Miscellaneous Works:解説・評論・講義:An Episode in Reading Wordsworth, De Man, Chase

An Episode in Reading Wordsworth, De Man, Chase:
Book V of The Prelude Revisited

Takayuki TATSUMI

What troubles us most in The Prelude (1799, 1805, 1850) is the title itself. If it is called "The Prelude" at all, a work of art is naturally expected to have something that it preludes. But in the case of Wordsworth the work named "The Prelude" actually does not function as a prelude to anything.    The place to start reading The Prelude is, then, with the recognition of this contradictory title as a signifier of what we could not have expected this poem to be.

One of Wordsworth's biographers, his nephew Christopher Wordsworth, announces that this title "had not been fixed on by the author himself: the Poem remained anonymous till his death" (Memoirs of William Wordsworth, 2 vols., London, 1851, i, 313). Christopher Wordsworth continues:
"The present title has been prefixed to it at the suggestion of the beloved partner of his life, and the best interpreter of his thoughts, from considerations of its tentative and preliminary character. Obviously it would have been desirable to mark its relation to "The Recluse" by some analogous appellation. . . . Besides, the appearance of this poem, after author's death, might tend to lead some readers into an opinion that it was his final production, instead of being, as it really is, one of his earlier works. They were to be guarded against this supposition. Hence a name has been adopted, which may serve to keep the true nature and position of the poem constantly before the eye of the reader.   (Ibid., emphases mine) 
Important keys to interpret The Prelude are hidden within the passages above: to be more correct, what Christopher Wordsworth describes here conceals some clues to the poem's  basic structure.  First, he conceals the fact that, in view of Wordsworth's persistent revision of the work redundant until his death (it becomes self-evident if we take a glance at the three versions the Norton edition contains{1799, 1805, and 1850}), we find it impossible to say that this poem belongs only to the earlier period of the poet's life, whereas it is his widow's choice of title that ultimately completed and, in doing so, might have defaced  the entire poem. Christopher, next, conceals the fact that "At once an end-less beginning and always an after-word to the life it narrates, Wordsworth's autobiography (The Prelude ) seems not to have a proper place after all" (Mary Jacobus, "The Law of / and Gender: Genre Theory and The Prelude," Diacritics,  Winter 1984, 48), and that The Prelude might not have been born  without the female "entitlement," not necessarily the "best interpretation," by  Mary Wordsworth, the widow of the poet.

The possibility of Mary Wordsworth's misreading makes sense if we take a glance at the poet's meaningful use of the motif of the recluse, which we plan to illustrate later with the episode of Vaudracour and Julia in Book IX. Wordsworth must have preferred as the title, then, "The Recluse" to "The Prelude," because, according to the Norton text, it is intended at least as part of The Recluse.   Moreover, while "The Recluse" implies something that  follows what  has already happened, "The Prelude" represents  what comes ahead of something that will happen---what does this mean? If the title of a book is entitled to function as the initial metaphor of the book, The Prelude discloses that "The Prelude" as the title functions only as the impossibility of metaphor, that is, catachresis. And if metaphor is that which divulges the structure of a literary work in the sense of Gayatri Spivak (Cf. "Translator's Preface" to Of Grammatology  lxxv: "We should follow its [metaphor's] adventures through the text and see the text coming undone as a structure of concealment, revealing its self-transgression  and its undecidability"), we may well propose that it is catachresis that constitutes The Prelude. With this as the starting point this paper intends to especially  speculate on the metaphorical signification of the book in this book, paying attention to the book on "Books,"  that is, Book V of The Prelude.


