Friday, March 27, 2009

The "tea-tray" in Parade's End

One certain literary source to which Madox is alluding with the multi-layered iterations of the Tea Tray image in Parade's End is this poem from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,
How I wonder what you're at:
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky.

On the Novel: W. Somerset Maugham

One major writer well in our period, but not associated with Great War fiction -- and certainly, deliberately, not with Modernism -- is W. Somerset Maugham. (At the outbreak of the War he served with a British Red Cross unit in France before taking up a far more interesting assignment as secret agent in Geneva and then Petrograd.)
I was idly looking at an abridged edition of his masterpiece Of Human Bondage today and found Maugham's 'Introduction' to it absolutely fascinating, and an important statement on the nature of the novel. It is worth posting here in full: I hope you have the chance to read it and find it, as I do, memorable.

Modernism & the Impossible Present

A student last term sent me this useful poetic definition of Modernism:
"[M]odernism is the struggle of the future to free itself from the clinging hands of a dying past"- from "Modernism as a World-Wide Movement." A. Eustace Haydon, The Journal of Religion, January 1925.
You will notice the support this lends to my repeated thesis in lecture about Modernism's troubled position vis à vis the temporal present -- yet one more concept that analogises to shell-shock.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Copy-Editing Symbols

Update: third hotlink now fixed: thanks to "Editor" for the tip.

Follow this link for a legend of the standard copy-editing symbols. These can be used during successive editing of essay drafts.

More here. And here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Parade's End" -- Likenesses

From left to right, "McMaster" (Joseph Conrad), "Christopher Tietjens" (Ford Madox Ford), and "Sylvia Tietjens" (Violet Hunt.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And the Weather is...

So, the weather, from my office today, in mid-March is....

Mr. Gore? Mr. Gore?

('Cosmic irony.')

And, yes, weather is not climate. We should all remember that...

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Causes" of the First World War

As argued in lecture, there was no cause to the First World War. The popular factoid that the death of a minor (though pleasant and competant) European royal in a dour Balkan capital caused the West to immolate itself in four years of a Dantean Inferno in French ditches is not false but merely silly on its face.
Talking to a classfellow in an Office Hour this week, it came to me that attributing a cause to the War is not an empirical or academical problem, but a historical-conceptual failure to use the term "cause" properly.
Before the putative Enlightenment, it was understood that there are four causes, delineated by Aristotle in his Physics, that together explain an event.
  1. Material cause: the physical properties involved.
  2. Formal cause: the aggregate of underlying properties which amount to its unique identity.
  3. Efficient cause: the initial motion or action which began the event.
  4. Final cause: the event's function or purpose -- its end.)
Take a simple illustrative example. I am about to pot the black in a game of snooker. Thwack! It's in; I win yet again. Material cause is the solid constrution of the table, balls, &c.: if the cue ball were tissue and the black jello, the event (the potting of the black) would not take place. Formal cause is the rules of billiards, the shape of the table, cue, rack, and all the other contributing elements that shape and frame -- i.e. that form -- the event. Efficient cause, of course, is the mechanics behind the cue hitting the cue ball. And final cause is Stephen Ogden winning the match and having his universal supremacy at billiards re-affirmed for posterity . Or something like that.

Applying, then, the robust pre-Enlightenment concept of causation to the problem of how and why the First World War began we see at once its great explanatory power as well as the relative feebleness of the Englightenment's shrunken understanding of "cause". The killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by an inept Bosnian terrorist is efficient cause of the First World War: and a good efficient cause it is. But being stuck in Englightenment-Cause thinking has trapped the generations of post-War scholars in an impossible search for more, or for bigger, or for better efficient causes: impossible, because no efficient cause and no amount or quality of efficient causes can ever fully explain an event. Now, of course, if the event should happen to be small enough, and if the mind contemplating the case be sufficiently bereft of imagination (or, it might be said, of rigour), then an efficient cause can seem adequate. But events on a large or more significant scale reveal the impotence of the Enlightenment-Cause model.
Material cause of the War includes 1914 Europe's demographics, military technology & ordnance, national-geographical, and perhaps the crossover network of treaties in effect. Its formal cause can be summed up as the ethnic, cultural and political histories of the nations and Empires involved. And final cause was the Prussian militarism shaping, from cultural first principle, the ends and endeavours of that implacably bellicose Empire's leaders, diplomats, soldiery and citizenry alike toward hegemony as a national right, and thus to war. (Insipid utterances of debased clerks in our day moot other final causes than the German: banality of intellect and impotence with fact is a certain sign of an Age of La Trahison des Clercs.

