Archive for September, 2014

Ikke mer Livsglede

When researching about the symptoms for congenital neurosifilis it caught my attention that most of the information was relevant for children below 2 years of age. However, the symptoms associated with Oswald’s age were “unexplained deafness, progressive intellectual deterioration or keratitis” (a condition in which the cornea becomes inflamed and eyesight is affected); these fit with the character’s behaviour at the end of the play, when he appears to have lost lucidity and his mother is devastated by the sight of her sick son.

Linking this with our discussion about punishment from Monday’s class, the deterioration of Oswald’s senses is a punishment for him because he won’t be able to pursue his profession as an artist; but most importantly, it interferes with his ideology of the joy of life, originally “Livsglede” in Norwegian. He explains his interpretation of this term to his mother in page 144:

“But people elsewhere simply won’t have that. Nobody really believes in ideas of that sort any more. In other countries they think it’s tremendous fun just to be alive at all. Mother, have you noticed how everything I’ve ever painted has turned on this joy of life? Always and without exception, this joy of life. Light and sunshine and a holiday spirit…and radiantly happy faces. That’s why I’m frightened to stay at home with you.”

Oswald’s last conscious thoughts, in which he repeats the image of the sun, now seem as longing calls for the happiness he wasn’t able to attain in life due to being distanced from his parents and not developing love for them or any other human. The gloomy weather which he describes in page 140 can be seen as an example of pathetic fallacy, reflecting his grief at the lack of love, the terror and guilt towards his disease and the sense of betrayal from his mother. His opportunities of simplistic joy fade away; he would have no more joy of life.

By Rafa

Ghosts and Inheritance

 “The Sins of the Father”

In class we touched upon the way in which inheritance plays a significant role in the play. Oswald inherits both syphilis from his father (although technically not possible) and his sexual deviousness. Pastor Manders notes that Oswald resembles his father as he descends the stairs, smoking his father’s pipe. In effect, Oswald has inherited the “sins of his father”.

In referring to his physician’s words regarding his affliction Oswald also mentions:

OSWALD. He said, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.” (2.270) 

The idea that we inherit the sins of the fathers is very popular and appears in several other pieces of literature such as the Merchant of Venice:

Yes, truly, for look you, the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.

It’s interesting to note what other texts (film, literature, art) contain this idea of inheritance.


The Nature of Ghosts

What are the “ghosts” Mrs. Alving keeps referring to? Are they:

1) Traditions and values that are passed from one generation to the next. These conventions are represented as ghosts, haunting those trying to be part of a more progressive world.

2) The memories kept secret (i.e. the true nature of Mr. Alving).

There are other possible interpretation of ghosts in the play. Can the ghosts be somehow related to the role disease (Syphilis) plays?

This article titled Norse Trolls and Ghosts in Ibsen examine the role trolls and ghosts play not only in Ghosts but in other works as well.


On a side note, here is a scene from Almeida’s Theatre production of Ghosts. I thought it might be interesting to see how the words on the page translate to theatre. 







Ibsen round-up

Well, today may have been the first time I was ever tempted in class to link Ibsen to Suicidal Tendencies, but the passage we focused on from Ghostsall kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them — made me think of the above song, which was released in 1983. They key connection comes when the singer asks how he could be considered crazy if he’s simply a product of his parents’ various institutions. As noted in discussion, Ibsen’s take on cultural inheritance is pretty bleak. Might we even say it’s punk?

Here are some links to past discussions of Ibsen on this site. Last year someone posted a clip from a recent theater production in London. Here’s a post that reads syphilis itself as the play’s creepiest ghost and another on 19th-century Norwegian beliefs about ghosts and haunting — with a surprising dip into the history of photography. Here’s one on Romanian takes on the undead.

I think I mentioned in class that Edvard Munch, the Norwegian painter, was a big Ibsen fan. Ibsen was 30-odd years older than Munch and they only met a few times. But Munch was pretty taken with him. Here’s a brief essay on the relationship between their work, including comments on Munch’s 1906 set designs for Ghosts (see above, Oswald sitting in the chair in the final scene, the sun rising outside as visible through the big picture window). I like this observation in particular:

To see was the most important thing for both Ibsen and Munch – but certainly not in an external, photographically recording sense. The artist’s ability and task is to see inwards – so that external motifs and inner, mental agitation are “lived through” (to use one of Ibsen’s favourite expressions) and melted together into valid expression. I do not paint what I see, but what I have seen, Munch once said – and Ibsen could have said the same about his “poetic visions”.

