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The Romantic Heart in the Modern Age of Literature

In: English and Literature

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The Romantic Heart
Christina Jones
Debora Aubuchon

The Romantic Heart Emotion plays a large part in our lives, no matter what time period we live in. Emotion has fueled literary masterpieces from Ancient to modern times. Shakespeare wrote of love, anger and revenge and Jonathan Swift wrote of what is behind the curtain of love. As you read on you will encounter three literary works and see the part that emotion plays into them and how these pieces are influenced by the many authors who came before them. Jonathan Swift’s poem entitled, The Lady’s Dressing Room tells the story of Strephon, who takes a peek into his love, Celia’s, dressing room. Strephon is appalled by what he finds. In the beginning Strephon refers to Celia as a Goddess, “The Goddess from her Chamber issues,
Array'd in Lace, Brocades and Tissues.” (Swift, 1732/2008, pp. 1994). However, as the poem continues Swift makes it clear that Strephon no longer feels this way by writing, “But swears how damnably the Men lie, In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.” (1732/2008, pp.1994). The Lady’s Dressing Room explores and tries to explain the private relationship between male and female. This literary masterpiece digs deep into the core of what is beneath just outside attraction or lust. True love is more than what is just on the surface. True love is when you can love both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. Swift’s poem is filled with many emotions. The character, Strephon, moves from showing adoration, to shock and later to disgust. Poetry or verse form is used to express deep emotions. Common topics for poetry are love and nature. Swift’s poem is satirical and instead of talking about beauty Swift writes of things that are unsettling. The Lady’s Dressing Room writes about how we are all, at our core, the opposite of beauty or what society claims that beauty is. This piece uses powerful phrases and words to send the message that the human race can try what they may but in the end we will all fail at being anything but a being who has bodily functions and cannot obtain the world’s or man’s idea of beauty at all times. The Lady’s Dressing Room speaks of beauty and love the opposite of how Shakespeare does in his Sonnets. “From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s rose might never die.” (Shakespeare, 1609/2008, pp. 1497). Shakespeare speaks of how the fairest or most people humans need to procreate in order to maintain beauty in the world. Swift takes this belief, that there are beautiful creatures, and smashes it by stating that underneath us all, there is ugliness. According to Swift, there is no innate beauty in the human race. “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau is in complete contrast with how Jonathan Swift speaks of love and beauty. “Walden” tells the story of Henry David Thoreau’s time in Walden and his views on how important nature is and how lovely it is. “Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wilderness..." (Thoreau, 1854/2008, p. 2177). Thoreau believed that nature was beautiful and lovely. There was nothing ugly about it. Thoreau speaks of lovely things, while Swift shows the darker, more disturbing side. Emotions play an important part in Thoreau’s story of “Walden.” Thoreau writes about practical life advice but he also writes about his love affair with nature and how he finds himself and reflects on what is important. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Thoreau, 1854/2008, p. 2177). This is solely emotional. Thoreau spends his time in Walden contemplating his emotions, all of them in their entirety, and thinking about what they mean to him. Thoreau’s “Walden” seems to take similar form to Montaigne’s essays. I use this comparison because Montaigne’s essays were reflections and stories about his life and all of his experiences. In the same manner, Thoreau is writing about his time in Walden and sharing his reflections and advice with the readers. Both Montaigne’s and Thoreau’s audiences can learn from the stories and pieces that they have written. Similarly, Leo Tolstoy’s literary classic, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” involves strong emotions like love and the lack thereof. In the beginning of the story Praskovya, Ivan’s wife, has a conversation with his friend, Peter. She begins asking him questions “namely, to question him as to how she could obtain a grant of money from the government on the occasion of her husband's death. She made it appear that she was asking Peter Ivanovich's advice about her pension, but he soon saw that she already knew about that to the minutest detail.” (Tolstoy, 1886/2008, pp. 2308). This paragraph makes it very clear that Praskovya does not truly love or care for her husband, Ivan. There are several more instances where the characters show little to no grief for Ivan’s passing. The human’s capacity for love and compassion is explored throughout this story. Like Thoreau states in Walden, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Ivan and the other characters throughout this piece live a life that is shallow and seeking more. (Thoreau, 1854/2008, p. 2177). The characters struggle with several emotions: love, fear, and being alone. “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” shows the more unpleasant and darker side to the human race, like Jonathan Swift’s The Lady’s Dressing Room. Tolstoy’s story seems to build off of a similar theme behind Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” That particular story, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” writes about a young man whose life is spared and in return his is forced to marry an unattractive old woman. The young man is so shallow that he is miserable and cannot even be thankful that he life is spared. In the same manner, the characters from “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” are just as shallow. The same themes and emotions can be found repeated throughout many stories over many years. The Lady’s Dressing Room, “Walden” and “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” are all filled with human emotions but are each displayed in different manners. All of the authors have similarities from those of the past and it is evident that they have been influenced by several other pieces. The present builds off of history and this is never more evident than in literature.

Damrosch, D., Alliston, A., Brown, M., duBois, P., Hafez, S., Heise, U. K., et al. (2008). The longman anthology of world literature: Compact edition. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.…...

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