Friday, September 30, 2005

Individual Presentation: Time Limit Relaxed

In interests of extending one person's request fairly to all, the time limit on the individual presentation assignment is now five minutes minimum and ten minutes maximum.
There will be no effect on grading for your preference of length beyond the five minute minimum.

Edwardian Age

As I said passingly in the last lecture, the Edwardian era enjoyed a nostalgia moment in the seventies. The word "dude, originally popularised in the Edwardian age (etymology
here) attained its present-day popularity in the seventies.
See also In Search of Blandings on course reserve.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Group Project: Assignment Details

The Group project is designed to be straightforward, enjoyable, and beneficial. Each group will create and maintain a Web Log about one of the course primary texts.

A short tutorial on setting up a blog will be given in the Library on Monday October 3rd. At this time you will be assigned to a Group.

The manner of approach to, and treatment of, your text is entirely for you to decide. This assignment offers you the opportunity to enhance, challenge or re-invent the specific focus of both the lectures and your seminar discussions.

The grading criteria are the scope, originality, inventiveness and literary insight of the accumulated blog entries. Technical proficiency will not be graded, but of course you are free to use any mechanical technique you wish. I will publish all the Groups' blog addesses on the Course blog and you are encouraged to solicit advice & criticism from the whole class throughout the course of the semester. Open collaboration is one great strength of blogging: some scholars, for instance, post parts of articles or even books in the blogosphere for criticism and correction before publication.

Of course, I am available for expert consultation: in person during Office Hours, and online most times.

Because this is a Group project, you will find that synergy will soon animate and enlived the assignment. I offer the suggestion that each Group assign responsibilities to members based on individual proficiencies and preferences. For instance, in principle, only one member need do the mechanics of posting the collaborative entries. There will be one group grade for all members.

I will take a snapshot of your blog on the day of the last seminar of the term and use that for grading: however I will look in regularly throughout the term as a means to, shall we say, encourage you not to leave the whole enterprise until the last minute. The experience of blogging regularly for a couple of months will, I believe, be its own benefit to you down the years.

Stoicism in the British Character

In the aftermath of the 7/7 Islamicist terror attacks in London, the tenor of the British response was widely praised as Stoical. Blog entries, with expansive links, can he found here, here and here.

This strain within the traditional British character (it is, historically, intertwined with Christianity) is important to understand if one wishes a full understanding of the Edwardians' (in general) and Marie Corelli's (in particular) reaction to the Deacadent movement. One small example is Gilbert & Sullivan's satiric operetta on aestheticism, entitled Patience. You'll be familiar with its immortal lines:

If you're anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line / as
a man of culture rare ... And ev'ryone will say / As you walk your flow'ry way, / "If he's content with a vegetable love which would certainly not suit me, / Why, what a most particularly pure young man / this pure young man must be!"

Monday, September 26, 2005

Individual Presentations

Your individual presentation assignment is deliver a five-minute presentation based on research into a specific aspect of the period background to the literature we are studying. Your final cause is the improvement of our understanding and the increase in our appreciation of the conditions surrounding the literature of the First World War. After the presentation you will hand in your research notes to the instructor for consideration in the grading of the assignment.

: please feel free to use any types of aid, media or format that you prefer. The only criterion in this regard is effectiveness.
Update 2: again, the specific format of your presentation is for you to decide. If I might offer a recommendation, one effective method would be to use the last minute of your presentation to state your opinion on the connection of your chosen topic to the literature of our period.
Update 3: the five minute time limit will be strictly enforced - from both sides. This is a discipline that will prove effective in many future practical applications.
Update 4: another recommendation is that you use the opportunity to develop your oral presentation skills. Design and incorporate techniques which give your presentation its greatest effectiveness. As always, of course, I am available for consultation ...

The choice of topic is entirely up to you: your only criterion in addition to that of relevancy as stated above is that you find it intriguing. Select your topic from any one of three areas:
  1. Pre-War: the Edwardian age.
  2. The War: 1914-1918
  3. The aftermath: 1919-1945

Some illustrative examples of specific topics, all with direct relevancy to the period literature, within these three areas are as follow:

Pre-War: country life; the Decadents; individual Edwardian authors; Winston Churchill in the Boer War; the Aesthetes; French absinthism; the English Music Hall age; Edwardian scandal; Darwinism and the myth of Progress; the "Little Englander" controversy; Jeeves and Bertie Wooster; London in the 1910s; fin de siecle; bluestockings and the New Woman; King Edward VII.

The War: life in the trenches; war poetry; women and the War; casualty rates; masculinity in the Great War; the conscription issue; the Somme; Lawrence of Arabia; War paintings; politics and Prime Ministers; war propaganda and censorship; Gas warfare; the causes of the War; shell-shock; the aristocracy in the war; the Christmas truce; war experiences of specific authors; war invalids; the Red Baron and the Sopwith Camel.

