity investors very happy, hoping that will transmit into other markets and eventually making lenders more confident of borrowers whose collateral is heavily weighted with credit and default over the counter derivatives

The Euro/Dollar is now 1.3954 and that will look low in time. Gold will stay locked into its inverse relationship with the dollar. Gold is therefore headed higher as I can see a lower dollar.

Nothing that has been done will correct or even move to correct the economic problems, particularly housing, because the real problem is a trembling $20 trillion mountain of over the counter credit and default derivatives.

Think deeply about the Weimar Republic case study because every day it looks more and more like a repeat in cause and effect, but with much lower amplitude.

Monday, 17 September 2007

British banks are in trouble!

The panic continued today with the British Government finally giving a guarantee to savers in Northern Rock this evening. Shareholders in Northern Rock will be left with huge losses. The 1.4 million savers with Northern Rock will have had their confidence shaken in the banking system. Late today the Alliance and Leicester lost around a third of its value on the British Stock Exchange. Bradford and Bingley were also hit hard. It looks as if we are at the beginning of a banking crisis and not at its end.

James Sinclair (America's "Mr Gold") thinks that the authorities in both the US and in Britain have not been forthright in informing the public about the extent of the problems in CDOs. Banks are not lending to one another for fear of exchanging toxic packages of loans. Liquidity is now at a premium. Sinclair added yesterday in a radio interview that what is happening in financial markets is the result of the paper mountain "shaking" in CDOs. What will happen when this mountain of unregulated debt falls will be catastrophic for everyone who has savings or are in debt.

Subprime loans for the car industry in the US is now in trouble and house prices are beginning to go into a tailspin on both sides of the Atlantic. It hardly needs adding that the many trillions of dollars in CDOs are based on home loans. No one knows how to value the CDOs. Even those packages that have value are now falling in value because the home loans on which they are based are becoming riskier every day!

So much for Anglo-Saxon models of finance that was recommended to anyone who would listen in Europe and the rest of the world.

Most people have yet to figure that gold is the safest place of refuge from the coming storm. Silver is a good bet, too. Shares in good equities of both can still be had for next to nothing. Soon, like gold, they will be unaffordable. "The Perfect Storm" has arrived and it will be somewhat like the tsunami that swept onto the beaches of Thailand just a few years ago.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Pictorial comments on the current state of the US and UK economy

My notes on "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" are extensive and will take longer than first thought. In the meantime here are a couple of topical images on events in the financial world. The Northern Rock is the first high street bank to encounter such difficulties since the 1930s. There will be more to follow. I've lost count of the number of US mortage banks that have folded in the last 18 months. The derivative timebomb of toxic CDOs is going off in a slow motion explosion that will last for years. It will result in the massive transference of wealth from the ignorant and complacent to the knowing. The political consequences will thus be very far reaching. Click on the images to make them bigger.

Some of the best readers of this crisis such as James Sinclair think that injections of liquidity by the central banks will cause everything to inflate from here, from stockmarkets to gold. Just as it did during the Weimar Republic. It's an interesting point. We'll see.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Credit Squeeze Has Claimed Its First Major UK Bank!

In the previous post Barrons and the Wall Street Journal decided to come clean about gold. This time the British bank and building society, Northern Rock, has just admitted its problems with the credit squeeze crises. Have YOU got some gold? There will come a time when you will wish you had just a little, in physical or in some quality gold shares.

Bank of England to bail out Northern Rock
By Peter Thal Larsen and Neil Hume

Published: September 13 2007 21:31 | Last updated: September 13 2007 22:39

The Bank of England will on Friday bail out Northern Rock by providing emergency funding to the beleaguered mortgage lender which has fallen victim to the liquidity squeeze in the banking sector.

In an unprecedented move, the Bank, working with the Financial Services Authority and the Treasury, will step in to prop up Northern Rock by providing it with a short-term credit line that will allow it to carry on operating. The bail-out, which has been approved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the most dramatic illustration to date of how the British banking sector is being hit by the wave of market turmoil that has paralysed the money markets.

It will lift the uncertainty that has been hanging over Northern Rock’s future for much of the past month because it could not access the wholesale funding upon which it is heavily dependent. The Bank is also expected to reassure thousands of the bank’s customers that their deposits are secure.

Northern Rock is the first institution to be propped up since the Bank in 1998 revised the rules under which it will act as a lender of last resort to banks that have hit financial difficulty. The Bank is on Friday expected to say that a similar facility is available to any other institution facing short-term difficulties.

It is understood that there is no concern about the quality of Northern Rock’s mortgage book, which has no exposure to subprime borrowers, or its capital levels. But the bank, one of the UK’s largest mortgage lenders, has proved particularly vulnerable to the liquidity squeeze because it has a much smaller deposit base than other banks.

Northern Rock approached the Bank at the end of last week to discuss using the facility, people familiar with the situation said. The bank made its decision because it faced pressure to refinance obligations that are due to mature in the next couple of weeks.

Northern Rock executives are on Friday expected to say that it will try to trade through its difficulties with the help of the Bank of England facility.

However, the move is likely to make it hard for Northern Rock to remain independent in the long term.

The bail-out is a devastating blow for the bank, which grew from its roots as a building society in the north-east of England to become the most efficient mortgage lender in the UK, winning wide praise for its business model and its ability to take advantage of the innovations in the capital markets.

The bank is on Friday set to issue a trading update setting out the impact of the recent market turmoil on its business. Northern Rock declined to comment.

Since hitting their peak in February, shares in Northern Rock have lost half their value amid concerns that the rising cost of wholesale funding would squeeze margins and limit the bank’s growth. On Thursday, the shares closed down 33p, or 4.9 per cent, at 639p.

Additional reporting by Neil Hume

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

"Getting Technical" by Michael Kahn

This a good article on what's driving the gold markets.


A Secret Time Bomb Made of Gold
September 12, 2007
THE VOLATILITY SEEN THIS QUARTER IN the stock and credit markets may be new to younger investors. But there is something lurking out there that can make things really dicey.

A little-known fountain of free money called the "gold carry trade" is in danger of drying up. And if it does, then markets from gold to bonds and even stocks can be in for a wild ride.

Before even explaining what the gold carry trade entails, let me first say that its demise has been forecast for nearly a decade. In researching this topic, I found articles as far back as 1998 looking for an explosion in gold prices and commensurate damage to other markets, if not the economy. In other words, this is a story that is as old as Methuselah.

But with a sinking dollar, soaring commodities, and several diverse technical conditions on the charts, the dynamics are coming together to make the end of the gold carry trade a lot closer to reality than ever before.

The gold carry trade is similar to the yen carry trade, which has been a hot topic in the markets this year. Basically, money is borrowed from one source at a low interest rate and invested elsewhere at a higher rate. As long as relevant exchange rates and asset prices remain stable, a profit is made with little effort.

Central banks are sitting on huge supplies of gold that earn them no interest and cost them money just to store securely. To earn a little revenue on these static assets, they loan their gold to banks, called buillon banks, at a ridiculously low interest rate on the order of 1%.

The banks turn around and sell the gold in the market, typically in the London bullion market, and invest the proceeds in a higher-paying asset, such as long-term Treasury bonds. If bonds pay 4.6% then the banks earn an easy 3.6%.

The problem is that if the gold price starts to rise, profits can be wiped out or turned to losses. And in today's market, a falling dollar not only boosts gold prices but it also makes Treasury bonds less attractive to foreign investors. That reduces demand and weakens prices to create a potential double-edged sword for carry traders.