Considering the book itself as metaphor is not so eccentric. It has long been supposed that metaphor acts as the translation of the world around the self writing books. Metaphor was allegedly the thing which is priviledged to translate the world. Nonetheless, according to Paul de Man, "It is no mere play of words that "translate" is translated in German as "ubersetzen" which itself translates the Greek "meta phorein" or metaphor. Metaphor gives itself the totality which it then claims to define, but it is in fact the tautology of its own discourse" ("The Epistemology of Metaphor," Critical Inquiry , Vol. 5, No. 1, Autumn 1978, 17). Now de Man argues that metaphor does not translate the world but simply metaphor as such: metaphor always already self-reads, self-reflects, and self-translates. For instance, in the discussion of the tranquillity in Wordsworth's "Composed by the Side of  Grasmere Lake," the critic states: "'Tranquillity,' it seems, is the right balance between the literal and the symbolic vision, a balance reflected in a harmonious proportion between mimetic and symbolic language in the diction of the poem" ("Symbolic Landscape in Wordsworth and Yeats" in The Rhetoric of Romanticism, New York: Columbia UP, 1984, 132). Here tranquillity is less the metaphor for objective landscape than that for the metatextuality of metaphor itself.

Therefore, we are required to call into question the traditional supposition that the book mimetically translates the world. The nature of metaphor does not allow for any direct correspondence between the book as the signifier and the world as the signified or between the world as the signifier and the book as the signified. The translational nature of metaphor functions as a radical displacement. The system of meaning must be bracketted. An examination of the poet's use of the verb "hang" in The Prelude might be helpful:
There was a boy---ye knew him well, ye cliffs
And islands of Winander---many a time
At evening, when the stars had just begun
To move along the edges of the hills,
Rising or setting, would he stand alone
Beneath the trees or by the glimmering lake,
And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands
Pressed closely palm to palm, and to his mouth
Uplifted, he as through an instrument
Blew mimic hootings  to the silent owls
That they might answer him.
. . . And when it chanced
That pauses of deep silence mocked his skill,
Then sometimes in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprize
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain torrent; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind,
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven, received
Into the bosom of the steady lake (1805, V, 364-64 and 379-88, emphases mine)
The boy's mimic hooting, typifying mimetic writing, cannot incite an answer from the silent owl that would represent a natural referent. When he "hung / Listening," what actually hung is nothing but signification. De Man suggests that "A full-fledged theory of metaphor as suspended meaning, as loss and restoration of the principle of analogy beyond sensory experience, can be elaborated on the basis of Wordsworth's use of 'hangs'" ("Wordsworth and the Victorians" in RR, 89). For the owl's non-reaction to the boy's hooting is later replaced by  the voice, not of the owl, but of the "mountain torrent" while he "hangs listening." "Hangs" is, by Wordsworth's own avowal, "the exemplary metaphor for metaphor, for figuration in general"(Ibid.). In a passage from Book I we are already informed that the poet has experienced hanging "above the raven's nest, by knots of grass / And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock / But ill sustained, and almost, as it seemed, / Suspended by the blast which blew amain"(1805, 331-34) so that he hears the "strange utterance" (1805, 337) the loud dry wind blew. No matter when one hangs, signification is jeopardized; that is to say, "estranged."

However, what makes this episode of the Winander Boy more interesting must be the announcement of his death:
This boy was taken from his mates, and died
In childhood ere he was full ten years old.
Fair are the woods, and beauteous is the spot,
The vale where he was born; the churchyard hangs
Upon a slope above the village school,
And there, along that bank, when I have passed
At evening, I believe that oftentimes
A full half-hour together I have stood
Mute, looking at the grave in which he lies. (1805, V. 389-93)
Why does the boy have to die? What does this abrupt death in fact mean? De Man drops a hint: "There is a hidden but indubitable connection between the loss of the sense of correspondence and the experience of death. The boy's surprise at standing perplexed before the sudden silence of nature was an anticipatory announcement of his death, a movement of his consciousness passing beyond the deceptive constancy of a world of correspondences into a world in which our mind knows itself to be in an endlessly precarious state of suspension: above an earth, the stability of which it cannot participate in, and beneath a heaven that has rejected it" ("Wordsworth and Holderlin" in RR, 53-54).
At a first glance, de Man himself seems hung---hung between an existential reading and a figurative, that is, between the meaning of being and that of language. Such a Heideggerian binary opposition, however, gets at stake when de Man overturns the traditional hierarchy between being and language, finding the moment of death within the precariousness of meaning: no answer but silence from the owls signifies the boy's falling into the silence of the text as such, and the death of the boy indicates the death of mimetic signification. Here lies the seed of disfiguration, which we cannot avoid while reading figures.