And here are a couple links to even earlier posts: the first conveners’ post from 2012; one on humor (how much of this play should we read as comedy?); and one on fatherhood — especially bad fathers — as one of Ibsen’s particular obsessions. Enjoy!

Feeling Alive?

What does it mean to be alive? Aside from the physiological component, to be alive can be understood to have the capacity to feel and experience a wide range of emotions. The way in which we respond to these emotions can be seen as a determinant of how we live our lives and what we classify as significant.

In Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, it is evident that the character that is the embodiment of being alive is Mrs. Alving. On numerous occasions she experiences such raw emotions, which cannot be said for any of the other characters. We see that she has a strong affinity to her son, a daughter-like sentiment for Regina, and an undoubtable romantic connection to Manders. The way she feels emotion is unlike anyone else in the play and this is due to the fact all of the other characters represent ghost-like figures in Mrs. Alving’s life. They are all examples of temporariness, a lack of dependability and transparency – they all seem to torment Mrs Alving and hinder her life trajectory, yet she is somehow so emotionally bound to her ghosts and cannot seem to evade them.

“Ghosts. When I heard Regine and Oswald in there, it was jut like seeing ghosts. But then I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts, Pastor Manders, every one of us. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them. I’ve only to pick up a newspaper and I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. Over the whole country there must be ghosts, as numerous as the sands of the sea. And here we are, all of us, abysmally afraid of the light.” (p. 126)

See minute 48:43 – 49:43

Firstly, let’s look at Engstrand, who seems to be the most malicious ghost of all and an impediment in Mrs Alvin’s world. His shrewdness and cunningness liken him to a ghost, as he brings about troubles in a way that is so sneaky and evasive that his actions almost come across as being supernaturally based. The perfect example of this is the fire incident, when he encourages Manders to hold a prayer meeting, which results in the burning down of the Orphanage – which he uses to his advantage in terms of establishing his seaman’s hotel.

Secondly, Manders – the Ghost of What Could Have Been. The romantic sentiment Mrs Alving has for Manders is undeniable:

Mrs Alving: “I thought you realized where my heart, as you put it, had strayed at that time”

Manders: If I had realized anything of the kind, I would not have been a daily guest in your husband’s house” (p.123)

He is the embodiment of the love Mrs. Alving’s has always yearned for, and what she would have been content with in another reality, and so Mander’s presence torments her, like that of a ghost, though he acts as a confidant to whom she reveals her deepest and darkest secrets, and who’s company she seems to enjoy, despite his undermining her ability as a wife and mother.

Thirdly, Regine. From the onset, Regine’s permanency is challenged, with the presentation of the opportunity to work at her suppose father’s seaman’s hotel. Though she refuses, and for the duration of the play is seen as constant and faithful to her post as Mrs Alving’s worker, we see the fickleness and ghost-like qualities of her character when she is told the truth about her father, and almost immediately seeks to obtain her inheritance. This demonstrates the two-sided nature of her character, and her departure, once she has what she wants, is as seamless as that of a ghost. The lack of emotional attachment or concern also relates to her ghostliness, and alludes to the idea that on the inside, she seems to be devoid of emotion. Regine also acts a daily reminder of the ghost of Mr Alving, as she is the product of his sins and misdeeds.

Finally, the most ironic ghost of all is Oswald – the son of Mrs Alving. Oswald seems to be his father resurrected. His sickness, which can be seen to come from the sin of his father as “the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children” (p.138), and his wrongdoings, which are in direct reflection of those of his father, demonstrate that he has become what his mother has tried so painstakingly to prevent him from becoming. He is indeed the ghost of his father and what makes it ironic is that he – who is most ghostlike relative to all the other ghost figures in the play – is Mrs Alving’s attachment to him and her non-willingness to let this kind of ghost, go, despite that her efforts to keep him pure and proper have gone in vain. It is possible that her strong motherly love towards him has clouded her better judgement, and so when he is becoming an actual ghost, as he goes into “the sun…the sun” (p. 164), she is left isolated in a state of pure hopelessness, as she has already lost Regine and to some extent, Manders.

Can you think of any to other instances of ghostliness? What about the wrongly attributed credit of the foundation and operation of the orphanage being given to Mr Alving instead of Mrs Alving? Can this be seen to have some ghostly connection? Can you think of any others?