The banks, of course, realize this and hedge their gold sales by buying gold futures. According to Kevin Schweitzer, senior vice president with Hudson Securities, a firm that makes markets in gold stocks, the hedge is not perfect. If central banks call in their gold loans, the banks cannot wait for contract expiration to take delivery on the gold they purchased via their futures contracts. They have to pay back their loans right away and if gold prices are stable, there is no problem for the banks going into the physical market to buy back their gold.

However, if gold starts to rise quickly, the added demand from the banks to buy gold can exacerbate the rally causing what amounts to a mad dash for the metal. The market will respond with steeply higher prices, and Schweitzer sees this pushing gold to $850 by the end of the year.

All of this is fundamental in nature so let's examine the technicals a bit more. As the chart shows, gold peaked in May 2006 in what some labeled a speculative bubble. However, rather than falling quickly as burst bubbles portend, the market moved sideways for the next 15 months (see Chart 1).
Last month, gold broke out from that range to resume its bull market, moving quickly from 670 to 721 in just eight trading days. A 7.6% move in such a short period is a wake-up call for the carry traders.

Schweitzer also points out that open interest in gold futures, which measures the current size of bets made by futures traders, is 34% lower than it was last year at the presumed speculative price peak. In other words, the speculation present today is lower than it was the last time prices went up like they are now, and Schweitzer thinks that this gives the market a lot of room to the upside. Traders who buy momentum markets -- think Nasdaq in 1999 -- have not yet piled on.

Seasonally, gold is also entering one of the stronger parts of the year. Commercial players in the gold industry, the so-called smart money, are still buying and otherwise acting as if they expect prices to continue to rise (see Getting Technical, "Gold Stocks Are Precious Again," Sept. 10). Put it all together and the technicals support higher prices, short-term corrections excepted, and that will continue to pressure the gold carry trade.

What is the price that breaks the bank, so to speak? It is hard to say. But with so many factors conspiring to keep the rally going, it does look as if the carry trade is finally about to unwind. Banks that hold big short positions in gold are going to be very vulnerable. Investors sitting on a stash of Krugerrands or Maple Leafs will be a lot happier.

Also read Getting Technical, Sector Alert:
"Gold Stocks Are Precious Again," Sept. 10, 2007.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Future posts: "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" by Louis de Bernieres

Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting detailed notes on every aspect of this novel. They should be useful for class, homework and exam essays. The intention is for my students to sit this exam (module 4, Edexcel 6394) in January 2008. Resits will then be a possiblity for students who need to do so next summer.

Welcome back and best wishes for your studies in 2007-8!

If you have not already done so get your own copy of "Captain Corelli's Mandolin". You'll need the blue Vintage edition for the exam. Clean copies can sometimes be found in charity shops. I found three copies in such places over the last couple of weeks!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Student Exemplar Essays: how Chaucer creates humour by satirising religious and courtly love.

Chaucer creates humour by satirising values in religious and courtly love. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Chaucer was extremely successful at creating humour within his narratives, which is partly why his works were, and still are, so popular. Humour can be achieved through a variety of elements including plot, characterisation, language, pace, timing and circumstance. Chaucer used of all these, but largely drew upon the satirical portrayals of both the courtly love genre and religion within ‘The Merchant’s Tale’.

A courtly lover is a stock type for French literature, and usually shows the following four conditions; Humility, Courtesy, Adultery and the Religion of Love. Damyan initially shows humility, and courtesy is found in the closely observed etiquette of the marriage ceremony (with the priest blessing the bed and May staying in it ‘unto the for the day/As usage is of wive for the beste’). Damyan’s desire for adultery is made clear at the wedding (‘So sorre hath Venus hurt him with hire brond) and the ‘Religion of Love’ occupies much of the narrative from line 720 onwards. However despite the narrative complying with such conventions, the whole genre of courtly love is indirectly satirised through the characterisation of the courtly love players; Januarie is lecherous, May is greedy and Damyan is lustful. These undesirable qualities add humour to the narrative, as none of them are deserving heroes but ridiculous characters in a comical narrative. Despite courtesy being displayed through other elements of the play; such as the rich and conventional setting of ‘Lumbardye’ (complete with all the finery and enlightenment of the Renaissance influence) and those mentioned above, courtesy, and therefore one of the four-fold conditions of courtly love, is often undermined to humorous effect in the narrative. Januraie rushes his guests to leave ‘As best mighte, savinge his honour’ only so that he can ‘dooth all his labour’ with May; the idea of an ‘oold and hoor’ man dashing around excitedly full of aphrodisiac whilst struggling to be polite conjures many both disturbing and hilarious images. He harshly dismisses Justinus’ sound advice (‘straw for thy Senek , and for thy proverbs!’), which tickles the audience because thy can already see through Januarie’s naivety and know that these words will probably come back to haunt him. He also undermines the condition of courtesy through his empty promise to check on Damyan, whereby he fatally decides to send May in his place; this is humorous as we are well aware of Damyan’s intentions. The genre is further satirised through the ridiculous, and laughable, imagery of May and Damyan having sex in a pear tree (‘in he throng’) whilst the blind, old Januarie clings to the trunk underneath. A sense of dramatic irony is achieved here at Januarie’s expense, as he, at first, has no knowledge of what rights are being violated whilst those listening to the Tale, although shocked by the nature of this act, are not particularly surprised by its occurrence. The act of May casting Damyan’s love letter of sorrow and wooing ‘softely’ down the toilet mocks and teases the poetically praised divinity of love and romance; although practical is not poetic. This situation prompts further chuckling, for the lofty concept of love is greeted by the crude humour of a 14th century toilet-hole.

Within a courtly love story there is usually some reason why the adulterous lover and his/her partner are ill-suited for each other. Often a matter of age, the contrast within this narrative is so extreme, unavoidable and full of such grotesque description that the genre is given a pronounced satirical edge. The ‘fresshe’, fairy-like, enchanting lady May (‘fulfild of alle beautee and pleasaunce’) is a dramatic contrast to the ‘oold and hoore’ croaking Januarie, which satirises this courtly love situation beyond its required proportions. Chaucer goes into great detail to subtly enhance such physical diversity, for example between lines 534-537 the word ‘beautee’ is repeated 3 times to reinforce our aesthetic appreciation of May, whilst the repulsive onomatopoeic ‘the slake skin aboute his nekke shaketh’ further draws out our disgust, and exaggerates just how unfit the two are for each other. This emphasis also heightens the humour and our comical appreciation of the situation. Another aspect of courtly love is the ‘Religion of Love’ which basically means that the courtly lover must consummate his lust in order to be cured. Lines 174-182 allow the Merchant’s sarcasm towards this idea penetrate the text, and he mocks ‘gentil’ May’s piteous decision to save Damyan from dying of lust by granting him ‘hire grace’. This has humorous undertones, as the audience all knows what is meant by this subtle language and the hinting of adultery, dressed up in honourable pretence and viewed in such a sarcastic light, make the audience squirm with delight. Although the Medieval World view maintains that any adulterer is a breaker of the ten commandments and must therefore go to hell, courtly love is indirectly satirised through the mocking of May’s moral vice, as the narrator sarcastically declares ‘Lo, pitee renneth soone in gentil herte’, women have a noble generosity which will save a dying man, and that any ‘tyrant’ that would not try to do so has a ‘herte as nhard as any stoon’ and rejoices in her ‘crueel pride’. The harsh and dramatic tone of this of this verse almost verges on rhetorical declamation, and enhances the ironic drama and sarcastic conviction behind such comments; the audience knows that this is not the narrator’s true beliefs. This undermines the enthusiastic praise which the Merchant narrator gives the merciful May, and thus satirises the ‘Religion of Love’, whilst prompting some smiles along the way.

