Wednesday, April 19, 2006


On Beauty

Feel free to talk about any aspect of the ending of On Beauty that interests you or to compare/contrast Smith's ending with those of our previous novels. The only requirement is that you use quotes and specific details to make your case. If you need a prompt to get started, here are two to choose from.
You might consider our Big Question in class: What is beauty OR who or what is beautiful by the end of the novel? One way of looking at this would be to check out images of the two paintings central to the close of the novel's action, Rembrandt's "Hendrickje bathing" (the painting about which Howard is to give his tenure lecture) and Hippolyte's "Maitresse Erzulie" (the painting Carlene leaves Kiki). You can find images of both these paintings (as well as others mentioned in the novel) here:
We have discussed the parallels between Margaret Schlegel and Kiki Belsey. But those veterans of Middlemarch might want to consider an earlier literary ancestor for Kiki: Dorothea Brooke. Go back and look at Kiki's reflections of her life on p. 424 of the novel, when she thinks "she had not become Malcolm X's private secretary...". Then look at Eliot's final description of Dorothea's life: "Certainly those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. They were the mixed result of young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion" (514). Is Kiki Belsey best understood as a Victorian heroine?

Apologies, class, for getting this prompt up a bit late. I was trying to be all hi-tech and get the images onto the actual site and ran afoul both of my own incompetence and intellectual property issues (my husband is an IP lawyer and so I am sensitized to these things). But it is up now, so jump on it!
Here's another little question to get you started: why is it significant that Kiki leaves Howard the house (rather than kicks him out) when they are separated? When you think about how Mr. Biswas's whole life was organized around getting the house, what does it mean that it becomes Howard's punishment?
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