Wilfred Owen Poetry Characteristics

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Virtually all Wilfred Owen’s poems were written in a creative burst between August 1917 and September 1918. His self-appointed task was to speak for the men in his care, to show the “Pity of War”, which he also expressed in vivid letters home.

One of Owen’s most used poetic devices is a strong rhyme that can develop to para half rhyme. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” is an example of a typical sonnet of 14 lines but bears an inconsistent rhyme scheme. The end rhymes are short lived from “cattle”, “rattle” to “eyes” “pall.” Since there is a lack of consistency, the reader feels a growing sense of temporality, for such is the nature of war, because nothing lasts forever and nothing stays the same, everything is undergoing a continued stress of peace and destruction.

Another characteristic in Wilfred Owen’s poetry is the move from strong onomatopoeia to strong assonance. In “Anthem for Doomed Youth” the following lines are an example of this technique:

 “The stuttering rifle’s rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons”

 The first line combines both onomatopoeia and the alliterative “r.” it is the endless, and immediate noise that unnerves the men resulting in what was then considered “shell shocked.” The onomatopoeia shifty changes to slight assonance of “Patter and Rattle,” while both rapid and hasty suggest the lack of time for meaningful bereavement or grief.    

Furthermore Wilfred Owen’s use of punctuation is very significant for setting the rhythm and tone of the poem. Wilfred Owen uses punctuation and dramatic language to slow and speed up the pace. For example in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, the following line:

“Gas! Gas! Quick boys!”

Wilfred Owen used the exclamation mark to speed up the pace and also the word “Quick” speeds up the pace. Owen uses pace to convey a negative attitude towards war.

 

History of English Literature

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Anglo – Saxon

449 – 1066

Anglo – Saxon played a key role in the existence of an English nation and identity and transforming the world of writing from a Latin one to a vernacular one. The English could write in runes, and spoke Old English. Generally they relied upon poetry and song, mostly of battle, which the poets were witnessing.

The English language is steeped in Nordic myth and Gods, and born of the forest, the sea, travel and it is the most successful language conveyed in the heat of battle. The English language at the beginning struggled as it competed with other languages, and interestingly it mirrored the struggle to bring to the English people a translation of the scriptures from Latin, which also fell naturally into four periods corresponding to change in the English language.

 The history of our language, English can be tracked back to the arrival of three powerful Germanic tribes to the collapsing Roman colony of Britannia during the mid-5th Century AD. Jutes, Angles and Saxons and crossed the North Sea from what is present – day Denmark and northern Germany. The primitive Romano Brython inhabitants at that time spoke in Brythonic or a Brythonic/ Latin patois. This language was quickly displaced along with the inhabitants who were pushed into Wales, Scotland and Cornwall where one group fled to the Brittany Coast of France – their descendants still live there as Bretons or Brythons to this day. The Angles were named from Engle, their land of origin. Their language, a West Germanic dialect was called Englisc from which the word English derives, their new country they named Engle land or Englalond. An Anglo-Saxon runic inscription dated between 450 and 480AD is the oldest known sample of the English language.

By the 10th century, the West Saxon dialect of Wessex became the official language of England. Written Old English is mainly known from this period. It was written in an angular alphabet called Runic a Germanic system of writing made using only straight lines. The Latin alphabet was later brought over from Ireland by Christian missionaries and this has remained the writing system of English, although the Englisc 33 rune futhark continues to be used for esoteric and ritual purposes of this day.

The story of the attempts of the Anglo-Saxons to produce an Old English version of the Bible comes to a sad end when the Norman army under William the Conqueror invaded and subdued England in the year 1066.

Despite being of Nordic lineage himself, having grown up in Normandy, William brought with him a new French-speaking ruling class, and a Norman French clergy, who had only contempt and hostility for the fledgling Old English versions.

The Normans quickly set up a church organisation which was utterly hostile to the vernacular English versions, and which served to promote the political interests of the ruling class and of the Pope of Rome. The Nordic respect for relatively equal rights for women vanished as did the concept of a Christian society where every man could understand the words uttered in his local church by his priest. Yet this yoke was ultimately to fail. English would prevail.

Middle English Period

1066 – 1485

Medieval writing was done by hand. For the scribes, the period began and ended with the unwelcome arrivals of two conquerors: Normans in 1066, and the printing press in 1476. The first English book appeared in 1476, the phase of Middle English was virtually over: the language had assumed its modern form, except in spelling.

The impact of French

The Conquest of England in 1066 by William of Normandy displaced English as the medium of literature, for the language of the new rulers was French. William the Conqueror tried to learn English, but gave up. Saxons dealing with him had to learn French, and French was the language of the court and the law for three centuries. The Normans spoke Norman French; the Norman French of England is called Anglo-Norman.

Renaissance

1485 – 1660

During the Renaissance, the medieval world view, focused on religion and the afterlife, was replaced by a more modern view, stressing human life here on earth. The Renaissance period expanded the scientific, geographical and philosophical boundaries of the medieval world, often questioning “old” truths and challenging authority. A new emphasis was placed on the individual and on the development of human biology.

