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TSE  July 2005

TSE July 2005

Subject:

Re: Tiresias's status as "character"?--was CHARACTER--STANDARD DEFINITION

From:

Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 25 Jul 2005 14:06:51 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (66 lines)

I gave mine in a previous post.
Peter

Nancy Gish wrote:

>Unlike Stetson or Lil or the man and woman in the dressing room or the young man carbuncular or the typist, Tiresias does not "exist" in London.  (Even Stetson, of course, has an odd double form of existence, being apparently someone on the street and someone from an ancient war.  There are many mixed forms of presence/existence in the poem, and Tiresias is apparently the "most important" one in Eliot's view. But there are also ordinary characters like Lil in the sense of actual persons in London [this scene was apparently even based on actual speech reported to Tom and Viv by Ellen Kellen].) Tiresias is a character in Greek drama and myth, not one in London in 1914-21.  So in that sense he is not like the "characters" who people the city as actual persons one might meet in a pub or on a street or at a séance.  He is, however, lifelike and a very important presence--in both senses a "personage"--and is present in a mythic sense.  But in the sense of the others as "characters," he is not ""there" as a physical person in London in that time.  It would not be possible--in any sense--to meet him in a pub or for lunch or in any way.  He is watching the couple copulate, but they of course do not seem to notice:  he is not there as a physical presence despite his statement that he has "foresuffered all."  
>
>But in the standard definitions of "character," he IS one by virtue of the fact of being a representation of a person in a literary work.  So Eliot is making a definition "for the purpose of this poem."
>
>That is just one way to explain the possible distinction--at least it is a description of what is there and may explain the different words.  I would be very interested in other wayss of dealing with it.
>Nancy
>
>  
>
>>>>[log in to unmask] 07/25/05 3:44 PM >>>
>>>>        
>>>>
>So what MIGHT Eliot mean, then, when he says Tiresias is "not indeed a 
>'character'"?
>
>Peter
>
>Nancy Gish wrote:
>
>  
>
>>The quotation below is from Holman and Harmon, _A Handbook to Literature_, 6th ed., a standard text that identifies critical terms and new critical categories, among others.  Note that the terms are used, as in my text, in concert.  It is not at all a matter of confusing anything or of shifting terms but of using language that points to many aspects of what is called "character."  The whole idea of "personality" is very complex.  The article I contributed to Cassandra's and my _T. S. Eliot and Gender, Desire, and Sexuality_ is focused on personality and Eliot's representation of it.
>>*****************************************
>>
>>Hibbard and Holman on "character" and "characterization" in literature:
>>
>>"CHARACTER:  A complicated term that includes the idea of the moral constitution of the human personality (Aristotle's sense of ethos), the presence of moral uprightness, and the simpler notion of the presence of creatures in art that seem to be human beings of one sort or another. . . .CHARACTER is also a term applied to a literary form that flourished in England and France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centures.  It is a brief descriptive SKETCH of a personage who typifies some definite quality.
>>
>>CHARACTERIZATION:  The creation of imaginary persons so that they seem lifelike.  There are three fundamental methods of characterization: (1) the explicit presentation by the author of the character through direct EXPOSITION, either in an introductory block of the character in action, with little or no explicit comment by the author; (2) the presentation of the character in action, with little or no explicit comment by the author, in the expectation that the reader can deduce the attributes of the actor from the actions; and (3) the representation from within a CHARACTER, without comment by the author, of the impact of actions and emotions on the character's inner self.
>>    Regardless of the method by which a character is presented, the author may concentrate on a dominant trait to the exclusion of other aspects of personality, or the author may attempt to present a fully rounded creation.  If the presentation of a single dominant trait is carried to an extreme, not a believable character but a caricature will result. If this method is handled with skill, it can produce striking and interesting two-dimensional characters that lack depth.  Mr. Micawber in _David Copperfield_ comes close to being such a two-dimensional character through the emphasis that Dickens puts on a very small group of characteristics.  Sometimes such characters are given descriptive names, such as Mr. Hammerdown, the auctioneer in _Vanity Fair_.  On the other hand, the author may present so convincing a congeries of personality traits that a complex rather than a simple character emerges; such a character is three-dimensional or, in E. M. Forster's term, "ROUND."   T!
>>    
>>
> he fascination of Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe, for example, lies partly in her "divided mind" that involves a dialectical tension between impulses so virtuous as to seem angelic and normal erotic impulses.  Shaw's Saint Joan combines nearly irreconcilable components of two antithetical types:  the ingénue and the MILES GLORIOSUS.  Sometimes just a title, such as _Lord Jim_, can reflect such a contradiction or anomaly.  (F. Scott Fitzgerald observed that a writer who sets out to create an individual may create a type at the same time, but one who sets out to create a type will create nothing.)  Some human creatures portrayed in literature are hardly distinct characters at all but mere properties or furnishings; on the other hand, some nonhuman entities, such as animals, machines, houses, and cities, may function fully as characters.  London in Eliot's The Waste Land and various great rivers in Mark Twain's _Huckleberry Finn_ and Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_.
>  
>
>>    Furthermore, a character may be either STATIC or DYNAMIC.  A static character is one who changes little if at all.  Things happen TO such a character without things happening WITHIN.  The pattern of action reveals the character rather than showing the character changing in response to the actions.  Sometimes a static character gives the appearance of changing simply because our picture of the character is revealed bit by bit; this is true of Uncle Toby in _Tristram Shandy_, who does not change, although our view of him steadily changes.  A dynamic character, on the other hand, is one who is modified by actions and experiences, and one objective of the work in which the character appears is to reveal the consequences of these actions."
>>***********************************
>>
>>I think "figure" is missing, though I already gave the OED for that.  But "personality," "personage," "caricature," "personality traits," "ROUND," "DYNAMIC," "STATIC," actions and views of others and no views of others and no action and complex and simple and more all seem built into this very complicated idea and are used together.
>>
>>I have never read any discussion of "character" that limits it to one concept or that treats these terms as isolated.  So I would say that if Tiresias is a "personage," we still need to decide if that means he is a 17th or 18th C type or just a very important person who happens not to be a literal citizen of London or, indeed, what kind of CHARACTER he can be considered. He is, I would think, static and--here but not in, say, Sophocles, not very ROUND, but he is certainly an "imaginary person" who does seem lifelike.  Whether    he is a caricature may be debated, since he has few traits in TWL.  The woman in the pub is two-dimensional and static but vividly lifelike, and the recurring narrator,  is very ROUND, known from within and without, not--apparently--a "personage," and possibly or possibly not DYNAMIC.
>>
>>They are all CHARACTERS.
>>
>>
>> 
>>
>>    
>>
>
>
>
>  
>



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