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English

Recreations of original texts

Task 1: Sister Maude

Question

Look at the poem Sister Maude by Christina Rossetti (from the literary heritage section of the AQA Anthology). Transform this text into one of your own by writing a non-fiction or journalistic piece based on the content or ideas in the poem.

There are two parts to this task:

  • understanding the poem
  • choosing a new form to recreate the poem's story

You should start by being clear about the story Sister Maude tells.

Setting

There is very little physical description of the setting. The poem seems to be about a woman who had a secret lover. The discovery of that lover, or of something about the relationship, caused the woman some shame. Think of places either in the UK or in countries abroad where you think that kind of story might be found today.

Characters

There are a number of characters in this poem:

  • the narrator [narrator: The teller of a story; the voice in a text that describes or narrates the events of the plot; either a character in the story, or an authorial voice who gives a commentary on events but doesn't take part. ]
  • her sister, Maude
  • the narrator's lover
  • the narrator's mother and father

The narrator - is passionate ("the comeliest corpse"), yet secretive ("who told my mother"), angry ("bide you with sin and death") and heart-broken ("cold he lies, as cold as stone").

Maude - secretive ("lurked to spy and peer"), manipulative (she told her parents' her sister's secret) and jealous (she killed her sister's lover, possibly out of jealousy: "Though I had not been born at all/He'd never have looked at you").

The lover - he has "clotted curls", and even his corpse is "comely" and "worthy of a queen's embrace". But how trustworthy was he? He clearly looked at Maude, and did he give her reason to love him back?

The parents - they must have been strict, since both sisters led secretive lives, one kept a lover and the other spied on her. They may have also been religious, which would explain the narrator's sense of shame and her references to paradise and heaven. Their daughter clearly presumes they have gone to heaven because of the good way they lived. She knows she "sinned" and therefore may not be able to enter heaven.

Action

Read the text verse [verse: Sometimes a poem can be divided into groups of lines called verses ] by verse. The details of this poem are not clear, but it appears that the narrator had a secret lover. Her sister found out and she told their parents, perhaps out of jealousy.

It seems that she then killed the man and may also have cause the death of the narrator as "You might have spared his soul, sister" is followed by "Have spared my soul... too". It is possible that this poem is a suicide note.

Much of the action is unclear. We do not know how Maude killed her sister's lover. "Clotted" might suggest she hit him on the head. You can come up with your own answers and use them to add interesting details to your retelling.

Mood and description

To do this task really well you need to include detail. You should pick out key words or images that set the mood of the poem or carry important meaning. For example:

  • "Lurked to spy and peer" - suggests the secretive atmosphere of the family.
  • "Clotted curls" - is ambiguous. Does "clotted" suggest something nice like cream, or does it suggest something nasty, like "blood"?
  • "Soul" - further indicates there is a strong religious atmosphere in the house.
  • "Heaven-gate" - the religious imagery in the poem may have been reflected in the house the family lived in.

Re-telling the story

You should now know the key ingredients of the story (setting, character and action, as well as mood and description). The most important part of the re-telling your story is to understand your form.

You need to choose a form that will fit the material. One example would be a news story. In this case, you need to read some news stories and look at the conventions used:

  • headline - strong, punchy line that tells you what has happened
  • clear opening paragraph - a summary of the key details at the top of the story
  • details - of chain of events and characters involved in following paragraphs
  • quotes - from people involved or neighbours commenting on the people and events

You need to bring your own imagination to this piece of work, but you must show you understand the original text. Make sure all your key details are taken from the poem.

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