Religion can also said to be satirised for comic effect in ‘the Merchants Tale’, as the ‘auctorities’ are frequently misquoted throughout the narrative. For example Pluto uses the words of Solomon (‘Fulfild of sapience and of worldly gloerie/…To every wight that wit and reson kan’) to express how terrible and wicked womankind are. However Proserpine later reveals what a lecherous fool Solomon actually was, having over 300 wives and 1000 concubines, and worshiped false idols thus forsaking the true God. Now Pluto is the fool, as this revelation, if not already known by the Medieval audience, ridiculed his sincere beliefs. Similarly Januarie uses religious figures out of context in lines 151-163 when he reasons that a wife is a supportive, obedient figure who will always further her husband’s greatness. By drawing upon the examples of Rebekke, Judith, Abigail and Ester Januarie actually weakens his position as each of these women in turn deceived their husbands in a variety of manipulative ways, which ridicules not only his naivety but also, in a broader sense, satirises the way in which religion can be twisted and misused to justify one’s desires. This makes Januarie even more a fool, causing us to laugh harder at his ever-emerging incompetence and stupidity. The use of ‘Lo’ seems to imply that Januarie is taking on the language of a sermon, believing that he is communicating divine religious wisdom, when actually he is abusing it. It also puts a structural irony on Januarie as he is demanding everyone to ‘look’, when he himself cannot even spot the fundamental errors he is making. Such irony is carried through to the wedding blessing, when the Priest begs May to ‘be lyk Sarra and Rebekke’ (another example of a woman who deceived her husband in order to establish her own power) .This ignorant request seems to rest an element of fate, humorous in nature, on the rest of the tale, and satirizes the church for its own misuse of holy scripture. The church could also be seen as being satirized for sending May off almost to war, not a secure and holy future, as Januarie views “all relations between sexes as a kind of war” (Hussey), wanting to hold May ‘streyne/Harder than evere Paris did Eleyne’. The humour here being that Januarie is not a young and dashing Prince, driven by romance and love, but an old man driven by the direction of his desires; he is more of a Menelaus, if that. It could also be argued that the Church is subject to Juvenalian satire by allowing such an ill-matching couple to marry, as the immediacy of the engagement and diversity between both May and Januarie (‘tendre youthe’ and ‘stouping age’) forces one to question their motives. No one present at the wedding seems to be fooled; everyone is laughing, but not necessarily for the right reasons (‘Ther is swich mirthe-that it may nat be written’). Even the goddess Venus sees the hilarity in such a match: ‘For Januarie was bicome hir knight’, who is far from being young, gallant and noble. The mirth of the characters within the narrative is also enjoyed by the audience, as we laugh not only at the ludicrous situation itself but also the Merchant-narrators delicate treatment of such a bizarre ceremony (‘To small is bothe thy penne, and eek thy tongue/For to descriven of this marriage’).

‘The Merchants Tale’ does satirise both the genre of courtly love and religion to an extent within the narrative, and this frequently creates humour. The conventions of courtly love are satirised through characterisation and exaggerated, or undermined, to such an extreme by imagery and tone that the absurdity of the events are emphasised and mocked. In particular the ‘religion of love’ falls prey to the narrator’s sarcasm, which serves to enhance our comical appreciation of the witty narrative and its ridiculous characters. Religion is not satirised as much, and indeed Hussey believed it was barely attacked at all, however the use of misquoting biblical authorities and figures, alongside the blessing of such an ill-fitting couple, does seem to lampoon the church at least a little. Although other elements of the narrative, such as the choice of language combined with rhythm and pace, also contribute towards creating humour, it is the over-all culmination of all these factors which makes ‘The Merchant’s Tale’ a truly successful comedy.

By Louise Flower

Student Exemplar Essays: Chaucer's presentation of ideas about marriage

‘The Merchants Tale’ has been seen as presenting a ‘debate on marriage’. Explore Chaucer’s poetic presentation of ideas about marriage. Include an examination of lines 307-364

In lines 307-364 Justinus is voicing his concerns about the haste and sense of immediacy behind Januarie’s decision to marry a young woman. Using the wisdom of the Roman academic Seneca, Justinus argues that a man ought to consider carefully who to give his possessions to, and certainly to whom he gives his body to ‘for alwey’. Justinus is strongly advising Januarie against marrying ‘withouten avysement’ as it is not child play; a lady could be wise, sober, a drunk, a shrew, proud, whorish or a ‘wastour of thy good’. It is here that we start to hear the Merchant narrator’s voice coming through. From the Prologue we are already aware that he is subject to a bitterly regretted marriage with a wife ‘the worste that may be’, and despite the Merchant’s earlier promise not to let his soured feelings towards women influence the story this is clearly not to be the case. Only a few lines later does Justinus himself reveal that he ‘have wept many a teere/Ful pryvely syn I have a wyf’, and such a marriage has only brought him great financial cost, care and duties rather than the bliss and earthly paradises of which Januarie naively anticipates. Justinus has now become a vehicle for the Merchant’s voice which becomes increasingly negative towards the concept of marriage, and as such Januarie’s rose-tinted spectacles take a repeated bashing; unfortunately to no avail. Justinus confesses that, although man shall find nothing in this world which is entirely perfect (the Medieval world view maintained that such a being could only be God), a man should seek a woman with more virtues than vices. He points out that this takes time to discover (‘And al this axeth leyser for t’enquire) since his own wife seems ‘stedefast’ to most crowds of women however he has since discovered this is not true (‘But I woot best where wryngeth me my sho’). Justinus’ tainted ideas towards marriage foreshadow the violation of Januarie’s own marriage vows later on in the narrative, claiming ‘Ye shul nat plesen hire fully years three-/This is to seyn, to doon hire ful plesaunce’. Januarie’s many years and lack of physical appeal, in direct to contrast to Damyan’s youth and sexual allure, render him incapable of satisfying the young and vibrant May, and so she later turns elsewhere to quench her desire for ‘plesaunce’; a wife requires constant attention indeed! However Januarie, choosing to hear only what is agreeable to his desires, dismisses Justinus’ words of advice as foolery, and adheres to ‘wyser men’ and ‘auctorities’, with rhetorical declamation in the line ‘Straw for thy Senek, and for thy proverbs!’. Januarie’s blindness towards reality is further emphasised by his acceptance of Placebo’s comment that a man who hinders matrimony is cursed; Januarie hears what he wants to hear, believes what he wants to believe: in a sense he has already gone blind.

