Monday, February 26, 2007

Plant blogging

It's wet, cold & snowing outside, but inside my aeschynanthus is blooming. The full delight is in the contrast: true for the literary as well as the horticultural voluptuary.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Clockwork Orange" Links

Anthony Burgess wrote a reflection on A Clockwork Orange in 1986 which you may enjoy reading: it is titled "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

Now there is, as you all almost certainly have found out, a rash of Nadsat-English dictionaries on-line, such as this one. I didn't link to one earlier because Burgess meant for the novella to be read without one, & I remember how much I enjoyed in pre-internet days working things out for myself and sharing with friends. However, as Mr. King would say, tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis, so use the title link if you havn't found a translation page already....

Friday, February 23, 2007

On the Mid-Term

I love this Bizarro cartoon on the ever-more degraded state of language use!

A word about the mid-term essay project now well underway. The TAs are currently marking the first version of the essay and will return it to you by March 8th.

As you know, the objective of compulsory Writing Intensive Courses like ours is to provide an excellent opportunity for improved student writing ability. To that end, this first version of your essay is worth only five percent of the twenty percent that the Mid-Term represents in the ultimate course grade. Accordingly, your TAs have a mandate of marking to strict criteria for your greatest benefit.

Expect, then, this five percent grade to be an effective and accurate guidepost for you to improve your writing -- and, one hopes, your grade -- on the final version worth the remaining fifteen percent of the assignment grade.

So, for example, first versions which ignore the criteria set in the Mid-Term Topics -- say, failing to ground the essay in textual quotation, and using mere personal reflection instead following the instruction to argue -- can receive a first-version grade of less than 50%.

Study the first version carefully when it is returned to you, as it is a practical means of, for one, becoming a much better writer, and, for another, getting a significantly higher grade on your heavily-weighted final version.

Here's to good writing!

Why are These Models Scowling?

I am not sure exactly how this blog post is as relevant to our background understanding as it seems to be, but it is more than worth reading and doing the quiz.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


There is a helpful webpage on bildungsroman -- 'novel of development' -- at the reliable online resource The Victorian Web at this link. In fact, I gave today's specific arrangement to assist your effective follow-up study of this important concept for the lecture approach to A Clockwork Orange.

The Victorian Web is a reliable internet resource in contrast to the Wikipedia website which is an un-reliable -- and, here, unacceptable -- internet resource for academic purposes.

A literary rephrasing of the term 'bildungsroman' (if my word 'development' is already not a re-phrasing of the German 'formation') could be "novel of apprenticeship": apprenticeship, i.e., to Life.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Even more real ultra-violence

The wider relevence of Burgess' text is further indicated in this article from the Sunday Telegraph:

The violence seen in the video obtained by this newspaper has echoes of the extreme violence portrayed in Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film, A Clockwork Orange. In the film, a gang of youths travels the country to commit violent acts, including rapes and murders, for fun. Jan Harlan, the late director's brother-in-law, who helped to make the Oscar-nominated film, said that such violence was "beginning to make A Clockwork Orange seem like Bambi".
He said: "Violence is on a totally different level than it used to be. We do not realise how violent the whole world has become in the last few decades. The danger is that in the next 30 or 40 years there will be a huge crowd of uneducated young men with nothing to do except become more violent and anti-social."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"A [real] bit of the old ultra-violence"

The pre-recognitive quality of fiction that I referred to in lecture -- the ability of literary genius to present in fiction attitudes or forms of behavior ahead of their full-blown appearance in culture -- is exemplified by the current news story under the headline "Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise." The documentary from which a short section was shown in today's lecture shows the state of affairs in England in 1970, matching precisely to the narrative-future state of England in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange

Monday, February 19, 2007

Our Guest Speaker in Big Media appearances

Nancy Warren is featured in today's New York Times 'Books' section with an article and impressive photograph.

USAToday also has this article on her Harlequin-NASCAR tie-in, focusing on the commercially-impressive demographic numbers of female NASCAR fans:

Nielsen Media Research figures from 2003 show NASCAR led the NFL and major league baseball in percentage of female viewers on broadcast networks. Women were 35% of the total audience for NASCAR, two percentage points more female viewers than for the NFL and MLB.