Basing her argument upon such a viewpoint, Cynthia Chase locates the reason of the Winander Boy's tragedy in the accidents of disfiguration. For instance, let us look back at how Wordsworth employed the verb "hang" on various occasions---especially when in that silence in question the boy "hung / Listening"(381-82) and where "the churchyard hangs / Upon a slope above the village school"(392-393). In Chase's opinion, "The recurrence of figurative 'hanging' suggests a coincidence between the 'pauses of deep silence' and the extended pause of death'" ("The Accidents of Disfiguration: Limits to Literal and Rhetorical Reading in Book V of The Prelude," Studies in Romanticism, No. 18, Winter 1979, 550). What is more, also in the Drowned Man episode she finds this "hanging" repeated in senses of "interruption, or a thwarting of expectation, and the emergence of death by immersion"(551). Wordsworth himself, in the Preface of 1815, characterizes the Imagination in view of fixed functional distinctions between literal and figurative use of a word, "hanging." While we can understand "hang" literally when a parrot or a monkey "hangs," we must interpret it figuratively when a goat or a samphire-gatherer "hangs" (Cf.  Wordsworth's Literary Criticism , ed. W. J. B. Owen, London:  Routledge, 1974, 180). We can call this a catachretic moment, because it is the word "hang" that hangs between the literal and the figurative,  or, between life and the text. To read the text is, then, to repeat the suspension of meaning as the death within the metaphor, that is, catachresis.    Therefore, it is difficult to suppose that even Chase was not conscious of the monkey literally "hanging" when she emphasizes reading as repeating later in her essay, recalling the image of "monkey": "We may see his mistake, but we are bound to repeat it. Monkey see, monkey do"(562).  If the literary Imagination is  "a choice of precarious suspension" (552) as Chase defines by developing de Man, her repetition of "monkey" in the very discussion of reading as repetition underscores her own critical Imagination, which is simultaneously the Imagination as a crisis.

Such a standpoint is all the more effective because one of the themes of The Prelude is Imagination itself, as is seen the title of Book XI, "Imagination, How Impaired and Restored." And, in general, the book is expected to be just where Imagination resides. Indeed, he poet narrates how one of his friends, while reading "in a rocky cave / By the seaside . . . The famous history of the errant knight / Recorded by Cervantes"(1805, V. 58-59 and 60-61), dreams of an Arab who is Don Quixote, the hero of what he is reading, and of a stone and shell given by this Arab as books respectively of geometry and poetry; subjects on which he has just been led to meditate by the very book of Don Quixote. J. Hillis Miller makes out this scene as clarifying "the way the imagination uses language to turn one thing into another, in a sequence of mutations which has no reason to end" ("The Stone and the Shell: The Problem of Poetic Form in Wordsworth's Dream of the Arab" (Mouvements Premiers: Etudes offertes a Georges Poulet, Paris, 1972, 137). But, Miller also notes the "impermanence" of the book: just as Don Quixote was crazed by reading romances, and just as his madness took the form of seeing giants in place of windmills, and an army in a herd of sheep . . . , so the dream of Wordsworth's speaker has been generated by reading and by his anxiety for the fragility of books"(138).

This predicament could be further illustrated with the following passage: "Even unto tears I sometimes could be sad / To think of, to read over, many a page--- / Poems withal of name---which at that time  / Did never fail to entrance me, and are now / Dead in my eyes as is a theatre / Fresh emptied of spectators" (1805, V. 547-52). At this point, Wordsworth talks about the dependency of meaning on its being read; as the poem necessitates the presense of the eager reader, so the "theatre" cannot allow for the absence of the eager "spectator."  

To sum up, The Prelude is the book which "hangs" the imagination of the book in a precarious condition. The Winander Boy episode testifies to the mimetic failure and accidental death of the boy as an exemplary consequence of the accidents of disfigurative imagination, while the episode of the Arab speaks of the limit and necessary condition of the book-writing and reading. What Chase writes about the birth of language can be applied to  the birth of the book; in her fashion we might well decide  that  the book  is from the start the production of decayed or abused metaphors (Cf. Chase, 556).