The Aftermath: post-war lives of individual authors; the Versailles treaty; Georgian poets; Adolf Schicklgruber - wounded German army corporal, gas victim and impecunious painter; literary modernism; depression in Britain; the Balfour Declaration - British Empire and the Palestine Question; Winston Churchill, the wilderness years; anti-semitism in Britain; decline of Empire; King George V.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Books also on course reserve.

I have also put two books on course reserve which give visual images of the First World War: one through photographs of the time, the other in paintings; both exceptional in their evokation of life in the trenches.

Documentary Video now on course reserve

The Canadian National Film Board documentary on The Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of its series on the First World War, is now on course reserve in VHS format. It is in four tapes, of about twenty minutes each, which can be taken out singly.
The narrator, Paul Gross, has this to say elsewhere about his engagement with the War:
Paul Gross has never been able to forget watching his grandfather die.
"He went completely out of his mind at the end. He started telling me about a hideous event that happened during a skirmish in a little ruined town in World War I. He'd killed someone in a miserable, horrible way and that had obviously haunted him throughout the rest of his life. As my grandfather died, in his mind he was back in that town, trying to find a German boy whom he'd bayonetted in the forehead. He'd lived with that memory all his life - and he was of a time when people kept things to themselves. When he finally told the story, it really affected me and I've
not been able to get it out of my head." Unable to rid himself of the tale, Paul decided to put it down on paper. It is now a screenplay which he hopes to be able to turn into a film.
Now Magazine (UK), 11 June 1998

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Victorians: Progress & Degeneration

A caution was voiced today against the characterisation in lecture of the Victorian Age as a schizophrenic time which, on the one side, trumpeted increases in science and technology while, on the other, crusaded against increases in moral degeneracy. The plausible-sounding objection was that every Age considers itself to be experiencing moral recusuancy, and thus no knowledge is gained hearing about the Victorians' experience of the merely perennial.

The caution is a fair and, in the general case a valuable, one. Example could be multiplied. Even in the New Testament warning is given:

[1] This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. [2] For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, [3] Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, [4] Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; [5] Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. [II Timothy 3.]
Indeed, the argument I made earlier in the lecture was that History is a process of reaction, with each current denouncing its predecessor - frequently special pleading by label: "The Enlightenment" & "the Dark Ages;" and not to forget "Modernism."

Yet, for all that, among the Victorians was an obsession with they perceived as a crisis of degeneracy unique in its degree and different in its kind. To give a slightly trivial example, the tang of degeneration is part of the piquancy contributing to the enormous popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories. A much better piece of evidence is ... Marie Corelli! The unmatched popularity of her fiction and its immediate and uniform concern with degeneracy is very strong testimony to the zeitgeist. I own a copy of one of the better scholarly treatments of the matter,
Degeneration, Culture, and the Novel, 1880-1940 by William Greenslade, which I will put on course reserve.

Reasons for the obsession with degeneracy among Victorians, one that cut across class, sex and income, are manifold and over-determining. Ordinary fin de siecle consequences are of course important. Additionally, a technological explosion had originally driven the Industrial Revolution which at once created a working class and forced it into urban concentrations. The resulting slums throughout the proliferating major cities -- Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, &c. -- ignored hygiene and bred disease and ignored social welbeing and bred vice: gambling, prostitution, brawling and drunkenness. Victorian England was the high water mark of Methodism and Evangelicism and its crusade for social reformation was uniquely intense. Slavery and child labour were abolished; fourteen-hour factory work days were reduced for women; prisons and hospitals, through campaigners such as Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale, were made more humane. The Salvation Army campaigned to counter alcoholism and other vices. And the ever-intensifying technology of the Industrail revolution was turned, by reformers, to improve drainage, sewage and potable water systems.

To this social atmosphere I would add an element that I have not yet fully defined nor mapped the origins of (beyond its evolutionary connection to Puritanism), but which amounts to an aesthetic, emotional and an erotic preference for hid delights. It can be contrasted with an Age -- such as ours perhaps -- which prefers things revealed and decries restraint. The Victorians were titillated, and comforted, by what was known to exist but was draped from universal sight.

Add to this the intellectual earthquake which was Darwinism: a theory taken as a justification for progress and improvement -- the progress and improvement, that is, which is so much the character of Victorianism. The intellectual climate, then, produced a cast of mind which can be termed, not merely progressivist, but outright perfectibilian.

These, and indeed other, aspects of the Victorian Age, then, made it intensely (I don't say uniquely) expressive when developments which are comprehensibly termed "degeneracy" became evident. And thus it has become a commonplace among scholars of the Nineteenth Century to take obsession with degeneracy as a salient characteristic of the times.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Room Non-Change

The consensus today on our classroom assignment was that we keep our current rooms, but use what can be called the empty hour between our two two-hour blocks for study and thus finish our class at 13:30. This additionally allows us to take a ten minute break after our first fifty minutes. In addition to group study times, the third hour can also be used for watching pertinent video material and snacking -- I'll check on rooms availability for this.

