The Age of Realism—Art History

Romanticism, 1750–1850, did not die out completely yet tinkered off, while artists continued to pursue romantics ways of viewing the world into the twentieth century. By 1830, there was a rise of a new movement of nineteenth century Realism, which called into question the over-emphasis of passions, irrationality, and subjectivity of the Romantics. Realists wanted a return to an objective framework that was more empirical and systematic, which followed philosopher Comte’s positivism of “promot[ing] science as the mind’s highest achievement and advocate[ing] a purely empirical approach to nature and society” (798).

Realism was characterized by the need to be current, dealing with contemporary issues and social realities of the day. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, spreading throughout the continent, and social relations were different. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels was published in 1848. This writing showed the history of class struggle and how those who controlled the means of production—the bourgeoisie—therefore controlled those who worked—the proletariat. Recognizing the reality for the average human became bleak: “man is compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind” (1331). Ultimately, realism raised the idea of modernity, changing how artists saw the world and their own art.

Landseer’s The Stone Breaker and His Daughter represents the view of academic realism or appealing to the pallet of the bourgeoisie.

The Stone Breaker and His Daughter (image from here)

The viewer has access to the faces. Here a father is relaxed and resting, while a daughter brings lunch to him of wine, fruit, and bread. Their dress is nice with differing colors. The lighting is brighter and beautiful, picturesque even. The setting shows more of the sky and natural world. This social environment of happy peasants is not the alienation that Marx would suggest. The vision of the working class life here is one that the middle class, wishing after the simpler life, would be comfortable seeing—thus romanticizing realism.

In contrast to academic realism, Courbet’s The Stonebreakers (c. 1849) suggests avant-garde realism, where the artist advances the cause of art, perhaps at the risk of sacrificing fame and fortune. The canvas here is less beautiful, murky, and monochromatic. The quality is dull, and the finish is matte. Because of the loose brushstrokes, the composition seems rough and has a sense of randomness. This painting was shown in the Salon 1848, one year after expelling King Louis Phillip and the agitation of the proletariat. The museum-goers, the bourgeoisie, were confronted with their material existence and forced to look at individuals and their harsh realities. These figures were from the Paris countryside, repairing the roads, and “By juxtaposing youth and age, Courbet suggested that those born to poverty remain poor their entire lives” (798). This work was extremely menial, but the artist seems to give needed dignity back to the individuals. Without any idealization, realism is seen here by the terse figures wearing torn clothing, revealing dirty skin, and having shoes in a wretched state. Work here is not beautifully idyllic. There is little blue sky, almost used purely to taunt the figures. Additionally, the figures faces are hidden—could they be plotting? By pushing the figures to the front of the picture plane, the viewers have to look and confront the figures with their sense of reality. Realist art, therefore, was used to attempt to change society.

The Stonebreakers (image from here)

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who “refused to be limited to the contemporary scenes strict Realists portrayed” (809), was a group of artists who were unhappy with the art being painted at this time and thought that art did not seem true, sincere, or real. They rebelled against the academy by looking at art made prior to Raphael. Yet Millias’s art seemed to still follow traces of Realism: “So painstakingly careful was Millias in his study of visual facts closely observed from nature that Charles Baudelaire . . . called him ‘the poet of meticulous detail’” (809).

Millias’s Christ in the House of His Parents (c. 1848) reveals realism as the truth the artist wants to get to. The models did not come from the academy but from the streets. Dickens’s scathing review criticized that the scene was too real, too naturalistic, veering toward sacrilegious. The hair color of Christ and Mary is auburn, which would appeal to the redheads of the British audience. This would create greater accessibility, making it more real for the audience to connect with the paintings.

Christ in the House of His Parents (image from here)

Advances in science and technology changed society as well as art. The reality of science, including Darwin’s evidence of natural selection, evolution, and the idea that “[m]an still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin” (1322), shook many people’s faith.

Charles Darwin (image from here)

Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in London, England (c. 1850–51) looks like a modern cathedral yet an ode to science. It was built in only six months but used so much glass it literally glowed in the sunlight. The exterior had classical elements: “The plan borrowed much from ancient Roman and Christian basilicas, with a central flat-roofed ‘nave’ and a barrel-vaulted crossing ‘transept’” (813). The visitor was brought through the central nave or passage, and the actual movement of going down the center. It was a place where people go to see and to be seen. Here this new building suggested the new reality, showing what people worshiped now and what they prayed to, sought after, and found inspiration in all kinds of modern equipment. The Crystal Palace became the spectacle of modernity or modern experience.