Here we have to reconsider the significance of how The Prelude as a book accidentally became possible. The above discussion immediately brings us to the fact that The Prelude itself was tantamount to "the production of decayed or abused figures," because, as we confirmed earlier, this title by the widow not only defaces (taking "decays" as a synonym of  "abuses") the title the poet might originally have intended, but also indicates how futile it is to class such a self-revisionistic poem simply among the earlier works of the poet. The titling of The Prelude corresponds with he misuse of the word "Prelude" and of autobiography as a literary genre. Such a (posthumous) biographical catachresis furthermore problematizes the allegedly autobiographical nature of the verse.   If The Prelude as a sort of autobiography was produced in effect by an accident of disfiguration, how can we determine whether it is the autobiography of Wordsworth as the poet or the autobiography of The Prelude as the poem?  Here we are confronted with autobiographical catachresis.

The frequent investigation of the poem's autobiographical aspect may be thought to be one of the most fruitful aspects of studies of The Prelude, in that it highlights the inevitable double logic within this work. Peter J. Manning explains: "Shifts from the recounting of childhood experience as if from the child's perspective to the commenting voice of the adult narrator in The Prelude usually mark Wordsworth's attempt to achieve closure of the recalled incident, his declaration of its meaning for him" ("Reading Wordsworth's Revisions: Othello and the Drowned Man," SiR, No. 22, Spring 1983, 3). For example, the episode of the Drowned Man, which I will closely examine later, tells us that "the narrative doubles and repeats itself, for just as the young boy gazes to fix the garments across a darkening space, so the adult poet looks back across twenty years of memory" (Manning 10).

Now what becomes worth reinterpretation is a well-known saying by the poet: "the Child is father of the Man." Obsessed with his own childhood and the concept of revolution, Wordsworth speculates that the child is not so much born of as gives birth to the Man, and such an inversion moreover must have carried him to the preoccupation with revolution, which might spring from  his Oedipal conflict as well as from his experience of the actual  revolution described in Book X, "Residence in France and French Revolution" (Cf. Jacobus, 54). It seems more important, however, to think of the extent to which this revolutionary vision of the child has an impact on the narratology of The Prelude. As noted above, to read this poem is to reread the structure of its double perspective consisting of the boy Wordsworth and the poet acting and commenting on this boy. And as we reread, something ironic takes place. Although the poet is supposed to be the father of the book, it is the boy within the book that begins regulating him. But, simultaneously, we must admit that, unless the poet keeps writing, the boy, or his childhood, cannot exist. In short, even if one tries to keep alive the will to writing, it must be influenced by the form of autobiography, which displaces the cause and effect relationship between the writer (father) and the book (son) with that between the child (father) and the poet (son).   From the viewpoint of Wordsworth as the autobiographer the boy is the cause of life, while from the viewpoint of Wordsworth as the writer he is the effect of writing. We had better recognize the undecidability of whether this "male child" is used metonymically or metaphorically---whether Wordsworth used the image of the boy because he happened to know some episodes of a boy, or whether he selected  it later because it constituted an effective kinship with his own childhood.

Then, the boy might be either the cause of life or the effect of writing, and either the metonymy or the metaphor for the poet's life. Such a double structure never reaches an agreement, pushing us into what de Man might have called "the revolving door of reading," which is "certainly most uncomfortable, and all the more so in this case since this whirlgig is capable of infinite acceleration and is, in fact, not successive but simultaneous ("Autobiography as De-facment" in RR, 70, author's emphasis).  

The above flow of discourse makes us notice the coincidence between the Wordsworthian sense of "revolution" and the de Manian sense of "revolving." Insofar as The Prelude as autobiographical text is concerned, reading "the child" as the metaphor for "revolution" accidentally corresponds with feeling the "uncomfortableness," that is, the "discomfort" of the "revolving door" of reading: reading the word "revolution" is reading the revolution of the word "revolution," which would result in the abuse or defacement of its primary signification. If, then, it is the linguistic validity of "revolution" that must be questioned in the first place, "the child," or "the boy," must also be at stake. To be more precise, we are made to reexamine not simply the metaphorical relationship between "the child" and "revolution" but metaphor itself, because no other metaphor skillfully teaches us how metaphor becomes possible or impossible than "revolution"; taking off from the hanging of "hang," we are next to arrive at revolution as the metaphor for metaphor.  

