Book Report: Cynthia Wall’s The Prose of Things

Thesis of the work:

Cynthia Wall narrates the transformation of description from the emblematic settings and objects of late seventeenth-century and eighteenth century narratives to the interior spaces in the Victorian novel. She argues that late seventeenth century readers did not need spatial description due to their knowledge or as she calls it a “cultural storehouse” (11) of overdetermined settings. However, by late eighteenth century, the growing trade markets and the developed credit economy diversified spaces and the objects within them, causing a shift in cultural awareness that required an absorption of description into narrative.

Methodological/theoretical approaches:

Wall uses several theoretical approaches such as, critical theory, thing theory, rhetorical theory, historicism, cultural theory, spatialization, empiricism, and consumerism. Some of her primary sources are eighteenth century authors, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Jonathon Swift, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and Daniel Defoe. A few of her secondary sources are literary critics, Virginia Woolf, Ian Watt, and Dorothy Van Ghent.


Wall notes that the eighteenth century novel presents readers with “things” that as critic, Dorothy Van Ghent argued, “are not at all vivid in texture” (1). Post-nineteenth century readers find these “things” to be secluded in “empty space” due to lack of presentations of settings (1). Therefore, Wall’s book contributes to a better understanding of the transformation of description from “Defoe’s unvisualized cityscapes and Pope’s epitheted spaces to the… elaborate landscapes of The Mysteries of Udolpho and the Victorian novel” (1). She finds that the changes in the rhetoric about, and the employment of, description are linked to four comprehensive cultural changes: first, experientially through technological ways of seeing objects; economically, through an expansion of consumer culture; epistemologically, through changes in attitudes toward the general and the particular; and narratively, through an awareness and the depictions of domestic space. She fills out the gaps in varied historical perceptions of “what visual familiarity” could possibly mean (11).

Chapter Summaries:

Chapter 1: A History of Description, a Foundling

Chapter 1 summarizes the history of description and shares the outlooks on it from classical and renaissance treatises through eighteenth and nineteenth centuries— centering on a critical shift in the late-eighteenth century. She explains that “things,” which can include moral quality and even time, substitute description in early texts— as opposed to the narration of settings. Eighteenth century author, Samuel Johnson, finds much benefit in that, arguing that a lot of descriptive details interrupt the mind and the “mind is refrigerated by interruption” (24). She shares that the OED’s definitions of description are extracted from the Renaissance and the eighteenth century from Richard Rainolde’s 1563 Foundacion of Rhetorike, Henry Peachman’s 1577 Garden of Eloquence, and the Encyclopedie of 1751 to 1765, which all agree that description’s main role is to make an object visible. She then looks to the logicians of the classical period, mainly Aristotle, who saw that poets of the classical world need to represent actions and events in a form of imitation that basically describe not the thing that happened, but what might happen to “achieve ‘universal statements’” (18). And, the “universal” has to do with evoking readers vividly. As for medieval literature, descriptions did not represent images, but rather aroused images in the “the literary memories and experiences of medieval writers’ new readers” by rearranging or rewriting the “compositional blocks” of Greek and Latin writers. The renaissance writers turned poetry into craft, as description turns away from the creator and slips into the “work of creator” (20). Then, textual praxes (lists, catalogs, ornaments) surfaced, contributing to the history of description in literature in practicality or functionality— overlooking vivid description. Therefore, Wall reveals the difference between representation and “object, thing and setting” in an effort to reveal the eighteenth century shift in cultural awareness (40).

Chapter 2 and 3: Traveling Spaces and Seeing Things

Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 have much in common in that they both study the “particulars” of texts that allow readers to see things. In “Traveling Spaces,” Wall discusses textual praxis’ closeness and impact on literary description. She links John Ogilby’s road maps to the “emblematized space” in The Pilgrim’s Progress by late-seventeenth century author, John Bunyan (42). She argues that there is a “shared cultural storehouse of visualization” that can be seen when each is looked at in the context of the other. (42) She explains that the textual praxis became a means of familiarity and cultural awareness of objects, “transforming emblem and detail into symbol and description in the eighteenth century” (43). She showcases the impact of John Stow’s Survey of London (1598, 1603), in which John Strype expanded on in 1720, on topographical description in the eighteenth century. She said his catalog is not just a description of exterior buildings, but rather a “built-in setting for human existence” (45) that the eighteenth century readers have stored. From thereafter, each expansion of his work re-visualized London’s details and structures for a newer and larger audience that needed to know the changing outlines of its spaces. Strype’s two large folio volumes do not detach themselves drastically from Stow’s description of the city, but uses sketches and outlines more than details— “the beginning of visual projection” (52).

