What do we mean by context? What do we mean by contexts of writing or production? What do we mean by contexts of reading?
5 important points
- Definition from Cambridge Dictionary: the situation within which something exists or happens, and that can help explain it. Examples:
The context of a text is both the world the book creates in the reader’s mind (contexts of reading), and the world it came out from (contexts of writing or production).In order to fully appreciate a text, you need to appreciate the contexts in which it was written or produced – known as its contexts of writing – and the contexts in which you read the book, or the contexts of reading.
- The origins of the word are interesting. It comes from the late Middle English (denoting the construction of a text): from Latin contextus, from con- ‘together’ + texere ‘to weave’.
- Contexts of writing. This is potentially a huge area to explore because ‘contexts’ essentially means the ‘worlds’ from which the book has arisen. For the best books, these are many and various. The most obvious starting point is the writer’s own life: it is worth thinking about how and why the events in a writer’s life might have influenced his or her fiction. However, you do have to be careful not to assume too much. For example, some critics have suggested that Bathsheba, the feisty, beautiful heroine of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, is based on Hardy’s cousin, Tryphena Sparks, but you must remember that Bathsheba is a character in her own right in the novel – a vital cog in the narrative wheel, a literary construct and not a real person! As a result, it is particularly fruitful to explore other contexts of writing. We can look at the broader world from which Thomas Hardy arose (the rural Dorset society he grew up in, the respectable Victorian world he came to know as an adult), and consider carefully how, in his writing, he both adopted and rejected the morals of his time. Other contexts might be the influence of the literary world that [the author] inhabited (what other authors were writing at the time), how religion shaped his views, and so on.
- Contexts of reading. Just as important as the contexts of writing are the contexts of reading: how we read the novel today. Most of us, before we read a classic novel by Thomas Hardy, have a lot of preconceived ideas about it. Many of us will have seen one or more of the many film versions of the book, and/or been influenced by what we have already heard about Hardy. Your own personal context is very important too. A feminist will view Bathsheba’s search for independence in a very different light from a person who believes a woman’s place is in the home. In order for you to fully consider the contexts of reading rather than my telling you what to think, I have posed open-ended questions that seem to me to be important when considering this issue.