The percentage is of a stunning seventy-five million total NASCAR viewers. So consider this to have been our class' brush with literary celebrity....and with signed copies to prove it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Stalky & Co." in "The Peak"

A thoroughly delightful article by our own Andrew Tuplin, referencing Kipling's Stalky & Co. in last week's campus student newspaper under the beloved-80s-song title I said, do you speak-a my language?

I'd gratefully blog the writer's picture, but I found none on-line so far.

English Scholarship for Sciences Students

For students in the Sciences who are taking Introductory English as a 'Required Course,' the (to them) unfamiliar form in which English conducts its studies can present a challenge.

However, English literature and the Sciences are both academic fields of study and share a rational approach and a scholarly analysis with an empirical component that differs between the two faculties primarily by degree.

To exemplify this, it is possible to translate a Topic on an English Mid-Term assignment into a Problem in the mathematical form of an Equation.

Here is Topic #5 from our current Mid-Term, first in its English Literature form and then, second, expressed in the form of an Equation.
5. Imagine that you have been commissioned to write a satire of Elizabeth Gaskell in the way that Stella Gibbons satirised certain other types of authors in Cold Comfort Farm. What aspects of Cranford's cultural view do you think should be satirised and why? You are free to sketch the character outline of a Flora Poste equivalent who would feature in your Gaskell satire.

Left Side of the Equation. (Empirical.)

Text: Cold Comfort Farm
Literary aspect: Satire: (the emendation of folly)
Target: Various Modern authors
Method: A central character embodying the virtues implicitly affirmed.
Specific value: "Flora Poste"

Right Side of the Equation. (Hypothetical.)

Text : Cranford
Literary aspect: Satire: (the emendation of folly.)
Target: Elizabeth Gaskell
Method: A central character embodying the virtues implicitly affirmed.
Specific value: "X"


Friday, February 16, 2007

Mid-term: study direction

A number of you are applying yourselves to Mid-term topic #4, and are asking about the aspect of 'the future' in the question. The best help that I can give here, and indeed with all the topics, is to read the topic in the light of lecture material. For #4 here, for instance, this, then, means in light of the direct and repeated engagement in Cold Comfort Farm with two concepts of modernity. Best wishes for productive & rewarding writing!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Use of Blogs in Academia

An excellent & concise blog entry from EdTechPost detailing "some uses of blogs in education" here. I recommend it highly as an excellent introduction to the ways in which blogging will, to a virtual certainty, become integrated into university practice to the same degree as e-mail, on-line registration, and digitised databases are now.
Click the diagramme below for a full-size version of the author's
matrix of some of the possible uses of blogs in education.

Blog from MS Office

OK, this is officially awesome. Blogger now has a free add-on downloadable at this link that integrates into Microsoft Office Word.

Nancy Warren Thanks

Our collective thanks go to Nancy Warren for sending us a boxful of her latest Harlequin, Speed Dating. She is in Daytona right now to launch the Harlequin-NASCAR collaboration.

[This is my cellphone camera shot from her talk here last week. Click on the image for a larger version. Also remember that many blog-post titles are also hotlinks - this one, to Ms. Warren's website.]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lad Lit: boys and reading

Here is a blog by a retired Elementary-School Librarian with a post on Young Adult Novels and the Teen Boy -- set, by the first half of its title (Making It As a Modern Male), in terms of masculinity as performative and in terms of the effect of a type of literature set according to sex: one of the premises of "lad-lit" studies.
Many social commentators have lamented the "lost" generation of American boys, growing up in a time in which girls have garnered a lot of attention in the public mind. Although teenage boys are considered a hard sell for fiction writers, guys probably stand in greater need of the vicarious experience offered in novels than do girls, since boys often find their life experience in riskier behaviors and since they are thought to be less comfortable with sharing personal events and feelings with each other.
Article via

PS: The blog also has this post on girls' reading -- here, the 'princess' reading craze (e.g. Ella Enchanted.) Note how the heroine's character is written in the "Flora Poste" mould....

