Robyn Gomillion – Sonnet Theory and Robert Galbraith

I am very proud to present for the very first time on Hogwarts Professor – a brand new Rowling scholar – Robyn Gomillion.

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer- John Keats
Robyn is an education consultant and technologist and avid reader working in programming, technology integration, curriculum and professional development in K12 schools, and will be familiar to readers here for her profound and erudite contributions in the comments section. On the 5th September Robyn presented in the comments to Prof Grangers post about the potential structure of a 10 book series the theory of “Sonnet Corona”. We are all fortunate to have Robyn write up this up as a new post, which you can read after the jump, and which we hope will be the first of many. 

Sonnet Theory – Robyn Gomillion

A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love

In this strange Labyrinth how shall I turn,
Ways are on all sides while the way I miss:
If to the right hand, there, in love I burn,
Let mee go forward, therein danger is.

If to the left, suspicion hinders bliss;
Let me turn back, shame cries I ought return:
Nor faint, though crosses my fortunes kiss,
Stand still is harder, although sure to mourn.

Thus let mee take the right, or left hand way,
Go forward, or stand still, or back retire:
I must these doubts endure without allay
Or help, but travail writing is find for my best hire.

Yet that which most my troubled sense doth move,
Is to leave all, and take the thread of Love.

Lady Mary Wroth

Last fall, as I began my reread of the complete Strike series in preparation for the publication of The Ink Black Heart, I was reintroduced to my great love of Spencer and in particular The Faerie Queen. Through my investigation into this work and its role in the series, I found this delightful blog and its wonderful commentary on the series. I do not frequently read poetry-it is not my favorite style of writing. But I have a soft spot for female authors, an even bigger soft spot for British literature from the 1400s-1800s, and at one time, an obsession with the 18th and 19th-century female philosophers. It is really no surprise that I stumbled upon The Hogwarts Professor, merely that I did not find it before 2020. While I awaited the release of IBH, I spent most of this spring reading through the backlog of all the Strike series posts and anticipated eagerly the discussions and commentary to come.

It is therefore no surprise that after rereading both Lethal White (LW) and Troubled Blood (TB) I would find similarities in the structure of Robert Galbraith’s work and the narrative of Lady Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, from which the sonnet above and longer sonnet coronet A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love is extracted. Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, generally a lesser-known work of the Renaissance, has been at times called the first sonnet written by a woman in England. I read it many years ago and discovered my notes on it while cleaning out paperwork last year. I bring this up because Lady Mary Wroth is also the first known female English author of a Sonnet Corona, or a crown of sonnets. The rediscovery of my early post-secondary British literature analysis, my first reading of The Ink Black Heart (IBH), and the excellent post Flips, Pentagrams and Expanded Playlists by Louise Freeman have led me to a new theory about the structure and development of the Cormoran Strike series. Initially, I believed upon reading John’s Strike Extended Play’ or ‘How a Seven Book Series Can Be Stretched into Ten post that IBH was the first half of a Petrarchan Sonnet representing the narrative/descriptive verse of the sonnet and, as Louise’s post so deftly explains, TB the lyric conclusion. This works if you are evaluating the books through the lens of the Ring construction as together form one complete narrative using an inverted Petrarchan sonnet construction. However, after reflecting on this and rereading Louise’s post, I now put forth a new theory to you serious readers: that Rowling is creating a Sonnet Corona in prose.

I came to this idea for the sonnet corona in part as someone inspired by the writings of John and Louise, but also from my passion for the books and their intricate construction. For those unsure of what this is, a crown of sonnets is a sequence of sonnets written on a single theme connected by interlocking verses which repeat in each subsequent sonnet. This form originates in Italy and expands on the Petrarchan tradition of octave and sestet rhyming. Instead of following the set structure of 8 rhyming lines of verse followed by 6 additional rhyming lines of verse as defines Petrarchan Sonnets, the sonnet corona is a sequence of 14 Shakespearean sonnets that repeat the last lines of verse from the previous sonnet to conclude with the first verse of the very first sonnet.