Crystal Palace (image from here)

Rosa Bonheur’s Plowing in the Nivernais (c. 1849) depicts another example of realism according to how the bourgeoisie would have liked. Bonheur was the best-celebrated, nineteenth-century French artist, and “[a] Realist passion for accuracy in painting drove Bonheur, but she resisted depicting problematic social and political situations seen in the work of Courbet, Millet, Daumier, and other Realists” (803). Her art was seen as commemorating France. No flies, sweat, or manure are shown here, but rather it is a very sanitized representation of plowing. The earth is rich and realistically painted. The eyes of the animals gaze directly out to the viewer. The land and animals she painted celebrate all that is beautiful and good in life as well as French national identity.

Plowing in the Nivernais (image from here)

The lure of order, reason, and categorization in art continued into the 1870s. This time was a critical moment of formation of self, identity, economic sources, and nations. Later, realism would transfer into an emphasis on nationalism that would change the world after the “War to End all Wars” would occur.

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Romanticism & Art History

Romanticism is “a shift in emphasis from reason to feeling, from calculation to intuition, and from objective nature to subjective emotion” (Gardner 784), thus indicating a distinct transition from Neoclassicism. Rousseau’s claim that “‘Man is born free but is everywhere in chains!’—the opening line of his Social Contract (1762)—summarizes a fundamental Romantic premise” (784).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (image from here)

Romanticism reflected an attitude, desiring “freedom of thought, of feeling, of action, of worship, of speech, and of taste” (784). Romanticism encompasses several concepts, including nostalgia, Gothic, and exotic. Edmund Burke’s discussion celebrates not the mechanical laws of nature but the mystical, spiritual ways of the natural world.

The rhetoric of seeing the artist as a misunderstood genius began during this time. Escapists went back to the medieval past, valuing the primitive and attempting to get to a Golden Age. There were various national schools (German, Spanish, French, and English) that depicted this revolutionary era of Romanticism.

SPAIN

Spanish artist Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters comes from a series called Los Caprichos, revealing Goya’s “considerable thought about the Enlightenment and the Neoclassical penchant for rationality order” (786) transitioning into Romantic tendencies. Goya is committed to the Romantic spirit of “the unleashing of imagination, emotions, and even nightmares” (786). This print is an etching and aquatint created in 1789. The bended, sleeping figure is a depiction of Goya, where owls (symbolizing folly) and bats (symbolizing ignorance) flock over him. These creatures are menacing and threatening upon the slumbering dreams of the artist.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (image from here)

But Goya’s paintings often show tension or troubling images the artist struggled with internally. Saturn Devouring One of His Children is a fresco Goya painted onto the walls of his home, which were for the artist’s eyes alone and not for any paying patron, thus revealing the emotional carnage of the artist. Goya was going through a personal crisis and health issues, and he lacked faith in humanity, which is reflected in the brutality of the fresco. The bulging eyes scream out to the viewer of anguish, and the thickness of the paint is like tare coming out, which emphasizes the blackness surrounding the emaciated Saturn that seems to engulf almost everything it touches—a living world of nightmares.

Saturn Devouring One of His Children (image from here)

FRANCE

French artist Ingres’s Grande Odalisque shows a “rather strange mixture of artistic allegiances – the combination of precise classical form and Romantic themes” (783). Ingres follows the tradition of the reclining nude, yet “by converting the figure to an odalisque (woman in a Turkish harem, the artist made a strong concession to the contemporary Romantic taste for the exotic” (783). Critics complained the way Ingres painted the nude body, which seemed to lack tone and had a strange flatness about her. Her foreshortened leg and elongation of the back makes the Turkish concubine appear odd. The peacock feathers, the animal skin, the beautiful clasp, the turban, the hookah pipes all suggest an exotic space, a favorite subject for Romantics.

Grande Odalisque (image from here)

ENGLAND

English artist Constable’s The Hay Wain depicts nostalgia. The Industrial Revolution enabled hoards of people moved to cities, increasing the flux of people in a concentrated area. Constable’s work celebrates works and the disappearing landscape. The cottage is unassuming, needing some repairs, yet it is warm and cozy with curling smoke. This picturesque painting shows English value of land, showing the artist’s desire to keep some spaces sacred and out of the hands of industrialists.

