Latest Additions

These are the articles recently published. Original replies, which can start off a debate, are listed with their abstracts. Please note that responding articles do not have separate abstracts.



Tragedy and Trauerspiel: John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi1)

Anny Crunelle-Vanrigh, Connotations, Vol. 31: 160-188.


Critical literature has variously described The Duchess of Malfi as tragedy, tragicomedy, or anti-tragedy. The play actually features two interrelated journeys traceable to conflicting generic backgrounds carefully yoked together. One, shaped by Benjamin’s martyr drama, underlines the Duchess’s determination and resistance. The other is Bosola’s tragic journey as a figure divided between conflicting loyalties, who eventually recognizes the wrongness of his choice and undergoes a moral transformation together with a dramatic conversion from hitman to avenger. Envisaged historically, Webster’s counterpoint of tragedy and Trauerspiel is evidence at once of overall generic readjustments in the period, and of the specific crisis of revenge drama, as detected by Fredson Bowers. As an example of ongoing generic readjustments, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi reflects the historical moment when drama addresses the social emergence of bourgeois figures and shifts from male, heroic subjects to increasingly female, domestic ones. Responding to the generic crisis of revenge drama, it challenges the system of norms which supports tragic discourse, inviting instead a recognition of the Duchess as the martyr, and her brothers as the tyrants of Trauerspiel.


"That we shall die we know": Historical Fetters and Creative Liberation in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar2)

Angelika Zirker and Susanne Riecker, Connotations, Vol. 31: 133-159.


In his tragedy Julius Caesar, Shakespeare builds largely on the 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, usually referred to as Parallel Lives. Shakespeare’s rendering of the events around the assassination, however, diverges substantially from his source material. Nor does his tragedy end with the death of Caesar: it is located right in the middle of the play, and more than half of the action follows afterwards, with a focus on Brutus and his suicide. The very fact that the eponymous hero dies halfway through the performance and the focus shifts to one of his murderers, Brutus, suggests that this play has two heroes rather than one. In our paper, we take these reconfigurations as a starting point to reflect on the tension that arises from the collation of historical matter on the one hand and generic restraints of tragedy on the other. The tragedy is a double one, and the double constraint thus reveals itself to be a creative liberation from the fetters presented by history and the main source text: where in the Parallel Lives, Plutarch sets up Julius Caesar in comparison the Alexander the Great, and Brutus in comparison to Dion, we find Julius Caesar and Brutus in the play posited as foils to one another and thus presenting another set of “parallel lives.” In Shakespeare’s play both characters are marked by fatal self-deception, which is underscored by structural parallels throughout the play. By showing the parallel moments of personal choice that lead to historical events, Shakespeare triggers a reflection on historical thruth as well as tragic recognition.


Blaming Helen in Twenty-First Century Myth Writing: A Response to Lena Linne

Shelby Judge, Connotations, Vol. 31: 126-132.


This response to the article “Meta-Epic Reflection in Twenty-First-Century Rewritings of Homer, or: The Meta-Epic Novel” takes as its starting point the author’s metageneric interpretation of twenty-first century myth writing, and her use of Fielding in exploring the tragic and heroic motifs in the texts. It goes on to focus primarily on Linne’s interpretation of Haynes’s A Thousand Ships. I gesture towards another route research in this field may take: the adaptation of ancient tragedy, and analysis of multiple feminist responses to a single mythical figure. This response summarises some of the issues that arise in adapting Helen. Helen’s contentious blame and divisive agency have been inextricable parts of her myth since its conception, and it is within this tradition that contemporary adaptations of Helen necessarily operate.


Forster’s Self-Ironizing in “The Road from Colonus”: A Response to Laura M. White3)

Shenyou Mei, Connotations, Vol. 31: 112-125.


E. M. Forster’s “The Road from Colonus” is a tale about the loss of inspiration. Its allusions to Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus” and, more recently, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” have been well recognized. But no attention has been paid to the relationship between the tale and the author’s life. This essay first studies the extraordinary affinity Forster had for Coleridge because of the former’s belief in the centrality of inspiration, then takes a biographical approach to investigate how the tale is derived from Forster’s personal experiences, particularly his troubled relationship with his mother, who Forster feared would interrupt his writing in the same way the epiphany in his story is interrupted by the protagonist’s youngest daughter.