Exacting Construction

The construction of each of Rowling’s novels is as particular as the construction of a sonnet coronet. The emotional thread of each story begins and ends in the same place. At the end of The Cuckoo’s Calling (CC), the epilogue finishes with the start of monologue from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson and ends on Strike’s own rumination “I am become a name.” In the very first chapter of The Silkworm (TS) Strike is reminded by Culpepper that he too has a recognizable name. While this is not the main point of the poem Ulysses, it is interesting that Galbraith chooses to frame both the ending and beginning of the books with that thematic point. The same occurs with ending of TS and Career of Evil (CE), the former ending with Strike sending Robin on a surveillance course, and the latter beginning with Robin being under surveillance herself. CE ends and LW continues with Robin’s wedding while LW concludes with Strike seeking refuge with his old friend from St. Mawes – Ilsa. Despite over a year between the two stories, TB begins with his only other old friend in St. Mawes – Dave Polworth; in this way Galbraith has cleverly connected the two longest relationships from Strike’s life. This particular attention to where the story ends, and where it picks back up is intentional, however it is not all that common to the world of detective fiction or the mystery series.

The Middle of the Series?

The second reason I believe that this series may be a sonnet coronet comes from this blog’s own tracking of the Galbraith series. Right now, there is a belief that there will be more than 7 books, I might hazard a guess and say that is not enough. IBH and TB do not read to me as the beginning of the end, rather they read as the beginning of the middle. The first two major problems of the series have been finally resolved: Mathew and Charlotte. CC begins with Robin reflecting on her engagement to Matthew, while at the same time taking her away from him, and Strike is introduced as he is running out after Charlotte and running into Robin. In that same section in CC Strike refers to Charlotte’s words in that first chapter as banderillas-the spiked darts are practically impossible to remove. It is only during TB that Robin extricates herself from Matthew and in IBH we have Strike come to a shocking realization about Charlotte, one that finally allows him to recognize that he has been carrying those darts through every relationship. With this latest story, he finally figures out how to toss them aside.

The Strike series must still deal with numerous threads that must be resolved including the mystery/pain over Leda Strike’s death, the estrangement between Strike and his father and siblings, Strikes relationship with Lucy and her children, the tension between Robin and her parents over her chosen career, Robin’s trauma response to large and imposing men, and both partners growing fame in their chosen career. While these may seem trivial, when taken together across all books in the series they constitute a significant amount of the author’s efforts in telling this story.

If IHB is instead the middle of the series then it is probable we may be looking at 6-8 more volumes of varying length. This would give Galbraith enough time to devote a book to closing each of these open threads while furthering the development of the Strike-Robin romantic, personal, and professional relationships. Additionally, there is now a precedent for this: TB ended the relationship between Matthew and Robin, while allowing Strike to reconcile some of the dysfunction of his past. IBH ended the relationship between Charlotte and Strike, while forcing Robin to confront that she may not be as prepared for a relationship with Strike as she might like to be.

Overarching Themes

Finally, it is important to note that the sonnet corona also contains an overarching thematic line that begins with the first line. In Lady Wroth’s Crown of Sonnets the narrative thread is based on the idea that love is labyrinthine, complex, and both painful and pleasurable. In reading the Prologue of the CC, Rowling writes about the transient nature of the modern media where stories erupt then disappear, and yet this theme continues throughout all the strike novels. Each of the stories in this series has some connection to a media circus either one in the past or one from the present. So much of the series is about individuals who, for whatever reason, are known figures of public interest-authors, models, producers, politicians, kidnapping victims, serial killers, etc. One view of this series is that it could be considered a commentary on notoriety. Considering who the author is this makes sense. Rowling is uniquely positioned to comment on what it is like to be both seen as an object to be commodified, an individual to be lauded, someone with immense political and social clout, and someone who is vilified for their actions.

Secondly, this brings me to another theory as to why this series might be a longer construction in the vein of a crown of sonnets. I believe Galbraith could be writing even more broadly. The series is not only about media. Much of the commentary through each of the books has been about men, women, and children and who we choose to protect. There has been a lot of violence and harm meted out to women, to children, and on those who we see as the most vulnerable in our society. From Robin’s own traumatic past to the indifference displayed by Charlotte towards her own children, and even looking back at Strike’s own childhood, many important plot points revolve around violence and harm. After reading IBH I have begun to wonder if this series is intended to serve as a larger philosophical inquiry on the nature of who gets afforded the rights to be protected by society and how that protection is ensured by individuals, the state, and the community people surround themselves with.

A final reading could also be on the nature of perspective and affection. The first chapter of CC is from Robin’s point of view as she reflects on the day she will remember for the rest of her life, from her perfect proposal to the first meeting of Strike. The entire first chapter is a rose-tinted view of London. At this point in time, she is in love with London, with the possibilities it offers; in the second chapter, which introduces Strike, he has quite a jaundiced view of the world.  By this most recent book Robin is jaded about where she lives, she no longer sees the world as having the same promise, warmth, or possibility. Over the course of the series Strike’s pessimism has rubbed off on Robin, even while her enthusiasm has helped him grow to be less cynical. It would close the circle to end the series with Robin returning to that initial optimism. That is not to say that she forgets the realities of where she is, the work she does, or the actions she takes, but rather that she gets back to a point where she can see beyond the work, beyond the misery, and beyond her own trauma. By ending with engagement between Strike and Robin, a change in perspective and a tangible permanent demonstration of affection Galbraith would bring the story to the natural conclusion from where it began.