Finally, some questions to keep in mind as you continue to read:

  • Can you think of any beliefs, characters or instances in the novel that can be perceived as ghostly? (As above)
  • Ethically, is it wrong to lie to your children?
  • Looking at Regina’s reaction, is Mrs. Alving’s not telling her the truth about her father justified?
  • What role do relationships have in the play in building tension?
Sudikchya, Silviu, Camila, Simi

how effective is the Priest?

How much authority does the Priest have? This character enters the scene suddenly, with no particular prompting in the text. Besides his age and gender, the Priest is not physically described in detail. The reader can easily project him or herself onto this character, and that may be deliberate. The Priest is the only character who disapproves of the revelry, and angrily he asks Walsingham the questions no other character asks — 

“…Do you think [your mother] isn’t crying now,

Shedding bitter tears in Heaven itself,

To see her son caught up in reveling

At a shameless feast, to hear your voice

Singing like one possessed, amidst

Holy prayers and deep-felt sighs?” (Pushkin 103)

As readers, we can’t help but confront the same dilemma – how can Walsingham and his cohorts justifiably frolic when their loved ones and friends are falling prey to the plague? Isn’t this inherently disrespectful? Thus, the Priest can be viewed as the embodiment of society and religion’s ideals in Pushkin’s story. The Priests targets Walsingham, the leader of the group, and shames him heavily. In trying to convince Walsingham to end the partying, the Priest references Walsingham’s mother and daughter, both dead from plague. Using these characters, Pushkin constructs multiple dichotomies including authority vs. non-comformity, religion vs. sin, confrontation vs. escapism. But does the Priest’s shaming and imploring of Walsingham make a difference to any of the partygoers?


NO: The Priest is soundly shouted down by the chorus of revelers every time he speaks. They don’t want their fun trampled, and they refuse to listen to the Priest’s shaming. Walsingham in fact condemns any partygoers who agree with the Priest —

“Old man, go in peace;

But accursed may he be who follows you!” (Pushkin 103)

Furthermore, in the last stage directions of the play the Priest “exits” and “the feast continues” (Pushkin 104). One could argue that in his main purpose, shaming the revelers into ceasing their feast, the Priest was unsuccessful.


YES: The Priest makes an obvious impression on Walsingham. Despite Walsingham’s positivity and celebratory tone in the beginning of the story, after the Priest’s accusations Walsingham reveals his guilt and desire for escapism —

“I am bound here

By despair, by terrible remembrance,

By the knowledge of my lawlessness,

And by the horror of that dead emptiness

Which greets me now in my own house” (Pushkin 103

Walsingham seems to agree with the Priest. The feasting and self-indulgence is shameful, but Walsingham is too weak to cope with the death of his mother and sister in a respectful and dignified manner. He assumes and acknowledges his guilt in the presence of the Priest. Once the Priest leaves and the party resumes, Walsingham is buried in thought, clearly very affected by the Priest’s words.


Stages of Grief

According to the Kübler-Ross model, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. (It is to be noted that not all five may occur depending on the individual, and they do not always occur in this particular order.) These five stages can be used to analyze and better understand the characters in A Feast During the Plague.

Denial is the stage in which the individual refuses to acknowledge the fact that a loss has occurred. The young man, who states:

“But many of us still live, and we

Have no cause to be grieving. So

I propose we drink a toast to him

With glasses clinking and with shouts

As if he were alive.” (Pushkin, 96)

is clearly in denial of the fact that there are in fact many “cause(s) to be grieving”, and wishes to proceed “as if he were alive”.

In the stage of Anger, one begins to accept reality, and expresses frustration at the given situation. Envy is also a form of this frustration, as can be seen in Louisa’s scoffing attitude towards Mary: 

“I can’t stand the jaundice-yellow hair of these Scotch girls.” (Pushkin, 99)

Bargaining is the stage in which the individual attempts to bargain with reality, in search of a solution or avoidance of the grief. This is clearly the main stage depicted throughout the literary work, in which the characters are gathered around a feasting table in which they attempt to sing and drink their woes away. 

In Depression, individuals have finally completely come to terms with the situation, and feel a variety of emotions: listlessness, sadness, and fear. Perhaps the Priest, who urges the people to take the more conventional path of mourning, is at this stage:

“If the prayers of so many reverend men and women

Had not consecrated the common gravepit,

I would have thought that devils even now

Were torturing some ruined, godless soul,

Laughing as they dragged it to outer darkness.” (Pushkin, 102)

Acceptance is the last step in coping with grief, where the individual has completely come to terms with, and feels the strength to accept and overcome the given occasion of grief. The ending scene, in which “the Chairman remains, plunged in deep contemplation” seems to imply an oncoming Acceptance of the Plague.