The Hay Wain (image from here)

GERMANY

German artist Friedrich’s Abbey in the Oak Forest, 1810, reveals “The reverential mood of this winter scene with the ruins of a Gothic church and cemetery demands the silence appropriate to sacred places” (794). Friedrich, “a master of the Romantic transcendental landscape” (794), painted during a dark time that the Germans were experience occupation by Napoleon. In this bleak moment of the grave-like, dead of winter, the fog is just about the lift along with the rising of the sun. It is as if the dark hour of winter is over, and the season of spring, the promise of regeneration and hope, is on its way at last.

The use of the Gothic abbey in ruins harkens back to another age and time. The similitude of the natural world and the man-made engagement is suggested in the paralleling tracery of the windows where the stain glass has gone out in conjunction with the similar branches and smaller limbs coming out to create graceful patterns, suggesting a continuum between man and nature. Rather than political, Friedrich’s art is more contemplative, considering the inner world and our subjectivity.

Abbey in the Oak Forrest (image from here)

Age of Enlightenment and Revolution—Art History

Art produced in seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century was mobilized for political purposes. Royalty and revolutionaries used art as a means of solidifying their power. Anthony van Dyck specialized in court portraiture. International painters copied the artist’s refined style; other painters reflected his style well into the nineteenth century (Gardner 678-9).

Charles I Dismounted (image from here)

His Charles I Dismounted (c. 1635) depicts “the absolutist monarch Charles I at a sharp angle so that the king, a short man, appears to be looking down at the viewer” (678). The king was in fact five foot, four inches. Because the monarch was rather short, this “forced him to exert his power in ways other than physical” (678-9). Charles I was a Stuart king, whom Parliament did not like because of his absolute reign. Although Charles I was actually a sickly man, he appears here as a man of action as he appears to be moving forward as well as confident with his arm akimbo and in a contrapposto stance. His sword is displayed as he overlooks the ocean, suggesting his rule over the navy and trade, in order to solidify his power as a leader.

Louis XIV, the sun king, “was a master of political strategy and propaganda” (Gardner 696). He sought adherence to the idea of the divine right of kings. Rigaud’s Louis XIV (c. 1701) depicts the king’s direct gaze down on the viewer, even though the king was short. The king was sixty-three years old at the creation of this painting, yet he appears young here, harkening back to Roman traditions of depicting authority. This painting was placed over his throne, so when the king was not present, no one was allowed to turn their back on the painting. This portraiture is carefully crafted to depict absolute authority.

Louis XIV (image from here)

The Age of Enlightenment led men and women to think and experiment. In the philosophical poem “Essay on Man,” Alexander Pope explains, “Far as Creation’s ample range extends, / The scale of sensual mental power ascends,” suggesting the importance of agency and reason in addition to pointing out that humans ought to try to understand man and this world. Additionally, Voltaire’s satirical Candide mocks the aristocracy and the German philosopher who claimed that everything is for the best. Voltaire concludes with the importance of community, ending “we must cultivate our gardens,” which is all that one can do. After all the terrible occurrences, Pangloss and his friends do not continue to try to solve the world’s problems. However, the development of thinking introduced new ideas concerning government, emphasizing a shift from royal absolutism to republicanism.

Overseas, the colonial leaders questioned the idea of absolute authority. Houdon’s George Washington (c. 1788–92) was commissioned by the newly established United States government, which was trying to dismantle the old ideals of absolute monarchy and to move towards republicanism. Washington was not to look too kingly so no crown is present, yet he leans on a walking stick, which has associations with scepters and royalty. Washington, a gentleman farmer, does lean on Roman fasces, “a bundle of rods with an ax attached . . . an emblem of authority” (Gardner 773). This refers back to the Roman Republic and their ideals of government.

George Washington (image from here)

Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the St. Bernard (c. 1800) depicts Napoleon in an attempt to appear as a leader. When crossing the Alps to fight the Austrians, Napoleon had followed the soldiers who had gone before him on a donkey, while the painting by David shows the foil of the actual reality. After the coup d’état, staging the overthrow, France needed a strong leader to govern.