Chapter 3, “Seeing Things,” addresses the Royal Society and British empiricism and their interest in textual praxis for physical secrets and spiritual importance in “seeing depth in surface” (71). She uses natural history, diaries and lists as textual praxis to show an increase in the description of domestic interiors at the time. Wall presents the most famous seventeenth century diarists, John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys, who she claims “reveal what they were inclined as well as taught to see by the particular emphases of their time and place” (82). She explains that details in diaries allowed for recording what is seen and creating visual description. She then moves on to satirists, Jonathon Swift and Alexander Pope, who mark her observation through microscopic description that not only makes readers see things, but also de-familiarizes the world in an effort to domesticate it by continuously inspecting it.

Chapter 4: Writing Things

Chapter 4 looks experientially at the gaps and isolated details in the work of John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe. She explains that Defoe’s fiction depends on things, like the earthenware pots, umbrellas, gold beads and more that have emblematic Puritan qualities, but not many have looked at the things that lack background. Wall notes that they may be connected to another object, but not to a visualized space. Therefore, when looking at the “empty spaces,” in Robinson Crusoe, she finds, as Virginia Woolf did, beauty in familiar objects and grace in actions. She says, Crusoe’s grapes, green lines, and raisins are all symbolic of “God’s providence” and that even the things Crusoe made himself, like the umbrella and raisins, give him pleasure— in relation to the world of goods that celebrated the pleasure of making, buying, seeing, and arranging new things (112). She closes the chapter with a look at the obsession of massive things in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto that she claims he created as “satiric weapons” (97) due to an increasing presence and familiarity in past narratives.

Chapter 5: Implied Spaces

As for the implied spaces that things occupy, Wall analyzes the texts of Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, Penelope Aubin, and Mary Davys to show how space is created in narration. She says the rooms and any of their details are only revealed when the plot requires them to appear. For example, Eliza Haywood and Samuel Richardson both produce space through an act, instead of producing space for the act. For example, she says, in the scene, where Pamela thinks she’s finally leaving back home, her “weeping prayer… calls up her master’s ‘Elbow Chair’ for her support as well as the wall, lobby, hall details through which she moves in exiting” (140). They disappear again once she’s no longer moving through them or in need of an object. She adds that any good eighteenth century heroine, such as Pamela, is expected to make spaces in narration visual.

Chapter 6 and 7: Worlds of Goods and Arranging Things

Chapter 6 and 7 connect in their interest in the trade market and its impact on the status of description in the eighteenth century. In the “Worlds of Good,” Wall indicates that the access to material goods was an admission to see the interior of the house and the objects within. “Shops, advertisements, and auctions” all exposed objects and renewed the expectation of readers (149). Things were also found in “catalogs, inventories, letters, [and] guidebooks” and were “arranged and rearranged in private spaces” in the world and in fiction. Therefore, things visibly occupying space in texts become “socially acceptable” (150).  “Arranging Things” shows how this increase in consumerism generated an interest in color, texture, and arrangement within domestic space. She uses two of the central textual praxes in the “development of novelistic descriptions,” diaries and country-house guidebooks, to showcase their impact on the arrangement of things inside homes. Access to houses through domestic tours and through texts allowed for an “increased attention to interior detail in novels” that later vanished by the 1840s (150).

Chapter 8: The Foundling as Heir

In her last chapter, “The Foundling as Heir,” Wall argues that the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century marked a complete shift in description from one of empty spaces to one with fully visual spaces, where events happen. There is no longer a need for actions to show spaces or objects, but rather settings stand on their own. She proves her point through the works of Ann Radcliffe and Walter Scott. For example, Wall says that in Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, when Emily returns home after her father’s death, she is overcome with memories that inhabit all the empty spaces (211). Scott was also influenced by Radcliffe and had been also praised for his “novelty” (216) and detailed description. Wall claims that Scott and Radcliffe both created a space to placing characters and their actions in (218).