Feast during plague–why is it so wrong

In Pushkin’s A Feast During the Plague, it is clear that rejoicing during the time of plague is considered rebellious and immoral, to the extent of “lawlessness” (103). But as I was reading the play, I couldn’t help but ask “why is it so wrong?” Loss of beloved ones is surely a mournful thing, but on the societal level, why would it be so grievous when someone dies from plague? Contemplating on the meaning of death presented in this play, I came to the conclusion that the reactions of the readers might differ significantly according to their cultural background, especially how each society views death caused by a plague.

Obviously, sudden death from a plague is deemed negative in many countries. Russian audience, for example, might have found it easy to empathize with the overriding theme in this play. I found a research article in which the writer studies traditional beliefs of Russian peasants regarding death:

The Russian peasants have, from ancient times, divided their dead into two major categories. On the one hand are the “natural” dead, who die of old age at the time appointed by God. On the other are the “unnatural” or “unclean” dead, … this category of dead included those who had met a violent death at the hands of an assassin, those who had died accidentally, by drowning or falling into a swamp for example, by getting lost in the forest or being frozen to death. It also included those struck by lightning or those who had fallen victim to some plague or epidemic. The bodies of such unfortunates were often never recovered and were left to rot unburied or were buried on the spot where the victim met his or her end.

(Elizabeth A. Warner, Russian Peasant Beliefs and Practices Concerning Death and the Supernatural Collected in Novosokol’niki Region, Pskov Province, Russia, 1995. Part I: The Restless Dead, Wizards and Spirit Beings)


This passage suggests that in Russian perspective, the death from a plague falls into the category of “unnatural” or “unclean” death, which is against the will of God. Scapegoats of the plague were deemed to be “unfortunates.”

On the other hand, death from a plague was equated with martyrdom in Islamic culture, as mentioned in our previous reading, “New Directions in the Study of Religious Responses to the Black Death” by Stearns. Unlike the Russians who believed the death to be untimely and against God’s wishes, Muslims regarded it as “[giving oneself] wholly to the God against [one’s] own desires” (“Martyrdom” from Oxford Islamic Studies Online). According to the article cited above, those martyrs would be rewarded after their deaths:

Unlike ordinary Muslims, after they die martyrs do not have to undergo the intimidating review of their deeds by the angels Munkar and Nakir. A martyr proceeds directly to the highest station in paradise, near the throne of God (“Martyrdom”).

I’m not trying to make an argument that the Muslims would have thrown a party when someone died from a plague as a martyr–for most of the time, death is the last thing to be wanted. But it was interesting for me to discover that some societies had different beliefs from others regarding deaths from a plague, and to imagine how readers from various cultural background might have reacted differently after reading this play. I hope those articles have provided you with some food for thought.

– Mina

Party, Party all Plague Long

A returning theme in our discussions is the power of disaster (of which disease may often be read as a subset). These instances cause the breaking of norms, the destruction of taboos in society, and ‘the creation’ of an increasingly liberal, and often unconventional space for people to live in. We began to explore these notions after the task of reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell during the summer vacation.

This pattern of celebration in the aftermath of distress returns in both the work of Pushkin A Feast during the Plague and John Wilson’s City of the Plague — which was the original text used by the Russian writer to ‘compose’ one of his Little Tragedies. In both works, a group of men and women set up a table on the street, thus creating their own microcosm (not dissimilar to Boccaccio’s Decameron). Through a huge feast, a gathering place is formed to remember one of their friends (Jackson) who was a victim of the Plague.

What is the underlying meaning and aim of feast in these texts? What is the significance of the plague being “our guest” at this feast? Why is the impact of diseases on society a recurring motif for literary pieces? What do feasts symbolize and teach us about human nature? How is this “party behaviour” manifested in today’s society (such as in issues like alcoholism)?

The purpose of the feast in these plays is explicitly stated in the song of the Chairman: the citizens are left with only one option — to fight the plague by remaining cheerful and living in the moment:

“That’s how we’ll meet the Plague’s attack!

We’ll light the fire and fill the cup

And pass it round — a merry scene!

And after we have all drunk up,

We’ll sing: all hail to thee, dread queen!” (p. 101)

It is apparent from this passage that the characters view their situation as absolutely hopeless, and in their panic are determined to ‘laugh’ in the face of the disease; to show a last act of defiance and stubbornness when all seems to be lost. The hymn in honor of the plague sung by the chairman, is also his own (human) way of mocking a devastating force that has unknown origins, and is beyond the human ability to comprehend (“Beyond our power to explain” p.101).