The decisive negativity and uneasiness towards both women and, therefore, marriage draws some parallels to Pluto’s speech later on in the narrative. Pluto speaks of all the treachery, deceit, faithlessness and frailty a woman has in her heart, claiming he can tell ‘ten hundred thousand’ tales famous for this. Such a declaration sheds a very pessimistic shadow over the nature of women, and therefore the bonds a man may try to tie with them. As Justinus used Seneca, so Pluto used Solomon to give such comments an authoritative weight, claiming that amongst a thousand men Solomon found one with true goodness (‘the bountee of man’), yet amongst a thousand women he found not one. This echo’s Justinus’ convictions of women often having many a vice and being untrustworthy, however the accusations here against women are even more extreme, and sadly there is no honourable character like Griselda within the ‘Merchant’s Tale’ to prove him wrong. Pluto speaks of womankind’s’ wickedness, harlotry and expresses his wishes for a wild fir and corrupt pestilence to ‘falle upon youre bodies yet to-nygth’. In the medieval world view women had little more rights than cattle due to their alleged ‘Inability to rationalise’, such slander such as this would have made union with such creatures intensely undesirable, as no man could wish for a woman or wife as terrible as those described by Solomon and Pluto. It is at this point Propespina decides to give a gift to all of womankind which, if man had knowledge of it, would push them further away from the desire to marry. She gives women the ability to deceive their husbands ‘Al hadde men eyn a thing with bothe his yen’ and excuse themselves from awkward situations so that men were as ignorant as geese. Such cunning and deceitful pragmatism reflects the nature of the Wife of Bath, and her methodical manipulation of men for her own (financial) ends.

A pervading pessimism and cynicism towards marriage is further enhanced throughout the narrative. Even the positive aspects are unconvincing since they are often under-cut by a sarcastic tone or irony. For example, at the start of the Tale the Merchant takes on the role as narrator, and voices many positive views on marriage through Januarie (calling it an easy and pure holy bond) He talks about a blissful life ‘bitwixe an housbonde and his wyf’, full of ‘joye’ and ‘solas’; an earthly paradise (‘That in this world is it a paradys’). However such virtuous and perfect impressions are ironic in light of the narrator’s true feelings as voiced in the Prologue; ‘We wedded men liven in sorwe and care’. In actual fact, marriage is not ‘honey-sweet’ but a snare which stops men from prospering. When the Merchant narrator, as Januarie, speaks of how quiet, obedient and loving a wife is, and defies the wisdom of Theofrastus to declare that a wife is an enduring ‘Goddes yifte verraily’, the other characters find this difficult to swallow. They know of the Merchant’s true feelings towards his shrewish wife of ‘hye malice’ who could drive even the devil mad (‘For thogh the fiend to hire ycoupled were/She wolde hym overmacche, I dar well swear’). The negative ideas these force into ones head from the outset turns a disbelieving ear on the next section of the tale, and ridicules the idea of a marriage being so pleasant as false and naively exaggerated. Such an idea seems foolishly divorced from reality, and as we discover the true, sordid nature of Januarie, who shares in such fantasy, we are further repulsed from maintaining such a view ourselves.

The use of Biblical quotes to justify a marriage may have an initial goodness, until one realises, as the Medieval audience would, the irony behind them. Januarie uses three biblical women as examples of perfect, supportive wives who assisted their husbands in some noble way; Judith, Abigail and Ester. However the irony is that each of these women actually achieved their ends by fooling their husbands, tricking and deceiving them, the extended irony being that May herself will also do this. This is an example of where Januarie uses scripture and ‘auctorites’ to twist and manipulate the wisdom and revelation to suit his own desires, even if he does not appreciate the true gravity behind them. His self-deception permits him to fester in a deluded marriage, transforming vice into virtue and perversion into purity (‘A man may do no synne with his wyf/Ne hurte hymselven with his owne knyf’).

The idea of marriage being animalistic and financially motivated is also presented. Januarie’s comment that if his wife were too old then he would little satisfaction in her and be forced to commit adultery (therefore risking hell) is a very primitive and unrefined belief. Surely marriage is for far loftier and spiritual purposes than casual sex? The marriage vows are even destroyed in a pear tree which, although humorous, has a very unsophisticated and devolutionary quality about them. Chaucer also used animal imagery in Januarie’s speech to emphasise his lack of respect for women as human beings, and indeed May would have had little more rights than Januarie’s own cattle. Januarie wants a young lady, with old fish and young flesh; he reduces such a woman to the animalistic metaphor: better is ‘a pyk than a pykerel/And bet than old boef is the tender veal’. The drinking of mulled wine, claret and hot spices ‘t’encressen his corage’ and the aphrodisiac on his wedding night put a very primal glare over what should be a joyful, loving scene, and reduces the marriage down to a mere question of sex, governed by desire and animalistic urgings. The listing effect in these lines speeds up the pace of the action and excites the audience’s attention in anticipation of the climactic moment. The wedding night its self contains more animal and financial imagery. The act of penetration is described to be like sharp briers to the skin of a ‘houndfyssh’ and the loss of May’s virginity as a labouring (‘Thus laboureth he til that the day gan dawe’). After this Januarie is frisky as a colt and ‘ful of jargon as a flekked pye’. Both May and Januarie have hardly married for love; this marriage consummates the want of an heir and care in old age, alongside May’s (presumable) desire for money (‘she was feffed in his lond/…hir riche array’). The blessing of the priest seems to make such motives acceptable, as Hussey noted; “Religion at heart allows him to remain a whoremaster, whilst ostensibly he is a truly married man”.

Chaucer does present a debate on marriage in the ‘Merchants Tale’; however it is a heavily one-sided one. Although some positive ideas about marriage are voiced, they are cut-down by the ignorance, naivety and repulsiveness of the character who utters them (i.e. Januarie) or they are made in an ironic or satirical light, such as Chaucer’s particular choice of Biblical examples. The Merchant narrator’s pre-disposed negativity towards the subject of marriage in general frequently infuses throughout the narrative, and generally make’s women seem like deceitful, cunning harlots and marriage as something animalistic and financially twisted. The fact that Chaucer wrote with such light humour and satire on the subject of marriage and cuckolding further denotes the more serious, divine, mutually loving and selfless side of marriage, which is barely even glimpsed at or mentioned within the ‘Merchants Tale’.
By Louise Flower

My students (two classes) applied Edexcel's grade criteria for this essay and awarded it a high B. They thought that it lacked the AO5ii (historical context) and relevance to the passage, particularly on "poetic technique" to grade it higher! Some thought, though, that it "dazzled" when it came to written style, even though a few thought that the sentences were staccato-like.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Advice on essay structure/paragraphs for writing up your presentations on ballads/other poems

Go over your exam board's assessment objectives to help you organise your paragraphs.

Introduce each paragraph with a clear topic sentence (a sentence that introduces and sums up your paragraph.)

Here is a suggested paragraph plan (although you can vary the order when writing).

1.  Give the title of your poem/ballad and sum up what it is about.

2.  Write about the point of view, symbolism, themes and ideas.

3.  Analyse the poem's language for imagery, use of adjectives, verbs, etc. where appropriate.

4.  Write about the poem's form and structure.

5.  Give various interpretations of the ballad/poem and explain how and why different versions of ballads changed over time.

6.  Give your interpretation of the ballad/poem and what you think of it.

7.  Write about the ballad/poem's literary, cultural and historical contexts. (This may lead you into linking them with the ballad/poem's themes.)

The advice above mostly relates to ballads.

Monday, 3 September 2007

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: revision overview

Key areas to revise as you annotate and revise "Alias Grace" Read the more detailed notes to flesh out these ideas.

Significant Characters A.O. 1
Grace Marks
Atwood’s objective portrayal of Grace keeps her innocence and guilt in a creative tension.

Other characters views of Grace (male and female)

The character of Dr Jordan

Mary Whitney > Grace

Jeremiah > Jerome Dupont (mesmerist) > Gerald Bridges (Hypnotist)

The Prison Governor’s wife and Lydia

Mrs Rachel Humphries

The Reverend Verringer

Nancy and Thomas Kinnear
Jamie Walsh
Mrs Jordan
James McDermott
Several doctors, including Dr. Workman.
> = becomes also

Motifs and key words A.O. 1 and A.O.3
Peonies (red and white)
Work – sewing/sewing machines
Dreams – somnambulism

Add more key words you think are important.