Cynthia Wall’s book allows us as eighteenth century literature students to understand the historical and cultural impact on the status of description—especially in that time period with so much change in settings and goods. We did not truly get a chance to look at how objects are substituted for description or how the transformation came about later on in the late eighteenth century. In chapter 6, “The World of Goods”, we get a better understanding of the “cultural storehouse” (11) that was broken down after the growing trade markets and the developed credit economy that increased objects, demands and expectations. Also, when looking at Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, we didn’t look at the power a character’s action has on an object or setting. We can say it almost becomes the main agent in eighteenth century description.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

This book’s strength is Wall’s use of varied theoretical approaches, such as thing theory, empiricism, consumerism and spatialization, which truly unite as one when making her argument. However, some issues I had, but I do not really consider weaknesses because I think it’s an overall well-wrought and proven book, are too many sources to keep up with and some chapters that could have become one repressed one. I can easily see chapter 2 and 3 in one section and chapter 6 and 7 in another, and she even makes that linkage. The arrangement could have limited the amount of sources and maybe strengthened her argument even more.


Wall says, eighteenth century novelist, Samuel Johnson, finds that too much descriptive detail interrupts the mind and the “mind is refrigerated by interruption” (24). I’m not convinced by this argument and still wonder why detailed descriptions could have “refrigerated” the minds of eighteenth century readers.

Work Cited

Wall, Cynthia Sundberg. Prose of Things: Transformations of Description in the Eighteenth Century. Univ Of Chicago Press, 2006.

“Self” limited to colonialism in Robinson Crusoe

As critic, Brett McInelly, suggests in his article, “Expanding Empires, Expanding Selves: Colonialism, The Novel, and ‘Robinson Crusoe,’” Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe reveals the globe’s limitlessness that “can produce close self-reflection of a kind not easy to achieve in ‘civilized’ society.”  He explains that Crusoe’s self-perception expands as he travels farther away from England, claiming that the focus on the individual stemmed from the empire’s influence on the novel. However, I argue that Crusoe’s self is not expanding, but rather further limits itself to colonialism.

McInelly explains that Crusoe stands as “a seemingly stable and coherent subject in the wake of, what is for him, an expanding empire,” adding that British self-confidence is the outlook colonialism necessitates. Crusoe’s solitude on the island strengthens his self-awareness, since there’s an evident focus on survival. One doesn’t need to look far from the title page, “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” to see that it’s invidualistic. The page declares that he’s the author of his own “Life and Adventures.” “Writer” of his life can translate to master or Colonialist. Right from the start, Defoe uses the word “I,” which tells us it is autobiographical. Later on, we begin to read Crusoe’s personal entries after he had secured paper, pen, and ink from the shipwreck. He gives “some little Account of my self, and of my Thoughts about Living” (51) by continuously reporting both his time on the island and writing down his activities in his journal. Crusoe’s self-reflection is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean his selfhood is expanding. His superiority as a White man allows him to reflect. It’s not his mastery of self-reflection that empowers him.

To further prove my point, when he finds himself stranded on an island afflicted with cannibals, Crusoe imagines himself “Lord of the whole Mannor; or if I pleas’d, I might call my self King, or Emperor over the whole Country which I had possession of” (128)— instead of showing fear because superior nature is instilled in him. At one point, when he begins to lose that power, Crusoe feels the need to teach his parrot— his only companion— to say, “Poor Robinson Crusoe! Where are you? Where have you been? How come you here?” (Defoe 143). He trains the bird in an act of desolation, which is in no way an expansion of self, but rather an act of self-help to regain the power he lost. He lets the bird call him “poor” in a bewailing tone without showing his unhappiness because he can’t let his “British self-assurance” diminish. Yet, the parrot’s words are Crusoe’s words, so he is pitying himself. His identity is therefore limited to colonialism. Soon after, we also see a shift when Friday, the Caribbean native, Crusoe saved “willingly submits to his white savior” as he “makes ‘all the Signs … of Subjection, Servitude, and Submission’ (206),” McInelly says.  Crusoe teaches Friday to call him master before any other word, which reveals a need for power to retain selfhood. As McInelly says, Friday’s “mimicry of Crusoe reinforces Crusoe’s belief in the superiority of his religion, culture, and social and political values.” Crusoe becomes an authority and is even considered a God.

McInelly claims that Crusoe mastered himself to master his situation and refashion “a world to his liking—a decisively colonial act,” but I disagree— as his identity is actually determined by and clearly limited to colonialism.

