Sample Literary Studies essay
Sample essay with notes
This is a real student's essay. The essay is good, however it does have some problems that have been addressed in the notes accompanying it. Read through the essay first, and try to see if you can pick its weaknesses and strengths, and then click on the feedback notes to see what we thought. Remember that there is no right or wrong with writing essays, but the feedback notes provide information on how to write stronger essays. Ultimately you will be marked according to the rubric and assessment requirements provided to you by your lecturer, so the feedback below is only general in nature to help you avoid common mistakes and get you started in the right direction.
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Legend:Good Problem Suggestion Question
Word count: 1200 words
Discuss how the narrative structures of Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall work to critique contemporary Victorian society.
The complex narrative structures and proto-feminist undertones of Emily Brontë and Anne Brontë’s works have been discussed in detail by scholars
Lecturer's comment 1:
Correct use of MLA in-text citation. However, this essay will discuss how the male Lecturer's comment 2:
Consider using a more appropriate term; the narratives themselves aren't "male", they are narrated by men. narratives of Wuthering Heights Lecturer's comment 3:
It is good practice to include the author and the year the novel was first published in the introduction to contextualise the novels. and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall form an integral part of the Brontës’ expressions of dissatisfaction with the patriarchal structures of nineteenth-century Victorian society.
Both Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are narrated by men that
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'perfectly', here, appears to be a subjective judgement and is not supported by sufficient evidence. It is not clear that these characters completely embody an ideal. exemplify Victorian society’s ideal of gentlemanly behaviour. As is clear from the beginning of the novel, Lockwood is an outsider to the setting of the Heights. Where Wuthering Heights is populated with Show/hide lecturer's comment 5 tortured, Lecturer's comment 5:
Avoid including adjectives that do not directly relate to your argument, also avoid including multiple adjectives. poorly educated inhabitants such as Heathcliff, Lockwood’s complex sentence structures with multiple clauses and long phrases help portray Lockwood as the epitome of a civilised, educated Victorian gentleman. However, rather than attracting admiration, Show/hide lecturer's comment 6 his language is overcharged and exaggerated as he uses excessive adjectives such as "huge," "immense," and "vast,” heightened verbs such as "forced to retreat," and superfluous repetitions such as "roasting, boiling, baking" Lecturer's comment 6:
Good use of evidence from the primary source. (E. Brontë 2). Furthermore, Lockwood’s pompous narrative contains many naïve and contradictory observations, such as Heathcliff being "a dark-skinned gipsy... yet a gentleman," and "rather slovenly... yet erect and handsome" (E. Brontë 5). These contradictions create an unreliable, Show/hide lecturer's comment 7 almost ridiculous Lecturer's comment 7:
Avoid exaggerated and emotional language. In this case, calling the narrative "almost ridiculous" does not seem to be fully supported by the evidence. narrative that invites criticism of the character due to his blatant misinterpretation of the novel’s events. However, this criticism extends further than just Lockwood, for his exaggerated, gallant language exemplifies the behavioral norms of Victorian society. Show/hide lecturer's comment 8 Therefore, as he uses this language to express naïve observations and meaningless phrases, these ‘civilized’ behaviors are rendered ridiculous to the reader. Lecturer's comment 8:
A succinct conclusion.
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Similarly, as the "fine gentleman and beau of the parish," The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’s narrator exemplifies Victorian society's reinforcement of male privilege (A. Brontë 400).
Lecturer's comment 9:
An excellent topic sentence that clearly states the key point of the paragraph. Yet, similar to Lockwood’s exaggerated mannerisms, Gilbert becomes a caricature of Victorian maleness. Show/hide lecturer's comment 10 Lecturer's comment 10:
Consider how terminology is used in this discipline. A more appropriate word choice here, for example, would be "masculinity". As we can see in his multiple outbursts, Gilbert is childish, vain and uncontrollably emotional, for although he is twenty-four years old and manager of his estate, he describes himself as "getting to feel quite a good boy" at his mother's caressing and coddling (A. Brontë 128). Spoilt and vain, Show/hide lecturer's comment 11 Gilbert evaluates women almost entirely according to their eagerness to compliment him, for he only begins to like Helen when her ideas started “happily coinciding with [his] own” Lecturer's comment 11:
It is unclear how the evidence provided—Helen echoing Gilbert's ideas—supports the assertion that Gilbert only likes women who compliment him. (Pandering is not the same as complimenting.) Be careful when selecting quotes and evidence that they support the point you're trying to make. (A. Brontë 45). However, despite being the voice of an older Gilbert, the narration is only half aware of his younger self’s ridiculousness, for while he “blushed” at his romantic inconstancy Show/hide lecturer's comment 12 (A. Brontë 45), Lecturer's comment 12:
Most in-text citation styles, including MLA, prefer to combine references at the end of the sentence so they don't get in the way. The citation at the end would then read: (A. Brontë 45, 49). he does not recognise his childish pettiness in his dealings with his sister (A. Brontë 49). We can see in Lockwood’s ridiculous notions and Gilbert’s childish behaviour the beginnings of the Brontës’ subversion and satire of the Victorian ideal of manhood, as these characters begin the novels’ disempowerment of the usually unchallenged masculine authority of the patriarchal society they are set in.
