Shana Marie Hirsch
April 25, 2000
A Study in Gascoigne's Style in The Adventures of Master F.J.
An author's presentation of his work oftentimes determines its effectiveness. The traditional novel is usually a straight chronology which has a plot line that is fairly easy to understand, adhering to a rubric set forth by Gustav Freytag in his Technik des Dramas (1863). This style is known as "Freytag's Pyramid", a pyramid that "has been widely accepted as a heuristic means of getting the structure of many kinds of fiction in addition to drama" (Holman and Harmon 208).1 Many, if not all, contemporary writers follow this methodology. However, this is not true of the Elizabethan writers who experimented with many different modes of narrative structure. This experimentation in method is seen, for example in, George Gascoigne's 1573 prose work, The Adventures of Master F. J. Gascoigne's non-traditional style is one of the reasons for the success of the work.
George Gascoigne's The Adventures of Master F. J is the story of the love affair between F. J. and the mistress of the house where he is living.2 The structure of this fictional narrative is unique-by both Renaissance and contemporary standards. The story is told through a series of correspondence in the forms of letters and poems from F.J. and responses from the narrator, G.T. Paul Salzman sheds light on the more complicated facets, which compose this unusual exchange of letters:
Salzman's assessment illustrates that this is a unique narrative in itself. To further this originality, Gascoigne mixes genres in his work-the composition of correspondence is a mixture of prose and poetry-the prose explains the story line and the poetry is a device used to showcase F. J.'s feelings for the lady he loves. This format allows the reader a more personal outlook on F.J.'s feelings, a clearer account of his desires. It is more effective than using a third person narrator.
Gascoigne skillfully uses the character of G.T. as a narrator. G.T.'s role is
emphasized, before the narrative proper starts, through the exchange with
H.W. This exchange is in part a product of the Elizabethan courtly author's
desire to seem unwilling to appear in print, but it also prepares the reader
for the recessed nature of this narrative, with its rationale disingenuously
claimed by G.T. to be merely a provision of the background to F.J.'s poems. (xiv)
This is the first passage of the novella that is written by F.J. It gives the reader a small glimpse into his passionate desire, although, at this time, the situation of the lady to whom he is writing, and her marital status, are unclear to the reader. However, F.J.'s tone and word choice are a grand portrayal of himself as the passionate figure he proves himself to be. F.J. has been described as: "a hero who launches himself into the courtly love pose, writing an elegant letter declaring his passion to Elinor, while G.T. seeks to draw the reader's attention to the sexual opportunism and hypocrisy behind the poses" (Salzman xiv). This "sexual opportunism" is apparent in a love poem he writes to Elinor, as he makes his carnal desires and intentions obvious:
Mistresses I pray you understand that, being altogether a stranger in these
parts, my good hap hath been to behold you to my no small contention, and
my evil hap accompanies the same with such imperfection of my deserts as
that find always a ready repulse in mine own forwardness . . . I must say that
I have found fire in frost; and yet comparing the inequality of my deserts with
the least part of your worthiness, I feel a continual frost in my most fervent fire.
Such is then the extremity of my passions, the which I could never have been
content to commit unto this tell-tale paper were it not that I am destitute of all
other help. (Gascoigne, 6-7)
A noteworthy example of F.J.'s poetry, since this poem, coupled with G.T.'s proceeding commentary, sets up the forthcoming passion between the lovers.3 The strong use of imagery paints the scene of passionfire, hot and steamy, simmering and building in them both.
I first beheld that heavenly hue of thine,
Thy stately stature and thy comely grace,
I must confess these dazzled eyes of mine
Did wink for fear when I first viewed thy face.
The bold desire did open them again
And bad me look, till I had looked too long.
I pitied them that did procure my pain
And loved the looks that wrought me all the wrong. (12)
The imagery used in the narrative form is also prominent in the scene in which the lovers consummate their relationship. The buildup to this figurative and literal climax has F.J. waiting anxiously for his encounter with Madame Elinor. G.T. comments on the situation:
With this delivery of information by G.T., the narrator, the reader is afforded the freedom of personal visual clarity which may not have been possible in a typical third person narrative. Through F.J. and G.T.'s relationship and the personal appeal which is enhanced by their correspondence, the reader feels more closely tied to the feelings and emotions of the characters. This "pull" of sentimentality would not be wrenched from the reader without the literary catalyst.
Hereby F. J. passed the rest of that day in hope awaiting the happy time
when his mistress should send for him. Supper time came and passed
over, and not long after came the handmaid of the Lady Elinor into the
great chamber, desiring F.J. to repair unto their mistress, the which he
willingly accomplished. And being now entered into her chamber, he
might perceive his mistress in her night's attire, preparing herself
towards bed, to whom F.J. said "Why how now mistress? I had thought
this night to have seen you dance, at least or at last, amongst us."
"By my troth good servant," quod she, "[I] (sic) adventured so soon into
the great chamber yesternight that I find myself somewhat sickly
disposed, and therefore do strain courtesy, as you see, to go the sooner
to my bed this night. But before I sleep", quod she, "I am to charge you
with a matter of weight," and taking him apart from rest, declared that at
that present night she would talk with him more at large in the gallery
near adjoining to her chamber. (29)
In juxtaposing the letters of F.J. with the commentary of G.T., a comprehensive reading is easier to attain and the importance of this form of narration is easier to infer. Since the narrative structure is the singular tool, which concretizes this work, the reader is on a more intimate level with F.J. This is primarily because he is reading from his personal letters which disclose his innermost thoughts, and because the commentary from the narrator (G.T.) allows for an objective opinion of F.J.'s situation. The poetry that is interspersed throughout the prose acts as an anchor to F.J.'s letters as it refuels his passionate expose', adding both conviction and belief to his love for Elinor. This work would not have been as enjoyable or appreciable if it had followed the Freytag model and neglected the more forthright narrative approach.
In Hugh Holman and William Harmon's Handbook to Literature there is a clever diagram which lists
the elements of this pyramid. At the left base there is the Inciting Momentthis consists of the Exposition
and complication (known together as the Rising Action); At the pinnacle is the Climax; and extending
down the right are the Reversal and catastrophe (known together as the Falling Action), and finally at
the right base is the Moment of Last Suspense.
2 This is also known as the Pleasant fable of Fernando Jeronimi and Leonora de Vavasco (Drabble 358).
3 G.T.'s commentary is as follows: "The flames
began to break out on every side and she, to quench
them, shut up herself in her chamber solitarily. But as the smithy gathers greater heat by the casting on
of water, even so the more she absented herself from company, the fresher was the grief which galded
her remembrance, so that at last the report was speared through the house . . . This imagery of fiery
hot passion foreshadows the desire that is to come.
Drabble, Margaret, ed. The Oxford Companion to English Literature.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 358.
Gascoigne, George. The Adventures of Master F.J.
An Anthology of Elizabethan Fiction. Paul Salzman, ed.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 3-81.
Homan, Hugh & William Harmon, eds. Freytag's Pyramid. A Handbook to Literature.
New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. 207-208
Salzman, Paul. "Introduction." An Anthology of Elizabethan Fiction.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. vii-xxiv.
Shana Marie Hirsch wrote this paper as a graduate student
at the University of South Carolina.
Text copyright ©2000-2018 Shana Marie Hirsch. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Luminarium through express written permission.
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