Close Reading

"Whilst he slumbered, he [Richard] dreamed that he saw a young man, blooming and innocent in his appearance, standing near the open portals of an immense garden, in which were beautiful beds of gay and fragrant flowers; and bowers, and arbours, and recesses, and running streams, and bubbling fountains; and the intersecting paths were strewed with pinks and roses, and scented with a thousand inviting perfumes. The young man stood, looking on with a wistful eye, desirous of entering; but the price was more than he could afford to pay. The genius of the garden appeared to step up to him, and exciting his desire by enlarging on the beauties of the scene, told him that he could enter, if he would suffer a small black line to be drawn across his forehead, and might amuse himself for one quarter of an hour. So ardently did he long to gain admittance, that he submitted to the mark, although he was conscious that it would stigmatize him" (47).

Perhaps the anonymous author of Rosa bleeds into the character of Richard throughout the story. The sense of yearning in this selected passage is unmistakable; Richard’s symbolic dream becomes a way for the author to express an ongoing condition that he or she struggles with. Since this final project is centered on the keyword “metanarrative,” I choose to imagine this condition as that of a reticent, yet ever determined writer. The reader must pull back layer after layer---that is, begin with the narrator; move to Richard; dive into Richard’s subconscious; and finally land at the man, “innocent and blooming in his appearance,” who may or may not resemble Richard---in order to detect the battle cries, if you will, that originate in a dimly lit lair of the early nineteenth century and still echo in the literary world, even today.

The scene is woven with arresting imagery: “beautiful beds of gay and fragrant flowers,” “bubbling fountains,” and “a thousand inviting perfumes” are only a few instances of this. Of course the garden must be enchanting and reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. After all, it is the realm in which bright minds wander, observe, receive inspiration, gather together in soundless harmony, and write. There is something both intoxicating and excruciating about writing, about that act of piecing together the elements of one’s inner world and one’s external landscape to form a creature of writing whose heart is, at the end of the day, a gift to culture, to society. The dreamlike details of this passage lead readers to question the garden’s true beauty. What lies beneath the surface? Could this all be but an illusion, a mirage, an impenetrable kingdom on the cusp of shattering?

At first glance, this garden could be seen as the body of literary traditions established by England. Such high-sounding pieces of writing as sonnets are mesmerizing, yet fragile and, in some cases, superficial. The poet must bury his or her true sentiments in order to abide by a rigid structure; the garden operates similarly, with its twisting and mutilation of the wild in the name of ideal lushness. However, since femininity abounds---the reference to roses is an unmistakable hint---I cannot help but arrive at the conclusion that men are not the usual inhabitants; rather, women help to form a territory that exists in the fuzzy, often unacknowledged space between heaven and earth. In truth, “the genius” could be a woman, defending the only territory that females easily inhabit when it comes to writing and getting published: reflecting on education, moralizing, and always remaining polite and dainty. Hidden with the published blossoms of women’s literature are untamed narratives. The young man, with his “wistful” gazing, wishes to be among such society, yet simply because he is a man, he must consider and attempt to transcend a number of barriers. What is the best solution? Anonymity.

Although the man in Richard’s dream, whom I consider to be a ghostly form of the anonymous author, accepts his “small black line” and the stigma in general in order to experience the pleasures of the garden, there is a sense of incompleteness; “one quarter of an hour” is never going to satiate such a roaring hunger hunger. Perhaps the marking is symbolic of a revealed identity or sexuality; a man would be tormented relentlessly, and a woman would probably not even be believed. In any case, this passage boils down to a human being’s complex relationship with language and writing. The author dips into the garden now and again, but is ultimately, due to his or her anonymity, free to ricochet between traditions and, as a result, establish an entirely new tradition. Rosa is clearly a metanarrative based on this revelation that the garden---whatever this means to each unique writer---is not necessarily the center of literary liberation and that writing is instead about wandering everywhere and reflecting on the sentiments experiences throughout the messy voyages.

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Below is a moment of intertextuality. Clearly, the author is making a bold statement---the word "trifle" is a definite hint---about the abundance of outlets and opportunities in the world of publishing; works of writing join the scene so rapidly that certain forms become quickly hackneyed. However, even with the satire, the author's journey as a writer himself or herself is evident in the darkness of this poem. Perhaps using the seemingly over-dramatic form of a rhyming poem in this unique, layered way---that is, embedding it in another form---allows new meaning to emerge. (Please see the "Found Poetry" section of this website in order to learn more about how new meaning can be created by recycling language, texts, and so forth.)

"In the interval, he amused himself with visiting every thing that was remarkable and to which he could get access in the place. On some occasions he diverted the tediousness of his hours by writing brief essays upon popular topics, some of which he sent to the press, and was pleased to see that they were generally published. Among other productions of his fancy, the following trifle was sent for insertion to one of the leading prints of Boston

Bright as the lucid solar ray,  
Hope cheer’d me on my weary way:  
Chanc’d I to halt?  
Chanc’d I to faint?  
Hope beckon’d like a soothing saint.  
If Poverty my march opposed,  
Hope fairer prospects still disclos’d.  
Did Danger threat? Misfortune stare?  
I looked beyond, and 
Hope was there.  
But late I reach’d the distant goal,  
Where Hope had promised for my soul  
Sweet Peace and Comfort, 
Joy and Ease,  
With every good the bean to please:  
But Hope, the traitress! was not there;  
She left me—victim of Despair:  
And where before she led the way,  
With graceful smiles in bright array,  
A head, with deadly serpents twin’d,  
Appall’d my sight, and struck me blind.  
No pleasing visions meet my sight,  
My path is dark; and all is night" (56). 

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