Monday, October 31, 2005

"Parade's End" End

That is, our focused study of Parade's End is at an end. For me, Madox Ford's master-work is the centre of our course: a major literary work which gives gravity to a select cluster of consequential satellite novels and first-class poetry. Not only a tetralogy but a foundational text in the development of literary modernism, Parade's End is daunting enough in its mere form. Moreover, its setting in the span, across the Great War, from the Edwardian to the Georgian eras; and its representation of a social ideal - English Toryism -- as dead entirely to us as the Myan priesthood, adds blank unfamiliarity to the challenges that the book seemingly presents to today's reader.

Yet, that being said, in my estimation, Ford has done what only literary genius proper can do: craft his art into a delightfully, trippingly, captivatingly readable narrative. Now, admittedly I have loved Edwardian fiction from youth, brought a passionate conviction that the absolute horror of First World War shaped our own world down to the smallest cultural effect (not the so-called butterfly effect but the rogue moon, Deep Impact asteroid-collision effect;) and allow, even encourage, the distortions caused by my Yorkshire diaspora to influence my reading. But still, Parade's End is simple & varied, fast-paced, engagingly clever, suspenseful and arousing, and a real tale of a love triangle between three alluring chracters.

In a phrase, it is not Ulysses -- though Madox Ford was instrumental in the successful creation, advocacy and defence of Joyce's cause celebre. Now we have completed our three-week study of Parade's End, we have, I believe, a very strong sense of the Great War in its historical context; of the political and social nexus that created and prolonged trench warfare; of the timbre of the men -- mass millions yet discretely individual -- who, if they did not die or lie smashed, fought for four years amid rats, gas and shell-shock, up to their necks in mud; of the character of an Age, dead and discredited, but with much, if seen advisedly and from a charitable prospect, to commend it and to admire.

The lectures on Parade's End sought to make the larger work accessible by concentrating on its binding themes: the history, characteristics and fate of English Toryism; the literary devices, techniques and methods of Madox Ford's vanguard modernism; the operation of Freudianism in the text; and the manifold binaries represented by Tietjens and Sylvia -- repression & impulse; Sadism in its clinical sense & continence on principle; Roman Catholicism & Anglicanism; promiscuity & monogamy; Whigism & traditionalism; id & super-ego, etc. etc.

Please be encouraged to add your comments (either signed or anonymous) to this post on your assessment of our engagement with Parade's End.

"I Hate England"

A propos the general judgement among our class that Toryism, manifest in the type-character Christopher Tietjens, is a product of neurotic repression, the recent article from Arts & Letters Daily, entitled "I Hate England," which I read out in class today delineates the enduring, and to the author defining, characteristic among the English of suppressing their horrible nature:

Anger has made the English an ugly race. But then this anger is also the source of England’s most admirable achievement — their heroic self-control. It’s the daily struggle of not giving in to their natural inclination to run amok with a cricket bat, to spit and bite in a crowded tearoom, that I admire most in the English. It’s not what they are, but their ability to suppress what they are, that’s great about the English.
The article goes on, very helpfully, to relate this to English humour and England's beligerant attitude toward all, repeat all, non-English countries; having its greatest intensity for its closest neighbours (Scots & Irish, certainly; but first and best, the French):

English comedy is war by other means and it still is the actual last war. The rest of Europe looks on with growing exasperation and incomprehension at the English’s ability endlessly to bait the Germans for losing the war and consistently tease the French for losing it as well .... English humour is the sound of the bullies.
And, as if to oblige, this article appears in today's press bringing this point home empirically.

Eighty-six percent of people in Britain aged 18 to 30 think the French deserve "a popular negative stereotype," suggests an opinion poll
conducted for an Anglo-French art show in London .... "British people should face up to the fact that they have an enormous problem when it comes to the French," said exhibition organiser Richard Kaye, a Brition resident in France. "The British will make jokes about the French which would, if made to the detriment of other national or ethnic groups, be considered extremely racist and dangerous."
Update: The above, all perfectly true, notwithstanding, it leaves unmentioned a peculiar paradox. That is, that the English are highly tolerant of non-English within England. Here is a remark from the French manager of a one of London's top football clubs, Arsenal FC:

When I came to England, I was happy to come and be confronted with the English culture, where the owners of the clubs were English and they opened the door to foreign people .... [But now] it looks more like foreign people are buying the clubs and employing English people .... it's a change and it's very important that the values of the game remain as they were before - respected and admired everywhere.
London is far and away the most multi-ethnic city in Europe, yet race violence is quite rare. When it did occur -- Brixton in the early 80s -- everyone seemed to agree that it was not cricket and moved on. Football hooliganism, for instance, is between club supporters at home, and that even mere preparation for real hooliganism -- against European countries during International matches.