Romance and Metagenre: A Response to Burkhard Niederhoff

Francesca Pierini, Connotations, Vol. 31: 100-111.


This short essay constiutes a reflection on meta-generic strategies and practises employed by authors of romance fiction. Conceived as a response to Burkhard Niederhoff’s article published in Connotations, it aims at making literary criticism and romance fiction dialogue with one another by discussing several of the same texts analysed by Niederhoff from the perspective of Romance Studies.

More specifically, this contribution to the debate on metagenre aims at making available some of the concepts developed by scholars of the romance novel to literary scholars. Adopting Pamela Regis’s definition of the happy ending as “betrothal,” the essay sketches a short progression of this trope as heading towards increasingly visible self-reflexive “metageneric” solutions. The outline begins with a discussion of E. M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) as a “failed romance” which aims at complementing Niederhoff’s reflections on the novel’s ending in connection to its protagonist’s inner development and maturation. It continues with an examination of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View (1908) which focuses on “the bitter notes” hidden within its apparently uncontentious happy ending, and it ends by analysing some of the explicit metageneric devices employed in John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969).


The Woman Taken in Adultery: A Literary Perspective on Christ’s Writing in John 8:1-12

Alan Rudrum and Julia Schatz, Connotations, Vol. 31: 85-99.


Jesus’ writing in John 8:2-12 is a silence that has raised scholarly discussion from the very beginnings of the Early Church. Jesus has just forgiven the sins of an adulteress, and wittily dispersed her prosecutors. Then, he “stoop[s] down, and [writes] on the ground” (John 8:8). What did Jesus put down, and to what end? Why is there a double emphasis on the scholarly act, while no other passage in the New Testament even mentions that Jesus is able to write? We propose that the striking gesture serves both the characterisation and authorisation of Jesus. Considering his writing in the light of (1) historical criticism (i.e. Roman criminal law) and (2) theological criticism (i.e. as a demonstration of Jesus’ messianic claim), it will be shown that the act of writing reinforces John’s High Christology: it expresses Jesus’ divine nature, connecting his own literary undertaking to other instances of writing in the Old and New Testament that carry the same connotations of creative power and authority. Without Jesus’ writing, the pericope would be out of place in the chapter; including the mysterious action, however, it prepares readers for the theoretical superstructure that follows immediately after: “For I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me” (John 8:16).


Meta-Epic Reflection in Twenty-First-Century Rewritings of Homer, or: The Meta-Epic Novel

Lena Linne, Connotations, Vol. 31: 56-84.


The present article discusses meta-epic reflection in a selection of twenty-first-century novels based on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. It defines instances of “metagenre” and “metageneric texts” as texts which, explicitly or implicitly, reflect upon the nature of another genre or of their own genre; novels which comment on the features of the epic qualify as “meta-epic novels.”

In its main part, the article distinguishes between three modes of meta-epic reflection in the contemporary novel. It briefly discusses Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, a Son and an Epic (2017) as an affirmative take on the ancient genre and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (2005) as a subversive one. Subsequently, it focusses on Natalie Haynes’s A Thousand Ships(2019) as an ambivalent approach to the epic. In this novel, meta-epic reflection takes centre stage through the character of Calliope, the ancient muse of epic poetry, who advocates a reform of her own genre: dissatisfied with its patriarchal traditions, Calliope calls for a new kind of epic which foregrounds the fates of the female characters. A Thousand Ships, which narrates the tragic stories of the women affected by the Trojan War, adheres to the rules of this new sort of epic. Adapting a term from Henry Fielding, the article reads A Thousand Ships as a “tragic epic poem in prose”–a prose epic for a twenty-first-century readership.


Parodies of Six-Word Stories: A Comic Literary Metagenre4)

David Fishelov, Connotations, Vol. 31: 33-55.