By 1500, Middle English had evolved into an early form of the modern English spoken today. The English vocabulary grew; 29,000 words invented, and discoveries led to the creation of new words. During King Henry VIII’s reign, the Italian form of poetry known as the sonnet was introduced to England. Drama, or plays, bloomed during this period, with the help of Shakespeare and ben Jonson, who defined tragedies and comedies.

History of the Sonnet

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The sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonetto” meaning little song was created by Giacomo da Lentini an Italian poet of the 13th century. The sonnet is a poetic form which evidently originated in Italy. The sonnet was brought to a high form of development in the 14th century by Francesco Petrarch the Italian poet and humanist best remembered now for his sonnets dedicated to an idealized lady Laura glimpsed in a church, and with whom he fell in love at just first sight. He wrote almost 25 sonnets. The revolutionary nature of the form was due to the fact that it was composed in the language of the people rather than that of the church and Latin. Also, it was created to serve private function, that of the love letter between men and women and designed to be read quietly to oneself, rather than orated in public.

The structure of the typical Italian sonnet of the time included two parts that together formed a compact form of “argument.” First, the octave (two quatrains), forms the “proposition” which describes a “problem”, or “question”, followed by a sestet (two tercets) which proposes a “resolution.”

The first known English sonnets in English, written by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, used this Italian scheme, as did sonnets by later English poets including John Milton, Thomas Grey, William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The sonnet has proved to be a remarkably durable and adaptable form – a “fixed form” that is, paradoxically, enormously flexible. Although no one has ever equalled Shakespeare’s sonnets, nearly every notable poet writing in English has had a go at a sonnet or two.

Shakespeare turned the expectations of the love poem in many of his sonnets, which praise unlikely qualities in his beloved. In “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing like the Sun,” for example, he mocks the tropes that would compare women to goddesses and enumerate their beauty in sweet metaphors (the sun, roses and music). Instead the speaker’s mistresses have “black wires upon her head” and breathe that “reeks.” It wasn’t until 1609 that the sonnets first appeared in print in an unauthorized edition by Thomas Thorpe. Most critics agree that Shakespeare’s sonnets were published without consent.

The Petrarchan sonnet divides the poem more evenly – almost into halves. In this form, a love poem can deal with more equally weighted feelings of ideas, and set them in conflict.

The Position of Women in Victorian Society

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When the novel was published in 1847, there was a queen on the throne of England, but this made no difference to the legal and economic position of other women. No woman could vote and the law ignored them, a woman simply belonged to her nearest male relative. If a woman did not marry, after her father’s death she became a dependant of her nearest male relative, and, as Bessie tells Jane, to be a dependent was to be ‘less than a servant for you do nothing for your keep.’ Working-class women could work in farms or in factories, but wages were too low for them to achieve any independence. Middle-class women were expected to stay at home until she married and then spend her life looking after he family.

Education  

There was no educational opportunity for working-class girls to gain, but Charlotte Bronte shows in Rosamond Oliver’s school that this situation was beginning to change. Middle-class girls were usually educated by governesses, while their brothers went to boarding school or had a more highly educated tutor. Jane paints to express her imagination and individuality rather than to create a portfolio to impress an employer . However when Jane chooses a school for Adele, she conforms by selecting one that made a pleasing and obliging: docile, good-tempered, and well-principled. 

Expectations of Women’s Behaviour

In Chapter XII, there is a strongly worded demand for equality with men that reveals the social expectations of women’s behaviour in the middle of the nineteenth century. A woman was supposed to be passive, quiet and obedient, entirely subject to the authority of her male protector. English women were not expected to show any strong emotion such as anger or love, and it was most definitely assumed that they did not feel any sexual desire. Foreign women, however, were considered to be more highly sexed, and it is significant that Mr Rochester’s mistresses were all foreign.

Mr Rochester suspects that Jane may have ‘bewitched’ his horse to make him stumble, and he accuses her of being a ‘malicious elf’, ‘spite’ and ‘witch’ because of the way she keeps him at bay during their month’s courtship, and because of the insights she has gained into his character. Through Jane, Charlotte Bronte challenges these nineteenth-century assumptions about women by offering a heroine who asserts her independence, who is at least as intelligent and passionate as Mr Rochester, and who seems to surpass him in intellectual and artistic aspirations.

   

Romanticism

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Jane Eyre is a love story about a poor Cinderella figure who ends up married to the man she adores. The Romantic period was a movement in the arts and ways of thinking that pervaded Europe at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Nature was all important, and some writers even rejected established religion and worshipped nature instead. In place of the eighteenth-century fascination with all things classical, writers and painters turned to the medieval, the Gothic, the foreign, the exotic, and the supernatural. 