War Quotation found

In sheepish self-rebuke for my failure to assume, in absence of knowing, that Dr. Johnson was the author of the quotation which came to me during your seminar work on the poetry of Graves, Sassoon and Owen, I now quote the full passage in its context from Boswell's unassailably majestic Life of Samuel Johnson:
Johnson suddenly began to speak of subordination, then of fame, of wealth, and finally of war. Johnson observed provocatively, "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been [a sailor with hard service] at sea." Boswell pointed out that "Lord Mansfield did not." But Johnson denied it by saying that if Lord Mansfield were present when Generals and Admirals were talking together, "he would shrink; he'd wish to creep under the table." Boswell denied this also.

Finally, in exasperation, Johnson replied to Boswell, "No, Sir; were Socrates and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden both present in any company, and Socrates to say, 'Follow me, and hear a lecture on philosophy;' and Charles, laying his hand on his sword, to say, 'Follow me, and dethrone the Czar;' a man would be ashamed to follow Socrates. Sir, the impression is universal; yet it is strange."

This attitude, which underlies the war poetry of Rupert Brooke, is manifest in Owen and Sassoon - albeit in individual ways - at the time of their entlistment, and which speaks to the performative model of British masculinity universal before the great war, is an important explanans for many of the tensions and paradoxes in their war poems - the ultimate clause in Sassoon's Lamentations for instance; and, indeed, Owen's Apologia Pro Poemate Meo.

Marie Corelli's Concerns Today

To support my contention that the specific type and intensity of the late Victorian religious sensibility across all classes (excluding the intellectual and critical elites) that Marie Corelli represents in The Sorrows of Satan are paralleled in contemporary American culture, consider this article detailing the top two most popular motion pictures this very week.

Nb: To what degree this applies to contemporary Canadian culture is a question for the individual to determine.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


For your certitude, here is the list of poems from the Penguin collection for the three authors assigned.

To Robert Nichols
Recalling War

A Working Party
'The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still
'The Death-Bed
Prelude: The Troops
Base Details
Does it Matter?
Glory of Women
Repression of War Experience

The Dead-Beat
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Anthem for Doomed Youth
Apologia Pro Poemate Meo
The ShowInsensibility
A Terre
From 'Wild with All Regrets'
The Send-Off
Mental Cases
Strange Meeting
The Sentry
Smile, Smile, Smile
Spring Offensive

Saturday, September 17, 2005

No Room Change Yet

We are still in the same rooms this coming week, as the wheels of beaureaucracy grind their slow but relentless course. The staff there are very helpful & effective, but the demands on the rooms, and on changes, in the early weeks is all but unmanageable.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

English 340: Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

Novels should be read for at least the first time on the following schedule. The Poetry will be read passim and schedule announced in class: one week is dedicated for a concentrated study of the singular phenomenon of the War poets.

Marie Corelli - The Sorrows of Satan
September 12th
September 19th
C.S. Forester - The General
September 26th

October 3rd
Ford Maddox Ford - Parade's End

October 10th
October 17th
October 24th
Virginia Woolf - Jacob's Room
October 31st
November 7th

Evelyn Waugh - Vile Bodies
November 14th

November 21st
Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
November 28th
Review and Wrap-Up
December 5th

See support material available on Library Reserve.

Assignment Deadlines: Nb. There is a 3% per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted.

1. Mid term paper, two thousand words: due October 31st at midnight in the Instructor's Department mailbox. Assignment sheet with suggested topics will be handed out in lecture on October 17th. Criteria will include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics.
2. Group e-text project: in collaboration with the Course Instructor, create a web log dedicated to a distinct topic the works from the course reading list. Groups set & assignment sheet handed out September 26th. Seminar time will be set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor on this project
3. Individual class presentation: schedule and assignment sheet handed out in seminar. A five minute presentation on one of a choice of topics to be blogged, with five minutes more for class response. Five minutes is a firm limit: the Instructor will blow the whistle ....
4. Final Paper, three thousand five hundred words: due December 8th at midnight in the Instructor's Department mailbox.

Course Approach

The course is working toward an understanding of the imaginative effect of the First World War on British Literature to 1945. The novels on the course reading list are all masterpieces by authors of wide credibility which have, in the main, sunk from common view by accidents of history. The novels are embellished by selections from the great poets of the Great War. The approach to the fiction involves reading them in their historical context and from a close analysis of the literary techniques they manifest.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Course participation
10% Seminar presentation
20% Group blogging project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 2000 words)
40% Final Paper (approx. 3500 words)

Nb: “Participation requires both participation in seminar and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar."

Instructor Contact:

Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 13:30 – 14:20, and by appointment, in rm 6094. Also and Use campus mail accounts only for email contact, please.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Office Hours

Thanks to an alert classfellow, I realise that I transposed digits when giving out my Office room number: it is correctly 6094. Again, Office Hours are Tuesday and Thursday 13:30-14:30 or by appointment.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Welcome to English 340 at Simon Fraser University

Welcome to English 340 at Simon Fraser University: British Literature to 1945.