Part of this attitude derives from the ethos exemplified by Speakers' Corner: click here for a Canadian article from this past weekend on the current threat posed by New Labour legislation to the British public commons' speech tradition.

Quite delightfully from the perspective of our course, the "UK Religious Hatred Bill" will possibly be defeated by the last place on Earth where Parade's End Toryism may be found -- that is, the House of Lords. And of course Blackadder is campaigning against the Bill ....

Update: Well, when I read this headline today I thought I had blogged too soon on racial toleration in England. However, "Race Row Stuns Kop" ("the kop" is the home supporters end at Anfield - Liverpool FC's ground) refers to a visiting player racially abusing one of the Liverpool's black players.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Fresh Support for our Course Thesis

The indispensable Arts & Letters Daily has linked two articles that support our course thesis: one from a centre-left journal and one from a centre-right.

From the left, you heard this nearly verbatim in our opening lecture:
It is now conventional wisdom that the First World War and its senseless, unimaginable slaughter was the Ur-catastrophe of the last century. It brutalized a Europe that before 1914, though deeply flawed by injustice and arrogance, also contained the promise of great emancipatory movements, championing the demands for social justice, for equality, for women’s emancipation, for all of human rights. The war radicalized Europe; without it, there would have been no Bolshevism and no Fascism. In the postwar climate and in the defeated and self-deceived Germany, National Socialism flourished and ultimately made it possible for Hitler to establish the most popular, the most murderous, the most seductive and the most repressive regime of the last century.
From the right, an analogy between England before, after and during the First World War with the United States of America today:

At the beginning of the 20th century, the British Empire was an unopposed hyperpower (much as the United States has been since 1989). As historian Colin Cross observes: "In terms of influence it was the only world power" .... But after the conclusion of the first World War, Britain's imperial psyche began to fracture" .... Why did it all crumble? Several interrelated reasons - among them the grisly fact that England had lost virtually an entire generation of future leaders in the trenches of Europe. But another important cause was the waning of confidence on the part of liberal British elites .... In an important sense, the British Empire's strength failed because its elite liberal citizens stopped believing in it.
Most pertinent for us in the article from which this quotation is taken -- most especially in relation to Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End -- is the writer's premis (and our own course's thesis!) that England was irrecoverably ruined by the First World War: the Great War, that is, still directly effects all that is English -- its literature very much included.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New Labour in Action

As I stated in this week's lecture on the history of Whigs & Tories, pace Ford Madox Ford's "history of the last Tory," Britain is currently governed by the descendants of the Whigs -- now named, under Tony Blair, New Labour.

An excellent illustration of their politically canny -- and electorally successful -- method of applying Whig ideology by using Tory language is their current "Schools White Paper." The Labour party's own description is here: the populist tabloid The Sun describes the proposals this way:
Kids to Pick the Teachers: Pupils as young as 11 will help hire their own teachers under a huge education shake-up unveiled yesterday.
As I say, Christopher Tietjens' (& Henry Ryecroft's) England is divided from Blair's Cool Brittania by a fissure in the Parade of Time ....

As it happens, Arts & Letters Daily today features this article from left wing writer David Sirota which berates the equivalent centre-left party in America (i.e. the Democrats) for, in effect, not cloning Tony Blair. Blair, by the bye, would win virtually by acclamation were he to run for the American presidency.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

NYRB Exchange on Parade's End

Please treat yourself to this (typically catty) exchange between two literary scholars (one American one Canadian) on competing interpretations of Parade's End.

N.b. I'll see if I can get online access to the original article that sparked the exchange through our Library.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Less Wiki More Encyclo

(Even more) problems with wiki-(grimace)-pedia detailed here. The Encyclopedia Brittanica was good enough for our Christopher Tietjens .... and Sherlock Holmes.