Another Plucky Princess.... Here's another royal romp to add to my earlier list of "Princess Stories That Won't Shrink Ze Brain." It's Kate Coombs' 2006 title The Runaway Princess. This one really is a romp, as fifteen-year-old princess no-wannabe Meg refuses to be the bait her slightly greedy father King Stromgard dangles before a gaggle of princes who fill the Kingdom of Greve to win her hand The princes straggle forth to slay a dragon, return his hoard, banish a witch, and capture a bandit, while the unwilling Meg is sequestered in a tower complete with embroidery kits. Meg, of course, readily escapes the tower, befriends the witch (with her own army of bewitched frog princes), adopts the dragon (he's just a baby), and captures the aid of the Bandit Queen (and the romantic interest of her brother "Prince" Bain.) Meg is no Ella, but she's a fun gal to spend a few hours with.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cold Comfort Farm

So, we're looking at Stella Gibbon's masterpiece in terms of its satirical aspect. My lectures are based on an itemised list of the attributes of Gibbon's satire: we ended on "Self-Referential" today, and will finish that item on Thursday. The interesting point about the self-referentiality, to me, is what it implies. Gibbons uses the character Flora Poste as the axis around which her satiric energy is polarised. But Gibbons then inverts the field of energy and presents Poste herself as an object of satire.

This is breathtakingly deft, and only literary genius could do this without the artistic whole becoming a mushy muddle, without losing any sense of ground or stability to support the satire, or without turning into the sneering, denunciatory, censorious fulminator so effectively characterised in Amos Starkadder.

But returning to what is implied by this self-reference; for the satire to work -- for it to have been worth bothering about -- the type of confident, modern, self-assured, accomplished and superior woman must have been notable in the literature in and before the year Cold Comfort Farm was published: 1932. I offered C. Bronte's Jane Eyre, several of Marie Corelli's leading characters, Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett, several Agatha Christie heroines (notably Prudence Cowley); and among male novelists, Gissing's Rhoda Nunn (one of several) and (probably Gibbons' direct model) the great P.G. Wodehouse's Bobbie Wickham.

Update: how could I forget the perfect exemplar that I gave in lecture? Pamela Lyndon Travers' Mary Poppins.
PS: Here is a contemporary satire of the type: the "Scary Mary" viral.

Course Theme Song

From classfellow "A.":

Do we have a theme song for English 105? As you were talking about Bridget Jones's Diary in class today it occurred to me that what we're talking about is pretty much summed up with in the immortal lines of Shania Twain's "Any Man Of Mine."
This is what a woman wants...
Any man of mine better be proud of me
Even when I'm ugly he still better love me
And I can be late for a date that's fine
But he better be on time...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lecturer Office Hours

I want to remind you that my scheduled Office Hours are Tuesday and Thursday, 10:30-12:30 in room 3220 (same floor as lectures, on the SW side -- i.e. at the opposite end from the mezzanine and on the same side as Tuesday's lecture hall.)

Drop in to discuss any issues at all related to course material. If the scheduled hours are otherwise booked for you, contact me by e-mail for a time by appointment.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Paglia warns internet: "Only Art Lasts"

Camille Paglia intends her latest book as a pertinent warning against putting technology before art, or, put another way, against giving the transient form more importance than the permament substance.
Paglia has been and continues to be a strong booster of the internet's benefits for scholarship & effective polity, so her caution has weight.

UPDATE: Here is her article version.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Danger: Boys being Stalky again

Now, this is interesting. Via the Dr. Helen blog, discussion of an article in Britain's online Daily Telegraph titled "Danger: Boys Having Fun" about a bestselling boys book (boys today reading at all is an arresting fact in itself) called The Dangerous Book for Boys that encourages boys to, in effect, be Stalky.
The cover of the book is a reinvocation of the "Boys Own" papers that Kipling's Stalky & Co. directly inspired, and this list from the book's authors of what every boy should have on hand makes the stalkiness unmistakable (especially if you read between the lines of the explanations, as I did & noted in just a couple of the places):
    • Compass - your trusty guide
    • Swiss Army knife - removes splinters
    • Handkerchief - doubles as a sling [& sling-shot, SO.]
    • Magnifying glass - look at small things, start a campfire
    • A marble - big one, for luck [& slingshot, SO.]
    • Needle and thread - to sew up wounds, mend torn shirt
    • Pencil and paper - note down criminals' car numbers
    • Torch - read secret plans by night
    • Fish-hook and thread - add stick and worm and you won't starve
    • Box of matches - dip the tips in wax (it waterproofs them)
The book is now being released in North America.