Napoleon Crossing the St. Benard (image from here)

The French loved that Napoleon was a military hero, which was seen as a romantic career, leading expeditions to conquer the Italians, settle land, and colonize. While Napoleon acted as first Consul in 1799–1804, Napoleon attempted to show himself as capable, based on meritocracy or through his ability to rise to the top. Napoleon stroked the French ego, suggesting they did the right thing by overthrowing the monarchy and killing the idea of absolutism. He attempted to model himself after Republican leaders. By having his name engraved in stone along with Hannibal and Charlemagne (both had crossed the Alps), Napoleon joins with past authority. His white horse is symbolic of power. His cloak functions as a cloth of honor. His upward hand appears like a gesture of blessing, similar to Christ’s. Thus, he endows himself with associations of the divine and great military rulers. This false illusion makes better propaganda for the French people than what actually occurred.

E n g l i s h

When I’m not cooking curry or eating desserts, I’m usually traveling. I’ve been all over the United States, from California Adventures to Disney World, from Pike’s Peak to Times Square. Last Fall semester, I explored France, Italy, Scotland, and England, enjoying art, food, music, and cultures different from my own.

While I love doing yoga in ancient ruins and being enraptured by nature, I’ve learned that reading—as cliché as this is going to seem—is another way to go on adventures by exploring how a writer expresses what it means to be human.

 

I first decided to be an English major because I had lofty goals: I wanted to be a writer and to change the world and to make people happy. Although these are still my goals, I’ve realized that there are many ways to learn and to feel that I had never before realized were possible.

Learning how to think and learning new perspectives has enabled me to stretch myself—as a scholar, as a citizen, as a friend, as a daughter, as a child of God. Our universal status of all being children of a loving and an all-powerful God does not mean that our existence here on earth is completely and totally universal.

 

Modernist writers Virginia Woolf and James Joyce show me their world of determining who you are in a broken, changing world.

The experiences of Buchi Emecheta and Ama Ata Aidoo show me their world of being African and the trials they endured.

John D. Fitzgerald, just as much as F. Scott Fitzgerald, shows me a world of what it can mean to be American, of struggling in the American West or with the American dream.

And there’s a beauty in that adventure, that universal search of what it means to be human.

Code Name Verity

The Beginning

My dear friend found a book called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. When I asked her to describe it, she explained that doing so would be a bit difficult. A whole lot happens, including codes, spies, intrigue, friendship, strong female characters, and so on. The setting is World War II. I’m a little obsessed with 1940s and learning about what happened in history then. In my head, a little noise went DING! DING! DING! YOU HAVE A WINNER. I was sold.

What’s It About?

“When ‘Verity’ is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that reveals just how far true friends will go to save each other. The bondage of war will never be as strong as the bonds forged by the unforgettable friendship in this extraordinary tale of fortitude in the face of the ultimate evil” (http://www.elizabethwein.com/code-name-verity).

Awards

  • UK Literary Association Award Winner
  • Edgar Award Winner
  • Printz Honor Book
  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the Scottish Children’s Book Award
  • Catalyst Book Award Winner (East Lanarkshire County Council, Scotland)

Favorite Quotes

There are some pretty amazing quotes in the book. I couldn’t pick just one. These gems listed below include what I found when I googled for quotes from Code Name Verity:

My favoritestiest quote of all

This astonishing tale of friendship and truth will take wing and soar into your heart. ~quoted by Laurie Halse Anderson, New York Times best-selling author

Yay

I don’t even know where to start. There are so many great things about this book, and I don’t want to give away too much. The writing is great. As shown from the quotes above, she has some stellar lines. The author’s allusions and references from history and literature are fun, too (Shakespeare, Peter Pan, French literature, German literature, etc.). Characterization is top notch and would past the Bechdel Test (for more information, see http://www.feministfrequency.com/2009/12/the-bechdel-test-for-women-in-movies/). Let’s just say . . . So. Much. Sass.  🙂 The two main characters have a great relationship that will melt your heart. And I don’t want to give anything else away other than that. You’ll just have to read it to find out. Sometimes it’s hard to find interesting female characters in YA. TANGENT: This book really shouldn’t be labeled as YA because it’s great for adults and older teens, and there are also mature themes (e.g., concentration camps, torture, some language, etc.).