Ford Madox Ford in Parade's End puts one conviction of WWI's final cause -- the Tories' -- into the mouth of the protagonist Christopher Tietjens; and that would be the altruism of England. Tietjens is Ford's literary manifestation of Tory England, so when it is said of him that " is, in fact, asking for trouble if you are more altruist than the society that surrounds you," [Penguin, 207] it is actually England that has asked for trouble (and will, in fact, be smashed -- insofar as its Tory character is concerned) by entering the War altruistically to defend the "surrounding" societies of the Belgians and the French primarily for the sake of (to Madox Ford, cricket-inspired) Duty.
[Tietjens'] mind was at rest because there was going to be a war. From the first moment of his reading the paragraph about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he had known that, calmly and with assurance. Had he imagined that this country would come in he would not have known a mind at rest. He loved this country for the run of the hills, the shape of its elm trees and the way the heather, running uphill to the skyline, meets the blue of the heavens. War for this country could only mean humiliation, spreading under the sunlight, an almost invisible pall over the elms, the hills, the heather, like the vapour that spread from .... oh, Middlesbrough! .... But of war for us [i.e. Britain] he had no fear. He saw our Ministry sitting tight till the opportune moment, and then grabbing a French channel port or a few German colonies as the price of neutrality.
And to conclude, there was indeed no "cause" for the First World War: but there were, as for everything, four causes.
Update: Click this link for a typical school history attempting to explain the First World War in terms limited to efficient causes. It is actually a fairly sophisticated attempt of its type, differentiating as it does between "long term" and "short term" [efficient] causes.

Of Mrs. Melrose Ape

For a winningly burlesque website on all things Aimee Semple McPherson, the original of Evelyn Waugh's parodic creation Mrs. Melrose Ape, click here. The original, by the bye, was Canadian-born ....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Cynicism

À propos our discussion in Monday's lecture on cynicism, here is Douglas Coupland:

"I am the most uncynical person on Earth," he says, earnestly. "I'm ironic. I admit that. I'm Joe Irony. But people confuse irony with cynicism, which is like battery acid. It just wrecks everything."

Final Essay

The Final Paper -- three thousand five hundred words due April 6th in the Instructor's Department mailbox -- is open topic. You have every encouragement to exercise your creativity in the choice of topic, which will be directly responsive to course themes, ideas or lecture information and will engage any two course texts in manner which advances academic understanding of the material and its historical and in intellectual context.

Imagism & Vorticism (& Fascism)

Here are the links I mentioned in lecture: of Imagism, and a scan of the Blast vanity publications of 1914-15.
Let me repeat that I entirely reprudiate, deplore & deprecate the loathesome and inexcusible anti-Semitism of Ezra Pound that so evidently animated the Blast tract.

Nature of Modernism

There is a certain uncertainty about the nature of the concept of modernism: the dominant literary mode of 'Twentieth Century British Literature to 194. We have explored its nature as the course has progressed, but you may additionally want to read this engagement with the issue of modernism & personal identity, especially important in Woolf and Madox Ford, from a Marxist angle: especially the key passage quoted here.

Modernism is a term used to lump together an enormous body of artistic work in all forms--poetry, cinema, painting, architecture--that was produced roughly between the 1890s and the mid 20th century. General definitions are difficult, but modernist work tends to be formally experimental and highly self conscious--think of the Cubist paintings of Picasso or the 'flow of consciousness' of James Joyce's novels. Gareth Jenkins is right to emphasise dislocation and fragmentation as characteristics of modernism. The 'high period' of modernism from 1900-1930 was of course a time of unmatched upheaval, in which the promises of the bourgeois revolution were finally shattered by war, slump and workers' revolt. The accelerating development of technology and the penetration of mass production techniques into every sphere of life added to a deep sense of uncertainty. In Perry Anderson's words, 'European modernism in the first years of this century thus flowered in the space between a still usable classical past, a still indeterminate technical present and a still unpredictable political future'.

It has been very tempting for Marxist criticism to glorify modernism given its origin in such a period of upheaval, and its--at least formal--rejection of the past. After the Russian Revolution the intellectuals of Proletkult argued for a rejection of all previous culture, claiming that modernist techniques were the basis for a brave new working class art. Such a simple minded response misses the contradictory nature of all modernism. Gareth is right to point out that modernist work often appears as a retreat from society. Its emphasis on dislocation and alienation could open the way to a kind of rampant subjectivity. His criticism of Virginia Woolf, for example, is telling: 'one cannot escape the feeling, beneath the richness of language, of artistic impoverishment which follows from impoverished grasp of social reality'.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Eveleyn Waugh's Prophecy

Adam Fenwyck-Symes, writing as "Mr. Chatterbox" creates a person -- Mrs. Andrew Quest -- in his column for the sole purpose of writing gossip about her. In 1930, when Waugh wrote Vile Bodies, this was high satire.
It is now real-life.
Sony pays $1.5m over fake critic.
A judge has finalised a settlement in which film studio Sony will pay $1.5m (£850,000) to film fans after using a fake critic to praise its movies. In 2001, ads for films including Hollow Man and A Knight's Tale quoted praise from a reviewer called David Manning, who was exposed as being invented.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Diana Mitford-Guiness-Mosley

Careful step is needed through biographical sewage, and the prophylactic scholarship only just keeps back the diseased vapour.