To conclude I would like to thank you all for reading this. I would also like to extend my gratitude to John and Louise for encouraging me to write an extended piece on the nature of this series.

Comments

  1. Robyn there is so much about this article I love! It’s beautiful, complex and richly absorbing. I also was, for most of my life, not interested in poetry (my loss!) That changed with authors who write prose poetically because of their ability to use word play to take something linear and flat and make it cyclical and alive with therapeutic and ultimately transformative potential. And so I embrace your “Sonnet Corona in prose” idea with joy and anticipation!

    The banderilleras! My skin is still crawling with the horror of such a weapon, what it reveals about one who would wield them and the mind-numbingly painful attempts to remove them.

    I really appreciate what you say about overarching themes of love (and love’s painful, even sacrificial choices), notoriety, trauma (and its consequences for both victims and policymakers) and a perspective that undergoes its own alchemy. Where does a discussion of recurring schadenfreude and anomie fit in with these other themes? Does schadenfreude fit into notoriety as a product of the media or does it have a broader application? And I have a feeling we’re not done with anomie either…

  2. I loved this Robyn! Really interesting and the connections between CofE & LW – beginning and ending at the wedding – and TB & IBH – beginning and ending at the Ritz – are particularly convincing! I also love the idea underlying this that we could be looking at 14 Strike novels – echoing the length of the sonnet itself as well as of the corona….

    Do you know the sonnets of Anne Locke? It is not widely known that the earliest writer of a sonnet sequence in English is a woman – and although her 1560 sequence is not a corona, each sonnet is closely tied to the next by being a paraphrase of each verse of Psalm 51 – a nice link with Wroth’s achievement! https://interestingliterature.com/2016/10/a-very-short-biography-of-anne-locke/

  3. Thank you for your comment Sandra. I am glad you find interest in this theory.

    I would say a discussion of both schadenfreude and anomie are part of a larger discussion of themes present through the series. What is interesting about the Lady Wroth’s sonnet corona, is the cyclical imagery in the verse. Internal to the corona there is repeated imagery, but it is not constant. Light/Flames/Burning form a meaningful recurrent metaphor for the all-consuming, purifying, and dangerous nature of love in the first half of the corona, but she moves to different symbology later in the corona. Together this helps to reinforce the overarching themes of the pain and pleasure of love.

    I would say that the larger themes, present across all the books form the basis of the external corona structure, while the internal themes of anomie and schadenfreude are more present across individual books to reinforce the theme of themes-most especially that of notoriety. Anomie, so present in Ink-Black Heart was also quite present in Career of Evil and Lethal White, however I do not know that it was as important to the overall story of Troubled Blood and The Cuckoo’s Calling which featured schadenfreude. I think both are intrinsically linked with notoriety, though perhaps a reframing could be that schadenfreude, anomie, are the psycho-social manifestations of the rot that is our modern media cycle.

    When I originally wrote this post, it was approximately 3000+ words more than it needed to be because I had done too deep a dive. If this is a sonnet corona of prose, then we are only at the middle of this larger narrative. It will be interesting to see if this is part of a larger theme that we have yet to fully comprehend. We have seen in the posts of Evan Willes: Mercury Markers, History and Theory Evan Willis (hogwartsprofessor.com) the recurrent markers left in the text for the “initiated” reader. I believe we are just at the beginning of untangling the prose and the overarching narrative theme of this series. As all the Hogwarts Professor readers collaborate and continue to examine the text with great attention, additional threads will appear and will undoubtedly provide new evidence for new theories to keep us engaged in this discourse for years to come.

  4. Beatrice, thanks so much. I think part of me just wants 14 novels and so I am looking for a reason for the series to last longer.

    Originally, my first draft of this essay was about 3000+ words longer, in part because I did short (only 1000+ words) on the origination of the sonnet corona. I had a whole paragraph on the evolution of the Sonnet Sequence of Anne Locke to Sonnet Corona of Lady Mary Wroth. Initially when I was thinking of this theory of the Sonnet Corona it was because I was thinking of a sonnet sequence following the Petrarchan sonnet, which is the style utilized by Anne Locke, and that is what I was trying to breakdown after reading John EP post. When I was looking back, and later rereading Louise’s post, it dawned on me that we have a much larger construction, that is much more cohesive and that falls in line with John’s Ring Composition.