Key Themes A.O. 3
Relationships between men and women.
Sensuality and desire

Class and power between the classes and sexes
Identity (includes role-playing, changes. Grace’s growth through change - being a lady (Grace rises to this status by the end of the novel.) Sonambulism (sleepwalking) split identity (in souls – doubledement!)
What it means to be Canadian – trapped between the major identities of Colonial Britain and the increasingly powerful USA.

Journeys (Grace – a female Ulysses, who “crosses the ocean three times” and ends up at Ithaca, New York.)

The symbolism of dreams for the unconscious (The ocean of the unconscious mind.)

Storytelling and narratives (Grace as a “Sheherezade figure,” quilts, etc.) unreliable narratives, by men, Grace, etc.

Narrative stances/positioning A.O. 3

Narrative stances: third person and Grace’s first person. Think about the overwhelming use of the tense of each narrative.

Metafiction (see Wikipedia or my notes for these terms.)


The quilt structure.

Epigrams, extracts from texts to create tone and atmosphere and to intrigue, puzzle or to set up an objective tension in the reader on Grace’s innocence or guilt.

Give independent opinions and judgements and articulate judgements by other readers A.O. 4

Revise the various ways of interpreting texts. Almost all apply to Alias Grace, from Colonialist to Psychoanalytical.

The cultural and historical and other contexts A.O. 5ii

Ireland: poverty/clashes between the protestants and Catholics in the North.

Emigration – the voyage and arrival.

Toronto 1830s -40s:
great disparities between the rich and poor. Classes: rich and poor – employing class and servants.

The Lyon-Mckenzie led rebellion in the 1837 and its support from servant class. He was supported by the USA.

Position of men and women: during the period setting of the novel and now.

Victorian attitudes to women and crime: the ideas behind “The Penitentiary.

The Victorians’ obsession for doctors, medical research,
mesmerism, hypnotism, spiritualism, hidden knowledge, etc.

Key Chapters To Focus On:
5. Puss In The Corner
10-11. Young Man’s Fancy
13. Broken Dishes
17 -20. Secret Drawer
21. Snakefence
27-31. Fox And Geese
32-36. Hearts And Glizzards
42-45. Falling Timbers (44 very important)
45-47. Solomon’s Temple
All of Pandora’s Box 48-49
50 The Letter X
All of The Tree Of Paradise, particularly 53
Atwood's Afterword (Don’t forget this!)

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: Mr McKenzie

Mr MacKenzie, The Lawyer

Grace“He was not very handsome, and had a nose like a bottle. I thought that he was very young and untried, as this was his first case; and his manner was a little too familiar for my taste, as he appeared to wish to be shut up in the cell with me alone, and offered to comfort me, with frequent pattings of the hand.” 415

But Mr. MacKenzie was always more fond of listening to his own voice than to someone else’s.” 417

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: the Reverend Verringer

The Reverend Verringer

A liberal-minded social reformer who takes up Grace’s case and genuinely tries to “rescue” her. He seems to be a character who does not have ulterior motives. He is a Methodist by conversion from the Church of England. The Methodists are rising in influence in 1850s Toronto. 89

The petition and the Committee. Verringer thinks that Government authorities are much more inclined nowadays to take expert opinion into consideration. This is where Doctor Jordan fits in, as a qualified expert to influence the Government when the petition submitted in future. 86-87.

Verringer on the worst men from the institutions who had affected Grace.

Warden Smith of the Penitentiary, “The man was notoriously corrupt, and most unfit for his position. . . . it is to Grace Marks’ mistreatment at his hands that I attribute her interlude of insanity”. Rev. Verringer, 90

Dr. Bannerling ( Would not release her and may have raped her). “A Tory, of course, of the deepest dye”. Rev. Verringer. 90

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: past exam questions from Edexcel

2002 options

1) Using chapter 13 as a starting point, how far do you agree that in Alias Grace ‘Atwood examines the complex relationships between men and women, and between the affluent and those without social positions’

- Or -

2) Margaret Atwood has said that ‘female bad characters can act as doors we need to open and as mirrors in which we can see more than just a pretty face.’

In the light of this, comment on ‘bad female characters’. What is your response to Atwood’s presentation of Grace Marks? In your answer you should refer in detail to at least two sequences from the text.

2003 options

1) ‘It is difficult to know what to believe’ (Reverend Verringer)

how far do you agree that much of the interest of Alias Grace lies in the many different versions of Grace’s story presented to the reader?

You should include in you answer an examination of the ballad which forms the main part of II Rocky Road (pages 13-18) and at least one other section of the novel.

- Or -

2) ‘Despite their status in a world where men hold the power, many of the male characters in Alias Grace are shown to be flawed.’

In the light of this comment, referring to two or more appropriate extracts, what is you response to Atwood’s presentation of any two of the male characters in their dealings with women?

2004 options

1) ‘Much of the interest in Alias Grace for a twenty –first-century reader derives from the ambiguous presentation of the relationship between Dr. Simon Jordan and Grace Marks: as a professional man, he thinks he is in control; Grace’s first person narrative suggests otherwise.

What is your response to Atwood’s presentation of the relationship between Simon and Grace in the novel as a whole? Include in your answer an examination of chapter five ( pages 41-47, the final part of III, Puss in the corner) and at least one other appropriate passage of your choice.

- Or –

2) In her after word (page 537) Atwood comments that ‘ the combination of sex, violence and the deplorable insubordination of the lower classes was the most attractive’ to the journalists reporting the Kinnear-Montgomery murders in 1843.

As a twenty-first-century reader, what is your response to Atwood’s fictionalized presentation of the Kinnear-Montgomery murders in Alias Grace? You should include an examination of two or more appropriate passages of your choice in your answer.

2005 options

1) Mary Whitney’s story is at least as important as Grace’s own, both in it’s connections with Grace’s story and in it’s own right as an account of the experience of ta nineteenth-century woman.

How far do you agree? Examine Atwood’s presentation of Mary’s story in light of this comment.

Include in your answer an examination of the latter part of chapter twenty, from: ‘Mary had told the truth about winter’ to the end (pages 198-209), and at least one other appropriate passage of your choice.

- Or –

2) ‘For women like Grace the patchwork quilt has a variety of meanings, and for Margaret Atwood it represents a recurrent symbol of the significance of women’s work.’

How far do you agree with this view of Atwood’s varied presentation of women’s skills? You should include in your answer an exploration of two or more appropriate passages of your choice.

"Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood: James McDermott

James McDermott

His origins
There is a character portrait, independent of Atwood drawn by William Harrison. See beginning of Chapter 7. (“Recollections of the Kinnear Tragedy” 1908)

Grace on Mcdermott: “He said his family was respectable enough, being from Waterford in the south of Ireland and his father had been a steward”.

Grace: “he himself had been a scapegrace, and never one to lick the boots of the rich.” 263

He is “a catholic” and does not attend the Presbyterian church in Richmond Hill. 292

He sided with the ruling class (Tories during the Rebellion, at least he boasts as much to Grace) “he’d enlisted again for a soldier, with the Glengarry Light Infantry, which had got such a bad reputation among the farmers, as I knew from Mary Whitney, having burnt a good many farmhouses during the Rebellion, and turned women and children out into the snow, and done worse to them besides, that was never printed in the newspapers. 264 (Not only is he presented as a bad egg the newspapers did not publicize the crimes of his military outfit.)