Thus, "the child" turns out to have been   metaphor itself, not an entity to be metaphorized. In consequence of that, our sense of the metaphorical system gets confused---or, "revolutionized"; it signals the appearance of another catachresis. Here de Man's opinion may be useful: "to read is to understand, to question, to know, to forget, to erase, to deface, to repeat . . ." ("Shelley Disfigured" in RR, 122). Catachresis might have been rooted in the act of reading that cannot help disfiguring the book.


Another revolution has just started revolving. For, while our first chapter examined "the book as the production of disfigured metaphor," now our context ironically focuses on "metaphor as the revolution of disfigured book." Such a self-conscious revolution of the critical topic literally revolves our own logic of writing even in the present essay, as when, in the preceding section, the revolution of the word "revolution" displaced "the child as its metaphor" with "the child as metaphor itself." We are tempted to call this effect of revolution romantic: The Prelude accidentally involves us in the romance of rhetoric.

Certainly, the revolutionary linguistics of the work contains, as Chase points out, a number of catachreses as accidents of disfiguration. For instance, when the boy Wordsworth reports, "I chanced to cross / One of those open fields, which, shaped like ears / Make green peninsulas on Esthwaite's Lake"(1805, V. 456-58), the principal quality of ears is without relevance, because what matters here is merely "the accidental fact of their shape" (Chase, "AD" 554). Likewise, when the poet writes "The succeeding day--- / Those unclaimed garments telling a plain tale--- / Went there a company, and in their boat / Sounded with grappling-irons and long poles" (1805, V. 468-69), the principal meaning of "sound" has no pertinence, because in this context "sounding" refers rather to the soundless act of probing. Chase is right when she notices that "In the accidents of repetition, literal language as well as figural is displaced and eroded"("AD," 554-55). These textual facts confirm Derrida's definition touched on above: catachresis is a "forced metaphor" and "metaphor always carries its death within itself"("White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy" in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Allan Bass, Chicago: Chicago UP, 1982, in  257 and 271). Why, then, should not we call such a revolutionary fate of catachresis the "romance of metaphorics"?

The element of romance in The Prelude is apparent. A glance at the episode of the Maid of Buttermere in Book VII and the episode of Vaudracour and Julia in BOOK IX would inform us of the basic repetition of the impossibility of marriage and the death of the child, both of which are peculiar to romance. In the former episode, a lady-killer, seducing the innocent daughter of the hills, wedded her "in cruel mockery / Of love and marriage bonds," and later it is intimated that "Beside the mountain chapel sleeps in earth / Her new-born infant . . ." (1805, VII, 301-02 and 324-25). In the latter, although Young Vaudracour once "vowed his love to Julia," their class-crossed situation led his father to spurn "the very thought  / Of such alliance," and their "innocent child" died "by some mistake / Or indiscretion of the father" (1805, IX. 564-65, 569-70, 891 and 907-08).

If the possibility of marriage presupposes an ending of romance, and the growth of the child a beginning of a family, to keep its tone thoroughly romantic The Prelude has to avoid any attempt at ending something with a happy atmosphere, whether it is a wedding of a couple or the health of a baby. What is more important here is that these two episodes correspond with Wordsworth's own personal history in France. Footnotes to the Norton text indicate that, although the episode of the Maid of Buttermere was inspired by "A melodrama in rhyme called Edward and Susan, or The Beauty of Buttermere, which was performed in April-June 1803 (n. 5, 242), that of Vaudracour and Julia
stands in lieu of an account of his relationship with Annette Vallon, whom he met ca. January 1792, and by whom he had a child, christened in Orleans Cathedral on December 15 as Anne-Caroline Wordsworth. The stories cannot be expected to coincide in any detail, but Annette's two surviving letters, of March 1793 . . . are full of tenderness, and it is not difficult to believe that Wordsworth's initial feelings at being separated from her and Caroline by the war of England against France (declared February 1793) were akin to those of Vaudracour. They almost certainly did not meet again till the Peace of Amiens in 1802, the year of Wordsworth's marriage to Mary Hutchinson. (n. 2, 340)
Comparing the above footnote with the episode in question, we may agree with Ronald Paulson that "love itself is the symbol of revolution" (Representations of Revolution, New Haven: Yale UP, 1983, 265). Such a viewpoint powerfully stresses the genders of the lovers literally or metaphorically.     And yet, our aporia is that, while we are informed of the baby of Annette being  female,  the baby of the Maid of Buttermere---"the boy  had been / The pride and pleasure of all lookers-on / In whatsoever place, but seemed in this / A sort of alien scattered from the clouds" (1805, VII. 375-78)---and the baby of Julia---"Vaudracour {...} / Held up the new-born infant in his arms / And kissed, and blessed, and covered it with tears, / Uttering a prayer that he  might never be / As wretched as his father" (1805, IX. 786-91)---are both male, both doomed to die  soon. At this point, we would like to presuppose that Wordsworth's obsession with the male child rather than with the female child he and Annette actually had helps us think that now he focuses not on his own child but on Wordsworth himself as a male child.

