2010 AP ENGLISH LITERATURE AND COMPOSITION FREE-RESPONSE QUESTIONS
(Suggested time—40 minutes. This question counts as one-third of the total essay section score.)
In the following passage from Maria Edgeworth’s 1801 novel, Belinda, the narrator provides a description of Clarence Hervey, one of the suitors of the novel’s protagonist, Belinda Portman. Mrs. Stanhope, Belinda’s aunt, hopes to improve her niece’s social prospects and therefore has arranged to have Belinda stay with the fashionable Lady Delacour.
Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze Clarence Hervey’s complex character as Edgeworth develops it through such literary techniques as tone, point of view, and language.
Clarence Hervey might have been more than a pleasant young
man, if he had not been smitten with the desire of being thought superior in
every thing, and of being the most admired person in all companies. He had been
early flattered with the idea that he was a man of genius; and he imagined that,
as such, he was entitled to be imprudent, wild, and eccentric. He affected
singularity, in order to establish his claims to genius. He had considerable
literary talents, by which he was distinguished at Oxford; but he was so
dreadfully afraid of passing for a pedant, that when he came into the company of
the idle and the ignorant, he pretended to disdain every species of knowledge.
His chameleon character seemed to vary in different lights, and according to the
different situations in which he happened to be placed. He could be all things
to all men—and to all women. He was supposed to be a favourite with the fair
sex; and of all his various excellencies and defects, there was none on which he
valued himself so much as on his gallantry. He was not profligate; he had a
strong sense of humour, and quick feelings of humanity; but he was so easily
led, or rather so easily excited by his companions, and his companions were now
of such a sort, that it was probable he would soon become vicious. As to his
connexion with Lady Delacour, he would have started with horror at the idea of
disturbing the peace of a family; but in her family, he said, there was no peace
to disturb; he was vain of having it seen by the world that he was
distinguished by a lady of her wit and fashion, and he did not think it
incumbent on him to be more scrupulous or more attentive to appearances
than her ladyship. By
attentive to appearances than her ladyship. ByLord Delacour’s jealousy he was sometimes provoked, sometimes amused, and sometimes flattered. He was constantly of all her ladyship’s parties in public and private; consequently he saw Belinda almost every day, and every day he saw her with increasing admiration of her beauty, and with increasing dread of being taken in to marry a niece of ‘the catch-match-maker,’ the name by which Mrs Stanhope was known amongst the men of his acquaintance. Young ladies who have the misfortune to be conducted by these artful dames, are always supposed to be partners in all the speculations, though their names may not appear in the firm. If he had not been prejudiced by the character of her aunt, Mr Hervey would have thought Belinda an undesigning, unaffected girl; but now he suspected her of artifice in every word, look, and motion; and even when he felt himself most charmed by her powers of pleasing, he was most inclined to despise her, for what he thought such premature proficiency in scientific coquetry. He had not sufficient resolution to keep beyond the sphere of her attraction; but frequently, when he found himself within it, he cursed his folly, and drew back with sudden terror.
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How to react after reading the question and selection?
Don't panic over what you didn't understand. Focus instead on the parts that worked for you and ask yourself why. How did they connect? What did you see happening with the language and description?
Make the most of what you didn't understand (e.g., unknown language, foreign social situation), or anyway don't obsess over it--compartmentalize the problem areas so that you might be able to come back to them--but you might be OK even if you don't).
don't react against yourself (as in "I'm a loser b/c I don't know what a pedant is, and evidently I'm supposed to.)
React as positively as possible toward the text. Think about it as a strange language depicting a social situation that might occur in different forms today, as when a mother sends her daughter to live with the mother's sister, and the daughter finds herself in fresh situations with young men whose style is somewhat familiar but also new.
Or relate to other reading. The references to "suitors" immediately make me think of Penelope's suitors in Homer's The Odyssey, but "suitors" and "parties" in a class-conscious British environment also made me think of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Work with the text of the question and the passage. Keep your mind engaged and focused by keeping your hands busy.
Re-read everything, highlighting or making notes as you read.
What to highlight or note?
In the question prompt, highlight or note the give-away terms: substantive nouns or value-terms that indicate what your readers or graders will be looking for.
Also highlight or note relational or transitional terms that give clues to logic or relations between terms or parts of the question.
Don't be thrown off by odd language; either work around or use it to make a point.