Bronte reveals her own feelings in Jane’s religious awe as she enthuses ‘we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His words wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.’ The Romantic descriptions of the moors ‘sweet with the scent of health and rush’ and their streams ‘catching golden gleams from the sun, and sapphire tints from the firmament’ are no mere literary convention; they reflect Charlotte’s own deep love of her natural surroundings. 

Jane values reason, and indeed it dictates her behaviour when she leaves Thornfield, but love is more important to her. When she chooses between the man she admires, who declares ‘Reason, and not feeling, is my guide’, and the man she loves, who has a ‘resistless bent to love faithfully and well’, she realises that she needs a love more than intellectual challenges. When she flees from Thornfield, she delcares: ‘I have relative but the universal mother, Nature: I will seek her breast and ask response.’ She finds somewhere sheltered to sleep and some berries to eat, and only then does she say her ‘evening prayers’, as if by routine rather than need. Not until nightfall does she feel ‘the might and strength of God.’ 

A love of nature is what Jane and Mr Rochester have in common. In the final chapter, she gives no details of what she has been reading to her blind husband, but she does list how she puts ‘into words the effect of field, tree, town, river, cloud, sunbeam – of the landscape before us, of the weather around us.; Settings are very important  in the novel, and Jane often uses natural imagery as a means of explaining her feelings. 

Main Themes in Jane Eyre

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Fire and Ice

Fire and ice appear throughout Jane Eyre. The former represents Jane’s passions, anger, and spirit, while the latter symbolizes the oppressive forces trying to extinguish Jane’s vitality. Fire is also a metaphor for Jane, as the narrative repeatedly associates her with images of fire, brightness, and warmth. In Chapter 4, she likens her mind to ‘a ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring.’ We can recognize Jane’s kindred spirits by their similar links to fire; thus we read of Rochester’s ‘flaming and flashing’ eyes. After he has been blinded, his face is compared to ‘a lamp quenched, waiting to be relit.’

Images of ice and cold, often appearing in association with barren landscapes or seascapes, symbolize emotional desolation, loneliness, or even death. The ‘death-white realms’ of the arctic that Bewick describes in his History of British Birds parallel Jane’s physical and spiritual isolation at Gateshead.

The Red-Room

The red-room can be viewed as a symbol of what Jane must overcome in her struggles to find freedom, happiness, and a sense of belonging. In the red-room, Jane’s position of exile and imprisonment first becomes clear. Although Jane is eventually freed from the room, she continues to be socially isolated, financially trapped, and excluded from love; her sense of independence and her freedom of self-expression are constantly threatened.

Religion 

Throughout the novel, Jane struggles to find the right balance between moral duty and earthly pleasure, between obligation to her spirit and attention to her body. She encounters three main religious figures: Mr. Brocklehurst, Helen Burns, and St. John Rivers. Each represents a model of religion that Jane ultimately rejects as she forms her own ideas about faith and principle, and their practical consequences.

St. John Rivers provides another model of Christian behaviour. His is a Christianity of ambition, glory, and extreme self-importance. St. John urges Jane to sacrifice her emotional deeds for the fulfilment of her moral duty, offering her a way of life that would require her to be disloyal to her own self.

Jane ultimately finds a comfortable middle ground. Her spiritual understanding is not hateful and oppressive like Brocklehurst’s, nor does it require retreat from the everyday world as Helen’s and St. John’s religions do. For Jane, religion helps curb immoderate passions, and it spurs one on to worldly efforts and achievements. These achievements include full self-knowledge and complete faith in God.

The History of Gothic Fiction

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The Gothic genre first came into popularity in the mid-eighteenth century with the publication of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Although it has no ties to the Gothic era of history, Gothic fiction did mirror the rise of Gothic architecture at the same time. Many speculate this fact contributed to the name “Gothic fiction,” although The Castle of Otranto was set in Gothic times and may have also given the genre its name.

One of the most popular works of Gothic romance, Jane Eyre was written at the beginning of Gothic fiction’s second wave of popularity in the mid-nineteenth century. Known as Victorian Gothic, due to the monarch reigning at the time,Jane Eyre and Brontë’s other works were characterized by a ‘heroine who acts as a focus for social critique… lost in the world of her tale.’ In her novel Jane Eyre, Brontë demonstrates a range of Gothic influences to form a more complete Gothic structure, one of the first of the truly “Female Gothics.”

As the Gothic romance genre continued to develop and evolve into the twentieth century, writers like Du Maurier led the charge. The Romantic strand of the Gothic got something of a reboot in the 1920s and 1930s, introducing new settings by way of mansions instead of castles and new social struggles, while also staying true to the essence of the genre. In Du Maurier’s novels, especially her most famous work Rebecca, she echoes the drama and suspense found in Brontë’s novels, while also adding her own flair. ‘It is no exaggeration to say that Du Maurier was the twentieth century’s Charlotte Brontë and Rebecca the twentieth century’s Jane Eyre.’ Both of these novels demonstrate the common elements of the Gothic romance genre and have become classics in their own right today.