From a succinct and comprehensive article in the online Telegraph at the death of the odious Hitlerite Diana Mosley:
One of the funny, charming, intelligent and glamorous Mitford sisters; a denizen of the "Hons' cupboard''; a dedicatee of Vile Bodies; a beautiful woman whom Churchill called "Dinamite''; an inspired interior decorator; a steadfast friend to a wide galère (including some Jews); a fine autobiographer and loving mother; yet Diana Mosley was also a woman who could - when she was inadvisedly invited to appear on Desert Island Discs - describe Adolf Hitler in almost wholly positive terms.
When Evelyn Waugh dedicated Vile Bodies to Bryan and Diana Guinness, the future Lady Mosely was still married to the likeable Guinness heir -- later a novelist, playwrite and poet -- and one of society's belles. This was a decade before she would abandon the future 2nd Baron Moyne and, in Joseph Goebbels' front room with Adolf Hitler the Best Man, marry Sir Oswald Mosley; founder and head of the British Union of Fascists; ordinary hero and wounded veteran of the Trenches; buffoon; sycophant; imitator; rank traitor who would have been shot had he not been English and thus forced to suffer, for him, fate worse than death -- his countrymen's derisory farce, ridicule, mockery and lampoon (indeed, imortalised in ignomy by the Master, P.G. Wodehouse.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mid Term Topics

For the mid-term essay, select one of the following three topics and write a two-thousand word essay, using the stipulation in the English Department's published Style Guide, to be handed in the lecture of March 11th.
  1. The General has a narrative structure that, matching on the surface the convention of popular fiction, seemingly ignores the rejection by literary Modernists of the facile narrative voice in literature. C.S. Forester, however, writing the decade following the ascendancy of High Modernism, is a subtle and deceptively complex author, well-aware of the new artistic range afforded by the Modernist experiments. Support this claim with a textual analysis that interprets Forester's narrative as being informed and shaped by some of the specific devices and methods of Modernists such as Woolf and Madox Ford.
  2. Explain how Rebecca West uses the well-worn literary device of the unreliable narrator in a radically inventive way to express the concepts of social class, shell shock and sexual deviancy in explicitly Freudian terms. Limit your argument to a rigourous analysis of the text of The Return of the Soldier.
  3. As we have seen, Jacob's Room can be understood to be formed in a telescoping fashion, where each successive structural component of the text is a macrocosm of the microcosm which precedes it; starting from the smallest microcosm which is the title, to the first sentence, then the first paragraph, then first section, then first chapter, and so on. Show, then, how Virginia Woolf designed the book as a whole as the ultimate textual macrocosm for all the sections preceding it.

On Virginia Woolf & Jokes about God

I thought that this past exchange with a student regarding Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room may be of wider benefit.

I am hoping to use Jacob's Room my paper topic and I came to the part in the novel about the Scilly Isles and how they "shake the very foundations of scepticism and lead to jokes about God" (42). I remember you had said something in lecture that provided a lot of insight into this passage and I can't remember exactly what it was, perhaps you could remind me?

Well, on the principles of the Freudianity which underlies Jacob's Room, laughter is in part how human beings react to uncomfortable encroachment or threats or perceived danger to deeply-seated beliefs & values. In the jargon of Freud, this is covered under the concept of tabou. Thus, where the rises of the Scilly Isles invoke the sense of the noumenal which similar British phenomena are recorded to have done through so much of the nation's literature and folk tales, forms of disbelief (such as scepticism) among vestigal Victorian and Edwardian casts of mind are challenged. One result of this, then, is internal discomfort, impinging on the individual's idea of God -- still strong by virtue of its historical foundation in the national character -- and producing uncomfortable jokes as a (Freudian) means of dealing with the inner dis-ease.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Modernism Is ... OCEL

From the Oxford Companion to English Literature, edited by Margaret Drabble:
MODERNISM: an omnibus term for a number of tendencies in the arts which were prominent in the first half of the twentieth century: in English literature it is particularily associated with the writings of V. Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Pound Joyce, Yeats F.M. Ford & Conrad. Broadly, modernism reflects the impact upon literature of the psychology of Freud and the anthropology of J.G. Frazer as expressed in The Golden Bough.... it was marked by a persistent experimentalism; it is 'the tradition of the new' in Harold Rosenberg's phrase. It rejected the traditional .... Although so diverse in its manifestation, it was recognised as representing as H. Read wrote (ArtNow, 1933) , 'an abrupt break with all tradition ...'Modernist works (for instance, the poetry of Elot & Pound) may have a tendency to dissolve into a chaos of sharp atomistic impressions.

Modernist Diction

A recent article elaborating one cause of the elevated diction in High Modernist literature is one James Miller's "Is Bad Writing Necessary" and can be read online at the Lingua Franca mirror site here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

WWI Photographs

I came across this website with photographs of the First World War that strongly evoke a sense of the trench experience, due in part to their high quality. It is on an American history site, but their are many photographs of the English soldiery, some of the Germans, Italians & one Canadian (the latter taken in the aftermath of the Halifax explosion.)