  Proper kinship in Evelina

Frances Burney’s novel, Evelina, forces readers to penetrate Evelina’s private thoughts and become entitled critics the same way Mr. Villars was. Evelina shows a need for male guidance in her letters as a societal expectation. Mr. Villars says he wants to protect her “innocence” (254), but his actual intention is for her to stay with him forever. Villars finds power in being the only man fit to conduct her. However, later, she develops an awareness of the patriarchy and manipulates expectations in writing to alert men reading her letters and get what she wants.

Evelina begins narrating letter VII by being honest that it had been “two days” (256) since she wrote in her “journal” (256). The tone tries to appeal to Mr. Villars’ attention with her use of innocent words like “Sweetly, most sweetly” (256) in the beginning. However, she still feels the need to prove herself an innocent young woman by claiming she could not be “exact” (256) in her journal. Eighteenth century women confess everything to men through letters, so Evelina is showing even more innocence by saying that. She says she was “too much engaged” (256) in other matters. This is her way of assuring Mr. Villars that he is still in charge of her. Evelina uses this innocence to narrate to Mr. Villars how men treat her. She describes to him Lord Orville who protects her from these predators to make him agreeable in every way, since Villars is in charge of her fate. However, Letter VI from Mr. Villars asks her to “quit” (255) Lord Orville on September 28, the same day she writes letter VII to him, so she has no idea he wants her to avoid him until letter IX on October 1st. She is in doubt about whether Lord Orville is “still himself” (229) or not until Letter II where she shows her happiness to Villars. Therefore, letter VII is only a continuation to show how civil Lord Orville is compared to how “brutal” (257) and “unmanly” (257) men like Mr. Coverley and Mr. Merton are.

Kinship in Evelina is her ultimate savior, while Mr.Villars, who does not truly care for Evelina’s future, is the antagonist. His greed guides him not his mind, and that is evident after he tells her to avoid Lord Orville (254) in letter VI. He doesn’t want to lose her. However, in letter VII, we see that Evelina becomes aware of that and uses her reason when communicating with the men around her— coming up with consistent explanations to show Mr. Villars the danger of being alone. For example, when the drunken Lord Merton “caught” (258) her hand as she tried to avoid him, no one made him let go of her until she wished for “a brother” (259). Evelina understands that the moment Luisa asks her brother to “walk in with” (259) her that respectful treatment comes from her kinship to men, nothing else. That is why she claims that if she “had a brother” (259) she would be treated better. Lord Orville hurriedly asks her to “allow him the honour of taking that title,” as if to gain control (259). Evelina includes the moment in the letter, so that Villars could approve him. But here, Burney is also foreshadowing Maccartney being her real brother in the end to stop Villars from having an overall say in her life because she does have a proper kin to guide her.

Gothic novel: Connecting to improbabilities through emotions

Eighteenth century writers had only been used to the natural horrors of reality in the beginning stages of fiction, but Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the first gothic novel of the eighteenth century, challenged the status quo, according to E.J. Clery’s article, “The ‘Genesis’ of Gothic fiction.” Walpole claimed that “‘the great resources of fancy have been dammed up, by a strict adherence to common life (p. 9).’” As Clery explains, through believable emotions, Walpole was able to connect readers to improbable occurrences and let terror “circulate via processes of identification and projection” to create the Gothic novel, a new form of fiction at the time.
Any reader from any century identifies with characters in a novel, especially when their emotions seem quite realistic. For example, when Manfred finds his son dead— beholding “his child dashed to pieces” — readers assuredly empathize with him, even after finding out the son was “buried under an enormous helmet, a hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers” because death is death even if it’s an unrealistic death. Also, when looking at the distressed Matilda, an 18-year-old daughter despised by her father, any reader would feel for her, admire her kindness and strength, as her character is truly found in real life. Right after her brother’s death, she worries for her father and wants to comfort him, so as she was “just going to beg admittance… Manfred suddenly opened the door; and, as it was now twilight, concurring with the disorder of his mind, he did not distinguish the person, but asked angrily, who it was?” She replied, ‘“My dearest father, it is I, your daughter.” Because of Manfred’s inability to have another heir and his natural aversion for his daughter, he told her, “Begone! I do not want a daughter.’” This scene here compared to the death itself is natural and tells the story of a damsel in distress. Therefore, it’s evident that Walpole balances out the probability and improbability of an occurrence through truthful emotions, so that readers connect to a character without thinking of the unreality taking place.
The eighteenth century novel is also known for its directorial quality that was at first seen as representative of real life, but in Walpole’s novel, turns unrepresentative— only the lesson itself is. On page 7, Walpole reveals that the moral of the story is how “the sins of the fathers are visited on their children to the third and fourth generation,”— which is a reminder that your sins can negatively affect your children’s lives. Like Clery said, Walpole brings “divine punishment to bear on the heir of a usurper through the intervention of a vengeful ghost and assorted gargantuan pieces of armour”— resulting in the death of both his son and daughter. After reading the novel, readers may feel bad about their wrongdoings and want to repent. In fact, Manfred’s regret is almost a guiding force to do so. He says, “My story has drawn down these judgments: let my confession atone—but ah! what can atone for usurpation, and a murdered child! a child murdered in a consecrated place!—List, sirs, and may this bloody record be a warning to future tyrants!”

