Time must needs run backward, and since it will not, we go on mixing as we go, disorder out of disorder out of disorder until pink is complete, unchanging and unchangeable.
Time is one of the most conspicuous themes of the novel, and Stoppard has a fantastic time playing with the notion of it - starting it, stopping it, making its boundaries fungible. Septimus tells Thomasina in this quote that it is not possible to turn time backwards and to make the jam swirl out of the pudding. In the most literal sense he is correct, but the play goes on to reveal the ways in which time can be subverted and overcome. Thomasina's ideas are before her time and timeless, the present and the past collapse into each other in the final scene of the waltz, and while time is going to eventually run out for all, it is filled with meaning while it happens.
Irregularity is one of the chief principles of the picturesque style.
There is a frequent debate between the Classical and the Romantic in this text, embodied by the decision to turn the Crooms' garden into a model of the picturesque. The gazebo becomes a hermitage, rough shrubbery replaces the carefully trimmed bushes, shadows and dells supplant wide, sunny pathways. Hannah speaks of the arbitrariness of these styles, but comes down on the side of the Classical, with its roots in the rational and logical Enlightenment. The Romantic is too messy for her with its irregularity, irrationality, and emotion. Thinking, she says, has been replaced by feeling. Stoppard is less dogmatic than his character purports, though, and explores the tensions and merits present within each approach, concluding that when it comes to people, it behooves us to express a bit of both.
Peacock says he was suspected of genius. It turned out, of course, he was off his head.
The fine line between genius and lunatic is explored in the text, with Hannah first glibly concluding that the Sidley Park hermit is a crazy person because of his scribblings and residence within the hermitage. What she discovers, however, is that the hermit is Septimus and he was trying to find a way to solve Thomasina's equations. This makes him much more understandable and less crazy, but what Hannah is unlikely to ever discover is that he also became the hermit because he was in love with Thomasina and distressed over her death. Geniuses and lunatics are closer than they may initially seem, and without them the world would be unlikely to have some of its most notable scientists, poets, and artists.
Oh Septimus! - can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides - thousands of poems - Aristotle's own library brought to Egypt by the noodle's ancestors! How can we sleep for grief?
Thomasina is a symbol of lost brilliance, and here she laments the loss of the similarly brilliant cultural creations lost in the burning of the library of Alexandria. To her this is a tragedy of immense proportions, and we can identify with her belief that this is irrevocable. However, Septimus consoles her that this is not the way to look at what happened. Rather, this knowledge will come back to us, perhaps in a different form and not from the same person. We must continue on the journey, picking up new knowledge as we look to bring the old to fruition again. Thomasina is a perfect example of this, as her theories are not able to be realized fully during her time; the chaos theoreticians and scientists of the second law of thermodynamics will finish her work for her.
Distortions. Interference. Real data is messy.
Valentine, the mathematics graduate student, is the only one that fully understands what Thomasina is up to. He sees that she is trying to explain the basics of chaos theory - to see the patterns in the disorder, to see how nature can be found in and plotted by nonlinear equations. He is studying the grouse population at Sidley Park and trying to deal with these very things himself, becoming frustrated at the inherent difficulties of working to find order within disorder. That, in essence, is Stoppard's play: it is messy, people are messy, love and sex are messy. Bernard and Hannah try to find order in the disorder of their subjects but are ultimately frustrated.
As for the murderer, a minor poet like Ezra Chater could go to his death in a Derbyshire glade as unmissed and unremembered as his contemporary and namesake, the minor botanist who died in the forests of the West Indies, lost to history like the monkey who bit him.
Bernard writes his paper, publishes it, and embarks upon a media tour. Here he is giving his synopsis of what happened between Byron and Chater, and it is so obviously, so blatantly wrong. He utters this sentence with such conviction, confident that he has solved the mystery of the dead Chater, not knowing that the two Chaters are one and the same. Bernard has not shown proper reverence for the past. He is passionate about it, but he jumps to conclusions, takes things for granted, ignores parts that don't fit, and seems to care more about being famous than getting to the core of his subjects' inner lives, loves, and motivations. Stoppard seems to admire his character's verve, but cautions against such self-interested and dissolute scholarly behavior.
I can expand my universe without you.
One of the central conversations in the text is between Valentine and Bernard as they debate whether or not "personalities" (Bernard's work on Byron) or scientific discoveries like the speed of light are meaningless. Bernard hotly defends poetry and dismisses penicillin while Valentine, not quite as heated, takes the opposite approach. Despite a bit of exaggeration and histrionics, this is one of Bernard's most memorable and likeable moments as he defends the arts from the attacks by pragmatists, asserting the need for a philosopher as much as a scientist. He makes a case for individuality, for emotion and intuition, and for something greater than ourselves. He forgets his own problematic mode of research in his defense of the things that human beings would not be human without.
The universe is deterministic all right, just like Newton said, I mean, it's trying to be, but the only thing that goes wrong is people fancying people who aren't supposed to be part of the plan.
Chloe is the least academic of the characters but has an excellent observation that fleshes out the more scientific ruminations of her brother. She says it is sex that complicates things - people being attracted to those they shouldn't be. This focus on sex as a catalyst for disorder and disarray can be seen in Mrs. Chater's disruptive presence in Sidley Park in 1809 as well. Sex is the heat that keeps the universe going but will also eventually grow cold; it is the chaos of human relationships. It is the "apple in the garden" as Valentine explains - that which brings perfection, purity, and order to a screeching halt.
It's wanting to know that makes us matter.
In light of Valentine and Bernard's debate about poetry vs. penicillin, it is tempting to conclude that both are rather useless. A person doesn't need to care about Lord Byron and how Ezra Chater died, nor does a person need to care about the way the grouse population of Sidley Park behaves. Hannah acknowledges this, but says that the pursuit of knowledge is what makes us human. It gives us purpose, it connects us to something larger than ourselves. Learning is fulfilling, explaining is therapeutic.
Newton's equations go forwards and backwards, they do not care which way. But the heat equation cares very much, it only goes one way. That is the reason Mr. Noakes's engine cannot give the power to drive Mr. Noakes's engine.
By the end of the play, Thomasina has finally hit on the basics of what will be the second law of thermodynamics, which is that heat is lost and can never be recovered. She figures this out by contemplating the steam engine Noakes has brought into the gardens of Sidley Park. This is added to her musings on the rice pudding, which foreshadowed this discovery. She has hit on the fact that the universe will grow cold and they are all doomed, but this does not depress her. Thomasina is unfailingly cheerful and hopeful. Her vivacious spirit is what keeps the end of the play from being too overwhelming in its tragedy. Although Thomasina dies, her theories live on. Stoppard also stops the play before she dies (in a sense, as the later scenes take place in a time in which she has already passed) and allows her sweetness and optimism to resonate with the audience.
Arcadia Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Arcadia is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.