By the bye, Canadian author Hugh MacLennan has a novel set around the Halifax explosion, Barometer Rising.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Course Film Choice

There are some appealing alternatives for a film to be viewed throughout the second half of our course. Here are precis with hotlinks to reviews, clips, &c.
  • The Return of the Soldier. 1982: An strong cast and effectively set and costumed as a period piece. Faithful, more or less, to the surface of Rebecca West's masterpiece.
  • A Quiet on the Western Front. 1930. An artistic triumph of the film medium, this depiction of the German side in the Great War has matchless evocation of trench warfare. The film is captivating and fast paced, without gore.
  • Passchendaele. 2008. Hard not to respect a hard-working Canadian who rises above the limitations of the acting profession to independently craft an homage to his family heritage and a well-intentioned contribution to Candian identity. The film combines war and romance.
  • Bright Young Things. 2003. Stephen Fry's adaptation of our course novel, Evelyn Waugh's between-war satire Vile Bodies. Comedic with a move to tragedy, the movie is an implied satire on the Paris Hilton set. Evocative of the period, and redolent (to use a synesthetic adjective) of many of the novel's ideas.

So, I'll hear your preferences this week in class.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reading Break

All teasing aside, my best wishes for an enjoyable and fun-filled reading break: you are all doung great work in this class and deserve it for that alone. For your additional enjoyment, classfellow Dana W. sent me the following very apt and helpful reference from "my-day" former punk Morrissey (correctly dating me to the late 70s...):

....I came across some Morrissey lyrics that fit very well with your lecture on Monday. In the song "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get," there is a line that reads "I am now an essential part of your mind's landscape / whether you care or do not." This relates to your point about how we all make impressions on each other that fundamentally change our consciousness.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Freudian Slip...ers

From classfellow Brett J., this link to his Freudian slip...ers -- a Freudian slip being, as he gives the exquisite quip, 'saying one thing but meaning your mother.'
Update: classfellow Joyce N. sends along the link to "The Unemployed Philosophers' Guild" which has online sales of the Freudian slippers & more.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Support for Course Thesis on WWI

The indispensable Arts & Letters Daily has linked two articles that support my course thesis about the WWI horrors: 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.

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.

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.

Sales Pitch in Class

A week ago Monday, a Ms. Charlotte Clemmens gave a job recruitment talk for the Southwestern Book Company. This was not an endorsement from me (or from the university) for that company or for the job outlined. Come and see me should you have any questions.

On Freud

A student of mine once sent me this intriguing email engaging a statement that Freud dropped regards his phsychoanalytical theories & the Irish race. I like it very well (save the Wikipedia part.):

"This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever" - (Sigmund Freud on the Irish). I once tried to find information on the internet regarding the reason he said this but there were very few answers. Mostly it was comments from Irish people either slandering his career because he thought they were stupid or boosting about how proud they were that Irish people were so smart that even Freud couldn't figure them out. There was however, one comment regarding his ideas towards religion: "When Freud spoke of religion as an illusion, he maintained that it is fantastic structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow to maturity; and in his treatment of the unconscious he moved toward atheism." I didn't know if this had anything to do with his contempt for the Irish people and their close cultural association with religion that English people seemed to lack but perhaps it answers some questions.
In reply, I found the following at

"From the introduction to a book of Irish short stories - intro written by Anthony Burgess (this is where I originally came upon this quote from Freud - which I had never heard before) -
"One of [Freud's] followers split up human psychology into two categories - Irish and non-Irish. The Irish, like the Neopolitans, are not sure what truth is, and they have a system of logic which defies logic. They have something in common with Chekhov's Russians, and it is no accident that many of the stories here will seem Chekhovian. I was taking a bath in a Leningrad hotel when the floor concierge yelled that she had a cable for me. 'Put it under the door,' I cried. 'I can't,' she shouted. 'It's on a tray.' There is a deep logic, or epistemology, there which is far from absurd. The Irish and the Russians have one way of looking at entities (the entity in this instance was a cable-on-a-tray) and the rest of the world another."
There is a sense that Freud had, too, that the Irish, when in psychic trouble, go to poetry, go to storytelling, go to escapism - they have no interest in picking apart their own brains."

Edwardian Age

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 Roxy Music, Country Life: the magazine is mentioned in Return of the Soldier....

Likewise, In Search of Blandings on course reserve.

Monday, January 26, 2009

WWI poetry readings

Here are three short poems from our Penguin edition to have read for next Monday's class, February 2nd.

Please do keep in mind that the poetry is for our pleasure, enrichment & profit: that is to say, the desultory poetic engagement in the course is not conducted with any blighting eye to grades....
    • "1914: The Soldier" by Rupert Brooke, p. 108.
    • "The Mother (Written after reading Rupert Brooke's sonnet 'The Soldier'" by
      May Herschel-Clark, p.109.
    • "Battle (Eve of Assault: Infantry Going down to Trenches)" by Robert
      Nichols, p.118.

Community Forum: SFU & You

"Olympics, SFU and You: Is there a connection?" is the titled of an SFU community forum this coming Wednesday, February 4th, from 2:30-4:30 in MBC2290.

One of the panelists is English grad student and oftimes TA Myka Tucker-Abramson. The topic is a vital one that will have great effect on your time at SFU: your class schedules, for one thing.

Click on the hotlink above, or this post's title, for the information flyer.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Group Field Project

The Group Field Project, worth thirty percent of the course grade, is to prepare a dramatisation proposal of Ford Madox Ford's 1922 modernist masterpiece Parade's End for broadcast as a period mini-series for BBC television. The dramatisation will concentrate on the incomparable and dominant character Sylvia Tietjens.