Grace: “And when I heard later from others in the neighbourhood, including Jamie Walsh, that McDermott has a strong reputation as a liar and a braggart, as was not at all surprised”. 265

He speaks of Grace jokingly as “a colt” to be broken in. Something Grace takes strong exception to the remarks telling McDermott that she as not “a mare”. 265

It is McDermott who is “running along the top of the snake fence, agile as a squirrel”. 267 (He is a performer, who knows he is being watched by Grace).

He is rebellious but not for noble reasons
He finds it intolerable that “a woman (Nancy) was set over him”. 264
On receiving his notice from Nancy, Grace reports, “He said he was glad, as he did not like being ordered about by a woman”. 295
This provokes his rebellious behaviour. To Grace on learning that they are to be sacked by Nancy: “we should join together to demand our rights”. 298

Grace: “At these times he would say that he hated all Englishmen, and though Kinnear was a lowland Scot, it was the same thing, they were all thieves and whores, and stealers of land, and ground down the poor wherever they went; and both Mr. Kinnear and Nancy deserved to be knocked on the head and thrown down into the cellar . . .” 298

In Toronto with Grace (on the run)
He acts like a pernickety “master” with servants as he tries to adopt a “master’s” role. 392

James on Grace“Grace Marks was . . .a pretty girl, and very smart about her work, but of a silent, sullen temper” 275

James McDermott to Kenneth McKenzie (their pair’s lawyer)
He claims that Grace “was entirely taken up with her master. Grace was very jealous of the difference between her and the housekeeper, whom she hated, and to whom she was often very insolent and saucy . . .”What is she better than us”?” 275 (Does this not ascribe motive?) 275

“ ‘Good God!’ thought I, ‘can this be the woman? A pretty, soft-looking woman too – and a mere girl! What a heart she must have!’ I felt equally tempted to tell her that she was a devil . . .” (James McDermott to Kenneth MacKenzie, as retold by Sussana Moodie, “Life in the Clearings”, 1853.)

Third person narrator on McDermott
“Before he was hanged, McDermott said that you were the one who put him up to it, says Dr. Jordan. He claimed you intended to murder Nancy and Mr. Kinnear by putting poison into their porridge, and that you repeatedly urged him to help you; which he very piously refused to do.” 299 (Feasible as poisoning is often a female crime.)

Grace “allows herself to smile” when contradicting this. (Control)

Nancy thinks “he will go straight to the Devil”. 263

On Killing Nancy
The killing and James’s claims are explained by Sussana Moodie’s dramatic account in the extracts from “Life in the Clearings” (1853)
Grace is seen to have felt guilty both in expression and words: “I (McDermott) turned to Grace. The expression on her livid face was even more dreadful than that of the unfortunate woman. She uttered no cry, but she put her hand to her head, and said –
“God has damned me for this.” 334
(Nancy did not die from the blow from the axe. She was choked to death and McDermott cut up her body into four pieces!)

He is a misogynist (a woman hater) and feels led on by Grace’s promises as Mary Whitney

MacDermott wants to sleep with Grace in Kinnear’s bed.
"To my surprise he thought that was a fine idea, and said it would give him great pleasure to sleep in Mr. Kinnear’s bed, where Nancy had so often played the whore; and I reflected that once I’d given in to him, he would consider me a whore as well, and would hold my life very cheap indeed, and would most likely kill me with the axe and throw me into the cellar as he had often said a whore was good for noting but to wipe your dirty boots on, by giving them a good kicking all over their filthy bodies. SoI planned to delay, and put him off as long as I could”. 385
(Grace “humours” MacDermott and probably saves her life by doing so. Sex is held out as a lure. Sex and a form of prostitution is also present in Simon and Mrs Humphrey’s relationship as well as Kinnear’s and Nancy’s.)

He wants to marry Grace and thinks her biting his ear on the way to Toronto is a sign that she is “a good girl after all”. 391

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: Thomas Kinnear

Thomas Kinnear

“Mr Kinnear was a gentleman of a fine Scottish family, and easy-going in his habits, and was not married.” 233

Keeps a painting of naked women in his bedroom. (Grace 248)

He is a hypochondriac
Nancy to Grace on Kinnear feeling “ill”. “Sometimes he fancies he is. But it is all in his head. He wants to be fussed over” 256 (However Nancy likes to “fuss” over Kinnear.) 257

Grace wonders why the Dr. Reid comes to visit him when she thought that the doctor was summoned for the pregnant Nancy:“Mr. Kinnear had been reading too many medical journal, which game him ideas, and caused him to imagine things; and that there was nothing wrong with him that a healthy diet and regular hours would not cure; but for the sake of his liver he should limit his drink”. (This suggests that Kinnear is a selfish man. Grace again goes on to set the tone of oncoming death: This speech relieved me; yet I reflected what it was a thing a doctor may say to a man who is dying, to spare him the worry”. Grace may be misconstruing as the Doctor speaks with Nancy too. 316

He is not trusted by the gentry in the neighbourhood
He is seen as a bad influence by his female neighbours.
Grace: “Nancy said that Mr Kinnear was considered a bad influence by Mrs Bridgeford., who thought she was the Queen of France” 266 (Nancy obviously disagrees!)

“First he will go to Colonel Bridgeford’s, whose wife is away from home, and the two daughters as well, so he can visit safetly, but when she is there he is not received”. 266

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: the novel's form - historiographical metafiction

Historiographic metafiction
The text is postmodernist (a text that feeds off of texts.) There is a variety of texts that make up this type of writing. Some texts such as Nancy’s reading, Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “The Lady of the Lake” is re-used a later as a chapter title but this time referring to the passage of Grace on the ferry to the USA.

"Historiographic metafiction is one kind of postmodern novel which rejects projecting present beliefs and standards onto the past and asserts the specificity and particularity of the individual past event. It also suggests a distinction between ☆events★ and ☆facts★ that is one shared by many historians. Since the documents become signs of events, which the historian transmutes into facts, as in historiographic metafiction, the lesson here is that the past once existed, but that our historical knowledge of it is semiotically transmitted. Finally, Historiographic metafiction often points to the fact by using the paratextual conventions of historiography to both inscribe and undermine the authority and objectivity of historical sources and explanations." (122-123, Linda Hutcheon)

For more see:

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: Mary Whitney

Mary Whitney

After her death she becomes Grace’s alter ego.

She is perceptive on Grace being “bright” but “ignorant” 172

A native-born Canadian. 173 “She claimed that her grandmother had been a Red Indian”. 173

Ironically says that Grace looks like “a mad woman” 175

Would sell her body if pushed through hunger. 175

“Mary was a person of democratic views”. 39

She is egalitarian
She advises Grace that she “should remember that we were not slaves, and being a servant was not as thing we were born to, nor would we be forced to continue at it forever; it was just a job of work”. 182 “And one person was as good as the next”. 182

And against inequality:“It angered her that some people had so much and others had so little, as she could not see any divine plan in it.” (Grace on Mary White) 173

Grace on Mary: “she had very democratic ideas, which it took me some getting used to.” 183 Mary would say a poem: “When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?” 183

However Mary can make coarse jokes on life, being a servant and being a woman. See pages 182-3. On the women of the leisured classes not being able to survive if they had to:

“- and if they were to lose all their money tomorrow, they would not even be able to make a living by honest whoring, as they would not know which part was to go where . . .182

Thinks that “men are liars by nature”. 190 (Men and sex)

She is sexually knowledgeable

Full of sexual sayings that Grace remembers afterwards
Grace on MacDermott losing his sexual ardour after threatening to rape Grace: “as Mary Whitney would say, he mislaid the poker”. 386

She falls pregnant to the rich son of Mrs Alderson-Parkinson and is abandoned by him.

