Source: Revised GRE PDF 2nd Ed. Section 4; #11 (p. 67)

7

The passage suggests that Carnell believes Behn

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 suggests that Carnell believes Behn held which of the following attitudes about the relationship between the private and public spheres? The private sphere is more appropriate than is the public sphere as the setting for plays about political events., The structure of the private sphere should not replicate the hierarchical order of the public sphere., Actions in the private sphere are more fundamental to ensuring the good of the nation than are actions in the public sphere., Crimes committed in the private sphere are likely to cause tragedy in the public sphere rather than vice versa., The private sphere is the mirror in which issues affecting the public sphere can most clearly be seen.

3 Explanations

1

Anna Roberts

So I picked answer choice E because
I thought dramatic conventional tragedies showed tradegy in public sphere when there was passive obedience to the king, it showed how that was a tradegy and was bad.
But they expected this passive obedience to be maintained in private sphere, they expected passive obedience to male head of household.
So I thought they advocated obedience only in private sphere and not public.
And I thought that Behn on other hand wanted tragedy to be reflected in both private and public. So she wanted them both to be mirrored.

Im confused to see how conventional dramatic tragedy actually thought both private and public to mirror? Isnt it a tradegy showing that the male protagonist undergoes fall and evokes pity. Doesnt that mean that they dont advocate obedience in public, and only in private.
While Behn does not advocate obedience in either public or private.

Dec 29, 2017 • Comment

David Recine, Magoosh Tutor

Hi Anna,

I understand your thinking with answer choice E. In conventional dramatic tragedy, the protagonist's downfall is meant to evoke pity. And if the protagonist's downfall is a punishment they receive because of disobedience in the public sphere, it's possible that the tragedy is portraying public hierarchy as wrong and unfair.

However, there are some things in the passage that cast doubt on your interpretation. For one thing, the passage doesn't say *why* the protagonists of these conventional tragedies siffer a downfall. Maybe it's because they disobeyed the monarchy and were unjustly punished. But maybe it's because they did something truly bad and were punished fairly, but the audience still sympathizes with the protagonist as a person who made a real mistake, but it still good. It's also possible that the protagonist has a downfall that doesn't involve disobeying the monarchy or being punished. Maybe the protagonist works too hard and becomes ill, or is treated unfairly by their family. The protagonist could even be a royal person who is unfairly disobeyed and deposed by their subjects.

So the exact nature of the protagonist's downfall isn't so important here. It's more important to look at two key lines from the passage:

"Behns 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."

This line indicates that Behn supported the monarchy ("partisanship"), and that this support of the monarchy was common-- normal-- in conventional dramatic tragedies of Behn's era ("characterized most... tragedies..."). So that would strongly indicate the Behn did believe in hierarchy and obedience int he publicly ruled monarchy.

After you look at that line, you should then pay attention to this one:

"Behn questioned the view... that the ...public political idealpassive obedience to the nations kingought to be mirrored in the private sphere"

With this line and the previous one you can see that Behn believed two things:

1) That it was important, in public life, to obey the person who was the head of the state.

and

2) That private life was different, and that in the home, absolute obedience to the "head" of the household (the man, given the era) was not important, and that such hierarchy, while good and fair under the monarchy, was not good and fair in private/domestic homes.

This very clearly points to answer (B) as indicated in Chris's explanation video on this page.

Jan 1, 2018 • Reply

Anna Roberts

Thankyou!!

Jan 9, 2018 • Reply

1

CHANJU YANG

Why not A? The passage suggests that Behn chose private sphere to talk about political issues.

Nov 30, 2017 • Comment

Adam

Hi Chanju,

Although it's true that Behn focused on the private sphere, that doesn't mean that Behn thought that the public sphere was less appropriate than the private sphere as a setting for political commentary. Just because someone does X doesn't necessarily mean that they think Y is less appropriate than X.

Dec 4, 2017 • Reply

2

Gravatar Chris Lele, Magoosh Tutor

Sep 22, 2012 • Comment

Aashika Shetty

Why not C?

Dec 26, 2016 • Reply

Sam Kinsman, Magoosh Tutor

Let's take a look at C:

Actions in the private sphere are more fundamental to ensuring the good of the nation than are actions in the public sphere.

So (C) says that Carnell believes Behn thought that what happened in the private sphere (i.e. in the household) was more important for the good of the nation than what happened in the public sphere (politics).

I can see why that choice is tempting - the passage does suggest that Behn believes that more emphasis should be placed on the private sphere. However, the passage does not say that Behn believes that the private sphere is MORE important than the public sphere.

Keep in mind that the passage tells us that during Behn's time, most tragedies dealt with a "heroic man who is a public figure and who undergoes a fall that evokes pity from the audience." In other words, most tragedies focus on the public sphere. By addressing the private sphere in her works, Behn tried to create more of a balance between the two spheres. The fact that Behn thought that the private sphere was also important (and should not be neglected) does not mean that she thought it was more important than the private sphere.

The last sentence in the passage tells us that:

"Behn’s novels ... (demonstrate) that the good of the nation ultimately encompasses more than the good of the public figures who rule it."

So again, she doesn't necessarily believe that the private sphere is MORE important than the public sphere - she just believes that the private sphere is also important and should not be omitted.

Dec 27, 2016 • Reply

Ramlah Merchant

Why not E?

Nov 6, 2017 • Reply

Adam

Hi Ramlah,

(E) talks about the private sphere mirroring the public sphere. What does the passage say about this?

"...according to Carnell, Behn questioned the view promulgated by monarchist dramatic tragedies such as Drydens: that the envisioned public political idealpassive obedience to the nations kingought to be mirrored in the private sphere, with family members wholly obedient to a male head of household. Carnell sees Behns 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."

So Behn rejected the idea that the private sphere should mirror the public sphere.

(E) states:

The private sphere is the mirror in which issues affecting the public sphere can most clearly be seen.

The passage never says whether Carnell thinks Behn thought that the private sphere illuminated issues in the public sphere. Behn draws attention to problems in the private sphere, but the passage doesn't say whether Behn thinks the private sphere allows us to see problems in the public sphere.

Nov 15, 2017 • Reply

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