The BBC has previously broadcast a three-part dramatisation of the novel, back in 1964, on their Theatre 625, with a powerful cast (listed under imdb) and well-received.

Parade's End is read as one of our five primary course texts; a substantial work of world literature; a crucial modernist text; and from an author instrumental in the practical rise of modernism as a literary and academic movement.

The project is structured as follows.

Four Research Groups.
  1. Rivalry. Valentine Wannop, Suffragism and the New Woman.
  2. Femme fatale. Sylvia Tietjens, marriage and adultery, and sadism.
  3. Tory. British class system, death of the aristocracy, triumph of the middle class & capitalism.
  4. War. Mobilisation, trench warfare, shell shock, Edwardian culture & setting.

These four groups are comprised of five students each. The members of each group take notes through the reading of Parade's End on sections of text pertinent to their group's area. The members then meet, discuss, and collate their group's notes. This collation is then organised into a format which can be used as material for a script centred on the character of Sylia Tietjens. The four groups represent an effective four-part structure of an appealing dramatisation.

Each group can themselves decide whether they prefer to work in egalitarian manner, or to designate one member to collate and format the notes, in consultation with the full group.

The loose date for delivery of the final research work is March 16th.

Script-Writing Group

This group is responsible for developing a script or script outline, a series title, and an idea for the series structure, using the material collated and formatted by the four research groups. An idea and general outline will be nascent before the March 16th date of delivery of the research work.

Note that,in terms of script, there are obvious thematic connection across all four research divisions. For instance, the theme of politics connects "Suffragism & the New Woman," "marriage and adultery;" "triumph of the middle class;" and "war."

Filming Group

A group of up to three students responsible for arranging and organising the filming of a series trailer: this includes setting, wardrobe, directing and camera.

Organising Tribunal

A group of three students will form a tribunal to oversee, facilitate, direct and track the on-going progress of the project, including the drafting and distribution of the pitch bible.

The completion date for the project is April 13th. Seminar time will be apportioned for work on the project, concentratedly during the five course weeks set for lecture and seminar work apart from the Field Project on the novel itself.

Note that each student is expected to contribute no more than, and no less than, thirty percent of the course effort on the Field project, in addition to project work done during seminar.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Course Facebook Group

I have set up a course group on, primarily as a gallery for your individual photographs and names so that I can more quickly attach the proper names to your faces.

If your profile on the group page has a recognisable image of you, that's great. If not, would you please upload an image of yourself to the "photos" section.

Of this, participation in the facebook group is purely voluntary: it is quite understandable that one would not want one's digital image available online. It has come to pass, however, that facebook is all-but ubiquitous (not to my liking, as I've said!)

The group is called "English 340_1091" and if you search within facebook using that character string, minus the quotation marks, it will take you to the group link. You can also search withing the "groups" link on the facebook homepage, again using the full character string: English 340_1091

(Alternatively, try clicking on the title of this post for a clumsier method of access.)

Once you are joined, please leave a message on the discussion board with your order of preference for the research group for our class project on Parade's End.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Women & WWI Recruitment

A propos Virginia Woolf's modernist literary experiment in the representation of the experiences between mothers and sons, Jacob's Room, here is the link to the on-line library of First World War recruitment posters as raised in seminar discussion of Sasson's poem "Glory of Women."

Information on the "White Feather" campaign can be found on-line here at the useful "Spartacus" website.

The 1939 Ralph Richardson film version of A. E. W. Mason's The Four Feathers - also raised in seminar discussion - is detailed here. [IMDb treats the 2002 version.]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

First Poems

The poems from our First World War anthology are, as I promise, glorious--and appreciated by many types of reader. Our class film Regeneration (& the novel which it dramatises) suggests the power that the poets still have on artistic imagination. Let us read the Rupert Brook poem 1914: Safety (29); the Owen poem Dulce et Decorum Est (141); and Sassoon's Redeemer (62) or the other mentioned in Wednesday class.
Very short; very potent.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Student Blog on Forester's "The General"

On the respectable homepage of the C.S. Forester Society is a links page, and on that page you will find a prominent link to a blog on The General from a student group project in the last iteration of this course.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Virginia Woolf, Social Class, & Her Servants

À propos lecture discussion locating Virginia Woolf in her upper-middle level on the British class system, as a means of better appreciating her specific literary art, "Woolf's Servants get their Due" is the title of an interview, linked from Arts & Letters Daily, with author Alison Light on her new book Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury.

Q. How did you become interested in Woolf's servants?
A. By reading Woolf's diaries, which I love, but which contain appalling references to the servants: Lottie Hope or Nellie Boxall being compared to animals and vermin. Woolf's disgust riveted me. I also wondered why she and Boxall had such rows. Then the fact that my grandmother was in service and my mother's sisters started out in service before the Second World War.

