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Pastoral Literature

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Stuart MacAlpine

on 6 June 2011

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Transcript of Pastoral Literature

Back to basics What is pastoral literature? Stories set in a perfected world, but
as a comfort and a reminder of what we should aim at in life. Why is it 'pastoral' rather
than just Utopian? (like some science fiction) It suggests that perfection
is something we had in the past.
It suggests perfect lies in some kind of 'simple life' rather than a complex one. It suggests perfection lies in simplicity and the past, not cities and the future If it is timeless and
arcadian, then how can
it reflect either its time,
or have a social agenda? There are two ways the pastoral
can 'upbraid' an age.

Firstly and most obviously, its qualities
can be perceive to be those that its age lack - often
it does this pretty explicitly, but contrasting town/country;
court/country; urban and country etc.

Secondly, the things that destroy the pastoral or HAVE destroyed
it are by definition seen as bad, if the pastoral is good. If we lost the pastoral, where
does Human nature come into all of this?

There is tension in the pastoral about
whether the pastoral is compatable with human nature's capacity for evil, selfishness and essentially competition, which is in someways the ultimate source of the failre of the pastoral.

Marvel praises solitude [society is all but rude to this delicious solitude] and dismisses those that chase 'palm, the oak, or bays'

Even more dramatically, Gray seems to suggest that the pastoral confines the potential of human nature and this is at times a good thing - 'Some mute Milton here may rest/ Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood' A retreat from failure?
If human nature fails, the pastoral is sometimes seen not as something we lost, so much as something we seek in compense. (In Brideshead it is both at different parts of the novel)
Marvel - 'When we have run our passion's heat,/Love hither makes his best retreat'
Similarly in Wordsworth, nature is restorative and a balm for historical experience. What is it? Society and nature Origins in Song Taste Narrative Structures Worldy and unworldy pleasure The form of the pastoral matters to a surprising extent:
A number of influences are fighting for supremacy:
A desire to write in a heightened and peaceful way
A desire to write at times in a faux naif style that represents the 'swains songs' that the pastoral is supposed to evoke
A desire to satirise exactly that faux naif quality
A desire to entertain a court audience aware of the conventions
A desire to re-animate a very old genre.

Think of how this works for a few poems or Brideshead. Debates about an idealised rural life
often reflect broader snobberies about taste
which emanate in the intellectual atmosphere of the court.
For example:
The picturesque you have been talking about.
The cult of the pastoral in the C18th culminating in Country house and Marie Antoinette.
The cult of the classical [Greek]
The cult of the country house.
Often these fashions shape what is described as pastoral; just as sustainability, organic, biodynamic, etc. concerns would shape a modern pastoral. Think about it - you have to write about
a place that can't really exist. So how do you do that? You also have an inheritance of first person story telling in song.
The narrative structures normally encompass the necessary loss, nostalgia, solitude, muted optimism and lyricism of the genre. The narrative destination of the
pastoral, if it is to be anything more than kitsch,
is loss. This is inherently completely unsatisfying.
How do the authors cope with this flaw of the genre? The pastoral is defined by what is left out.
To what extent do you agree?
Full transcript