Heaney on Homer

“When the bard Demodocus sings of the fall of Troy and of the slaughter that accompanied it, Odysseus weeps and Homer says that his tears were like the tears of a wife on a battlefield weeping for the death of a fallen husband. His epic simile continues:

At the sight of the man panting and dying there,
she slips down to enfold him, crying out;
then feels the spears, prodding her back and shoulders,
and goes bound into slavery and grief.
Piteous weeping wears away her cheeks:
but no more piteous than Odysseus’ tears,
cloaked as they were, now, from the company.

Even to-day, three thousand years later, as we channel-surf over so much live coverage of contemporary savagery, highly informed but nevertheless in danger of growing immune, familiar to the point of overfamiliarity with old newsreels of the concentration camp and the gulag, Homer’s image can still bring us to our senses. The callousness of those spear shafts on the woman’s back and shoulders survives time and translation. The image has that documentary adequacy which answers all that we know about the intolerable.”

—from Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Crediting Poetry”, 1995.

Y12 HL: first post

Please write one paragraph of an essay that responds to this question:

In Books I-IV of The Odyssey, how does Homer show us that Telemakhos is changing from a boy to a man?

You may discover three or four ways in which Homer does this; I want you to write about only one of them. For example, you may find that Homer uses the motif of green cheese: every time Telemakhos shows signs of maturity, green cheese is mentioned. In your single paragraph, focus on just the one method that you choose to write about; do not write an entire essay in which you analyse all the ways in which Homer indicates that Telemakhos is growing up.

Your evidence must consist of details from the text.

Due: Monday. I will give you tomorrow’s lesson to work on it.

Submit your paragraph as a post on this blog; I have emailed your login credentials to you.

Was George Orwell anti-Semitic?

Those interested in this question, which arises in light of some of Orwell’s remarks about Jews in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ and other pieces he wrote earlier in his life, should have a look at these links:

1. Orwell’s essay on anti-Semitism in Britain: http://orwell.ru/library/articles/antisemitism/english/e_antib

2. DJ Taylor writing in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/aug/13/biography.highereducation

Besides the particular question of Orwell’s own sentiments, one can learn from these pieces a great deal about how common anti-Semitism was in the first half of the 20th century—not just in Germany or Poland or Austria, but across Europe, including France and Great Britain, and in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Understanding how common and widespread it was, we can then make more sense out of the Allies’ relative lack of interest in the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, even after the existence of the extermination camps became known in the West. And then, circling back to Orwell, we won’t be so surprised to find that in his earlier years he made anti-Semitic remarks. Rather we would be surprised if, given his background, he had not been prejudiced against Jews, when just about everyone around him was.

Toni Morrison interview


Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject?


No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”


Y12: IO topics for ‘Ghosts’

  • Michelle: Ibsen’s life
  • Sabrina: Ibsen’s other works; his influence on later writers
  • Linus: The public response to Ghosts when it was first performed, and later
  • Venus: Paris in the 1860s and 70s: Emile Zola, La traviata, Cora Pearl, the can-can, etc.
  • Jarand: Victorian morality and bourgeois culture
  • Tal: 19th-century French literature: Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism

Essays about ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’

Year 13s: These essays are in your Norton Critical Edition of Tess. Over the Christmas holiday you should read as many of them as you can. They will help you to understand the novel, expand your background knowledge, and teach you about good writing, deep analysis, and detailed references to the text.

Lionel Johnson, ‘The Argument’ (390-400)

He dislikes the philosophical comments of Hardy’s narrator in Tess.

Irving Howe, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles—at the Center of Hardy’s Achievement’  (406-422)

If you read only one of the critical essays in your book, read this one.

Peter Morton, “Neo-Darwinian Fate in Tess of the d’Urbervilles” (432-35)
Gillian Beer, “Descent and Sexual Selection: Women in Narrative” (446-51)

Two essays mixing science, literature, and the history of ideas.

Gillian Beer, “Finding a Scale for the Human: Plot and Writing in Hardy’s Novels” (451-60)

Along the sames lines as the two above, but with more of a focus on Hardy’s writing style and narrative technique.

Raymond Williams, “Love and Work” (460-71)

An excellent piece on Hardy’s treatment of country people and country life.

Adrian Poole, “ ‘Men’s Words’ and Hardy’s Women” (471-84)

An excellent piece on Hardy’s treatment of women in general, and Tess in particular.

Murakami & Hamlet

From the Wall Street Journal:

In his essay, Mr. Murakami mentioned his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The surreal plot focuses on a bloody battle between Japanese soldiers and Mongolian and Russian forces over a barren stretch of the Outer Mongolian desert. Mr. Murakami wrote that he went to visit the site of the former war zone after he finished the novel.

“As I stood in the middle of that barren wasteland, with cartridges and other wartime artifacts still scattered about, I helplessly felt ‘why was so much life senselessly lost over this piece of empty land?’”

From Hamlet (IV.iv):

HAMLET:     Who commands them, sir?

Captain:     The nephew to old Norway, Fortinbras.

HAMLET:     Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,
Or for some frontier?

Captain:     Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.

HAMLET:     Why, then the Polack never will defend it.

Captain:     Yes, it is already garrison’d.




Cardinal virtues, Christian virtues

From Wikipedia:

In Christian tradition there are 4 cardinal virtues:

  • Prudence – able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time
  • Justice – proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others
  • Restraint or Temperance – practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation
  • Courage or Fortitude – forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation

In The Inferno these virtues, represented by the classical poet Virgil, are enough to make you a good person, just as Virgil can guide Dante to the Earthly Paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory. But they are not enough to gain Christian salvation. For that, you need the three Christian virtues: faith, hope, and charity (also translated as ‘love’) [from the New Testament of the Bible, I Corinthians 13].

Welcome to IB English A Literature!

I am looking forward to this first year of the IB programme at Dulwich, and the first year of the IB’s newly revised English A Literature course. I hope you are, too!

Most of the writing you do in the course—apart from final assessments—will be posted on this blog, giving you the chance to practice writing and try out ideas in a supportive space, and to learn from each other’s work. The more you use these opportunities to read and comment on your classmates’ posts, the more your own writing and thinking will benefit.

Have a great year, everyone!