Several additional journals have published articles on what s obviously perceived as a compelling aspect of Virgina Woolf's life & letters.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Literary Modernism

This definition of (literary) Modernism sums up our approach to the complex & multiform set of ideas and designs:

"a general term applied retrospectively to the wide range of experimental and avant-garde trends in the literature (and other arts) of the early 20th century.... Modernist literature is characterized chiefly by a rejection of 19th-century traditions and of their consensus between author and reader: conventions of realism ... or traditional meter. Modernist writers tended to see themselves as an avant-garde disengaged from bourgeois values, and disturbed their readers by adopting complex and difficult new forms and styles. In fiction, the accepted continuity of chronological development was upset by Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner, while James Joyce and Virginia Woolf attempted new ways of tracing the flow of characters' thoughts in their stream-of-consciousness styles. In poetry, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot replaced the logical exposition of thoughts with collages of fragmentary images and complex allusions..... Modernist writing is predominantly cosmopolitan, and often expresses a sense of urban cultural dislocation, along with an awareness of new anthropological and psychological theories. Its favoured techniques of juxtaposition and multiple point of view challenge the reader to reestablish a coherence of meaning from fragmentary forms." (My emphases.)
(Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991], s.v.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Nature of Modernism

There is a certain uncertainty about the nature of the concept modernism. I will have more to say here about this in lecture -- most of which will be advice to reflect (a.) on the arguments presented previously and (b.) the nature of identity exemplified explicitly by Woolf in her Jacob's Room. In the mean time, please read this engagement with the problem by a Marxist: especially the key passage quoted here.

Modernism is a term used to lump together an enormous body of artistic work in all forms--poetry, cinema, painting, architecture--that was produced roughly between the 1890s and the mid 20th century. General definitions are difficult, but modernist work tends to be formally experimental and highly self conscious--think of the Cubist paintings of Picasso or the 'flow of consciousness' of James Joyce's novels. Gareth Jenkins is right to emphasise dislocation and fragmentation as characteristics of modernism. The 'high period' of modernism from 1900-1930 was of course a time of unmatched upheaval, in which the promises of the bourgeois revolution were finally shattered by war, slump and workers' revolt. The accelerating development of technology and the penetration of mass production techniques into every sphere of life added to a deep sense of uncertainty. In Perry Anderson's words, 'European modernism in the first years of this century thus flowered in the space between a still usable classical past, a still indeterminate technical present and a still unpredictable political future'.

It has been very tempting for Marxist criticism to glorify modernism given its origin in such a period of upheaval, and its--at least formal--rejection of the past. After the Russian Revolution the intellectuals of Proletkult argued for a rejection of all previous culture, claiming that modernist techniques were the basis for a brave new working class art. Such a simple minded response misses the contradictory nature of all modernism. Gareth is right to point out that modernist work often appears as a retreat from society. Its emphasis on dislocation and alienation could open the way to a kind of rampant subjectivity. His criticism of Virginia Woolf, for example, is telling: 'one cannot escape the feeling, beneath the richness of language, of artistic impoverishment which follows from impoverished grasp of social reality'.

Monday, January 5, 2009

English Class System: The Edwardian Swan-Song

North Americans are prone to some misunderstandings when reading British fiction due to a lack of awareness of the almost universal effects of the class system there. This, you will discover, is an essential -- arguably, by far the most significant -- aspect of the cultural background to British pre-1945 fiction.

Let me elaborate here. First, a former student's working class father (clearly a highly admirable man) earned Cambridge in the nineteen fifties, by which time the class boundaries were feeling the blows of many engines: the two World Wars for instance. And second, at a larger remove, remember that Britain has a system of class not caste: in other words, there had always been some opportunity for mobility - in both directions. Profligate aristocrats had for centuries dropped their posterity well into the middle class. Successful business acumen brought some middle (and even some originally lower) class men into the aristocracy via a knighthood. Consider Sir William Lucas in Pride and Prejudice. And elevation by marriage was also an avenue: the stage was an effective platform in more than one sense; and "let a man be ordained to the clergy and he can marry as high as he likes" is a line from Born in Exile by George Gissing.

But beside all this, mobility is only one aspect of the class system: the levels are enduringly divided by the behavior and attitudes that the members of each level share. Mr. Lucas could rise to status of gentlemen, but he could not prevent Mr. Bingley's sisters from sneering at him behind his back. Indeed, only Elizabeth Bennett's omnipotent womanhood could make Mr. Darcy repent (with obsequy) of his disdain for her Cheapside relations, the Gardners.

My point about North America is that culture is uniform to a degree not experienced in England. Members of the Canadian Senate watch NHL games in undershirts while drinking beer - as does a longshoreman in Surrey whose choice of beer is quite likely to be Stella Artois. During a past American Presidential election, John Kerry -- a north-eastern aristocrat -- rode a mountain bike, wore a trendy yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet and had rap on his iPod. Bank balances allow for important -- even critical -- differences in health and opportunity among North Americans. And ethnic diversity provides reasons to celebrate significant difference. But for all that, a remarkable similarity of taste and value makes "class" a problematic term to apply. The "Red State/Blue State" divide, for instance, is a geographic and regional divide, not a class divide. And the rural/urban divide in Canada does not map facilely to income.

