Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bennett, Anna of the Five Towns,




[For more information on the the West Midlands and the Potteries: http://www.thepotteries.org/index.html]

When reading Anna of the Five Towns in the context of our class, we should grapple first with the question: what makes the book modern? It contains a myriad of themes and issues that engage with the constellation of theories and movements that we've previously read and discussed. Some specific points of interest in the text are:

- Psychology: Characters often act out of impulse or with a compulsion that they do not fully understand. Also, Anna herself, very early on, acknowledges the wish to know what others are thinking as well as the difficulty of doing so. How might this connect to our discussion of a society that is achieving an awareness of itself? Is this an awareness of being 'un-aware'?

- Industry and Mechanization: How is industrialization portrayed in the text? For example, refer to the second paragraph of Chapter 6. The narrator seems to describe an underlying beauty to the industrial landscape. How does this help the text engage with a movement like Futurism?

- Religious and Secular ideals: The world that the novel depicts is underpinned by Methodist religion yet surrounded by secular and capitalist pursuits. How do Ephraim Tellwright and the revivalist brought in by the community typify this interpenetration of religious and economic faith?

- Feminist theory: Though we haven't directly engaged with feminist theory, what are your thoughts concerning the treatment of female characters in the text? How do they relate to male figures of authority? Refer to the beginning of Chapter 9 for a specific example from Ephraim Tellwright's point of view.

- What can we see in the text that would be a commentary on capitalism and class structure? Specifically, is it helpful to read the relationship between the Tellwrights, Mynors, and Prices through a Marxist lens?

- In Victorian novels, the ending usually passes a final judgment on characters, where good characters are rewarded (often with marriage) and bad characters are punished. What is the novel's verdict? Is there a clear verdict?

8 comments:

Megan Putney said...

I like the question that you raise about industry and mechanization, I noticed this theme a lot throughout the book. There was a section in the first chapter that really stood out to me about this: "Because they seldom think, the townsmen take shame when indicted for having disfigured half a county in order to live. They have not understood that this disfigurement is merely an episode in the unending warfare of man and nature, and calls for no contrition" (Bennett 9). The statements by the narrator in the novel concerning industry do seem to go along with the statements that the futurists make when they talk about how they "sing the vibrating nocturnal fervor of factories and shipyards" (Marinetti 5). However, there is a noticeable difference in the novel of the feelings of the narrator toward industry and Anna's own feelings. While the narrator gives us a descriptive account of the beauties of industrialization, Anna feels differently: “Anna saw nothing there save the repulsive evidences of manufacture, had never seen anything else” (Bennett 40). It’s interesting how Bennett gives us such opposing viewpoints about this topic. I feel like the story points toward Anna’s feelings about industry more than the narrators, but I’m not sure.

Ryan Tilley said...

I would like to comment on the industry and mechanization point you raised. I think Bennett constantly works to portray what he might call the "romantic" face of industry. Not only does the passage in Chapter 6 support this, but from the outset Bennett's writing tries to explore the subtle romance of the modern. On page 9, Bennet describes the five towns as "nothing more seemingly remote from romance." "Yet be it said that romance is even here," he continues, "the romance which, for those who have the eye to percieve it, ever dwells amid the seats of the industrial manufacture, softening the coarseness...." Bennett then turns these filthy, greasy images of the modern into small wonders, into fascinating intricacies of a modern world. I think this is one of the more important aspects of Bennett's novel, as it is something he seeks constantly to do throughout the text.

Jennifer Zupicich said...

I think that the comment that "Anna herself, very early on, acknowledges the wish to know what others are thinking as well as the difficulty of doing so" is a very interesting and true thought. It is true; throughout the book, especially in the beginning, is always wondering what others are thinking of her, about her, about her family, etc. Indeed, this does contribute to "a society that is achieving an awareness of itself". Anna is trying to get her bearings in the town she is in; in her surroundings. She is becoming more and more aware of the people around her, which is shown when she goes to church, and meetings, and other social gatherings. She becomes more and more concerned with societal matters, becoming more aware of not only herself and her place in the world and society, but of society itself and its place in the world.

Kristina Coriaty said...

I think that the ending to this story is very interesting. Although characters in Victorian novels are often rewarded with marriage, the ending to this story takes an interesting spin on that idea. At the end, we see that Anna does marry Henry Mynors. However, Bennett makes it clear that she only marries him because it is the right thing for her to do. Since she had promised to marry Mynors, she did. He writes, "She who had never failed in duty did not fail then" (Bennett 146). Anna only married Mynors because it was expected of her, even though she was in love with Willie Price. Therefore, it would seem as though the ending is not happy for Anna. But I do not think that the verdict on this is really clear. Although she does not love Mynors and often thinks about Willie Price, her marriage to Mynors does provide her with a stable life. This would imply that she will go on to lead a happy life without thinking too much about Willie. However, the last sentence of the novel then switches back to the idea that Anna will never be happy by saying that she is a "meek soul stung to revolt only in its last hour" (Bennett 146). For these reasons, I do not think that the verdict is really clear as to whether or not Anna has been rewarded as far as Victorian novels go, but the ending clearly leads toward an unhappy or unsatisfying life for Anna.

Catherine said...

The treatment of females in this does not really shock me considering the time period, however it still disturbs me. When Ephraim and Anne argue about money I just want to jump in there because I find it so frustrating. Despite the fact that after Anne’s birthday she inherits her own money and Anne is the rightful landlord to the Price’s Ephraim continues his tyrannous stance. Ephraim views the women in his household as “natural victims of the master” (76). It seems that everyone that encounters Ephraim becomes his victim. Even more frustrating is the fact that Anne constantly builds up the courage to face her father and then fleetingly lets the key moments of confrontation pass.

Bailey said...

Expanding on what Catherine wrote, I think the idea of feminism and of a strong female character is prevalent throughout the novel. Given the time period, Anna has a lot of power for a woman. Even though this power is definitely restricted by her father, she nevertheless has it in her name. For a woman to have that sum of money, regardless of how she does or doesn't use it, is very out of the norm for this age in England. Furthermore, though her father does hold a lot of power over her, she does occasionally, especially at the novels end, assert her own power over her father. She takes the tax money she got back and uses it to buy new clothes for the Isle. She also secretly pays the debt of Titus Price - a huge amount of money at this point. In a very assertive way, this novel could be considered feminist. She's a strong female character with her own thoughts, beliefs, and decisions.
In regards to the ending, I think Anna is happy with Mynors. Regardless of the fact that she may be in love with Willie, I think that Mynors does make her happy and I think he's a better choice of husband. For me, the end of the novel poses the question: Is it better to be happy or in love?

andy murphy said...

Bennet skillfully entwines the ever present blend of economy and religion through the roles of Ephraim as a business man and as a spiritual leader. On the one hand, he is a devout and anthusiastic preacher determined to revive the community of it's spirtitual past, but on the other hand he is a stern and seirous businessman. His dual roles allow Ephraim to bridge the span between the traditional Towns and the modern Potteries. However, the two ideas are supposed to remain seperate, and his interaction between both worlds can only lead to the collapse of structure and end in chaos.

Kevin B said...

I really enjoyed the discussion of the spiritual vs. the secular from the story. Not being able to bridge the spiritual to the inability to profess Christ was something that threw the whole square for a loop. Agnosticism kept popping into my head when trying to fill that gap, but I suppose that it would not adequately do that. That square was the most perplexing one in the book that we've worked on so far, simply because it could not fully be completed. I look forward to the Masculine/Feminine breakdown in class, because I also think that will complicate the square more.