Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The ancient Greek subtext for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Also the Roman influence in The Great Gatsby. Both act as historical-literary contexts (AO4)

The ancient Greek subtext for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Also the Roman influence in The Great Gatsby. Both act as a historical-literary contexts (AO4)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is replete with references to ancient Greece with several characters’ actions paralleling characters from Homer’s grand narratives, The Odyssey and The Iliad.

For instance, Mandras’s harsh journey home from fighting the Italians and German parallels that of Odysseus . Structurally De Bernieres text is built upon several parrallels through characters, chapters, and the Greek, classical past.

To a degree Captain Corelli also parallels Odysseus’s voyages when he goes abroad for so long after leaving the island.

Penelope weaving a shroud for her father-in-law, which she picked apart at night, to keep her unwanted suitors at bay
  Penelope and Pelagia (puh-NEL-uh-pee) noun: faithful wife.
Like Odysseus’s wife, Pelagia is left behind waiting for her lover to return. Penelope waits for Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses) for decades!

De Bernieres uses element from Greek tragedy in his form and structure of his novel. For instance, Pelagia’s lament in Chapter 67 the long soliloquies of Greek characters from ancient tragedies in which Pelagia considers her situation. In Greek tragedy the action stops and the character’s problems are discussed directly with themselves. Of course, audiences and the reader shares what is going on in the character’s mind. Pelagia’s Lament pastiches this aspect of Greek tragedy.

If you wish to go further into this look for a translation of a Greek tragedy: Euripedes’ Medea for example, or Aeschylus’s Agamemmon, and look particularly at the speeches of Medea and Clytemnestra. Then compare the style of their speeches with Pelagia’s in Chapter 67.

From Penelope, the wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus in Greek mythology. She waited 20 years for her husband's return from the Trojan War (ten years of war, and ten years on his way home). She kept her many suitors at bay by telling them she would marry them when she had finished weaving her web, a shroud for her father-in-law. She wove the web during the day only to unravel it during the night

Odysseus is the hero of The Odyssey, the classic tale by the ancient bard Homer. The Odyssey tells of Odysseus's 10-year struggle to return from the Trojan War to his home in Ithaca. A manly warrior at Troy (he was among those who hid in the famous Trojan Horse), Odysseus is cunning and resourceful, but also loaded with his share of pride and human failings. On his travels he survives encounters with many of ancient literature's most famous characters, from the monstrous one-eyed Cyclops to the tempting (and deadly) Sirens. He is by turns aided and thwarted by the whimsies of Zeus, Poseidon and other Greek gods. After 20 years away (10 for the war and 10 for the trip back) he returns to his long-waiting wife, Penelope, and slays the greedy suitors who have besieged her. Odysseus's mighty deeds and all-too-human weaknesses have made him a favourite with scholars and storytellers down through the years. Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses was one of the best-known poems of the 1800s, and James Joyce's groundbreaking novel Ulysses used Homer's adventures as the inspiration for a modern-day tale set in Dublin. Of course, de Bernieres parallels this character first with Mandras and then with Captain Corelli.

A modern painting of The Feast of Trimalchio in which he is disinterestedly looking away on the left
The Great Gatsby and Trimalchio
There is a single mention of Trimalchio in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as his showy parties and background parallels that of Gatsby. Trimalchio and Trimalchio in West Egg were among Fitzgerald's working titles for the novel. Chapter Seven begins, "It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night - and, as obscurely as it began, his career as Trimalchio was over."

Trimalchio is a character in the Roman novel The Satyricon by Petronius. He plays a part only in the section titled Cena Trimalchionis (The Banquet of Trimalchio). Trimalchio is a freedman who through hard work and perseverance has attained power and wealth. His full name is Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus; the references to Pompey and Maecenas in his name serve to enhance his ostentatious character. His wife's name is Fortunata, a former slave and chorus girl. Trimalchio is known for throwing lavish dinner parties, where his numerous servants bring course after course of exotic delicacies, such as live birds sewn up inside a pig, live birds inside fake eggs which the guests have to 'collect' themselves and a dish to represent every sign of the zodiac.

The Satyricon has a lengthy description of Trimalchio's proposed tomb (71-72) which is incredibly ostentatious and lavish. This tomb was to be designed by a well-known tomb-builder called Habinnas, who was among the revellers present at Trimalchio's feast. He sought to impress his guests—the Roman nouveau riche, mostly freedmen—with the ubiquitous excesses seen throughout his dwelling. By the end of the banquet, Trimalchio's drunken showiness leads to the entire household acting out his funeral, all for his own amusement and egotism.

Below is a modern painting called, “The Feast of Trimalchio.” It captures the nouveau rich Trimalchio throwing an unusual party trying to impress other freedmen.

Some references and text extracts were also drawn from Wikipedia for this post.

An essay chart with assessment objectives for "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" and "The Great Gatsby"

I had to make this into a Gif file which leaves it a little unclear.

