September 21, 2020

Vampirism and literary ‘crimes’ at Close Reading

Professor Larry McCauley dissected Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘In the Artist’s Studio’ for the Close Reading on Thursday Nov. 12. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Assistant)
Professor Larry McCauley dissected Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘In the Artist’s Studio’ for the Close Reading on Thursday Nov. 12. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Assistant)

Professor Larry McCauley began his poetic interpretation with an apology.

“I apologize in advance,” the professor of English said, “for the crimes of interpretation I shall commit during my first analysis of this poem.”

He cited pathetic fallacy and the use of biological references as his offenses, claiming that although he is ardently opposed to students’ use of them, he felt they were necessary to a full understanding of the poem.

“Also, I will make repeated attempts to mitigate my interpretive crimes,” the he said with a smile.

However, McCauley’s “crimes” proved no obstacle to appreciating his comprehensive analysis of Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Artist’s Studio.” McCauley discussed the poem before 50 members of the staff and student body in the final close reading of the year on Thursday Nov. 12 in the Building Business Lounge.

McCauley discussed the sonnet’s use of ambiguity, the tension between singularity and multiplicity, and fragmentation during the course of the reading.

He focused on the poem’s overarching theme of the woman as an object whose life was sucked from her by the painter’s overbearing gaze.

Though the subject he discussed was weighty, he delighted the audience with flashes of tongue-in-cheek wit that kept the mood buoyant.

Discussing the punctuation in the poem, McCauley referred to the seventh line of the sonnet.

“A saint, an angel; – ” the line begins.

“Then we have that semicolon dash,” McCauley said. “A common Victorian emoticon.”

McCauley also discussed themes of vampirism, chauvinism and struggle for power, themes that students found intriguing and worth closer inspection.

“His connection to vampirism was interesting,” said Meredith Jeffries, freshman English and deaf education major. “I wouldn’t have seen that on the first read-through.”

After the reading, McCauley fielded a number of insightful questions from both students and professors. The questions ranged from further biographical inquiry to conjectures on the use of metaphor, word choice, and poetic technique.

The questions also drew out a number of literary comparisons to “In the Artist’s Studio.” Simona Wright, professor of the modern languages and international studies departments, compared the poem to works of Dante. David Venturo of the English department compared the work to John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.”

Students were impressed by McCauley’s in-depth analysis of the poem.

“I thought McCauley had an insightful and intriguing interpretation of the poem,” said Andy Gallagher, freshman English and secondary education major. “He also added humorous aspects to his lecture to lighten the mood.”

For his part, McCauley atoned for the interpretive crimes he confessed at the onset of the close reading by presenting a clear and technically correct analysis of the poem.

Those members of the audience who weren’t won over by the jargon assisted interpretation were charmed, as Gallagher was, by the professor’s humor.

When discussing an aptly placed colon in one of the final lines of the sonnet he suggested was there to recall a vampire bite’s puncture marks, McCauley referred back to his crack about computer lingo in the 1800s.

“I wasn’t serious about the Victorian emoticon,” he said, “but I’m serious about this. We’re close reading here.”

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