View on eighteenth century fictionality

In her essay, “The Rise of Fictionality,” Catherine Gallagher attempts to “retrieve novelistic fictionality for analysis” and “explain why we have difficulty keeping it at the forefront of our attention, why it incessantly slips behind other features or disappears into terms like narrative and signification.”  She suggests that the novel actually founded eighteenth century fiction and I definitely agree.

Gallagher explains that there are two forms to the novel— one that tried, “for at least two centuries, to hide its fictionality behind verisimilitude or realism, insisting on certain kinds of referentiality and even making extensive truth claims” and the other, a liberator of fictionality because eighteenth-century writers stopped trying to convince readers that their stories represented real life. According to Gallagher, “writers coaxed their readers to accept the imaginative status of their characters.” She writes that there were still restrictions upon fiction because the same novelists actually restrained and hid fictionality by barring it inside the boundaries of the credible. Therefore, “the novel, in short, is said both to have discovered and to have obscured fiction.” I agree, as we can clearly see the fiction in these novels, but back then most readers could not. At the time, art had to imitate reality, so the stories, no matter how fictitious, needed to mirror eighteenth century life or even become guidebooks.  Fantomina by Eliza Haywood is probably one of the best examples of evident fiction of the time. Fantomina, an aristocratic young woman, disguises herself more than once to manipulate Bleaupasir, who not even once notices that she’s the same woman. We can obviously notice the fiction, but readers were expected to play along and believe the story to be true. And what truly allows the novel to mirror reality and make them accept it as so is the ending— when Fantomina becomes pregnant and is sent away— because that’s exactly what would happen to promiscuous women like her at the time.

Moreover, as Gallagher claims, the eighteenth century novel transformed from a referential to a non-referential form. Non-referentiality may have started at the same time, as Fantomina was written in 1725 and had no reference to real people. The reason no readers truly noticed that is because they had been trained to read the novel as the truth. It offered fictional moments even when it showcases reality without referring to real people. Gallagher says that between the time Defoe vowed that Robinson Crusoe was a real individual in 1720 and the time Henry Fielding tirelessly insisted that his characters did not represent real people in 1742, conversations about fictionality in relation to the novel arose, laying down new rules to identify it and new methods of “nonreference.” She says, the novel discovered fiction because “of this overt and articulated understanding” and that “what Fielding had that Defoe lacked was not an excuse for fictionality but a use for it as a special way of shaping knowledge through the fabrication of particulars.” Therefore, I agree that Feilding’s disclaimer really trained eighteenth century readers to read novels as fiction.

Anti-Pamela: Like parent, like child

In Eliza Haywood’s Anti-Pamela, I couldn’t help but notice the likeness of qualities in parents and children of the same gender— which made me realize it’s completely in tune with the idea of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela.

Pamela’s honor was her top priority and saw her poverty as a “Witness of her honesty” and any economic gains from Mr. B— the “Price of [her] shame” (Richardson 79). She respected her parents, thinking as they do, and would rather live with them in poor conditions than bring shame to her name. This idea contradicts the character of Syrena, whose mother instilled in her an inclination to find a wealthy husband and after some point—her mother did not mind her becoming a mistress. Haywood describes Haywood’s birth as one that occurred “in very mean Circumstances.” Therefore, she was born out of marriage— and was “left entirely to the Care of a Parent, who had been a Woman of Intrigue in her Youth, was far from repenting what she had done; and one of the most subtil Mistresses in the Art of Decoying that ever was; the Girl was not out of her Bib and Apron, before she instructed her in Lessons, which she had the wicked Satisfaction to find, her Pupil knew not only how to observe, but also to improve” (Haywood 2). Syrene even surpasses the lessons by deceiving her mother at her own game and ultimately falling pregnant and ill due to it.