The use of consumption as a device is interesting in that, much like religion, by consuming as they are, they are contributing to a higher power: in this case GDP and economic growth instead of a spiritual existence and afterlife. Unintentionally creating a better world for those left behind (for those living in the world of Keynes), or perhaps creating a disaster ready to lurk in the shadows due to the over-consumption lead by the perception of ‘finite time’ (if you prefer your economics Austrian). Both can be analysed here: in Pushkin’s Russia, trade was starting to grow and capitalism was beginning to come onto the stage internationally. This allows us to consider how people react, as the mentalities are in flux. The people have not completed the transition. This is very much representative of Pushkin’s life, his grandfather having been a Serf who gained Aristocratic station for himself and successive generations of family before his death. This was almost unheard of until this period, as innovation was not seen as a requirement for success. During the era of Pushkin, the socio-economic landscape changed dramatically. Such a leap in ability and fortune in such a short time meant education had not kept up: the fatalistic mentality displayed within the text is testament to this.

What are the implications of this ironically fatalistic mentality? How can these characters respond to imminent death with such mirth and lightheartedness? What does this mean for us, in terms of the role of news and rumour during an epidemic?

It is also interesting that the little group identifies the disease as a female being: a queen who rules over her kingdom of suffering. This idea of the “female as a source of the curse” is in harmony with the play’s references to Greek or Roman mythology (for example, the group asks for a Bacchus song, who was the Roman God of agriculture and wine), and is probably inspired by tales such as the Pandora’s Box or Medusa, the complex of Jocasta’s blame. The personification of the plague is another noteworthy point. The mere possibility that she can “knock at our windows without cease…” creates a helpless feeling among the people, leaving them questioning what they should do.

Why is the plague personified as a woman? How does this compare with history? How do the readers perceive the notion that the plague is embodied? What parallels the qualities of femininity with the effects of the plague? How does this contrast the role and portrayal of women that was seen in our previous novel, Arthur Mervyn?

Moreover, the group’s gathering can be regarded as an ‘ultimate act of consumption’, since they do not only eat up their food, but in a way their life as well, by preparing themselves for the reception of death. Curiously, in the work of John Wilson the feast has a sexual connotation as well, since the priest, who attempts to remind the group of the codes of conduct they abandoned and defines them as blasphemous, calls the gathering an orgy. This can be taken as a term used to describe the ‘lack of restraint’, where desire has overtaken sense and it is true selfishness, despite not being at the deliberate expense of others. Food is often described as inherently sexual in that it is used as both a complement and substitute for such activity. However, this term could also be derived from ‘orgiastic’, which belies wildness, a lack of control, the death of restraint — not used to define a sexual connotation at all. The question appears, was this sexually more explicit term left out by Pushkin on purpose or was it simply lost through the process of translation?

When studying the underlying meanings of the feast, we must not forget about the religious implications it can carry. Is it possible that this last ritual of eating in the works of Wilson and Pushkin is a reference to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his apostles? If yes, then does their fate contain a hope of resurrection? Or are they going to be resurrected through their stories that lead to eternal remembrance, which; in fact, is implied in the first lines of the play:

“But he’s gone away

To a cold lodging underground…

Although that tongue of wondrous eloquence

Has not yet fallen silent in the grave” (p. 96)

We hope that we have provided enough topics to talk about in the upcoming days, and haven’t been too ambiguous for a Pushkin text. For vagueness is a trait of his works, leaving the reader yearning for a definite answer and simultaneously teaching us that we must be comfortable with the unknown: much like how his characters respond to the looming, unfamiliar world of death.

These short texts demonstrate a possible method of dealing with bad news and with disease. Rather than lamenting the tragedy, the characters use music and entertainment to lighten their hearts, practically mocking “this rude visitor the Plague” (Wilson, 44). Ultimately, just don’t take things too seriously, and remember to party orgiastically whilst you can!

Azmyra, Laura, Maisie and Sharon

Final Thoughts on Arthur Mervyn


Arthur Mervyn is undoubtedly filled with numerous events, experiences and circumstances that the reader can see has profound effects on the development of Arthur’s character in the novel. However, when looking closely at the types of plots that Charles Brocken Brown weaves into Arthur’s story, we can see that some are typical, template storylines that have been used over and over again in various types of literature. And so we arrive at the question: Is Arthur Mervyn a pure memoir or is it a drama, plagued with cliché storylines?

