Traditionally the pastoral genre celebrates the virtues of simple, unsophisticated life far from the city or court, in which the population is stereotyped as unintelligent and fatuitous. In Blake’s poetry, Brideshead Revisited (1945) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), the pastoral is represented positively and simply through the characterisation of certain characters. However, in each text certain contradictions to this traditional view of the pastoral arise. In Blake’s The Echoing Green, Blake uses the rhyme and repetition of the poem as an evocation of the innocent bliss of youth and the pastoral.
Blake uses an AABB rhyme scheme to structure the piece, the regular rhyme scheme is symbolic for the simplistic life lead by the characters such as ‘old John’ on the ‘echoing green. ’ Moreover, the language used by Blake in this eponymous poem is simple and unpretentious and underpins this sense of childlike virtue, as Blake describes the ‘happy skies’. The personification of the ‘skies’ also highlights Blake’s celebration of innocence in this poem as the ‘skies’ being described as happy is a slightly ridiculous scenario, mimetic of a children’s story.
The juxtaposition of ‘youth-time’ and ‘echoing green’ suggests to the reader that the characters parallel the simple bucolic setting described in this poem, reflecting how ‘all (the) girls and boys’ are too, unsophisticated. Blake highlights the notion of Arcadian liberation through the recurrence of birds in this Romantic poetry, this compounds the presentation of pastoral characters as innocent since ‘the little ones’ are able to live a life of innocent, blissful freedom without the constricting feelings of worry and melancholy, contextually associated with the ‘charter’d streets’ of the city.
Blake references a ‘sky-lark’, a bird which sings only in flight and often only when it’s too high to be visible, being liberated from the ‘bonds of earth’ and soaring beyond the reach of physical senses, therefore becoming an emblem for spiritual transcendence and the ‘joy’ and freedom synonymous with innocence which is found secure in pastoral utopias such as ‘the echoing green’. However, despite the poem being bookended by these images of the bucolic innocence of rural dwellers, the poem can also be viewed as an allegory for sexual awakening, suggesting that pastoral characters are not entirely innocent.
Blake’s repetition of the ‘echoing green’ is contrasted in the last line of the poem with ‘the darkening green’ which is a cogent symbol for the inescapable nature of maturation. The ‘darkening green’ is an oxymoronic phrase, since green is a bright colour, yet the adjective ‘darkening’ creates an ominous tone at the end of the poem, suggesting that the green is not ‘darkening’ however the lives of those on the green are.
Ultimately the ‘sun does (and must) descend’, consequently presenting innocence as a fragile and ephemeral time in ‘our’ lives and subsequently contradicting the traditional view of pastoral literary characters as ‘innocent’. Similarly, in Nurse’s song in Blake’s Songs of Innocence nature, youth and innocence are presented as intrinsic as Blake celebrates the purity of childhood and the idyllic pastoral. In Nurse’s Song, Blake uses prose to exemplify the simple nature of children and more widely the population in rural areas, ‘on the hill’.
The nurse is symbolic of an experienced and knowledgeable guardian, considering in the 19th Century, nurses were usually responsible for the protection of children. Moreover, Blake uses personal pronouns in the nurse’s speech, ‘my children’, to highlight her protective nature. The nurse recommends to the children ‘let us away’ in order to escape the ‘dews of night’, which are symbolic for the harmful aspects of society and simultaneously the impending corruption of innocence.
However the children argue ‘it is yet day’, reflecting how children and doric characters of the country approach the world with optimism. Rather than focusing on the impending ‘night(fall)’, they concentrate on the ‘sun’, shown through Blake’s use of ‘yet’. Moreover, this shows the unsophistication and simplicity of the rural population, who are ignorant to the ‘dews of night’ and symbolically, their eventual loss of innocence, when ‘the light fades’.
The need for protection also compounds the fact that these rural dwellers are unsophisticated, since they are unable to protect themselves or control their own destiny, reflected through the title Nurse’s Song which shows the nurse is in control. Blake propounds this presentation of the pastoral through the use of ‘&’ in his poem. The utilisation of a symbol as opposed to a more literary, ‘and’, illuminates the simple and carefree life in the country, ‘leaped & shouted’ and perhaps suggests that people in the country are uneducated and therefore inarticulate, forced to use the symbol ‘&’.
Furthermore, in Blake’s Nurse’s Song, in Songs of Experience, which are juxtaposed with the Songs of Innocence, Blake furthers his presentation of the pastoral as nurturing of unsophistication, through the character of the nurse. Blake presents the nurse negatively in this version of the poem rather than as protective, he uses the imperative in the nurse’s speech to explicate her controlling nature, ‘come home’. The nurse is presented as jealous of the innocence of the children through use of colour.
Blake describes how her ‘face turn(ed) green’, ‘green’ could reference jealousy, furthermore it could indicate a malady possibly due to her age, which is why she wishes to return to ‘the days of (her) youth’. The fact the nurse tries to vicariously enjoy the children’s innocence, ‘voices of children’, suggests she is nostalgic for her own ‘youth’ which implies that this rural nurse doesn’t wish to be experienced and sophisticated but rather, ignorant to the ‘dews’ in the world just like the children.
The nurse’s longing for the past suggests she’s living her life in a counter-productive way, implying she is stereotypical of a country bumpkin; unsophisticated, unproductive and nostalgic. Similarly in Brideshead Revisited, the character of Sebastian; who has spent a considerable amount of time living at the ‘enchanted palace’ of Brideshead, is presented to be ‘in love with his own childhood’. Waugh symbolises Sebastian’s innocent nature which has been indulged by his time at rural Brideshead, through the motif of Aloysius, his teddy bear.
