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Judith is a poem written in Old English during the Middle ages in England on the topic of the beheading of Holofernes, an Assyrian military leader as recorded in the Biblical-era Book of Judith. The author is unknown.


Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637)

English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. He is best known for his plays Volpone and The Alchemist, his lyrics, his influence on Jacobean and Caroline poets, his theory of humours, his contentious personality, and his friendship and rivalry with William Shakespeare.

“To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare”


Harriet Jacobs

In 1861, she published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent.

Jacobs was one of many escaped slaves who wrote autobiographical narratives in an effort to shape opinion in the Northern states concerning the “peculiar institution” of slavery. She appealed mainly to middle-class white Christian women in the north, through her descriptions of slavery destroying the virtue of women through harassment and rape.

She criticized the religion of the South as being un-Christian, and as emphasizing the value of money (“If I am going to hell, bury my money with me,” says a particularly brutal and uneducated slaveholder). She described another slaveholder with the sentence, “He boasted the name and standing of a Christian, though Satan never had a truer follower.” Jacobs argued that these men were not exceptions to the general rule. The cruelty of slavery destroyed the virtue of an entire society, and “is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks”.

Much of “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” is devoted to the protagonist’s struggle to free her two children (born out of wedlock through a consensual relationship with a white man who wasn’t her master), after she runs away herself. She spends seven years trapped in a tiny space built into her grandmother’s barn to occasionally see and hear the voices of her children.


Henry James (1843-1916)

Yes: he is actually American. Don’t forget it.

James could easily be pushed out of the “modern” category, but he’s sufficiently in-between to qualify on this site. You can count on James’ long, involute syntax to make an appearance on your exam. He has a lot of testable material, so it’s best to focus on knowing A) his style, and B) the names of his characters. The guidebooks are pretty clear on what James’ style looks and feels like. Note that the most likely candidates for your test are The Beast in the Jungle, Portrait of a Lady, and The Turn of the Screw.


“Turn of the Screw”

Originally published in 1898, it is a ghost story that has lent itself well to operatic and film adaptation.

Due to its style, The Turn of the Screw became a favorite text of New Criticism. The reader is challenged to determine if the protagonist, a nameless governess, is reliably reporting events or instead is some kind of neurotic with an overheated imagination. To further muddy the waters, her written account of the experience — a frame tale — is being read many years later at a Christmas house party by someone who claims to have known her.

An unnamed narrator listens to a manuscript read by a male friend from a former governess whom the latter claimed to know and who is now dead.

A young governess is hired by a man who has found himself responsible for his niece and nephew after the death of their parents. He lives in London and has no interest whatsoever in the children. The boy is at a boarding school. The girl, Flora, is living at his country home where she is cared for by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. He gives the governess full charge of the children and makes it clear he never wants to hear from her again regarding them. The governess travels to her new employer’s house and begins her duties. Shortly thereafter, the boy, Miles, turns up after being expelled from his school. For some mysterious reason, the headmaster feels he is a threat to the other boys.

The governess begins to see and hear strange things. She learns that her predecessor, a Miss Jessel, and her lover Quint, a clever but abusive man, died under curious circumstances. Gradually, she becomes convinced that the pair are somehow using the children to continue their relationship from beyond the grave. The governess takes action against the perceived threat with tragic consequences.


“The Portrait of a Lady”

First published in 1881. It is the story of a young female American, Isabel Archer, who inherits a large amount of money, which left her to the Machiavellan schemings of two European expatriates. Like many of James’ novels, it is set mostly in Europe, notably Italy.


“The Beast in the Jungle”

John Marcher, the protagonist, is re-aquainted with May Bartram, a woman he knew ten years earlier, who remembers his odd secret- Marcher is seized with the belief that his life is to be defined by some catastrophic or spectacular event, lying in wait for him like a “beast in the jungle.”

May decides to take a flat nearby in London, and to spend her days with Marcher curiously awaiting what fate has in stall for John. Of course Marcher is a self-centered egoist, believing that he is precluded from marrying so that he does not subject his wife to his “spectacular fate”. So he takes May to the theatre and invites her to an occasional dinner, while not allowing her to really get close to him for her own sake. As he sits idly by and allows the best years of his life to pass, he takes May down as well, until the denouement wherein he learns that the great misfortune of his life was to throw it away, and to ignore the love of a good woman, based upon his preposterous sense of foreboding.


James Joyce

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an expatriate Irish writer and poet, widely considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his short story collection Dubliners (1914), and his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939).Although most of his adult life was spent outside the country, Joyce’s Irish experiences are essential to his writings and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. His fictional universe is firmly rooted in Dublin and reflects his family life and the events and friends (and enemies) from his school and college days. Due to this, he became both one of the most cosmopolitan and one of the most local of all the great English language modernists.

For the exam, absolutely be able to identify the passages from Ulysses and A Portrait.


Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man

It is the story of the growth and education of Stephen Dedalus, named after the Grecian mythological craftsman Daedalus.

A Portrait is one of the key examples of the Künstlerroman in English literature. Joyce’s novel traces the intellectual and religio-philosophical awakening of young Stephen Dedalus as he begins to question and rebel against the Catholic and Irish conventions he has been brought up in. He finally leaves for Paris to pursue his calling as an artist.

Passages to be familiar with:

The opening:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.

He sang that song. That was his song.

O, the green wothe botheth.

When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.

The famous declaration of Stephen Dedalus:

APRIL 26. Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.



Ulysses chronicles the passage through Dublin by its main character, Leopold Bloom, during an ordinary day, June 16, 1904. The title alludes to the hero of Homer’s Odyssey (Latinized version Ulysses), and there are many parallels, both implicit and explicit, between the two works (e.g. the correlations between Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus). June 16 is now celebrated by Joyce’s fans worldwide as Bloomsday.

The famous opening:

STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Stephen wandering on the beach:

INELUCTABLE MODALITY of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it it is a gate, if not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

The famous closing words of Molly:

. . . and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.


Preface to Shakespeare

Johnson makes his Shakespearian criticism the foundation for general statements about man, nature, and literature. He is a true neo-classicist in his concern with the universal rather than with the particular; the highest praise he can bestow upon Shakespeare is to say that his plays are "just representations of general nature." The dramatist has relied upon his knowledge of human nature, rather than on bizarre effects, for his success. "The pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the stability of truth," Johnson concludes. It is for this reason that Shakespeare has outlived his century and reached the point at which his works can be judged solely on their own merits, without the interference of personal interests and prejudices that make criticism of one's contemporaries difficult. Keywords: universal, natural.
One of Johnson's most stringent objections to Shakespeare's work arises from his strong conviction that literature is essentially didactic. He is disturbed by Shakespeare's disregard of "poetic justice." Johnson was convinced that the writer should show the virtuous rewarded and the evil punished, and he finds that Shakespeare, by ignoring this premis, "sacrifices virtue to convenience." The fact that in life evil often triumphs over good is no excuse in Johnson's eyes: "It is always a writer's duty to make the world better."' Shakespeare's careless plotting and his "disregard for distinctions of time and place" are also noted as flaws. Although Johnson dislikes Shakespeare's bawdry, he is willing to concede that that fault, at least, might have rested with the indelicacy of the ladies and gentlemen at the courts of Elizabeth I and James I, rather than with the playwright. These minor "errors" are far less irritating to Johnson than Shakespeare's use of puns: "A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it."