Grace soon realises that Mary is pregnant. “I was well aware of what was wrong with Mary” 200

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: Mrs Rachel Humphrey

Mrs Humphrey
(“Rachel”, when Simon gets to know her better)

She is incapable of functioning without servants (Dora). Mrs H can’t even cook an egg or clean her house.

Jordan thinks “she is an interesting study” in herself: Her idea of herself, for instance, is much more exalted than present circumstances warrant” 85

Jordan sees her as living a life of quiet desperation (my idea) See 85-6 for his analysis of her.

Simon after buying Mrs H. some much needed supplies.
(Simon) “’Think nothing of it. I could not let you starve.’ His voice is heartier than he intends, the voice of a jolly and insincere uncle who can scarcely wait to bestow the expected quarter-dollar on the grovelling poor-relation niece, pinch her cheek, and then make his getaway to the opera.” Simon silently curses and envies Major Humphrey’s freedom from Mrs H. 166.

Mrs Humphries hints that she has her body and will trade that:“Women like me have few skills that they can sell”. 166 (The whole scene here is melodramatic, “Her eyes fill with tears” and the moment is “slightly dampened” by “the trace of butter that remains upon” Mrs Humphries’ mouth”. 167

Dora tells Grace, “ . . . Dr. Jordan should watch himself, because if ever she saw a determination to get a man’s trousers of him, it was there in the eyes of Mrs. Humphrey.” 353

Mrs. Humphreys gets depressed and “She’s been raiding his supplies” of Laudenum . 376

Dupont to Simon: “But will you go as far as to admit that women in general have a more fragile nervous organization, and consequently a greater suggestibility?” 350 (Men’s views on women or can they be applied to several characters including Grace and Mrs Humphries?)

She also claims to be a sleepwalker
Mrs Humphrey claims to have been sleepwalking when she went to Simon’s bed:
This is the very thing Rachel claims of herself: she was sleepwalking, she says. She thought she was outdoors in the sunlight, gathering flowers but somehow found herself in his room, in the darkness, in his arms, and already then it was too late, she was lost”. . . .”He doesn’t for a moment believe this story, but for a refined woman of her class he supposes it’s a way of saving face.” (Mrs Humphreys claims to be a somnambulist “since childhood”. The links with Grace are obvious. It also highlights the question for Simon whether he should believe “Grace’s” somnambulism when he immediately discounts “Rachel’s”. 423

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: attitudes towards women

Contextual attitudes towards women

Societal expectations“There were only forty women in the Penitentiary. This speaks of the superior moral training of the feebler sex” Susanna Moodie (Opening pages)

1859 “The Woman Question” discussed by characters. (“The emancipation of this or that”) 24

Grace is “a celebrated murderess” (Stories in the press and public views of Grace, see 25. A list of items on her notoriety.

“Red hair of an ogre” G “ A wild beast”.
Her “red hair” also brings forth comments from the keepers: “a little fire, they say it comes with the redness of the hair. But is it red where it most counts . . .” (The keepers hold most of the cliched notions of red-haired women as they make sexual comments about Grace) 277-8

Dr. Jordan
While referring briefly to Verringer’s supposed appearance before he meets him:

“At least he isn’t a woman, and thus not obliged to wear corsets and deform himself with tight lacing. For the widely held view of women are weak-spined and jelly-like by nature, and would slump to the floor like melted cheese if not roped in” 83

Grace to Nancy on the need to have a bit of flesh on her: “as it did not do to be all skin and bones, and that the young ladies nowadays were starving themselves because of fashion” 315 (Nancy is also pregnant when she fears being “too plump”.

On Simon’s imagination, fantasies and animalism (When Mrs Humphries first collapses and is lifted by Simon to his bed) He is “aroused by the sight of Mrs Humphries, “ a helpless woman extended extended upon his tumbled bed” in a semi state of dress.

“He has always been curious about these manifestations of the imagination as he has been able to observe them in himself. Where do they come from? If they occur in him, they must occur as well in the majority of men. . . he cannot always control such pictures. The difference between a civilized man and a barbarous fiend – a madman, say – lies, perhaps, merely in a thin veneer of willed self restraint. “ 163

Contextual views of seduced single women (Nancy and Mary Whitney. Predatory men mostly escaped moral censure.)
Note also the view of “fallen” women by men at the time and even by women themselves of their being fair game for seducers for as Grace says, “once the horse was out of the stable it was no good shutting the barn door, and a woman once on her back was like a turtle in the same plight, she could scarcely turn herself right side up again, and was fair game for all”. 296

Mary Whitney and fell victim to the sexual advances of their employers. Servant girls were particularly vulnerable to this. Even Simon’s fantasies and dreams from his youth were bound up with his sexual curiosity of the servant women who lived in his house.

The third person’s representation of Simon’s view of women as he tries extricate himself from Mrs Humphries:“Women help each other; caring for the afflicted is their sphere. They make beef tea and jellies. They knit comforting shawls. They pat and soothe.” 164

In the market as Simon buys groceries he realises that as a man of his class he is out of place and is unsure of what to buy Mrs Humphries. He feels that “the women of the poorer classes” are “laughing behind his back”. 164

Simon is aware of his insincerity as he speaks with Mrs Humphries after going out for supplies:

“’Think nothing of it. I could not let you starve.’ His voice is heartier than he intends, the voice of a jolly and insincere uncle who can scarcely wait to bestow the expected quarter-dollar on the grovelling poor-relation niece, pinch her cheek, and then make his getaway to the opera.” Simon silently curses and envies Major Humphrey’s freedom from Mrs H. 166.

Mrs Humphries hints that she has her body and will trade that:“Women like me have few skills that they can sell”. 166 (The whole scene here is melodramatic and it is “slightly dampened” by “the trace of butter that remains upon” Mrs Humphries’ mouth”. 167

Dupont (Jeremiah the Peddlar) when talking about the mind.
To Simon: “But will you go as far as to admit that women in general have a more fragile nervous organization, and consequently a greater suggestibility?” 350 (Men’s views on women or can they be applied to several characters including Grace and Mrs Humphries?)

Dupont on women acting and role-playing
‘I myself, says Dr. Dupont, “tend to place prostitution in the same class as the homicidal and religious manias; all may be considered, perhaps, as an impulse to play-act which has run out of control. Such things have been observed in the theatre, among actors who claim that they become the character they are acting. Female opera singers are especially prone to it. There’s a Lucia on record who actually did kill her lover.’ 349-50)

Saturday, 1 September 2007

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: the theme of relationships between men and women

Relationships between men and women in Alias Grace

Grace is perceptive about Simon Jordan. She can see when he is troubled. She offers to remember her dreams for him, “If it will help you, Sir, with the trouble you are in; for I was feeling pity towards him, he looked so out of sorts” 282-3

Simon’s attitudes towards women, their “gratitude” and power within relationships.

He knows that Grace is playing a game during their conversations.
“She appears to welcome them, and even enjoy them; much as one enjoys a game of any sort, when one is winning, he tells himself grimly. The emotion she expresses most openly towards him is a subdued gratitude.