In order to understand what this connotes, we have to take a look at the episode of the Buttermere Maid, to begin with. Here another death of a boy accidentally reminds us of the death of the Boy of Winander, returning us to the double perspective of the boy Wordsworth and the adult Wordsworth. Its autobiographical structure allows for the Nietzschean eternal return (Cf. Derrida, The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, tr. Peggy Kamuf, New York: Shocken Books, 1985, 45), incessantly conflicting with its writing. By the same token, it makes us wonder if the birth of the Winander Boy, too, might have been brought about by a context of  romance-writing and the impossibility of married life. We cannot find, though, any romance between the lovers but only commentaries on romance:
A gracious spirit o'er this earth presides,
And o'er the heart of man: invisibly
It comes, directing those to works of love
Who care not, know not, think not, what they do.
The tales that charm away the wakeful night
In Araby---romances, legends penned
For solace by the light of monkish lamps;
Fictions, for ladies of thier love, devised
By youthful squires; adventures endless, spun
By the dismantled warrior in old age
Out of the bowels of those very thoughts
In which his youth did first extravagate---
These spread like day, and something in the shape
Of these will live till man shall be no more.
(1805, V. 516-28, emphases mine)
What can be recognized here is the reference to romance as part of romantic writings including "works of love," "legends," and "adventures endless." "A gracious spirit" might be the spirit of romance that directs men and "will live till man shall be no more." This episode ironically emphasizes the dominance of romance over human life: man does not write romance but romance writes man: "it is not we that write, but writing that writes us"(Jacobus, "The Art of Managing Books: Romantic Prose and the Writing of the Past" in Romanticism and Language, ed. Arden Reed, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984, 216). At this point, we recognize the presence of romance (son) and the absence of man (father). Another displacement takes place: here romance might aptly be called the Father of the Man. Therefore, the existence of the boy itself can be thought of as  "textually required"; he is only born from the structure of romance. It is this revolutionary nature of the Wordsworthian boy that becomes at stake.

What is at stake is the boy---in this respect Book V coincides with Book VII, so does Book V with Book IX, because both "Books" describe the death of the boy. Why, then, should not we think that, if the boy is "textually required," the boy is "sexually erased"?

We know the coincidence between Wordsworth's and Vaudracour's predicament about the result of love. Their incapability of fostering their own child must have led both of them to the crisis of their fatherhood and, moreover, maleness, which is embodied in the boy. Now even if the Child is father of the Man, the Man is not only son of the Child but son of the boy in the most strict sense.