Less so under New-Labour Britain (which is just what is argued as a master hypothesis by this course,) but still very much alive, is exactly a class distinction where North America has a conformity. It was the fact that Diana: Princess of Wales, behaved like Anna Nicole Smith that caused Her Unstable Highness to be ostracised by the British aristocracy. And, contrariwise, the fox-hunting passion of aristocrats -- nouveau and old alike -- produces derision against "toffs" from the man on Wigan pier.

Speaking of George Orwell, here is one of his many characteristically pithy insights into the British class differences in terms of attitude rather than mobility.

And again, take the working-class attitude towards ‘education’. How different it is from ours, and how immensely sounder! Working people often have a vague reverence for learning in others, but where ‘education’ touches their own lives they see through it and reject it by a healthy instinct. The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a ‘job’ should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly. The idea of a great big boy of eighteen, who ought to be bringing a pound a week home to his parents, going to school in a ridiculous uniform and even being caned for not doing his lessons! Just fancy a working-class boy of eighteen allowing himself to be caned! He is a man when the other is still a baby. Ernest Pontifex, in Samuel Butler’s Way of All Flesh, after he had had a few glimpses of real life, looked back on his public school and university education and found it a ‘sickly, debilitating debauch’. There is much in middle-class life that looks sickly and debilitating when you see it from a working-class angle.
Note how this corrects the mistaken North American misunderstanding that the proletariat pines in frustrated envy for the values of the middle and upper middle classes. As an exemplary aside, I often observe students and professoriat alike stating that some group or another of fellow citizen are "deprived" of a university education: making, that is, university attendance a quality of universal worth. Too flagrantly pretentious and distastefully preening, I believe, to insist that one's own accidental preference or aptitude must be the sine qua non of social worth.

The class system (aristocratic, bourgeois, and lower classes) is, as mentioned, the vestige of the feudal system of noble, yeoman, serf. And thus it is a system based on wealth: finance correlates with class, but does not determine it. Indeed, to talk of wealth as class marker is to commit the solecism of elevating the value of one class -- the bourgeois -- to supremacy. North Americans do use "upper," "middle" and "lower" as synonyms for "Rich, average, and poor," but that is because North America simply is a bourgeois continent. Moreover, making "wealth" equal to "money" is more of the triumph of the bourgeoisie; since turning worth into capital was the strategy of the Whigs .... and the means by which they effected their conquest.

Here is George Gissing to this end -- and bear in mind as you read this passage from the "Summer" section of The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft that Gissing is widely touted as being the pre-eminent novelist of the Reformers:

For a nation of this temper, the movement towards democracy is fraught with peculiar dangers. Profoundly aristocratic in his sympathies, the Englishman has always seen in the patrician class not merely a social, but a moral, superiority; the man of blue blood was to him a living representative of those potencies and virtues which made his ideal of the worthy life. Very significant is the cordial alliance from old time between nobles and people; free, proud homage on one side answering to gallant championship on the other; both classes working together in the cause of liberty. However great the sacrifices of the common folk for the maintenance of aristocratic power and splendour, they were gladly made; this was the Englishman's religion, his inborn pietas; in the depths of the dullest soul moved a perception of the ethic meaning attached to lordship. Your Lord was the privileged being endowed by descent with generous instincts, and possessed of means to show them forth in act. A poor noble was a contradiction in terms; if such a person existed, he could only be spoken of with wondering sadness, as though he were the victim of some freak of nature. The Lord was Honourable, Right Honourable; his acts, his words virtually constituted the code of honour whereby the nation lived.

In a new world beyond the ocean there grew up a new race, a scion of England, which shaped its life without regard to the principle of hereditary lordship; and in course of time this triumphant republic began to shake the ideals of the mother land. Its civilization, spite of superficial resemblances, is not English; let him who will think it superior; all one cares to say is that it has already shown in a broad picture the natural tendencies of English blood when emancipated from the old cult. Easy to understand that some there are who see nothing but evil in the influence of that vast commonwealth. If it has done us good, assuredly the fact is not yet demonstrable. In old England, democracy is a thing so alien to our traditions and rooted sentiment that the line of its progress seems hitherto a mere track of ruin. In the very word is something from which we shrink; it seems to signify nothing less than a national apostasy, a denial of the faith in which we won our glory. The democratic Englishman is, by the laws of his own nature, in parlous case; he has lost the ideal by which he guided his rude, prodigal, domineering instincts; in place of the Right Honourable, born to noble things, he has set up the mere plebs, born, more likely than not, for all manner of baseness. And, amid all his show of loud self-confidence, the man is haunted with misgiving.

The destruction of the class system in England is, then, the destruction of the aristocracy and the lower class by the bourgeois: the former they tore down to their level from resentment & envy; the latter they pulled up by sheer condescension.

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

The following lecture schedule can guide your reading. The powerful WWI poetry will be read passim and schedule announced in class: it is strongly recommended that you bring a copy of the Penguin Anthology to class. With one exception, the poetry and novels are very short, and save the Woolf text, quick to read beside. The Madox Ford text is not short, but it is glorious and, as we shall see, very readable. We will be working on this text for our class project Term-long.

