Professor McNeil 
English 322 
Spring 2011
Due: beginning of class, 
January 27-February 24
First Response Assignment
Assignment: Please address one of the following questions clearly and concisely, focusing your discussion on a single theme or idea (at least 2 typed, double-spaced pages total).

January 27: Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
1. Burke’s summarizes his critique of the French Revolution by describing it as "unnatural." He also seems to set up his own English society as the "natural" (good) antithesis of French society.  What is so wrong with the French Revolution? What are some of the elements that he describes as "contemptuous," "shameful," and "monstrous"? Why is English society such an admirable alternative? Why does Burke place so much importance on the past? Compare/contrast the elements that Burke describes as so "unnatural" in revolutionary France with those he finds exemplary (naturally) in England.

February 1: Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Burke devotes much of his description of France to an account of the plight of Marie Antoinette and her family. He seems to want his reader to sympathize with the imprisoned queen of France. Why? Why is Marie Antoinette an important figure for Burke? What sort of woman is she to him? What does she symbolize? How does a description of her fate reveal the true horrors of revolution, according to Burke? Discuss the story of Marie Antoinette and its significance for Burke’s critique of revolution.

February 3: Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man
Though Burke often alludes to the past positively, Paine seems to envision the past as nothing more than a vessel of corruption and tyranny. What exactly does Paine find so wrong in France’s past? How does he characterize French society before the Revolution? If Paine rejects the values of the past, then where does he find the values of the future? Where are the ideals of a society found if not in its past, according to Paine? Compare/contrast Paine’s description of France’s past with his recommendations for its future.

February 8: Mary Wolstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men
Wolstonecraft focuses her rebuttal to Burke on attacking the rich and aristocratic elite of Britain.  What's so wrong with the rich?  Why does she criticize the practice of giving alms to the poor? Why are the poor not grateful for alms in the long term? What alternative to alms-giving does Wolstonecraft offer? does she have practical realistic advice for ameliorating the plight of the poor? Discuss Wolstonecraft's characterization and critique of the attitudes of the rich toward the poor.

February 10:  William Wordsworth The Prelude, Books First, Ninth, Tenth
In Books Ninth and Tenth of the Prelude, Wordsworth describes his stay in France during the Revolution and his eventual return to England. In the early parts of Book Ninth, he seems an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution, but then a succession of events that he witnesses begin to turn his mind against the ideals the Revolution by Book Tenth. He even seems to suffer an emotional breakdown in Book Tenth.  What exactly does he see that disturb him so? What happens to his emotional state upon his return to England. How is his mind and spirit begin to be restored by the end of Book Tenth?  Discuss Wordsworth’s experience of the French Revolution and the events that turned him away and cast doubt in his own mind on the ideals of the Revolution.

February 15: Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey" (pick one)
1. "Tintern Abbey" is arguably about the particular value of a landscape to a single individual. The value if the land in "Tintern Abbey" is not economic but something more akin to spiritual. What is the "use-value" of the landscape that Wordsworth describes? Does Wordsworth derive anything from the landscape beyond its "beauty"? What are some of the landscape elements that Wordsworth prizes so highly? What is his personal relationship to the land (eg., does he own the land? Know the owner of the land?) Why is it important to Wordsworth that he’s been to the spot before? What is the relationship between past and present in the poem? What exactly does Wordsworth derive from viewing the landscape near Tintern Abbey? Discuss the image of the landscape and the nature of its "value" to Wordsworth in "Tintern Abbey."

2. At the end of the poem, Wordsworth suddenly introduces the subject of his sister, Dorothy, who is not actually present as the poet describes his setting. Why bring up Dorothy? What is the connection between the value produced by the landscape (whatever you think this is) and Wordsworth’s thoughts on Dorothy? How do his own personal feelings about the landscape link with his feelings about Dorothy? What sort of relationship do they share besides one of brother and sister?  Discuss Dorothy and her relationship to the landscape, and to the thoughts of the poet.

February 17: Landscape Art and the Picturesque Edmund Burke and William Gilpin, essays on art and painting, 499-505
Both Burke's and Gilpin's ideas focus on the act of seeing and the impression that certain scenes produce in the mind. Though Burke's and Gilpin's ideas are similar they also differ in many respects. How does Burke differentiate between the Sublime and the Beautiful? How do Burke's ideas of the Beautiful differ from Gilpin's? How do Gilpin's ideas on the sublime differ from Burke's? What makes a landscape view "picturesque" according to Gilpin? What pleasure do we derive from picturesque landscapes? If the sublime is linked to feelings of pain, terror, and astonishment for Burke, how could it ever provide pleasure? Compare/contrast Burke's and Gilpin's ideas on the Sublime, the Beautiful, and/or the Picturesque.

February 24:  Wordsworth, "The Old Cumberland Beggar"
Wordsworth, in his description of a homeless beggar that he had seen around since childhood, seems arguably quite sympathetic to the plight of the poor and downtrodden.  He seems to be responding to "statesmen" who would deem the beggar "useless," and a burden to society.  What use then does the beggar have to Wordsworth or to the community in general?  What value does the beggar bring to the local people?  Doesn't a beggar just take and not give?  Why does Wordsworth insist the community keep the beggar around "as long as he can wander"?  What is Wordsworth's plan (if any) for the poor of Britain?  Describe the "value" of the beggar to Wordsworth and the community in which they both live.