Indeed, their attempt to actualize a illegitimate marriage is, as mentioned above, equivalent to revolution, in the sense that it signifies a rebellion against authority symbolized in their respective fathers. And yet, revolution is named revolution, because, as the word "revolution" implies, the process of revolution contains its own futility: "revolution" as a word hangs between the literal and the figural. Then, just as the word "revolution" stumbled on the "revolving door," Wordsworth's and Vaudracour's  denial of their own fathers simultaneously invites the crisis of their being fathers.   Even here "the Child (as a boy)" is aptly "father of the Man," for the coincidence between the crisis of the Winander boy and that of Julia's child gives rise to the coincidence between the crisis of Wordsworth as a young "man" and that of Vandracour as a young "man." The death of the child gives birth to the reclusiveness of the Man, that is, the social and sexual death of the Man. As romance (son of the Man) creates Man (father of romance), the Child is coincidentally father of the Man, in that it is the crisis of the boy that invites the crisis of the Man. Here we may go so far as to define the boy as the teacher of the Man, who is able to skillfully teach such a textual coincidence, as was seen in the hanging of "hang" in the Winander Boy's episode, making himself an accidental construct. This episode is closed like this:
                   Thus lived the youth,
Cut off from all intelligence with man,
And shunning even the light of common day.
Nor could the voice of freedom, which through France
Soon afterwards resounded, public hope,
Or personal memory of his own deep wrongs,
Rouze him, but in those solitary shades
His days he wasted, and imbecile mind. (1805, IX. 929-35)
By "cutting off from all intelligence with man" and "shunning even the light of common day," Vaudracour makes us guess that this part might have constituted the main motif of The Recluse. As soon as Vaudracour literally becomes a recluse, the Man is erased sexually as well as textually. It follows that The Recluse gets drowned in reclusion within The Prelude itself.


We now can finally come to appreciate the significance of the Drowned Man episode, returning to Book V. Acccidentally, the drowning of The Recluse within The Prelude cannot but revolve the Drowned Man episode once again:
At length, the dead man, 'mid that beauteous scene
Of trees and hills and water, bolt upright
Rose with his ghastly face, a spectre shape---
Of terror even. And yet no vulgar fear,
Young as I was, a child not nine years old,
Possesed me, for my inner eye had seen
Such sights before among the shining streams
Of fairyland, the forests of romance ---
Thence came a spirit hallowing what I saw
With decoration and ideal grace,
A dignity, a smoothness, like the words
Of Grecian art and purest poesy. (1805, V. 470-81, emphases mine)
Here the child-spectator, that is, the boy Wordsworth acted by the poet Wordsworth, misreads the literal as a literal manifestation of figure, because he appreciated, as Chase asserts, the sight of the risen corpse as a literal appearance in the world of a poetic figure from books (562). With the word "smoothness written here he also succeeds in literally "smoothing" the troubled surface of the lake as well as the disfigured features of the ghastly face. In addition, "like the works of Grecian art" the dead figure requires the viewer's "inner eye" which is able to recreate the defaced parts of it (Chase, 556-58). The accident of disfiguration led the boy Wordsworth to a misreading, by which he himself is later forced to get drowned in the text, as we already recognized in the coincidence between the drowning of Vandracour in reclusiveness and the drowning of maleness in The Prelude. At this point, we must be reminded that the first misreading of this poem should be attributed to Mary Wordsworth, who disfigured Wordsworth just by smoothing the surface (inventing the title) of the poem. "The Drowned Man" can be read as "The Drowned Maleness" reflecting the accident by Mary Wordsworth's disfigurative naming of the poem. It is, therefore, us readers who come next to misread, just like the boy Wordsworth, the literal "drowned Man" as a literal manifestation of Wordsworth as a male "figure."

Thus, to read is at once to misread and to get drowned. If Shoshana Felman is right when she regards reading as transferring (Literature and Psychoanalysis, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1982, 137), the act of reading is the act of repeating, or of getting drowned into, the reading effect always already structured within the text. Getting drowned, therefore, is a metaphor for reading. We experience the revolution of the book by means of getting drowned in the textual structure.