Waugh uses direct speech though Sebastian towards the ‘old bear’, this highlights Sebastian’s simple nature as he references his ‘bear’ as if it were real, just as a child would do. St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Catholicism; a religion to which Sebastian belongs, is the patron of youth, which reinforces Sebastian’s firm attachment to his innocence. Furthermore, Sebastian refers to his mother using the endearing, childlike term ‘mummy’ which suggests he is vulnerable and reliant on parental guardianship, much like the children in Blake’s Nurse’s Song.
Similarly, Waugh characterises Sebastian using descriptions mimetic of an insolent, unrefined child. Waugh describes Sebastian ‘turn(ing) sulkily back to college’, the adjective ‘sulkily’ has connotations of childhood, in which a child would behave bitterly against something to their distaste. The contrast between ‘sulkily’ which suggests childish naivety and ‘college’ which connotes maturity reflects Sebastian’s indulged innocence due to his lackadaisical existence at Brideshead, since despite attending ‘college’, Waugh describes Sebastian’s character to be infantine and unsophisticated.
Nonetheless, throughout the novel, Waugh endows a particularly manipulative personality onto Sebastian’s character which suggests his character is more complex than a traditional pastoral character. Structurally, Waugh uses letters in the novel to convey the manipulative aspects of the character of Sebastian. Sebastian’s letter to Charles is signed ‘love or what you will’, the ‘what you will’ anecdotal message presents Sebastian as aloof, at least in his friendship with Charles, suggesting he is using his ‘charm’ to control Charles’ emotions.
Moreover, Waugh shows the reader Sebastian was simply writing to talk about himself through the use of pronouns ‘I am mourning’, suggesting Sebastian is narcissistic and a polar opposite to an innocent rural dweller often presented in pastoral literature. Waugh uses repetition of ‘I wish’ in Sebastian’s letter, ‘I wish you were here’, the repetition reflects how Sebastian is trying to control Charles and manipulate him into coming to him, ‘in Venice’.
Especially considering in a following letter, Waugh uses the imperative, which propounds the manipulative nature of Sebastian’s character, as he demands that Charles ‘come at once’ since he is ‘gravely injured’, therefore making Charles subservient to him. This highlights that Sebastian is far from unsophisticated but actually rather intelligent. Also, Waugh also uses dialect to present Sebastian as a more refined character, contrasting the reader’s original perception, deeming him jovial and care-free.
Waugh frequently incorporates French vocabulary into Sebastian’s speech, ‘debutante’, which further suggests his character is not unrefined like traditional pastoral characters perhaps because of the urban influence of Oxford on the character of Sebastian. Suggesting Waugh has chosen to present Sebastian as a dual character to demonstrate both the innocence and liberation associated with the country as well as the refinement and posh urban veneer associated with the town.
Equivalently, in She Stoops to Conquer, Goldsmith uses the character of Tony Lumpkin as a symbol for the simplistic nature of all the country folk. Goldsmith’s nominalisation of Tony Lumpkin initially presents his character as stereotypic of a one-dimensional country dweller. ‘Lumpkin’ could be a subtle indication of Tony’s figure. ‘Lump’ suggests that Tony is a stout man, which reflects his uninhibited lifestyle lead in the country; relaxing and singing songs in the Three Pigeons, ‘toroddle, toroddle, toroll’.
This mirrors Third Century idealised pastoral life in which shepherds and shepherdesses enjoyed a life of blissful ease, thus presenting Tony as an unsophisticated character who lacks the refinement of a man of the town ‘bred a scholar’. Moreover, Lumpkin is similar to the word ‘bumpkin’ which is a derogatory term for a simple rustic, further implying Tony’s lack of grace. Goldsmith enhances this depiction of Tony’s carefree lifestyle through the setting of the alehouse. Several shabby fellows’ are identified in this setting which reflects the lower social class facet of society which Tony associates with, the adjective ‘shabby’ suggests that this is a relatively impoverished group of local country dwellers who, like Tony, are content with drinking ‘punch’ and smoking ‘tobacco’. The song sung in said alehouse by Tony perpetuates the fact that he lives the unprosperous life of a rural dweller.
The words ‘nonsense’ and ‘learning’ are juxtaposed in the lyrics to show Tony is uninterested in education, and furthermore that he is a lazy and unambitious character; which is how country folk can be presented to behave in the pastoral genre, which complements Vicki Janik’s description of Tony as “the most ignorant of the country bumpkins”. Nonetheless, Goldsmith establishes Tony’s character as much more than this, as he is able to deceive the town folk into believing Hardcastle’s home is ‘an inn. ’ Tony’s deception is also rather profound as he diverts Marlow and Hastings from the ‘long, dark, boggy’ road that they intended to travel.
The numerous adjectives listed shows Tony as a rather manipulative character with more intelligence than was first shown, which is an anti-pastoral presentation of Tony considering country folk were thought to be innocent and welcoming. Through this Goldsmith challenges the stereotypes of the country, as Tony, an unsophisticated country dweller is able to mislead the town folk with supposed ‘excellent understanding’. This farce encompasses the themes of appearances and stereotypes into the plot and undermines the simplicity of Tony and the other pastoral characters.
In all three texts, the traditional pastoral which celebrates idyllic country life where drinking, enjoyment and singing are paramount is profoundly exemplified through the utilisation of characters. However, each writer clearly establishes a more complex undertone which challenges the stereotypes of unsophistication and innocence associated with the pastoral and thus suggests that pastoral characters can be deceiving and demonstrate characteristics contextually associated with the “refined” population of the town.