Sunday, 23 May 2010

Help me write my paper

I'm finishing my paper for this conference (which is going to be so great, you guys), and in all seriousness, I would like your answers to this question: why is Dante in The Divine Comedy not a Mary-Sue?

Here's a bit of the Inferno:

And so I saw together that excellent school
Of those who are masters of exalted song
Which, like an eagle, flies above the others.

When they had talked together a little while,
They turned towards me with signs of recognition;
And my master smiled to see them do so.

And then, they did me a still greater honour;
They took me as a member of their company,
So that I was a sixth among those great intellects.

So we went on in the direction of the light,
Talking of things of which it is well to say nothing,
Although it was well to talk of them at the time. (Inf.4.94-105: trans. Sisson in the Oxford World's Classics edition)

Here's the start and end of the original Mary-Sue story:

‘Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,’ thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. ‘Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet - only fifteen and a half years old.’ Captain Kirk came up to her.
‘Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly.'

... In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness.

Any and all answers welcome. If you don't want to make up a google account just to comment here, drop me an email - you can find my work email really easily from the contact directory at Bristol uni, or via my staff page.


Charlie Butler said...

Ah, the obvious answer is that Dante's character is the Mary Sue. But I happen to know that the Divine Comedy was actually written by Beatrice, who was fifteen and a half years old at the time.

Ika said...

Look at me, the youngest saint in the Paradiso!

We Go There said...

*frets unhelpfully*

I'm trying to finish my paper too and I'm worried it's crap and I wish I had another gazillion years to work on it, aaaaaaaaaagh.

Dante is CLEARLY a Mary Sue, however.

Una McCormack said...

I wish I'd had that line about "sixth among those great intellects" when I was defending all those Tenth Walker in the Fellowship stories.

I think this is Mary-Sueing in action, but how about this as a counter-argument. Dante isn't inserting himself into a text with the purpose of re-organizing a plot around himself, which is often the case with many self-insertions. As you know, Bob, that's a complaint often made about Mary-Sues: that there's something arrogant or self-important about writing them.

That's the best argument I can make.

We Go There said...

Actually the counter-argument I've found most problematic with people-in-the-past-as-Mary-Sues is the argument that Mary Sues are always *fabulous*, but the larger argument there is that they're wish-fulfillment figures for their author, and you can't really argue that Dante isn't that, here. THat's how I'm getting round Margery Kempe, too. She's not *fabulous* in her visions in the gospels, but she's granted a personal audience with Jesus after Mary and Mary Magdalene, you can't get much more awesome than that.

Paul said...

Hmm, because he never really pretends otherwise? I'm grasping at straws, here. :-)

Ika said...

Thank you you guys! YouGoThere, I feel EXACTLY the same, but I bet it will be fine in the end. J reminds me that I usually do feel like this and it usually is fine. And furthermore, you have awesome thoughts about all of this, so your paper will bear the MARK OF AWESOME, which is something no-one can see in their own writing, but which will definitely be there for everyone else to see.

And yeah - I think you have to distinguish Mary-Sue-as-authorial-insert from Mary-Sue-as-Hero-With-A-Thousand-Faces (a la the 'Litmus Test'). Actually I do something quite fancy about this in my paper, which you will see soon! (Well, soon-ish.)

Una, my students all see Dante as very arrogant for being 'the sixth in that company' (and I too wish you had has the line when you were defending the Tenth Walker stories, how great would that have been!) so some of that applies, I think. But yeah, he's not actually reorganizing an existing fictional world and network of relationships around himself, he's constructing a new fictional world. (Around himself.)

Paul - actually, yes, one of the things people dislike/mock about Mary-Sue is the... not exactly deception, but non-upfrontness: the 'Serena Moonflower' names rather than Jane Crumpf...

Eek! Must go back to the marking!

Paul said...

my students all see Dante as very arrogant

He certainly has, er, abundant self-confidence. :-) I love the turnaround a couple of cantos earlier, when he's been making a fuss, flapping his hands about 'io sol uno', 'l'alto passo', and 'io non Enea, io non Paolo sono', and then, what, a dozen lines later, he's having Vergil say that, basically, he's on a mission from God. (Ok, the BVM.) Oh, Dante, Dante.

Good luck with the paper (and also with your marking...)

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