This sample essay on Cousin Nancy Analysis offers an extensive list of facts and arguments related to it. The essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion are provided below.
‘An intellectual migration from America to Europe significantly shaped T. S Eliot’s modernism. ‘ Discuss this statement via a close analysis of the form and content of ‘Cousin Nancy’ and ONE other poem of your choice from Prufrock and Other Observations. To attempt to answer this question it is important to understand the reasons behind Eliot’s decision to migrate from America to Europe, and how this move was influenced by his intellectual beliefs in the modernist movement.
It is also essential to understand these beliefs and this can be achieved through an analysis of the poetic techniques used in the Prufrock poems.
By focusing this essay on a discussion of Cousin Nancy and The Boston Evening Transcript specifically an insight into modernist writing and Eliot’s dissatisfaction of America can be discussed in tandem.
This joint discussion will highlight how Eliot’s physical migration to Europe was influenced by a wish to intellectually migrate away from American literature towards European modernist ideals. Cousin Nancy was written in the second period of the Prufrock poems that covers the timescale of 1914/15.
At this time Eliot had moved to England, and so the poems from this period covered his reflections of the USA from a European perspective. Eliot’s poetry at this time was heavily influenced by European modernism and had been developed earlier through an awareness of French symbolism, particularly a study of LaForgue.
These styles of writing, which are evident in the two poems that will be discussed, were very different to the American literature of the time which had not embraced modernism with as much conviction as their European contemporaries.
American writers were influenced more by a sense of Individualism and Transcendentalism that stemmed from their sacred study of ‘the enormity and sublimity of the landscape that God had provided for them’ (quoted in Heath and Boreham, p. 165). Their attitudes leading up to the start of the Twentieth Century followed more Romantic beliefs than Modernist themes and Cousin Nancy reflects Eliot’s frustrations at this insular way of thinking that seemed stuck on reflection rather than progression. The poem focuses on the grand and trivial movements of Cousin Nancy, as she changes and redefines the shape and trends of ‘New England’.
The ‘hills’ are described as ‘barren’ which suggests that this area shows no sign of growth or development. This description needs to be placed in the context of Eliot’s allusion to ‘New England’, which was the adopted home of American Transcendentalism, and was pioneered by Ralph Waldo Emerson. With the knowledge of insight it is clear to see that Eliot’s description of this barren land symbolizes an attack on American Literature’s lack of progressive style, which concentrated on an attempt to define its environment rather than change it.
With this in mind it is easy to see that Cousin Nancy symbolizes the modernist movement that is creeping into American culture from Europe through writers such as Eliot and breaking down the old ‘barren’ traditions. By also describing ‘New England’ as ‘barren’ Eliot is hinting at the lack of literary history and ‘limitations of US culture’ that he felt restricted any growth or progression in his writing, and contrasts it with the symbol of modernism that ‘Miss Nancy Ellicott’ represents of a more cultured Europe and the new things it offers (quoted in Brown and Gupta, p.
238). This symbolism evokes fragmentary thoughts from the poet persona as the observations of the breaking of the hills bring visions of: Riding to hounds Over the cow-pasture. This image alludes to the rich history of the landscapes of England, with its rural hunts and farming traditions, and by doing so compares the difference between the strength of European culture and modernism to the fragility of America’s insular reflective background.
Where the land offers very little sign of life, ‘Miss Nancy Ellicott’ is full of vigour, and by using a double meaning of the verb ‘smoked’ Eliot offers up the image that she is not only displaying modern trends but is actually burning with life in her attempt to display modernist ideals. The poem also describes in stanza two how she ‘danced all the modern dances’, and it is in this description that a slight bitterness and un-easiness at her actions is evident from the poet persona. By using ‘all’ Eliot is hinting that her actions are artificial as if she is following a trend rather than understanding its meaning.
This lack of understanding is mirrored by the ‘aunts’ who were: … not quite sure how they felt about it, But they knew that it was modern. By describing the ‘aunts’ lack of emotion or insight Eliot hints at their ignorance of modernism, which promoted the link between the environment and the consciousness. The women in this poem seem to adopt or accept modern symbols without any thought as to what they represent, and this can be seen as another slant on the obtuseness of American culture, that is so immersed in attempting to discover its own identity that it loses sight of time.
The fact that they are all women also follows the ‘misogyny in most of the Prufrock poems’ that helps to establish the character and voice of the poet persona. The final stanza of the poem fragments and shifts again away from the observations of Cousin Nancy to an image of two busts that ‘kept watch’ over the previous symbolic exertions of modernism. The first bust is of ‘Matthew’ (Arnold) and the second ‘Waldo’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Both these figures represent canonical ancestors of Eliot and ‘Waldo’ also represents the implementation of Transcendentalism in New England.
The description of them both upon ‘glazed shelves’ hints at a secondary meaning of them having a faraway, blank or distant look about them. This interpretation can be seen as another attack on America’s ignorance of the inevitability of modernism and change, in place of pre-occupation and self-discovery. The two busts also represent immovable inanimate objects which highlights Eliot’s modernist opinion of American culture. The final line of the poem describes them as ‘The army of unalterable law’ which alludes to the poem ‘Lucifer in Starlight’ by George Meredith.
In this poem Meredith describes how Lucifer observes the army of unalterable stars that surround Heaven, making an impregnable fortress against him and therefore reminding him of his impotent and subservient status in the face of the power of God. By comparing the two busts with these stars Eliot hints that their unwillingness to be moved or changed renders them redundant as they stare blankly at the inevitable progress that Cousin Nancy represents. To Eliot they typify American culture, and highlight why his frustrations as a modernist thinker led him into an intellectual migration to Europe.