Nay

YOU WILL CRY. Or maybe not . . . if you are a soulless, pathetic, heartless little creature from the black lagoon. And the whole “crying” part doesn’t even have to be a “nay.” But you will have feelings (unless you are  . . . well, what I mentioned above.) But don’t NOT read it if you think that it’s like a super duper depressing book. There is so much humor and witty dialogue. So think of it more as a combination of laughter and tears. Bring some tissues, yet be prepared to stifle your laughter if you happen to be at work, and you need to be quiet, and you read something funny and have to bite your tongue off. Speaking of work, I am allowed to read or to work on projects when I have downtime. My book, which was borrowed from the library, has the cover of two female hands bond together with rope/twine/cords (?). Some of my coworkers asked if I were reading a BDSM novel, and I quickly responded that I was not. So I feel like the cover of this book does not represent the book very accurately. Of course, this cover art has absolutely nothing to do with the content and quality of the writing (and the author probably had no real say in the cover anyways). I guess there are other covers (as shown above in the first picture of all the different books covers).

A few of the topics/ideas covered in Code Name Verity. Originally from bibliophilemystery.blogspot.com

Gray

Also, several of the characters have “real names” and then “code names” or several different code names. It’s not impossible to remember, but it’s important to keep in mind who is who and who is doing what when. Maybe it’s just me; it’s probably just me. But I don’t know a whole lot about planes or types of planes or military jargon. Sometimes I would wonder what they were talking about. So . . . I made list of some of the planes listed and military references made throughout the book. 🙂 Enjoy. It’s pretty cool.

RAF Special Duties Cap Badge

 

Citroen Rosalie

The Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber used by RAF Coastal Command.

Two Spitfire FVB in flight

This is the Do-217 aircraft manufactured by Dornier for the German Luftwaffe in WWII.

RAF Lysander WWII

De Havilland DH-80A Puss Moth aircraft

Conclusion

Basically, read this book. It will change your life. I hope you have a beautiful day. xoxo, the bbb blogger

Creative Fiction: “Travel Machine”

Salvador Dali, “Anthropomorphic Chest of Drawers,” 1936

 Time travel—it is impossible, no?

Studying, studying, studying; researching, researching, researching. No use, you would think, after years of, well, working, searching, finding what I could in what was left of the university libraries, in my spare time, of course.

No one goes to college anymore. How could this be? How had this happened? The locks are not that hard to break. So that is why, why in fact, the reason why I broke the law, I broke into the libraries, whenever I could and whenever I was guaranteed not to get caught, although, really, it’s not too difficult to be caught, since, well, remember the laws that were made years—oh how many years has it been?—but that really doesn’t matter, the year I was turning fifteen.

That’s what it was. Yes, the year I changed was the year the war happened and when the peace treaty was made between the Germanic States of Europe, the Portuguese States of Europe, and the British States of Europe, that was when the universities were locked up. Education was exterminated because no one, God knows only why, needed to know how to read. Immediate, mindless work was much more effective for the masses. Was it not? But I broke the law—the cause is justifiable, no?

My name is. . . I don’t remember now. I found my name, written out, in the records, hidden deep within the labyrinth of the library. My parents. My sister. My brother. Their names, there they were, written on the white page like seals pressed into the edges of time. I wanted, you know, to check, of course, to see if I was real. Real, we were all real, in the pages of books.

Why, books, have you been cast aside? Burned by so many after the war? Broken apart by those who searched for ways to keep their broken, shriveling bodies warm.

The cause—the cause to go to the past. To return to the golden era. The turn of the twentieth century, the age when almost anything was possible, where rights were expanded, and people began to fight for what they really believed in.

Not like this current cesspool of flashing, broken images streaked across the burning, midnight skies and dawning evening dusks.

I would write. I would write the greatest of things. I would save my people through thoughts and ideas and words, and they would learn, yes they would, they would learn the importance of words and literature. They could be saved.

The masses, the groaning masses, could find salvation.

It was during these midnight break-ins that I’d make my greatest break-throughs. Languages, I know four (German, English, French, Russian). Sciences, from Einstein to Newton to Bohr. For fun, I’d study Plato, Aristotle, Kant . . . But the one section I always returned to for hours and hours was the area that had books about time travel.

My favorite author, an Englishman, was inspired. The Muses spoke to him. Science spoke to him. Angels spoke to him. Something or whatever spoke to him, or maybe it was just his own genius altogether, but his writings lifted my mind to higher realms of inspiration and glory. Oh, how I miss those silent nights with the books that were left and the haunted memories of past students roaming through the aisles.