C.S. Forester- The General
January 5th & 7th
January 12th & 14th
Rebecca West - Return of the Soldier
January 19th & 21st
January 26th & 28th
Virginia Woolf- Jacob's Room
February 2nd & 4th

February 9th & 11th
Evelyn Waugh - Vile Bodies
February 16th & 18th
February 23rd & 25th
Ford Madox Ford - Parade's End
March 2nd & 4th
March 9th & 11th
March 16th & 18th
March 23rd & 25th
March 30th & April 1st
Review and Wrap-Up
April 6th

See support material available on Library Reserve.

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

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday & Wednesday: ten-thirty to noon, Tuesday noon to three o'clock. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to, phone 778-782-5820

1. Mid term paper, two thousand words: due March 11th in lecture. Topics posted February 18th.
2. Group field project. The field project this Term will be a configuration of Parade's End for a future BBC TV Series concentrated on the sui generis character of Sylvia Tietjens, under the rubric of Virginia Woolf's insightful remarks in In Search of a Room of One's Own on the nature of the female character in art. Seminar time will be set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor on this project. Due last class of term.
4. Final Paper, three thousand five hundred words: due April 6th in the Instructor's Department mailbox.

Nb: There is a five percent per day late penalty for all assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, provide a letter (not a note) on a Physician's or Surgeon's letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that illness or injury prevented work on the assignment. The letter must cover the entire period over which the assignment was scheduled and may be verified by telephone. For bereavement leave, simply provide, ex post facto, a copy of the order of service or other published notice of remembrance.

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 E-Mail Netiquette

Here are the points of e-mail protocol for our course :

  1. E-mail (indeed, all communication) between Lecturer and student, and TA and student, is a formal and professional exchange. Accordingly, proper salutation and closing is essential.
  2. Business e-mail is courteous but, of professional necessity, concise and direct. It rejects roundabout or ornate language, informal diction, and any appearance of what is termed in the vernacular, 'chat.'
  3. Customary response time for student e-mail to the Course Lecturer or TAs is two to three office days. E-mail on weekends will ordinarily be read the Monday following.
  4. Use only your SFU account for e-mail to the course Lecturer. All other e-mail is blocked by whitelist.
In general, Course e-mail is for matters of Course administration solely. It is not an alternative to, nor substitute for, Office Hours or Tutorial. All questions about understanding of lecture material, course reading, assignment criteria, and deadlines are reserved for Tutorial and Office Hours.

Missed classes and deadlines are not to be reported by e-mail: if a medical or bereavement exception is being claimed, the supporting documentation is handed in, along with the completed assignment, either in person or to the Instructor's mailbox outside the Department Office.

Essay Grading

The assignment grading criteria used by the SFU English Department are available online here. The relationship between the letter grades and the percentages is as follows:
A+ 96-100
A 90-95
A- 85-89
B+ 80-84
B 75-79
B- 70-74
C+ 65-69
C 60-64
C- 55-59
D 50-54
F 0-49
DE Deferred

Course Outline

ENGLISH 340 D1.00
Instructor: S. OGDEN
Rats, Gas & Shell-Shock: the Literary Scars of WWI

The success of contemporary British novelist Pat Barker's 1990s Regeneration trilogy and its subsequent film adaptation has opened new interest in World War One and indicates that Britain may at last be ready to confront the full atrocity of that unnecessary, unfinished and unconscionably mismanaged war. So unbearable were life and death alike in trench warfare that works of imagination in Britain struggled to face its full horrors squarely. Indeed, the literary history of 20th Century Britain to 1945 - including works as diverse as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Lord of the Rings - is traceably scarred by festering wounds of the "War to End all Wars." In this course we will read and examine several now-neglected masterpieces by important British writers of the period, and see how each in its own artistic terms both succeeds and fails to respond adequately the (perhaps literally) unspeakable horrors of the trenches. We will look too at a few of the great First World War poets, including Sassoon and Owen, who, writing as they did from front-line experience, more immediately recorded those terrors, like gas warfare and shell shock, not even named before their devastation was accomplished.

NOTE: The BBC comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth, set in World War One, will be seen in clips throughout the course to give dramatic background and satiric analysis of the events. Testimony to the unresolved status of World War One in Britain, laughter turned to cathartic sorrow when first broadcast of the series' poignant conclusion produced national weeping.


West, Rebecca The Return of the Soldier 0-14-118065-X Penguin
Forester, C. S. The General 1-87785339-9 Nautical & Aviation
Ford, Maddox F. Parade's End 0-14-118661-5 Penguin
Woolf, Virginia Jacob's Room 0-14-018570-4 Penguin
Waugh, Evelyn Vile Bodies 0-316-92611-6 Black Bay

Recommended Text:

Silkin, John, ed. First World War Poetry 0-14-118009-9 Penguin

The following texts will be placed on reserve in the library: Women's Fiction & the Great War by Raitt & Tate; Regeneration by P. Barker; The Great War in British Literature by A. Barlow; The War in the Trenches by A. Lloyd.


10% Productive participation
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 2000 words)
30% Group field assignment
40% Final paper (approx. 3500 words)