Yet, Lockwood’s narration goes further than just disempowerment and satire. As previously discussed, this character embodies the Victorian era, including this society’s passive acceptance, and even justification, of the oppression and abuse of women.
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For as Tony Tanner has stated, Lockwood “shut[s] out the possibilities of darkness and violence" (112).
Lecturer's comment 13:
This is an excellent use of a secondary source, which sheds light on the primary text (Wuthering Heights) and supports the argument with another scholar's observations. For example, he ignores "the lamentable prayers" (E. Brontë 30) of Catherine’s ghost, just as he refuses to acknowledge the living Cathy’s plight, blinding himself with the “ideology of domestic harmony” (Jacobs 215). Show/hide lecturer's comment 14 For example, Lecturer's comment 14:
Avoid repetition of terms like "for example," which begins both this sentence and the previous one. Consider other connecting words and phrases, such as "furthermore." whilst having observed the "ferocious gaze" that Heathcliff observes Cathy with, Lockwood naively and incorrectly states that Heathcliff must be happy "with [his] amiable lady" (E. Brontë 20). Lockwood’s foolish courtesy is clearly inappropriate to the scene, but his upbringing has provided him with no other vocabulary to describe this domestic scene. Eventually Lockwood realizes that this "pleasant family circle" does not match his society’s idea of domestic bliss, but he inadequately responds with repression and denial of the abuse (E. Brontë 21). Show/hide lecturer's comment 15 For example, when Lockwood sees Heathcliff raise his hand against Cathy he belittles the argument’s severity by saying that he has "no desire to be entertained by a cat and dog combat" (E. Brontë 34). Lecturer's comment 15:
This paragraph demonstrates very good use of descriptions of, and quotes from, the primary text as supporting evidence. This kind of effective use of the source text is essential in essays focused on a close readings. He also hears "not altogether disapprovingly" a blow Cathy receives from Hareton, whilst assuming her hostility is from her natural temperament rather than her physical and verbal abuse (E. Brontë 239). Show/hide lecturer's comment 16 Even more significantly, Lockwood himself exhibits considerable violence as he "pulled [the wailing child]’s wrist on the broken pane… till the blood ran down" (E. Brontë 30). Lecturer's comment 16:
This sentence is ambiguous about the child's gender, but this is an important piece of information if the quote is to be used as evidence of Lockwood's violence against women. Make sure your writing is as clear and unambiguous as possible. As this is a particularly powerful scene, it might also be worth quoting it more fully and separating it out as a block quote. Consider, for example: More significantly, Lockwood himself exhibits considerable violence against the young Catherine Linton, a scared, lost child who startled Lockwood one evening, as he writes: [indent] ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly ... ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ ... Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes. (E. Brontë 30) As Terence McCarthy has stated, this violence shows that this civilised English gentlemen "is capable, albeit in a dream, of greater cruelty than any of the savage inhabitants of Wuthering Heights" (54). Show/hide lecturer's comment 17 Just like the civilized façade of Victorian society, Lockwood’s pleasant courtesies are only a mask that hides the atrocities Lecturer's comment 17:
Try to keep language proportionate to your argument --- only use dramatic language when absolutely necessary. he is happy to condone, and commit against women.