    Corona is Latin for crown, but crowns are also a symbol of heraldry, as important as the ring (or great seal) of state. In fact, they go together, the posser of the great seal of state is the person who wears the crown. Crowns are circular in construction just as rings are, and they have as ancient a significance in the Judeo-Christian sphere, halos are a crowning ring of light, the literal representation to the claims of the divine.

    Getting back to Anne Locke, I think she was very much an inspiration to Lady Wroth, who took on the challenge of a Sonnet sequence and developed her corona. Women would have looked to other women for inspiration, as an educated young woman Lady Wroth may have been personally exposed to Locke because of her childhood connections to the court of Elizabeth I, of which Locke was a literary member. Today, it is JKR who follows in the tradition of Anne Locke, Lady Mary Wroth, Anne Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, the Bronte’s, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edith Nesbit, Agatha Christie, and all the other female English authors I happen to miss from the ages.

  5. Oh Robyn I also want 14 novels!! First of all thank you for your reply! I can hardly think straight I’m so warmed by your thoughtful response, but after reading your response to Beatrice I’d love your recommendation. Is there a book with both Anne Locke’s and Lady Mary Wroth’s works? Is A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love a separate publication or part of one that would include Anne Locke? I need to catch up!!

  6. Sandy, once upon a time there was a Norton Anthology of Literature by Women which includes the work of Lady Mary Wroth, but not the work of Anne Locke. There is an authorship issue around Anne Locke that is still unresolved, and her writings are not frequently published in the large anthologies of British Authors. I read Anne Locke’s writing in a Women in Philosophy course, not in a literature course because of her contributions to the reformation. I know the book I used for her work is now out of print because it was a collection of Women’s writers that was printed back in 2007/2008 when you could not find these resources online.

    Today if you would like to read, or listen to Lady Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus from which the Crown of Sonnets is extracted you can on the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/pamphilia_to_amphilanthus_ek_librivox You can also read the complete from the University of Oregon Scholars Bank here: https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/850/pamphilia.pdf;sequence=1 For Anne Locke’s sonnets, you can use PressBooks https://pressbooks.pub/earlybritishlit/chapter/anne-lock-a-meditation-of-a-penitent-sinner/

    Luminarium is a great source for both women online. They publish/host numerous anthologies of English Literature and have Anne Locke’s A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/locke2.html they also have a great breakdown of Lady Wroth’s writings here: http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/mary.html and http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/wroth/wrothadd.htm

    I would say if you are really interested in English literature, even though the site is old, Luminarium is an excellent resource for open-source writings from the Medieval/Renaissance period. Works from the 17th-18th century are as easily found on Guttenberg and other sources. It really depends on your reading preferences. As these are digital, you can also print these to PDFs and send them to an e-reader or phone for easier reading.

  7. Robyn,
    I have a question about how this Sonnet Corona structure relates to the imagery, or guiding symbols of each of the Strike novels. In essence, I guess what I’m curious about is how the Sonnet Corona might determine both the specific choice of each ruling image that Rowling has used for all of her Strike books so far. As well as how the Corona format might determine their use in sequence? I hope that doesn’t sound too technical. I’m also not asking for future prediction of which symbol she might use next in her series. Perhaps a better way to state the question is to ask what this Corona structure can tell us about the greater thematic significance for all of the ruling images from each of the released Galbraith books?

    To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a list of the poetic images (as opposed to epigraphs) that Rowling has chosen up to now as the major topos for each book in their order of appearance:

    Strike 1: Cuckoo imagery.
    Strike 2: Elizabethan/Jacobean Revenge Dramas.
    Strike 3: The Music of Blue Oyster Cult.
    Strike 4: The White Horse.
    Strike 5: “The Faerie Queene”/Astrology.
    Strike 6: Heart/Graveyard Symbolism.

    It can be easy enough for a close reader to see just how well each of these poetic images, or glyphs, can have both a thematic, as well as overall literary relation to one another. In fact, putting them altogether in one place does create this vague sense that we’ve got this collage of intermingled ideas, or else/also a map of Rowling’s inner mind at the moment, as well as a type of symbolic gloss on the nature of the secondary world of the Denmark St. Mysteries. So, what does a Sonnet Corona application mean here?

    Any idea? That’s really all I was asking about. Just thought I’d drop the question. Thanks for the great article above, either way, though. I consider it to be a good guess for how this series is being plotted.

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