Purging the Nation: Laxative Ads in the Illustrated London News

In early twentieth-century issues of the Illustrated London News, nestled among advertisements for ladies’ perfumes, cruises to the West Indies, seaside cottage rentals, continental hotels, and luxury cars, one finds ads for an assortment of proprietary purgatives. Marketed as gentle, convenient, even glamorous aperients for young mothers, businessmen, and traveling couples alike, Purgen, Jubol, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, and other brand-name laxatives make constipation—a universal, but embarrassing and unseemly, bodily process—appropriately legible, through the printed page, to a cosmopolitan middle-class reading public. This paper examines ILN’s changing purgative ad landscape in the decades surrounding WWI, when cleansing and fortifying the middle-class body offers Britain a surrogate fantasy for stabilizing an increasingly fractured empire.

“What Did a Francophile-Arab Read?”

Regarding The Sheik, it’s hard not to fixate on the disturbing scenes and questions that Teresa has already brought to our attention. I anticipate that these topics will drive much of the discussion that we have in class this week, but, in the spirit of trying to turn our attention elsewhere, I’d like to think briefly about Ahmed Ben Hassan’s bookshelf, which Diana encounters the day after she is kidnapped and raped. Kneeling beside the bookshelf, she asks “What did a Francophile-Arab read?,” expecting to find the shelf full of novels because they “would harmonise with the atmosphere that she dimly sensed in her surroundings” (67). Instead she finds that the shelf is filled with sport and travel books (mostly written by Raoul, one of which is personally dedicated to Ahmed) as well as books on veterinary surgery, which we learn later that Ahmed studied in England.  The content of these books as well as the evidence they offer of Ahmed’s linguistic skill (books written in French, annotated in Arabic), disturb her even further because they reveal a much more calculating, intelligent, “civilized” captor than she initially imagined. The bookshelf becomes a recurring image in the novel, and Diana turns to its contents (particularly Raoul’s books) often over the course of her captivity.

We’ve seen the image of the bookshelf recur throughout our readings this semestere: the Harvard Classics five-foot shelf, Virginia Woolf’s personal library of women’s fiction, and Amitav Ghosh’s grandfather’s bookcase. Each of these bookcases offers a distinct vision of literary prestige and makes different assumptions about what belongs in the canon. Thinking about the bookshelf in these terms, I’m interested in what vision of literary prestige, what kind of canon that Ahmed’s bookshelf might offer. What do we make of the gap between Diana’s assumptions and the true contents of the bookcase? And what is the role of the novel here?

Some Cover Musings

Our attention to the reviews of Banjo last week prompted me to look more closely at the covers of H. Hatterr.

Beginning with the front, the image comes from a collection called Francisco Clemente Pinxit by an Italian artist of the same name. Interestingly, the image is part of a series of gouache paintings done “on handmade rag pages from a two-hundred-year-old Indian book that was considered of no particular value…Clemente wiped off the water-soluble text but preserved the borders, within which he painted his own ‘Indian’ miniatures.”1  Here’s a link to the original: FRANCESCO CLEMENTE | MADE IN INDIA

On the back cover, the major reviews come from New-York-based publications and the publishing house is New York RB (advertised on the back, spine, first page, and title page), all of which, from Cassanova’s perspective, seem to locate Desani’s work within a distinctly American center of literary capital. Moreover, the choice of reviewers strikes me as significant in light of Orsini’s article. She grounds her opening in a claim from Amit Chaudhuri, who suggests that Salman Rushdie’s critical acclaim has become “a gigantic edifice that all but obstructs the view of what lies behind” (Orsini 75).  She suggests that Rushdie’s preeminence as the Anglo-Indian writer has created the assumption that Indian novels must be written in English, obscuring work produced in Indian languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, and Urdu (Orsini 75). Tellingly, the first (and longest) review of HH is Rushdie, whose praise seems to legitimize Desani and usher him into the center of an Anglo-Indian literary field, despite the fact that Desani preceded and influenced Rushdie. In line with Orsini’s claims about language, Rushdie’s review and the blurb that NYRB offers of HH are both fixated on categorizing the kind of English Desani uses. Rushdie alternately classifies the language as  “beyond the Englishness of the English language,” “babu English,” and “semi-literate, half-learned English,” and the blurb quotes Anthony Burgess’s declaration that the language “is not pure English…gloriously impure.” What do we make of this impulse to describe the kind of English that Desani uses?

  1. Francesco Clemente Pinxit (Primary Title) – (85.373.21) – Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | (vmfa.museum)

It’s Just a Formality

I want to talk about form in Ulysses, specifically in “Telemachus,” the start of Stephen’s story, and “Calypso,” the start of Leopold’s. In reading these two beginnings back-to-back, I had the uncanny sense that I was reading the same thing twice. Not that the characters or their stories were exactly the same, but that one was built out of the materials of the other, both at the level of narrative and of language. We might use a theater production as a loose metaphor, with Leopold’s Second Act as a re-staging of Stephen’s First–a different story, but one that takes place in the same theater and relies on the same elements (set-pieces, props, actors, etc.). A few concrete examples to show you what I mean:

  • The breakfast rituals, which take on a religious quality in both–pouring milk, making tea, buttering toast, etc.
  • The emphasis on Buck’s “even white teeth…with gold points” (3) and “white glittering teeth” (6) that continues with Bloom’s cat’s “milkwhite teeth” (45)
  • The “green stone” that “twinkle[s]” in Haines’s cigarette case (17) comes back as a metaphor for Bloom’s cat’s eyes (45)

It’s an odd group of things, but milk, tea, bread, teeth, green stones, mirrors, staircases, the even the colors–green, white, gold, and black–get re-appropriated between stories in ways that feel like more than just the coincidences of everyday routine.

Thinking about Bourdieu– as much as his concern seems to lie outside of and in some ways opposed to formal analysis, his reading of (and around) Sentimental Education relies on first distilling the novel to its elements/pieces/regions to construct its field of power. I suppose I’m interested, in part, in a larger methodological question–what is the relationship between reading we might ID as “formal” and the sociological, and ostensibly “non-formal,” reading that Bourdieu conducts on SE? And, as I’m still trying to work through Bourdieu, is my preliminary reading of Ulysses in conversation in some way with B’s understanding of a “realist formalism” (107)? Would love your help with these thoughts…