The article discusses parodies of six-word stories and locates them within the broader context of metagenre in general, and humorous metagenre in particular. Parodies of six-word stories offer a playful, ironic perspective on the genre’s form and its most famous example, the story (wrongly) attributed to Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The genre of six-word stories is a newcomer to the repertoire of narrative genres: it emerged in the 1990s and since then has become a fast-growing literary phenomenon with a great number of followers, both readers and writers. After describing the central characteristics of this peculiar mini-genre (e.g. the tip of the iceberg principle, the punch line structure, its poetic-like patterns), I focus on a detailed analysis of selected parodies of the form, and show how examples such as “For sale: this story format. Overused.”; “For sale. BMW. Blinkers never used.” and “Fr sal: Typwritr. In mint cnditin.” present a close imitation of conspicuous aspects of the generic model, in being embodied in its prototypical member, together with a comic, tongue-in-cheek, manipulation of that model. I conclude by arguing that parodies of six-word stories offer further indirect evidence of the diversity and productivity of this peculiar mini-genre.


An Introduction to Metagenre with a Postscript on the Journey from Comedy to Tragedy in E. M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread

Burkhard Niederhoff, Connotations, Vol. 31: 1-32.


The article defines metagenre as a quality or dimension of a literary text: the way the text reflects on the genre it belongs to (which includes a consideration of adjacent or opposed genres). We may distinguish between explicit metagenre, which is relatively infrequent, and implicit metagenre. The latter can be further divided into three types: mise en abyme or genre within genre; transtextual references to prototypical examples of the genre (quotation, allusion, parody, etc.); and conspicuous deviations from or violations of genre conventions. The textual strategies associated with metafiction and other meta-terms are seen as self-undermining and self-repudiating by some theorists. This view, however, does not apply to metagenre, at least not to its most interesting cases, which can best be described as probing and dynamic self-definitions that rely both on affirmations and rejections.

A text of this kind is E. M. Forster’s first novel Where Angels Fear to Tread (which contains both explicit and implicit metagenre). The analysis of this novel is based on Forster’s statement that “the object of the book is the improvement of Philip,” its protagonist. This improvement follows Forster’s imperative to “connect,” which has a psychological and a social dimension. Connecting the fragments of one’s personality means connecting with other people and transcending cultural or political barriers in the process. Philip’s improvement is accompanied by a shift from comedy to tragedy, which echoes the history of the genre (while the novel defined itself in comic terms in the long eighteenth century, it increasingly turned to tragic models in the nineteenth). An interesting problem arises in the final chapters, in which Philip is pushed back into the role of an aesthetic observer, which, as part of his improvement, he has previously abandoned in favour of responsibility and involvement. This problem can be solved, however, if one takes the shift from comedy to tragedy into consideration. In the final chapters, Philip changes from a comic into a tragic observer, which means that he is more sympathetic and involved than he used to be.


A Sentimental Journey: Lost in Translation

Mark Loveridge, Connotations, Vol. 30: 140-172.


This essay argues that Sterne’s pervasive interests in different forms of translation in A Sentimental Journey (1768) result in a text in which fuzzy, occult, and elusive language, calqued translation, wordplay, and suggestion are not merely forms of wit but fundamental to the project. The different resonances that are lent to Sterne’s keywords (sentimental, sensibility, soul, conscience, delicacy, grace, translation itself, and others) allow the dramatization of the curious relationships between the three worlds of humanity: spiritual, linguistic, and physical or material. To John Wesley’s English ear in 1772, the word sentimental is “not English. He may as well say Continental. It is not sense.” Frénais, translating the Journey in 1769, would agree: he says that he has only kept the word because there is no viable alternative. The text is constructed around the most elusive of words. In practice, translation is often occult to the point of perversity. In Calais, having eaten and drunk well, Parson Yorick tipsily rebuts the materialist philosophy of a “physical precieuse,” an imagined French bluestocking, by saying that he is confident that he could “overset her creed.” Creed descends from Latin, through the Italian credenza, to the French crédence: a sideboard. Immaterialism, spirituality, is translated to materials, through translation of a different kind which is endemic in the Journey.