N.B. The chart was mainly intended for the following question - but I added to it so the chart would be generic enough to take in some other questions, too. However, you should be aware that it is your knowledge of the texts and your ability to select suitable chapters/passages/events that is more important than any chart. The essay questions will test your skills in answering the assessment objectives and 3-4 carry double marks!

June 2010
3  Relationships: texts which confront the reader with powerful emotion

(a) “Writers are at their most interesting when they present readers with emotionally
      intense relationships.”

How far do you agree with this statement? In your response, you should comment
on and analyse the connections and comparisons between at least two texts you
have studied.

You must ensure that at least one text is a post-1990 text, as indicated by * in the
list above.

Note that you should demonstrate what it means to be considering texts as a
modern reader, in a modern context, and that other readers at other times may
well have had other responses.

Click on the chart to enlarge

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Final advice for the prose question in for Edexcel's Unit3 Exam

The texts we studied were: Captain Corelli's Mandolin, The Great Gatsby and, to a much lesser extent, Rapture.

Remember, that the weighting of marks are for the last two assessment objectives:

AO1 - 10
AO2 - 10
AO3 - 20
AO4 - 20

Do not go for the blunderbuss approach by trying to write about everything. You would be much better selecting chapters and then passages from those chapters for comparing and contrasting these texts around the theme of "Relationships." Remember that the theme isn't simply "Relationships" but it is "Relationships which confront readers with powerful emotions." This last part should be your clue to reading the question(s) carefully and finding chapters or passages which enable you to do just that! The chapters can be short.  And you can choose passages within your chosen chapters. There's nothing wrong in choosing a letter by Carlo or even the poem at the beginning of the novel, if it fits what you need to write about.

You could also briefly justify your choices by referring to particular events how they affect characters, etc. in the novels, poems.

Whatever you do BE RELEVANT. Tie your points every time to the question's key words or phrases.

There is nothing to stop you ranging across the texts for your quotations but when you use focussed pieces of text, of say several paragraphs, you will something meaty to discuss. It is far easier to discuss the writer's method's (AO2) when you are focussing on a passage from a chapter. Then, you can discuss the question's key words and phrases with the text's form, viewpoint, imagery, language, symbolism, lexis, etc AND then develop your points using the POINT - EVIDENCE - ANALYSIS/COMMENT method. In some analysis/comments you may be able to discuss how OTHER READERS might interpret the passage; in other ANALYSIS/COMMENTs you may be able to write about HISTORICAL CONTEXTS; sometimes you may even be to put both together and examine how modern readers might read/interpret your chosen passages.

Modern Readings of the Texts - over time (AO4)

When The Great Gatsby was published around 1925 only the most perceptive readers would have seen excessive consumerism for what it was: deadening, leading the cynicism. Newspaper reviews when the novel came out were lukewarm, at best. The novel didn't sell and the Great Crash and Depression which followed were still years away. Readers in our time might draw parallels with the run-up to the crash in 2008, when house prices and the stock market rose and along with it conspicuous consumption. There are fewer stories around now of city slickers spending £300 a bottle on champagne and burning cash in restaurants.
But our coming depression may be even greater than that witnessed in the 1930s.  Modern feminist readers will draw their own conclusions over the representation of women in Fitzgerald's text.

Serbia apologises for the Srebrenica massacre

Captain Corelli's Mandolin (1993)
Time hasn't simply moved on since this novel was published: the world has changed utterly since. The reason the Italians and their "whores" were massacred in the novel was because no one saw fit to intervene. The western powers did not want to lose anyone in coming to the rescue of up to 10,000 Italians who, only a little while before, were on the opposing side. If you go to the Cephalonia today there is a never ending stream of Italian visitors who drive up to the hill-top memorial of their compatriots. A similar massacre took of Bosnian Muslims by Serbs less than two years after the novel was published in 1995, Srebrenica_massacre . Many of the town's women were raped and the the little Dutch force of "peace-keeper" were ineffective. Everyone in the West knew that when this enclave was overrun by the Serb this would atrocity would happen. But the West let it happen because it did not have the will do DO anything about it. No one wanted to risk their soldiers lives for ethnic muslims in Bosnian. Today one of the main perpetrators, the Serb commander Ratko_Mladić has only recently been caught and sent for trial to the Hague, ironically, part of Holland.

After 9-11 the West lost its taste for non interference around the world and losing soldiers and was less likely to allow people to be massacred. Earlier, during this Arab Spring, the people of Benghazi faced being massacred by Colonel Gaddafi's forces. Readers of de Bernieres novel today would bring these experiences to their reading, if they were informed about events around them today.

There's so much more but no time to discuss it all. For instance, de Berneries and Carol Ann Duffy's representation of gay love would have been impossible before the 1990s. Even so, some think that de Bernieres's representation of Carlo in some respects is somewhat stereotypical.

For AO4 the Greek and Roman literary contexts for De Berniere's and Fitzgerald's texts should be meat and drink for comments on passages from the texts where they are significant. I'll upload my recent handout on these contexts tomorrow.

About Me

I teach Film, Media and English Lit.