Source: Revised GRE PDF 2nd Ed. Section 4; #9 (p. 66)

2

The passage is primarily concerned with

The work of English writer Aphra Behn (1640–1689) changed markedly during the 1680s, as she turned from writing plays to writing prose narratives. According to literary critic Rachel Carnell, most scholars view this change as primarily motivated by financial considerations: earning a living by writing for the theatre became more difficult in the 1680s, so Behn tried various other types of prose genres in the hope of finding another lucrative medium. In fact, a long epistolary scandal novel that she wrote in the mid-1680s sold quite well. Yet, as Carnell notes, Behn did not repeat this approach in her other prose works; instead, she turned to writing shorter, more serious novels, even though only about half of these were published during her lifetime. Carnell argues that Behn, whose stage productions are primarily comedies, may have turned to an emerging literary form, the novel, in a conscious attempt to criticize, and subvert for her own ends, the conventions and ideology of a well-established form of her day, the dramatic tragedy. Carnell acknowledges that Behn admired the skill of such contemporary writers of dramatic tragedy as John Dryden, and that Behn’s own comic stage productions displayed the same partisanship for the reigning Stuart monarchy that characterized most of the politically oriented dramatic tragedies of her day. However, Carnell argues that Behn took issue with the way in which these writers and plays defined the nature of tragedy. As prescribed by Dryden, tragedy was supposed to concern a heroic man who is a public figure and who undergoes a fall that evokes pity from the audience. Carnell points out that Behn’s tragic novels focus instead on the plight of little-known women and the private world of the household; even in her few novels featuring male protagonists, Behn insists on the importance of the crimes these otherwise heroic figures commit in the domestic sphere. Moreover, according to Carnell, Behn questioned the view promulgated by monarchist dramatic tragedies such as Dryden’s: that the envisioned “public” political ideal—passive obedience to the nation’s king—ought to be mirrored in the private sphere, with family members wholly obedient to a male head of household. Carnell sees Behn’s novels not only as rejecting the model of patriarchal and hierarchical family order, but also as warning that insisting on such a parallel can result in real tragedy befalling the members of the domestic sphere. According to Carnell, Behn’s choice of literary form underscores the differences between her own approach to crafting a tragic story and that taken in the dramatic tragedies, with their artificial distinction between the public and private spheres. Behn’s novels engage in the political dialogue of her era by demonstrating that the good of the nation ultimately encompasses more than the good of the public figures who rule it. The passage is primarily concerned with tracing how Behn’s view of the nature of tragedy changed over time, explaining one author’s view of Behn’s contribution to the development of an emerging literary form, differentiating between the early and the late literary works of Behn, contrasting the approaches to tragedy taken by Behn and by Dryden, presenting one scholar’s explanation for a major development in Behn’s literary career

4 Explanations

1

Niket Subhedar

n

Apr 2, 2018 • Comment

Sam Kinsman, Magoosh Tutor

Hi Niket,

You are right that the term "major development" is not all that specific. However, the passage focuses on Behn's transition from writing plays to writing prose narratives. This is a big change - so it is a "major development" in Behn's career. Thus, answer choice E is an accurate description of the passage's main focus.

Answer choice D says: "contrasting the approaches to tragedy taken by Behn and by Dryden." The passage does discuss this - but notice that Dryden is not mentioned until the second paragraph. So this answer does not cover account for the first paragraph. Therefore, it doesn't quite work.

Apr 4, 2018 • Reply

1

Abhipshito Bhattacharya

Hi.
Need some help here . Para 1 talks about Behn switching from writing plays to penning novels ,para 2 is about the contrast between Behn and Drydens approach to tragedy ..para 2 doesnt really talk about any development in her career at all..Can you please tell me why its E and not D ..both seem to be correct in their own rights.
Cheers,
Abhi .

Aug 8, 2016 • Comment

Cydney Seigerman, Magoosh Tutor

Hi Abhi,

Happy to help :) We can get a good idea of the primary purpose of the passage from the last sentence of the first paragraph, which states the author of the passage's viewpoint:

"Carnell argues that Behn, whose stage productions are primarily comedies, may have turned to an emerging literary form, the novel, in a conscious attempt to criticize, and subvert for her own ends, the conventions and ideology of a well-established form of her day, the dramatic tragedy."

In this sentence, the author summarizes the scholar Carnell's reasoning as to why Behn changed literary forms. Paraphrased, this reason was to criticize contemporary conventions and styles observed in the dramatic tragedy. This purpose best reflects (E).

Also, it's easier to see how the discussion of Behn's tragic novel compared to other dramatic tragedies of her day (like Dryden's works) relates to the main purpose of the passage. Behn used a different literary style to critique the dramatic tragedy. Illuminating the differences between Behn and Dryden's work, then, illustrates both the development of Behn's work and how she successfully used her work to critique other writing forms. It's also good to point out that the author is describing the views of the scholar Carnell throughout the entire passage, including the second paragraph.

In terms of the answer choices, we can say that (D) is one of the ways Carnell explains Behn's literary career and how her works differed from her contemporaries.

Does this help to see how (E) better describes the main purpose of the passage :)

Sep 4, 2016 • Reply

1

Adam

Hi Rovshan,

The passage reads: "According to literary critic Rachel Carnell, most scholars view this change as primarily motivated by financial considerations..."

This doesn't mean that Carnell is not a scholar. Indeed, a "scholar" is simply a "specialist in a particular branch of study." Being a literary critic therefore qualifies Carnell as a scholar of literature.

In stating "most scholars view...", the passage differentiates Carnell's view from that of other scholars.

Nov 8, 2015 • Comment

3

Gravatar Chris Lele, Magoosh Tutor

Sep 22, 2012 • Comment

Rovshan Danilov

the passage is clear to state that Carnell was a literary critic not necessarily a scholar. moreover, it is according to her that most "scholars view"and not her. what am i missing?

Oct 24, 2015 • Reply

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