It was on one of these nights, so long ago, that I made a decision. The pages of a particular book, bended and faded, torn and worn, felt so crisp and thin in my hand. I turned the pages so many times, reading each line with a furious hunger. Why not, I asked myself, do what this very character did? He went to the future; I can return to the past.

For ages, I longed to write my own book. My book would be spread underground and read by thousands. Eventually, my visions, my theories would change the world and infiltrate to the top. People would be forced to hear what I believed. People would be forced to see the world in a new light. People would be forced to read.

Works of great literature should be whole. Like scientist’s theories were complete and exact, so would my greatest contribution to the written word be. My ideas would flow like great rivers I had never seen or the fresh ocean water I had heard about only in these dusty books I stole, or barrowed, of course, barrowed, you know, for reading purposes. My writing would be an organic unity of wholeness. How could it not?

But I lacked any original ideas, or so I thought. Even my idea to create a time machine was based on an idea that had been going on forever. This time, rather than going to the future, I would return to the past.

By going to the past, I would ask the writer of this book, my favorite author, for inspiration. How did he create his ideas? How did the Muses speak to him? How did his mind work? We would have an actual conversation, face-to-face. He would like me. I would like him. We would become friends. I would no longer be alone in the labyrinth of books. Then I would write my book, return to my time in the future, and change the world.

I took a risk—I took my precious book from the library to my home. It wasn’t really stealing, no; it was not to be missed among the other rows of books that were left.

I read the book over and over again. Some pages tore just from their delicate states. Additional trips, during riskier times of day, mid-morning and late afternoon (midnight was the best time to go), were made. No one ever broke into the library—no one but me. But, of course, I wasn’t breaking in. I was just exploring the world of knowledge the world did not see.

During these extra hours, I read even more than I had before, trying to create a way, through the piles of theories I read, to fulfill my desire to return to my idealized precursor. Years passed by. One day, while sketching on some torn sheets of paper, I found my eureka. For months I built my time machine, using old desks and old electricity wires and metal from around the library. It took diligence. Once it was created, I knew, I knew it would work.

But it needed to be tested, you know, like scientists test hypothesizes with little mice or birds with grey feathers, so I set the dial back to one day, at university library. I saw blurred visions zoom past my eyes, and when it stopped, I was, as the clock indicated, exactly one day previous to the day I finished the time machine. In my excitement, my fixation, I choose to go back in time to meet my favorite author where he lived and wrote. I set the dial for 1895, pulled the lever three notches down, and zoomed faster and faster into the past.

The dial began to spin, turning, turning, turning backwards. Over what felt like a few seconds to me, I began to see the dial spin close to the 1900s. The blurry images surrounding my machine began to slow, and the dial eventually came to a stop. Right as the dial was about to click, I noticed an image, which seemed to be glaring at me from the end of a long corridor. The machine stopped, and soon I realized we were not in some hallway.

Rather, it was dark, and it was night. It must have been a forgotten alleyway. I checked the time and place to make sure and then unlocked my door. Stepping out of the time machine, I noticed that it was exceedingly dark. There were no flashing lights, no glaring screens, no block long advertisements. Vibrant darkness in all its glory screamed to my soul at what I had done.

As I stood by my time machine, I did not realize at first what was happening. I was quite dizzy and felt a bit sick. My ears were ringing like haunted bells churning in a dark nightmare. Resting my hand and left side upon the nearest wall, I swallowed gasps of cold air. My eyes clamped shut, I tried to adjust myself. Slowly, the dizziness went away, and I realized how cold it was out. I had no jacket, no money, nothing on my person.

Then I heard a few gasps, a moaning, a blood-curling sigh come from my machine. Great goodness, where was it coming from? It was actually from underneath my machine, I thought. I feared going close, but then, quickly, I came to a realization that there was some teenager somehow under my machine.

But no—he was not merely under the machine. He was crushed. I found, on the other side of the machine, the kid’s face, his eyes glassy, his tongue flopping out to one side. I stepped back in full horror at the realization of what I had done.

In going back in time, I had killed this poor boy. I had assumed that going back in time was fine, but I had not considered time and space. This person was exactly at the wrong place at the wrong time. I had not killed him on purpose. It was an accident, an accident, I swear. But he was surely dead.

His hand was outstretched to one side, and the finger seemed to point out towards the right of the machine. I walked around the machine more and found a bundle of documents tied up with string. This poor kid, his last attempts were to hold these papers one last time, but, alas, they were too far out of reach.