Group Project Update

You should have your group blog well up and running at this point in the term.

All group members should have two or three preliminary posts each and a growing level of familiarity with

Blog posts do not have to be long; nor need they be discursive. As a rough estimate, three posts per week per person is a good average, and only one of these every two weeks need be significantly lengthy - that is, an extended reflection on some aspect of your blog focus. Shorter posts can be done in an idle five, ten or fifteen minute break among regular computer time.

You will be graded on the variety, frequency, even distribution among group members, relevancy, and imagination of your posts. Simply make a note when an idea or connection arises related to your theme and them make a quick blog entry.

In five years or so, students will be blogging frustrations, excitements, and requests for collaborative assistance while writing course assignments ....

Monday, October 24, 2005

Reading Effectively at Remove

Seminar discussion today brought up the question of how it can be possible when reading fiction to capture the mind-set of a time now past and a culture now dead - since the reader's mind is entirely formed by its own culture, distant in place or time or both.
Specifically, it was asked how it can possible for a contemporary Western reader (possessing what I call triumphant Whig mentality) to read Ford Madox Ford's literary representation of "the last Tory" sympathetically, when Ford was purposely portraying a type cut off from our present by the absolute fissure that was World War One.

Now, this post from my Japanese literature course presents one way of approach, mapped by C.S. Lewis in his Discarded Image.

The concept from Romanticism that escaped me on the spot in seminar, and which I offered as a solution to this problem, is Keats' negative capability (I had Eliot's "objective correlative" in mind -- pertinent to Parade's End in another context -- blocking Mr. Keats from my mental foreground!) Here are the pertinent sentences from a letter of Keats':

Brown and Dilke walked with me and back from the Christmas pantomime. I had not a dispute but a disquisition, with Dilke on various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason-Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration. [My emphases.]


I simple note from the Instructor to say that I have appreciated your excellent attendance along the term. Your presence makes discussion -- especially in seminar -- the more beneficial for all. My thanks especially to those who have explained their absence with a considerate email either in advance or, with illness, after the fact.
Again, my compliments and gratitude to you all.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Edwardian echoes

If we keep our ears to the ground, we can hear echoes, though faint, of some of the attitudes from Edwardian and Georgian times in contemporary English culture.

Here are two examples.

The perennial and deep-rooted English attitude that all the world's troubles are ultimately the result of French perfidity or decadence is evident in Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton's new book
Holy Terror. The left-wing (formerly Manchester) Guardian describes Eagleton as "the High Priest of Lit Crit .... a Catholic-turned-Marxist from a working-class background." Nonetheless, Eagleton's thesis in Holy Terror is that "Terrorism itself may be a new concept – it arose with modernity in the French revolution."

And in general, the English perennially fret about decadence. Theodore Dalrymple merely continues a type. And it's in the water there. Madonna - yes, that Madonna - has now married an Englishman and is evolving herself into a model of English country life propriety: literally, modelling herself on the cover of Ladies Home Journal.
The English press have re-christened her with the very English name "Madge." And in due course she has delivered a screed against .... decadence: "Madonna warns how people 'are going to go to hell, if they don't turn from their wicked behavior;" protests that "most priests are gay;" and, waxing eschatological, declares that "'The Beast' is the modern world that we live in."

And it is like way that the English class system, so strong a concern in our course texts, will persist despite official policy designed to eradicate it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Mid-Term Essay

Write a two thousand word essay on one of the following topics. The essay is due in my Department mailbox at midnight on October 31st.

1.] “Tempest, if there is one human being more than any other that I utterly abhor, it is the type of man so common to the present time, the man who huddles his own loathly vices under a cloak of assumed broad-mindedness and virtue. Such a one will even deify the loss of chastity in woman by the name of “purity” – because he knows that it is by her moral and physical ruin alone that he can gratify his brutal lusts. Rather than be such a sanctimonious coward I would openly proclaim myself vile!”
This execration from Satan in persona Rimanez is arguably the quintessential passage of Sorrows of Satan. Analyse the significance of three telescoping levels. One, fully unpack the moralism on its straightforward reading. Two, explain its significance as a Demonic doctrine, according to Correlli’s characterization of the Prince of Darkness in the novel. And three, suggest how Corelli applied the passage as an indictment of the state of Edwardian England leading up to the singularity of the First World War.