It seems that Haywood is presenting the influence parents have on their children. Syrena took over her mother’s role of decoying men and like her, does not repent, but rather continues manipulating to gain financially. As seen in her relationship with Vardine, her mother asked her to stop contacting him, but she pursued him “for expensive gifts”— and then asked for his money after losing her virginity to him and trusting him. But, he lied to her and she fell pregnant. Even after that experience that resulted in her illness, she was unafraid to search for another husband. Her obsession did not falter just as her mother’s didn’t. However, what’s so interesting about this story is that in the second part, we can see that Sir Thomas and his son Mr. L are also one and the same. In the Lady’s chamber, even though, Mr. L witnessed his own father attempting to rape Syrena, he tried to do the same, without clearly resenting his father’s actions or thinking of his mother. Syrena even admitted that she fears he has the same intentions as his father.

Finally, I did not think that Syrena would allow her act with Vardine to happen again with Mr. L due to her continuous fear of rape and was surprised when she allowed him to “gain the utmost of his Desires” and after that accuse him of rape to marry her (35). But, it was clearly leading to such a point when her mother kept telling her to pursue mostly Mr. L without totally disregarding Sir Thomas to see who could benefit her more. Haywood then ends it in mockery because Syrena, her mother, Sir Thomas and his son were all caught guilty and for the same reason— lack of honor.

The inseparability of letters and the body in Pamela

In volume 2 of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, there’s a clearer picture of the inseparability of Pamela’s letters and her own body— entities Mr. B wants to possess.

Writing letters involves the mind and of course emotions and therefore, there tends to be decision-making in the picture. So, when Pamela wrote to her parents about the hardships she had to endure after Mr. B’s continuous attempts to rape her, her struggle to go home or to send letters to Mr. Williams in volume one, she did not allow her employer to control her or rape her by not allowing him to possess her letters and tell her who to talk to or what to write or not to write at all. Instead, in volume 2, she stitched the letters to her clothes to say “no” to Mr. B’s intrusion of her thoughts and body. On page 234, Mr. B said, “I have searched every place above, and in your closet, for them, and cannot find them, so I will know where they are. Now, said he, it is my opinion they are about you; and I have never undrest a girl in my life; but I will not begin to strip my pretty Pamela; and I hope I shall not go far before I find them.” She responded, “I will not be used in this manner,” which tells readers that she will not allow him to achieve his desires without her permission. Also, Mr. B’s quote revealed the unity of her letters and body when he mentions undressing her to find the “letters” as if alluding to the fact that he cannot get to the body without getting to her mind and emotions first. And that’s true because the letters are stitched to her clothes. Mr. B’s quote on page 234 really brings to one’s attention the woman’s power when she says “no.” The epistolary novel genre is an instructive manual after all that in Pamela seems to be used to teach the woman her thoughts, emotions and body are her own to take charge of and if she doesn’t, it could lead to loss of virtue.

On page 238, Pamela gave the letters to Mr. B to avoid more issues and asked him not to break the “seal” as a favor and “great omen.” He “broke the seal instantly” (238). This may seem like simple analysis, but the seal is one that validates her virtue by protecting her letters. Once broken, he has access to her thoughts, emotions and then on, her body. But to further prove this point, notice how she told him not to break the seal as “a great omen,” so that meant that breaking it would lead to a bad omen— her rape. It did in a sense, since he married her at the end of the novel. Still, it wasn’t a bad omen to her though, but rather a good omen because it was true love. On page 246, Mr. B used her own talent against her, sending her a letter that makes her fall in love with him, leading to their union. “This letter… has affected me more than anything of that sort could have done…It look’d like love,” she told her parents (248).

Clothes linked to freedom of identity in Pamela

In volume one of Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, there’s an apparent focus on clothing that gradually links to freedom of identity.

When Mr. B gives Pamela his mother’s/her employer’s clothes after her death, the 15-year-old experiences a shift in identity. According to an article by Debra Goss called “Pamela’s Fourth Bundle: Writing and Apparel in Pamela,” clothing was “one of the first commodities to cross gender and class lines,” so it was a norm for a servant to receive her employer’s hand-me-downs. In fact, the article claims that female servants would imitate their mistresses by wearing hoops as these employees directly connected the upper and lower classes. Goss explaons that the hoop petticoat is cited as class mobility in Daniel Defoe’s “Everybody’s Business is Nobody’s Business” and in the Eighteenth century, it became a popular fashion item— one “more fragile than its Elizabethan predecessor, and suited to lighter fabrics like silk, which were coming in from France in abundance.”