He’s hates the gratitude of women” because “it puts you at a disadvantage.” He thinks that “their gratitude isn’t real; what they really mean by it is that he should be grateful to them. Secretly they despise him. He recalls with embarrassment, and a kind of shrivelling self-loathing, the puppyish condescension he used to display when paying out money to some pitiful shopworn streetgirl – the beseeching look in her eyes, and how large and rich and compassionate he felt himself to be, as if the favours about to be conferred were his, not hers. What contempt they all must have kept hidden, under their thanks and smiles” 422

This is a fascinating passage which explores the power and sex relationships that Simon feels he has with women. He doesn’t feel in control and suspects that even when he is paying a prostitute it is he that is being manipulated through the selfishness of another.

Simon feels the same way about the “gratitude”of Mrs Humphrey
“Rachel, as he has now been entreated to call her. The more miles he is able to put between himself and Rachel Humphrey, the lighter and less troubled in spirit he feels. He’s gotten himself in too deep with her. He’s floundering – images of quicksand come to mind – . . . .Having a mistress – for that’s what she’s become, he supposes, . . . is worse than having a wife. The responsibilities involved are weightier, and more muddled.” 422-3

Mrs Humphrey claims to have been sleepwalking when she went to Simon’s bed:
This is the very thing Rachel claims of herself: she was sleepwalking, she says. She thought she was outdoors in the sunlight, gathering flowers but somehow found herself in his room, in the darkness, in his arms, and already then it was too late, she was lost”. . . .”He doesn’t for a moment believe this story, but for a refined woman of her class he supposes it’s a way of saving face.” (Mrs Humphreys claims to be a somnambulist “since childhood”. The links with Grace are obvious. It also highlights the question for Simon whether he should believe “Grace’s” somnambulism when he immediately discounts “Rachel’s”. 423

The rituals of Mrs Humphrey’s melodramatic role-playing “bores” Simon. (Perhaps also because he is required to play the role of secret lover himself.)

Simon wants to get out of the relationship and “Inwardly he wishes” the Major “ a long and healthy life”. 424.

Lydia wears her new dress for the benefit of Simon – and she is sorry to have missed him. (Grace is very aware of this. 283. The will he or wont he have a relationship with Lydia is continued for a good part of his inclusion in the novel.) Grace can see there will be trouble “when one loves and the other does not”. 285

Simon’s relationship with Mrs Humphries.-She is his landlady
-becomes through necessity a kind of servant (when Dora leaves)
-becomes his mistress out of gratitude!

Jeremiah the peddler’s relationship with Grace (caring and somewhat mysterious, although he offers a relationship without marriage if she would form a partnership with him in his role as a mesmermist duping the credulous.

Jaimie’s relationship with Grace
He is young and innocent at Richmond Hill. Jaimie allowed his jealousy to get the better of him at the trial:

“He felt betrayed in love, because I had gone off with MacDermott; and from being an angel in his eyes, and fit to be idolized and worshipped, I was transformed to a demon, and he would do all in his power to destroy me. (This was a disappointment as Grace had been hoping for “a good word” from him at the trial.) 418

Kinnear’s relationship with Nancy and Grace

McDermott’s relationship with Grace

Kenneth McKenzie’s relationship with Grace

These relationships are mostly based on power in which women, from servants to wives, are dependent or vulnerable.

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: it is not just Grace who has a split personality

Split or multiple personalities/identities

Grace Marks
The novel's title, “Alias Grace”, suggests a double identity. Alias Grace and not Mary Whitney.

Jeremiah the peddler.
Dr. Jerome Dupont (although Jordan suspects differently) Dr. Jerome Dupont has the deep liquid eyes and intense gaze of a professional charlatan.” 95

Simon Jordan
t could be argued that in his relationship with Mrs Humphreys Simon shows another side to himself – a split personality
The following passage can be used as evidence to suggest the double-sidedness of Simon’s personality. Like Grace, there is a secret side who no-one sees – except the narrator and by extension, the readers. Remember that Simon becomes an amnesiac later in the novel and ends up as a different personality.

Jordan reflects on the his relationship with his landlady, Rachel and considers “Words of passion and burning love, of how he cannot resist her, which – strange to say – he actually believes at the time. During the day, Rachel is a burden, an encumbrance, and he wishes to be rid of her; but at night she’s an altogether different person, and so is he . . . He’s driven by what heels like uncontrollable desire; but apart from that – apart from himself, at these times, as the sheets toss like waves, . . . another part of himself stands with folded arms, fully clothed, merely curious, merely observing. How far, exactly, will he go? How far in? 425-6


"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: Narrative Style

The author uses multiple narratives or “a split narrative” to construct the reader’s view of Grace, her innocence or guilt, and keep it objective.

Grace’s Narrative
Her narrative is mainly chronological. She gains confidence and shows this through her creativity. She’s even going to have a baby.

Notice the nested narratives within Grace’s story. (Mary’s story, the immigration story, working as a maid at the Mrs Alderman Parkinson’s, etc.

There is a switch to the present from the past in some chapters. (See the opening to Chapter 27)This gives a non-linear feel to the early to mid part of the novel.

Dr. Simon Jordan:
He gives a mainly retrospective narrative although he is sometimes chronological. He loses confidence throughout the novel and eventually his narrative drops away as he develops amnesia. His mother and The Rev. Verringer support this view towards the end of the novel.

In several chapters there is an omniscient third person narrator.

Atwood also uses the eighteenth century epistlatory technique through her use of letters. They usually fill in blank pieces of narrative or move several narratives forward

Possible reason why Atwood adopted this style
There are a number of narratives to create objectivity and thought on the part of the reader in his or her construction of Grace and her guilt or innocence. The novels also fits within the modern tradition of historiographical literature. (More on this in another post.)

Atwood uses a variety of literary forms
The Ballad at the beginning of the novel in which the story of Kinnear and Nancy’s murder are related together with Grace’s and McDermott’s part in it.

She uses Susanna Moodie’s “Life in the Clearings” (Various extracts).
Note Moodie’s reported comments in Chapter 43 when she, in Grace’s own words, says that Grace was “shrieking” and “running about” the asylum.417
The veracity of some of her extracts are questioned, by the characters. See Verringer’s comments. 221 (“She is unclear about the location of Richmond Hill, she is inaccurate on the subject of names and dates”. 221-220

Simon and Verringer are referring to the melodramatic images of Grace painted by Moodie on page 220: “her two bloodshot and blazing eyes were following her around (Grace on Nancy). These are exaggerations.

McKenzie also thinks that Mrs Moodie was given to exaggerate:
“ ‘Mrs Moodie – for whom I have the greatest regard,’ says MacKenzie, ‘has a somewhat conventional imagination, and a tendency to exaggerate. She put fine speeches into the mouths of her subjects.’” 436-7

Lines from several poems of the period.

Letters (Whole chapters)

Press accounts

James McDermott to Kenneth McKenzie (their pair’s lawyer)
He claims that Grace “was entirely taken up with her master. Grace was very jealous of the difference between her and the housekeeper, whom she hated, and to whom she was often very insolent and saucy . . .”What is she better than us”?” 275 (Does this not ascribe motive?) 275

Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” appears to have been an influence. Verringer reads Hawthorne. Simon: Hawthorne had been accused of sensualism” . . . and “of a laxity of morals”> 223 (Relevance? Some reviewers mentioned the influence of Hawthorne’s text in their reviews. It might be worth following this textual reference up.)

The “Punishment Book” from Kingston Penetentiary

The warden’s reports (extracts)


About Me

I teach Film, Media and English Lit.