One of the more interesting things about the episode of the Drowned Man is that, as Chase has it, "Biographies of Wordsworth provide us with mimetical trivia about this effaced figure that comes out second as candidate for the writer's 'prime teacher'; the drowned man was, in fact, a local schoolmaster" (565). To put it another way, Wordsworth seems to have undertaken to do away with the schoolmaster in this poem, resisting the systematizing educators of the age, that is, "Sages, who in their prescience would controul / all accidents"(1805, V. 355-56). On the other hand, however, the preceding analysis might reveal that, while for Wordsworth the relationship between the Child and the Man carries out the revolving door effect of reading, the relationship between the student and the teacher also gives way to the revolutionary effect of educating. Felman states: "the position of the teacher is itself the position of the one who learns, of the one who teaches nothing other than the way he learns"("Psychoanalysis and Education: Teaching Terminable and Interminable," Yale French Studies, No. 63, 1982, 37). This Lacanian reading of teaching coincides well with the Wordsworthian teaching of reading. If the dead boy in Book IX acts in effect as the teacher-like father of the young recluse, there must exist the coincidence between the Drowned Man as the teacher and the dead boy as the teacher. It further brings us to the discovery that, whereas the Drowned Man can be identified with the teacher, the teacher cannot be identified only with this man but with the dead boy as well.   The boy (student) Wordsworth, too, is indubitably the child, but the child is not merely the student but the teacher. It is exactly where another predicament of disfigurative revolution lies.

Let us, next, turn to the coincidence in this case occuring between the Child-Man relationship and the Poet-Book relationship. The Prelude itself, which, as we noted in our introduction, was the child produced by Mary Wordsworth's defacement of Wordsworth, cannot avoid the Child-Man revolution in the above sense. Wordsworth might have expected this poem to be his child as his autobiography, which teaches the audience what his life has been like, while the child is doomed in the text to become not his autobiography but a figure for autobiography itself, which teaches us how precarious, like death, the act of writing autobiography is. Such a disproportion of metaphorics of child, nevertheless, is that which produces the revolution of revolution as the main topic of the poem.


Just as de Man's "revolving door effect" revolves the revolution of Wordsworth's autobiography, so Chase's "accidents of disfiguration" coincides with the accidents by Mary Wordsworth's disfiguration; as the revolving door aptly unveils the concurrence between entering the door as a "prelude" and exiting from the same door as a "recluse," so disfiguration in the poem inverts the hierarchy of signification by means of actualizing the Wordsworthian paradox that "The Child is Father of the Man" in the catachretic sense. Indeed, the poet himself, if alive when this poem was published, might have rejected her misreading in the titling. But, by the same token, he must have disclosed the misreadability of the text as its blind spot. The accidental interruption of the bereaved wife, therefore, thrillingly drowns us in the drowning of maleness, which was made possible exclusively by the misreading femininity, further giving us an insight into the coincidence between "The Drowned Man" as the drowned maleness and "The Drowned Wordsworth" as the drowned poet.

If coincidence is that which drowns the original cause and effect relationship, we become unable to determine whether Wordsworth metaphoricizes "The Drowned Man" or whether "The Drowned Man" metaphoricizes Wordsworth. What is more, if, as we defined above, "drowning" signifies "reading" and "man" signifies "the poet," this phrase "The Drowned Man" itself begins to sound quite catachrestic; "The Drowned Man," then, refers to none other than "The read poet." Now that the poet gets drowned in the book itself, what is at stake is the existing (hierarchical) concept of the relationship between the Poet and the Book, as well as that between the Father and the Child or between the teacher and the student as investigated earlier. In other words, there might be no relation but only revolution, an revolution initially started by the poet's widow.

We should emphaize, however, not the overturning of the male-female relationship but rather that of the metaphorical cause-effect relationship brought about by the former. What interests us most is the revolving-door effect between writing and reading. Unless there is any "original cause" in the text, or, as far as "the original cause," if any, is from the start the illusion of defaced or abused "textual effect," as we have illustrated with the metaphorics of drowning, why should not we propose the concurrence between the writing and the reading of The Prelude? Wordsworth's defaced writing and de Man's double-reading might have happened simultaneously, while Mary's abusive entitlement and Chase's disfigurative misreading might have happened simultaneously. Such an allegory of the book may well sound quite "uncomfortable," as de Man once stated. It is, nevertheless, this revolving and revolutionary aspect that renders the book of The Prelude a romantic textual scandal in the most radical sense.

               21 June 1986

The first version of this article was completed as a term paper for English 743 Professor Mary Jacobus taught in the fall of 1985 at Cornell University. My deepest gratitude goes to Professor Jacobus herself, as well as Professor Cynthia Chase, a member of my committee and one of the central subjects of the text, without whose keenly insightful comments and suggestions I could not have fully developed my own theory of post-de Manism.

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