2.] C.S. Forester and Ford Madox Ford both have superlative genius as raconteurs. Rare among storytellers, however, both are also writers of high literary quality. Select one passage from The General and explain how what seems to be pure storytelling in addition demonstrates elite literary technique, and one passage from Parade’s End which exemplifies High Modernist esoterica but is at the same time roustabout tale-telling such as would lighten a watch of soldiery under eighteen hours of bombardment in a rat-run trench.

3.] Parade’s End is a tour de force of literary modernism which contains multitudes. It has plausibly been praised by writers of unimpeachable calibre as the finest fictional representation of the First World War. From your reading of the tetralogy select any two passages which support this claim and detail, with entirely open possibilities, the literary means by which Ford accomplishes this. This is an “Open-topic”question.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Blog link

I received a pleasant email from Esther MacCallum-Stewart at the Break of Day in the Trenches blog, & note a comment from her in our original post. The blogosphere in action.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

C.S. Forester

I'm interested in any comments you may care to post after reading C.S. Forester's The General. Academia's neglect of Forester is peculiar when novelists far inferior in influence, ability, scope, intellect, subtlty and artistry are given place.
Forester's achievement in The General is to combine readability, character portayal, historiography, lament and caution in artistic balance. Having read the novel, one forever feels that an insight into the Great War has been gained, an opinion created, and an interest piqued.
But, over to you .....

Update: the comments so far are of an astonishing calibre. read for your edification, & by all means add your own (even it pre-empts your essay argument!)

Images of a Forgotten War

The Royal Canadian Legion gives a link to an excellent NFB website dedicated to remembrance of "the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War"-- "Images of a Forgotten War."
Click through to the pop up menu and select from various types of material. Best for me was the now-digitised archive of Film from the Great War.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Literary Approach to WWI

One of the best literary treatments of the First World War is The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell. Its "Dedication" says much:

To the memory of
Technical Sergeant Edward Keith Hudson, ASN 36548772
Co. F, 419th Infantry
Killed beside me in France
March 15, 1945

Fussell has written a recounting and reflection on the Great War through the mind of a literary scholar. Though unique, this succeeds brilliantly -- the book won the 1976 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award -- by uniting in a seamless whole the facts of history, the research and sensitivity of of a literary scholary and the literary power of the great poets and novelists of the war. A brief account here gives the flavour

A copy is on course Reserve.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Progress to date

Well, four weeks completed and a break for the Thanksgiving holiday next week seems opportune to reflect on our progress.
As I see it, we have come a long way and have made a very effective use of our time & effort. From a beginning of tabula rasa concerning the First World War years, we now have a good grounding in salient issues of the period preceeding, the specific character of trench warfare, and a sense of engagement with its peculiar horrors and their nearly universal reach in the world that the Great War brought into being - our world.
We will complete our engagement with Forester's The General in the first half of our next class together and begin Madox Ford's Parade's End. Your reading of this substantial work will perhaps be assisted by an awareness that the author has written a self-consciously modernist text - and you will need to calibrate your stance as a reader accordingly.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Essential First World War WebSite

I have linked to Break of Day in the Trenches: a work of bright bloggy glory from English academic Esther MacCallum-Stewart at the University of Sussex.
It has as much and more than one needs for a very good understanding of the Great War: I will be linking to specific sections from it, with comment, over the term (crediting the original in each instance.)
I note happily, for instance, that in a press release on her scholarship, Dr. MacCallum-Stewart supports our incorporation of Blackadder Goes Forth as a very valuable and accurate evocation of the First World War soldiery:

Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder offers a more accurate social view of the soldier's experience of Wrld War One than poets such as Wilfred Owen, according to new research.

On Reserve

Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War is on course reserve: chapter eight, "The Death Instinct: Why Men Fight" is very well worth reading. The title comes from this:

This book is not about heroes. English Poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might,majesty, dominion, or power, except war. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They maybe to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why true Poets must be truthful.

~Wilfred Owen, from a preface to a planned book of his poetry.