Therefore, since female servants bridged the gap between the upper and lower classes, Pamela’s original tattered clothes of poverty free her identity— as she would no longer stand on the border of two classes or on the verge of losing her virtue. That is evident when she starts knitting clothes fit for her poor condition after escaping Mr. B’s third attempt to rape her (Richardson 44). She writes to her parents, “So think I, I had better get myself at once ‘quipt in the dress that would become my condition; and tho’ it might look but poor to what I was us’d to wear of late Days, yet it would serve me, when I came to you” (45).  At the end of her letter, she says that she wishes to appear in her original clothes rather than in her mistress’s because that would mean she “shall be soon after with [her parents] and at ease in her mind, which reveals her plan to free herself from an identity that could result in her losing her virtue.

In a later instance, Pamela divides her clothes into three “parcels”— the clothes her Mistress had given her, clothes Mr. B had given her after her Mistress’s death, and the clothes that represent her condition of poverty at her parents’ house (78). Then, she told Mrs. Jervis to look over her clothes and let others at the house have what belongs to them, so she can take with her only what she “can properly call [her] own” (78). She calls the last bundle the “companion of my poverty” and the “Witness of her honesty,” while she calls the second the would-be “Price of my shame” (79) because of Mr. B’s intention to rape her. Therefore, she gives each bundle of clothes different identities and chooses to keep the one that frees her from harm. However, Mr. B tricks her and imprisons her instead of sending her home. Near the end of the volume, Pamela tries to escape, but fails as the rest of the servants search for her and find her petticoat, hat, and handkerchief in the pond. They at first believe she drowned, but then Nan finds her. Just as Goss states, this scene symbolizes her attempt to free herself by throwing away the clothes Mr. B gave her to reclaim her original identity.


Class and Gender Politics in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina

In her novel, “Fantomina,” Eliza Haywood manipulates what is expected of an eighteenth century man and woman, giving the female and the lower class character dominance over the aristocratic male for the majority of the story and yet ends it as expected with the male in power.

Haywood’s use of women-controlling diction in the beginning forecasts the end of Fantomina’s story. At first, Fantomina, an upper class woman, averted how aristocratic and supposed intelligent men had the audacity to disregard the play and fawn over prostitutes of the lower class at the playhouse. Haywood wrote that as the inexperienced young woman wondered about their actions, her aversion resulted in “curiosity.” Then, Haywood suggests that Fantomina’s curiosity was once suppressed and now freed because she would have been “oblig’d to be accountable for her Actions” if her guardians were in town. She writes that Fantomina did not find fault in dressing up and acting as a prostitute, who makes “sale of [her] favours,” in an effort to gratify “an innocent Curiosity.” This adds on to her freedom as no one could hold her accountable. Thus, words such as obliged, fault, favors, curiosity and gratification expose the representation of females at the time. In the eighteenth century, a woman, no matter the man’s faults, was blamed for both her and his actions, because it’s she who was selling her “favors” to the male and satisfying her “curiosity”— not he who initiated it. Therefore, the ideal woman is the total opposite of Fantomina, but Haywood continues to manipulate the image to expose the male’s faults.

As the story moves on, Haywood reveals the objectification of women— especially the poor. To be a prostitute, Fantomina changed her name, wore promiscuous clothing, and joined the lower class. That shift in total image and class indicates that the rich cannot be seen among the dishonorable— unless they are men objectifying these women. After she became involved with Beauplaisir, a man who had won her affection, she realized her wrongdoing. But, she told him his “Love alone can compensate for the Shame you have involved me in; be you sincere and constant, and I hereafter shall, perhaps, be satisfy’d with my Fate, and forgive myself the Folly that betray’d me to you.” Haywood wrote that Fantomina’s “vivacity and wit” assisted her in everything, but where it was most needed as she became in charge of her personal life, but failed to grasp how harmful sexual activity is to her future. She continued to use that power she found by also controlling Beauplaisir’s life when she found out he would never be faithful to her. She changed her name and disguised herself with different dresses and hairstyles. She fooled Beauplaisir at his own game, which caused a clash in power between genders. The man became submissive to each character she played, but eventually Fantomina lost her own power when she became pregnant and had to fight societal reactions by hiding the truth, but failed to. Her mother wanted Beauplaisir to marry her at first “to repair the supposed Injury you had done this unfortunate Girl,” but no longer did after she found out the truth. “Now I know not what to say: — The Blame is wholly her’s,” she said. Haywood here takes us and her main character back to reality—reiterating that the man is always in power, no matter his faults, while the woman is always held accountable for her faults.