Two examples of how Brockden Brown has incorporated typical dramatic/ cliché storylines include the return of Welbeck from the dead and the revelation of Achsa’s feelings for Mervyn by Dr Stevens, due to the one-dimensional aspect of Mervyn’s character.

This notion of characters that were thought to have died, but return and are re-integrated in plotline is a dramatic device that has been used in numerous works of literature, and more recently, used in television and movies. The purpose of this device is not only to build tension in the story, and allow it to gain momentum. Brocken Brown uses this dramatic template when he re-integrates Welbeck into the story after he was thought to have died after falling overboard into the river when disposing of Watson’s body with Mervyn. His return is used almost as a shock tactic and creates a tense mood between Mervyn and Welbeck. Other examples of re-integration of characters who were thought to have died include that of Innogen and Posthumus in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Both characters at certain points of the play were thought to have died and the reunion of the two lovers can be seen here in the final scene of the play, when the guises of their deaths are revealed. Many apologies for the lack of videos or visual material!

Another dramatic template that we see used time and time again, especially currently in movies, television shows and songs, is the revelation of a character’s true feelings about another character by a third party. The use of this device can be linked to the fact that it seems to resolve mounting tension, and is somewhat of a cathartic experience for the characters. The use of this template in Arthur Mervyn is used when Dr Steven’s guides Arthur to understand that the woman he is in love with (Achsa), is as in love with him: “It is plain that you love this woman” (p.321).

Arthur fails to see this due to his one-dimensional thinking and lack of observatory ability such as that of Dr Stevens, and thus this truth has to be broken down for him.

Simi Roopra


Throughout both volumes the reader can observe how Arthur sees himself superior to the black slaves. Taking a historical glimpse of slavery in Pennsylvania, we see the law for gradual emancipation in pennsylvania being passed in 1780, thirteen years before the novel takes place. Why, then, were there still slaves in Arthur Mervyn’s times? This is related to the fact that this law actually only made the black slaves free after the black slave reached the age of 28.

1787 the Free African Society was created by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. The yellow fever serves as an opportunity for the black community to step up and make their way into society, as this short video explains:

To read more on the Free African Society check this link out.

Camila Viera


Last year, I was walking into a store’s parking lot with my friends. A female dog was on its back with its nipples straining, looking very much like she was about to give birth. I motioned to my friends (come look!)  and we are waiting for the dog to create and the next thing I see is Ritu on the ground because a bus narrowly missed her. I remember seeing her expertly dodging the bus with a crouched front roll (some other people also claim this happened) except that I could not possibly have witnessed it because my very first memory saw Ritu already away from the bus, on the ground. Arthur Mervyn is caught in a gust of intense experiences from the moment he enters the city so that it is almost difficult for his senses to accurately soak in everything. So he might be unconsciously filling the gaps with appropriate inferences, which is possibly what I did for the bus incident.

The peculiarity in the narrative intensifies proportional to the grip of the fever on Mervyn. Delusion as a consequence of the fever could also be making his senses more unreliable.

Another thing to consider here is narrative storytelling as opposed to documented memoirs. Narrative story telling generally tends to be intentionally weirder and consequently more memorable, allowing the listener to retell the story to let it have a long life span. If (and when) I tell the bus incident to my kids, I will definitely make it sound more fantastic. Considering that extended rhetoric makes up the entire text, I think it makes sense to view Arthur Mervyn’s story in context of oral storytelling.

PS: I never found out if the dog gave birth.


Sudikchya Shrestha


Searching the internet for information about Arthur Mervyn and the Yellow Fever, I found an interesting description of the plague in this novel, in Arthur Mervyn and the Apocalyptic Politics of Contamination.

Looking through old posts, I discovered some useful information about the Yellow Fever in 1793 on Harvard University’s portal on historical views of diseases and epidemics. Also if you want to take a look at the Arthur Mervyn’s city and hear some interesting facts about the outbreak of 1793 you can watch Philadelphia: the Great Experiment.

Finally, Fever: 1793 – Anatomy of An Epidemic presents the slaves from the Caribbean as responsible for bringing the disease in Philadelphia.

Silviu Marian Udrescu






Jane Austen, meet Arthur Mervyn

If anyone here is a Jane Austen fan, you may want to think about the fact that Brown’s Arthur Mervyn and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are separated by roughly a dozen years. I’ve written here before about ties between these two novels — and on the special consideration novels in general give to questions of love, marriage, and property — though coming soon, we may also have to consider additional connections between Austen and our course material