Reflections on my work and life experience.

"Clarissa's Arbiters of Desire" - A Critical Paper

"Clarissa's Arbiters of Desire" was the final paper I completed in college, for my BA in English. The class was English 448: the English Novel. The professor's name was Clement Hawes. The assignment was broad: for our final assignment in his class, we would write a paper of no less than 10 pages on a topic of our choice regarding any work we had studied in the class.

I hope you'll forgive me for not including the document itself, but after reviewing it for inclusion on my portfolio, I've renewed my old interest in revising and publishing it as a scholarly work. My professor at the time believed that the core was solid enough to justify that hope, though looking back, I believe that at the time I wasn't a skilled enough writer to polish it sufficiently.

It's not the quality that justifies the inclusion of this project in my portfolio, but the foundation for that quality. You see, the typical undergraduate paper in literary criticism doesn't tend to break much new ground. So much has usually been written about the books we study that it's difficult to find a fresh idea, even for those who are inclined to go to the effort of writing something new. My thesis for "Clarissa's Arbiters of Desire," however, was exactly that--honestly original--and as such, it posed challenges I had never faced before.

My thesis: while the primary characters constantly took center stage, the core of the book's significance actually lay with the secondary characters, who form not only a bridge for the audience, but also enact the ideal the tale espouses. My goal with it wasn't to be original; I simply considered it interesting enough to base a 10 page paper on. I found out about the originality the hard way, when I began my research and discovered that no published literary analyst seemed inclined to pay attention to the secondary characters. This meant I had no existing literary criticism on which to base my claim. I couldn't even find any existing claims to refute!

In any forum of debate or critical analysis, of course, backing up your arguments is key. In writing undergraduate papers, this seldom proves difficult. The vast majority of the time, a student's argument falls directly in line with existing work. Finding a book or published paper to cite is as simple as a 15 minute visit to the library...assuming you even need to go beyond a Google search or online journal database. On this one, though, I was at sea. I had spent four years writing papers like a student, and suddenly I was faced with the necessity of creating one like a professional.

I learned how to do difficult research. Search box keywords were no help; I had to find and follow avenues of research through reasoning and logical extrapolation. In some cases, pursuing a particular avenue of research meant first familiarizing myself with the subject enough to know what to look for. I learned interdisciplinary thinking, hunting up psychology books on Jung's theory of archetypes, studies on morality plays, biographies on Samuel Richardson, and historical texts on the 18th century in order to create a context for my own work. I learned how to construct an argument out of disparate facts, and about the process of constructing a sound theory through supporting evidence. I had to truly compile my argument, supporting each step with solid evidence, in order to create the paper.

Perhaps more importantly, though, I learned how to manage a situation I hadn't been prepared for. When presented with the problem of creating a 10-page document with no existing material to work from, I kept my head and worked out the procedure I would need to follow in order to accomplish it. If there was no existing research, then I would need to create it. I looked at how other authors had constructed new criticism out of whole cloth. I followed the steps they had, using secondary sources and tangential material in order to form context and support individual points, using logic to build it into a whole. To handle the apparently overwhelming, I broke it down and tackled it step by step to reach completion.

It took me most of the semester, but the end product was the best work of my college career, and I remain proud not only of the document's quality and the hard work I put into it, but of the professionalism with which I pursued its creation. Thanks to that paper, I learned how to persevere and succeed in an intimidating situation, and I learned that if you keep your head, you can often turn a bad start into an opportunity to achieve beyond expectations.