Race politics: Racializing Islam and seeing beyond stereotypes

DEARBORN— In today’s political climate, many people overlook the difference between the “religious” and the “fanatical”, as the media often hastily interlaces those terms when it comes to Islam.

Western media have regularly designated persons who allegedly follow Islam and have committed atrocious crimes as Muslims in headlines, while criminals and terrorists who follow other faiths are not branded by their religions.

This has evidently led Westerners to believe devout Muslims are indistinguishable from the fanatics who claim to follow that religion. It’s a false equivalency not unlike comparing a devout Christian to a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The spike in hate crimes and rhetoric against Muslims in America during and after President Trump’s election speaks for itself; and now— just days after his inauguration— it continues to escalate.

Mosques and innocent Muslims have been and continue to be attacked for being faithful.

“The clear difference”

A religious individual is defined as one who shows deep religious feelings or commitment, while a person filled with extreme and tenacious zeal is a fanatic— stepping outside the boundary of any religion he or she claims to follow.

Sheikh Ibrahim Kazerooni of the Islamic Center of America said Islam has rejected any type of extremism.

“If the essence of all religion, according to the deliberation of the Quran, is social justice and love for everyone and compassion, anyone who steps outside the boundary is considered to be an extremist,” he said.

He added that the Quran says faith cannot be imposed and that it commands Muslims to be compassionate and merciful, so anyone who steps outside of this principle is extreme.

“The way you communicate with people should be in the best possible way,” he said. “Even in your conversation, you have to be respectful.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), agrees.

“People of all religions or creeds have a bell curve,” he said. “Meaning that the masses of the people are in the middle and then there are people who are on the extreme frenzies of both the right and the left. That is not something that is just particular to Islam; there are extremists who are Buddhists, Christians and others.”

He said extremists overlook the understanding of religion.

“The one who is far to the right and extreme in terms of violence is someone who has missed the normative understanding of Islamic theology,” he said. “The Quran is very clear that whoever kills an innocent person, it’s as if they killed all of humankind; and the Quran commands [Muslims] not to kill an innocent soul that God has made sacred.”

“Racial politics and the Islamophobia industry”

Kazerooni said the first thing Muslims need to do collectively is escape the discourse that the “Islamophobia industry” is imposing on them as a way to box them.

“The notion that we should somehow comply with it or use those narratives have to be rejected, first,” he said. “So that we can free ourselves in defining the parameters for the discussion under conversation. Otherwise, we will be bound and boxed into a corner and then we have no other alternative than to discuss this ‘either or.’…This notion of the industry defining ‘Islam’ as evil and ‘Muslim’ as the enemy has to be dealt with not within the parameters they define, but totally free outside.”

He said the idea of dichotomy— making it clear that there are good Muslims and bad ones— is nothing new. He pointed out that in the past, this was applied to people of other races and religion— going back to the Puritan times.

“Nothing has changed,” he said, adding that just as the Puritans did, some Americans today appropriate a number of Biblical narratives to identify somebody as an enemy and somebody else as a friend.

Walid added that America has always racialized religion.

“As the founders of America were White Protestants, Islam has never been seen as truly American or White enough as a religion,” he said. “Therefore, the KKK and radical people in the Christian identity movement are never talked about as being Christian, though they are avowedly Christian in their hatred.”

He said it’s not the case for Islam because it has to do with the race politics that has always defined this country.

Kazerooni said a “colonial mindset” looks at Muslims as the enemy. He said a number of steps are being taken, including conflating 1.5 billion people with individuals who have committed acts of evil.

“We really must step away from what we call parameters or boxes that the outside world define for us and box us into so that we cannot move out,” he emphasized. “It’s either or; either we have to say we are good Muslims or other people are bad Muslims, which is contradictory to the basic tenants of Islam.”

He said the coherent answer to this question is that “faith by itself is neutral.” However, when a person practices it and applies the principles of the faith outside, that shows whether that individual is fulfilling the goals of the faith— regardless of who the person is or the religious affiliation.


By Zahraa Farhat | The Arab American News | Friday, 01.27.2017, 12:12 AM