I picked up the bundle of papers. My hands shook, and as I tried to steady them, I noticed something on the top corner. A name so familiar, a name that had haunted me in my waking thoughts: H. G. Wells. The title read in curvy letters The Time Machine.

No, I screamed in my mind. This cannot be. In going back in time, I had inadvertently killed the very author I had so desperately want to see. But I gave another glance at the blank face under the machine. Wells was supposed be twenty-nine years of age when he had written the book, the same age that I was. Yet this boy looked like he was not even in his twenties. He was younger. Had Wells actually written this story when he was still in his youth, only to publish it years later? My mind swirled in confusion.

A sudden thought came to my mind. What if I could go further back in time, just a few minutes more, and warn this poor boy not to go down this alley, to avoid any sounds, to never venture down this path. I ran immediately with the papers in hand to my machine. I closed the door and twisted the dial a bit and then twisted the nob down. But the machine did nothing. It did not move or spin or zoom or anything.

Panic thumped loud in my ears, and my hands shook even harder than before. My machine! Broken! But how? It must have been my horrific landing when I hit the boy, my author, my inspiration.

I was officially stuck in the past. I had no resources. I had no friends. I had no home. I had no life. I opened the door to my machine. My bag held some of my prized possessions from the old university library: some philosophy and all the writings of Wells and some paper. Although I had planned to talk about Wells’s books in full, vibrant detail, I had indeed killed my precursor. I took this manuscript, blood-splattered and torn, in my hands.I found some smelling old rags in the gutter. I had no clue how long it had been there. Because I was quite literate and could write, I was able to find some work quickly. There was only one thing I could do.

Though my name had been Harold Gross, I became Herbert George Wells, shortening it to H. G. Wells.

Shortly thereafter, because I was low on cash, I sold Wells’s story to a publisher. Every night I scrub, and I scrub, and I scrub. The blood—it won’t come off my hands, I tell you! It’s always there. My hands are died permanent red, and when the water rushes down the drain, it’s stained pink, of course, but the blood never leaves my hands. I had killed my precursor—I had become my precursor.


~ Some Explanation:

Bloom’s theory centers on the anxiety of influence from precursors. So that got me thinking—what if a person became so obsessed over creating an original work of art that that person would do something crazy? I love how Bloom argues about “a greater awareness of the artist’s fight against art, and of the relation of this struggle to the artist’s antithetical battle against nature” (1653). Bloom’s believed, “To search for where you already are is the most benighted of quests, and the most fated” (Leitch 1656); time travel—the first thing that popped into my head.

My character, a man from the unknown, inexact place in the future, obsesses over original creation. Art in this futuristic setting has become broken images that do not reflect the natural world or truth or anything real. Art becomes flashing images for commercial purposes only. Very few people read, because, really, what’s the point? Commercialization is much more effective in conveying to the viewer what is desirable and necessary to purchase.

The man obsesses over a return to the processes of the mind (Kant-esque) and organic works of unity (Coleridge-esque) that will uplift society (Shelley-esque), instead of blitz of false advertising and its sole purpose of people to purchase the latest gadget. This creative piece is written in the first person point of view to emphasize the focus on mind (Kant-esque . . . again).

My character is undoubtedly bright as well as creative, to a certain extent, but he fails in his journey to go back to his favorite author to gain inspiration. I hoped to bring about the feeling of the romantic but hazy genius through the narrative. He becomes stuck in the past (literally and, perhaps, figuratively by breaking with reality in a mental collapse), as if his sole identity revolves around a man who never really existed yet at the same time exists because of himself.

However, this character is ultimately unable to help the future or society, in all actuality. He never returns, stuck in the past, stuck in his mind, stuck by past influences. The cruel twists of fate, the realities of broken pride are, indeed, bitter when he falls so far as to take the identity of his favorite author instead of his own. It really does not matter whether or not he went insane or really ever went into the past.

Personally, I believe that the man was actually caught in the future by security guards protecting the university, which is why he always is on the defense. Did he go back in time? Was he just tortured? Did he kill a man? Or could he really not kill or overcome his precursor?

Despite all these questions that cannot be answered exactly, he ultimately experiences the pangs of fallen idealism. I would argue that the man could not overcome his precursor in the fight that Bloom suggests.