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By allowing the tale be narrated and interpreted by male narrators, the Brontës expose these males’ follies and vices, which in turn explores the
Lecturer's comment 18:
Avoid emotive language like this. Instead, try to be objective. For example, you could say "which in turn explores underlying problems of gender inequality in Victorian society". of Victorian society. For just as Victorian women “exist in law only under the legal identities of their husbands or fathers” Lecturer's comment 19:
A good use of historical evidence to support example. (Kreps 84), the male narrators of these novels subsume the women’s voices within their frame narratives. In Wuthering Heights, for example, Catherine’s voice is always embedded within Lockwood’s narrative. Her first narrative is an account of her and Heathcliff’s abuse at Hindley’s hands, and this “pen-and-ink commentary” is written in a book’s margins, a concept that metaphorically represents a woman’s position within the margins of the household and the law (E. Brontë 14). In The Tenant, Helen is placed in a similar position. In the beginning, her narratorial control is nonexistent, for Gilbert gives validity to the narratives of gossip. He allows his perception of Helen to be formed by his mother and sister’s unsubstantiated accounts, and it is not until Helen’s diary that the narrative shifts to give her narratorial authority. However, men invade even this personal account, as both Arthur Huntingdon and Mr. Hargrave are given voice within her narrative Show/hide lecturer's comment 20 (eg. A. Brontë 158-168). Lecturer's comment 1:
Consider referring to a specific scene, rather than page range. This demonstrates how men dominate her life, in reality and in narratorial authority.
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As demonstrated above, in both
Emily and Anne’s
Lecturer's comment 21:
Avoid using only the first name of any author. Always use the author's surname, or surname and first name to avoid confusion. This keeps the language of the essay suitably formal and avoids the perception of over familiarity. These examples are particularly tricky as Emily and Anne Bronte share the same surname. The solution is to include their first initial as is done throughout this essay (e.g A. Bronte and E. Bronte). works, men’s narratives displaces women’s narratives, relegating them to diaries or conversations. Yet, as Terry Eagleton puts it, these indirect accounts “become the guts of the work, displacing the framework that surrounds it". Lecturer's comment 22:
Citations are necessary for all quotes and instances of paraphrasing. Failing to properly acknowledge sources is a form of plagiarism. Check for missing citations when proof reading your essay before submission. Whilst Eagleton is correct that the ‘guts’ of the novel lie in the women’s narratives, these accounts do not naturally ‘displace’ the male framework, as neither Lockwood nor Gilbert are ever fully uprooted from their narratorial positions. Lecturer's comment 23:
This is a good critique of a secondary source and demonstrates the student's original thought. Just because a scholarly source puts forward a particular argument, doesn't mean you have to agree with it. Take the time to read secondary sources critically and reflect on their arguments. Based on your other readings, and your interpretation of the primary text, you may come to a different conclusion! Instead, this narrative structure presents a challenge to the reader, for they must actively perceive past the male narrators’ familiar notions and perceptions in order to sympathise with the plights of the female leads. By realising the fallibility of the male narrators and the inequality of the narrative structure, the reader is exposed to the discrimination inherent in Victorian society.
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Whilst they work in very different ways, the
Lecturer's comment 24:
Remember to proofread your writing carefully, and pay particular attention to the introduction and conclusion. This should be Brontës' [builder's note in ital.] male narrators all highlight troubling aspects of the treatment of women in Victorian society. Through inviting criticism of civilised male narrators, it is clear that the Brontës’ narrative structures are successful in exposing the appalling gender inequality of Victorian society . Lecturer's comment 25:
Although moving in the right direction, this conclusion is too short and does not effectively conclude the essay. Like the introduction, the conclusion should be approximately 10-15% of the overall word count. A good conclusion would bring together the main points and effectively restate the argument.Consider the following: "Whilst their work differs in significant ways, Emily and Anne Brontë's male narrators all serve to highlight troubling aspects of the treatment of women in Victorian society. Their acceptance of stark gender inequality, and Lockwood's own passivity toward, and participation in, violence against women, set these men up as examples of Victorian misogyny. Yet by inviting criticism of their 'civilised' male narrators and highlighting the suppression of women's narratives, it is clear that the Brontës’ narrative structures are successful in exposing the gender inequality of Victorian society."
Brontë, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. New ed. Oxford UP, 2008.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights : The 1847 Text, Backgrounds and Contexts Criticism. 4th ed. Norton, 2003.
Eagleton, Terry. Myths of Power : A Marxist Study of the Brontës. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Jacobs, Naomi. “Gender and Layered Narrative in "Wuthering Heights" and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". The Journal of Narrative Technique, 16.3 (1986), 204-219.
Kreps, Barbara Irene. "The Paradox of Women: The Legal Position of Early Modern Wives and Thomas Dekker's The Honest Whore". ELH. 69 (1): 83–102.
McCarthy, Terence. 'The Incompetent Narrator of Wuthering Heights." Modern Language Quarterly. 42.1 (1981), 48-64.
Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing.” Princeton UP, 1977.
Tanner, Tony. "Passion, Narrative, and Identity in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre." Teaching the Text. Susanne Kappeler and Norman Bryson (eds). Routledge, 1983. 109-125.