MODULE A: Comparative Study of Texts and Context
Elective 2: Texts in Time
In this elective students compare how the treatment of similar content in a pair of texts composed in different times and contexts may reflect changing values and perspectives. By considering the texts in their contexts and comparing values, ideas and language forms and features, students come to a heightened understanding of the meaning and significance of each text. (BOS Syllabus)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, selected Sonnets from the Portuguese
For each text you will need to

For The Great Gatsby there are two main contexts that are important to consider

You will then need to consider the varying perspectives on love, marriage, relationships, personal goals and ambitions (hope) and life's meaning (mortality) to be found in the two texts. In what ways do the perspectives of The Great Gatsby and Browning's Sonnets on these concerns resemble each other? How do they differ? What role do social and historical contexts play in these differences? What role do personal contexts and gender differences play?
You can find a large selection of relevant websites by going to
You can also listen to a opanel discussion between Jennifer Byrnes and several contemporary writers discussing Fitzgerald's novel at
The accompanying handout suggests some ways in which the novel and the poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning can be related to each other. [[As with all your HSC English studies you will also need to consider the role of genre or text type and the contribution of language forms, features and structures to meaning.The accompanying file gives you some close analysis of the Sonnets.
For class exercises on The Great Gatsby see attached filefile:The Great Gatsby by F.doc

To understand more about this Module click on the following two links

and Notes from BOS Website

The following annotations are based on the criteria for selection of texts appropriate for study for the Higher School Certificate.


  • Browning is a highly respected female poet of the Victorian era.
  • Sonnets from the Portuguese have been valued as significant in the development of the sonnet in English studies.
  • Browning’s manipulation of the sonnet form, based on the Petrarchan model, is highly skilled and acclaimed.


  • Romantic love is celebrated as a source of strength in a world with some underlying sadness.
  • The sonnets affirm the integrity and spirituality of love.
  • The poems are intensely personal.

  • The contexts of Victorian England and post-World War I America (in reference to The Great Gatsby) can be researched readily.
  • In the context of the nineteenth century, these sonnets were at first highly regarded for their intensity of expression and their representation of a woman’s perspective. After Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s death, the sonnets were increasingly read for the light they shed on her own life. These tensions within the nineteenth-century context can enrich the study of text and context in this Elective.
  • Idealised love, hope and mortality are concerns common to the paired texts.
  • The function of personal voice in the sonnets and first-person narration in The Great Gatsby can be explored and evaluated.
The following file has a sample of possible HSC-style Questions for you to consider how you might answer them:

A sample possible response to last year's HSC Exam Question is given below. Note that the Exam Questions will be different every year and that you must prepare your own material and respond to the wording of the set text.


byElizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

I. "I thought once how Theocritus had sung..."

I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was 'ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove, ---
'Guess now who holds thee?' --- 'Death,' I said. But, there,
The silver answer rang, --- 'Not Death, but Love.'


XIII. "And wilt thou have me fashion into speech

And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
The love I bear thee, finding words enough,
And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough,
Between our faces, to cast light on each?---
I drop it at thy feet. I cannot teach
My hand to hold my spirit so far off
From myself---me---that I should bring thee proof
In words, of love hid in me out of reach.
Nay, let the silence of my womanhood
Commend my woman-love to thy belief,---
Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,
And rend the garment of my life, in brief,
By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.


XIV. "If thou must love me, let it be for nought..."

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
'I love her for her smile---her look---her way
Of speaking gently,---for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day'---
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee,---and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,---
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.

XXI. "Say over again, and yet once over again..."

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem 'a cuckoo song,' as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belovèd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt's pain,
Cry, 'Speak once more---thou lovest!' Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me---toll
The silver iterance!---only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

XXII. "When our two souls stand up erect and strong..."

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvèd point,---what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think! In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovèd,---where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

XXVIII. "My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!..."

My letters! all dead paper, mute and white!
And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee to-night.
This said,---he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand . . . a simple thing,
Yet I wept for it!---this, . . . the paper's light . . .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God's future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thine---and so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this . . . O Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!

XXXII. "The first time that the sun rose on thine oath..."

The first time that the sun rose on thine oath
To love me, I looked forward to the moon
To slacken all those bonds which seemed too soon
And quickly tied to make a lasting troth.
Quick-loving hearts, I thought, may quickly loathe;
And, looking on myself, I seemed not one
For such man's love!---more like an out-of-tune
Worn viol, a good singer would be wroth
To spoil his song with, and which, snatched in haste,
Is laid down at the first ill-sounding note.
I did not wrong myself so, but I placed
A wrong on thee. For perfect strains may float
'Neath master-hands, from instruments defaced,---
And great souls, at one stroke, may do and doat.

XLIII. "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.