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.