Flora Poste's Sensibility in Fine Art

Moulding Elfine to her own, urban, ideals, Flora Poste advises her to turn to "....the style of Jane Austen, or a painting by Marie Laurencin," as exemplars of the sensibility she seeks to impress upon her protégée. Information on the early twentieth-century French painter Marie Laurencin is at this link, and images of some of her paintings can be found here.

Mid-Term Questions

Choose one from this list of available topics for step 1. in the Mid-term Essay Schedule post.

1. In the “Regulus” chapter of Stalky & Co., Mr. King is teaching a Latin ode to the Fifth Form. Analyse how his character interacts with individual boys in terms of what this reveals about Kipling’s view of performative masculine culture.

2. Detail some of the main values that Cranford and Cranford represent in fiction, and make an argument either for or against the claim that these values are designed to express a female view of culture superior to traditional male culture.

3. Do you agree or disagree with the claim that Peter Jenkyns’ attitude toward violence would exclude him from membership in Stalky’s “company” of performative males? Use quotations from both Gaskell’s & Kipling’s texts in support of your argument.

4. The NOTE at the reverse of the title-page of Cold Comfort Farm reads "The action of the story takes place in the near future." This in mind, what do you think is the significance of the following paragraph for the literary technique in Stella Gibbon's masterpiece?
Claud twisted the television dial and amused himself by studying Flora's fair, pensive face. Her eyes were lowered and her mouth compressed over the serious business of arranging Elfine's future. He fancied she was tracing a pattern with the tip of her shoe. She did not look at him, because public telephones were not fitted with television dials. (p.128)
5. Imagine that you have been commissioned to write a satire of Elizabeth Gaskell in the way that Stella Gibbons satirised certain other types of authors in Cold Comfort Farm. What aspects of Cranford's cultural view do you think should be satirised and why? You are free to sketch the character outline of a Flora Poste equivalent who would feature in your Gaskell satire.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Nicholas Sparks

Nancy Warren was praising Nicholas Sparks as a man who writes romance novels with an overwhelming female readership, several of which are successful -- and I quote -- "chick-flicks:" The Notebook being the most prominent.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

L'Écriture Féminine

A student from an upper division course of mine sends me this from her current research into L'Écriture féminine. "Ann Rosalind Jones (professor at Smith College) writes:
Symbolic discourse (language, in various contexts) is another means through which man objectifies the world, reduces it to his terms, speaks in place of everything and everyone else--including women." Jones explains that women historically, reduced to mere sexual objects by the dominant male voice, "....have been prevented from expressing their sexuality in itself or for themselves." Finding a female form of expression would succeed in revealing the phallocentricity Western language. As I understand it, feminine expression appears de-centralized. Women experience the world sensually with their entire bodies whereas men tend to transmit and receive from their 'antenae' located just below the belt. Male language = logical, linear, even. Female language = contradictory, ambiguous, inconclusive. Theorist Luce Irigaray contends "'She' is infinitely other in herself. That is undoubtedly the reason she is called temperamental, incomprehensible, perturbed, capricious-not to mention her language in which 'she' goes off in all directions and in which 'he' is unable to discern the coherence of any meaning."

A Stella Gibbons Website

There is a very good web resource (albeit low-tech) for information about Cold Comfort Farm at The site is run by her nephew nephew Reggie Oliver, whose biography of his aunt, Out of the Woodshed, is nearly history's sole source for interesting & relevant information about Gibbons.

His article on Cold Comfort Farm, here, is extremely helpful.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Article Links

Please leave comments or send me an email with any articles you find on-line relating to our course themes -- anything from scholarship to journalism to kitch is equally welcome -- & I'll put them up on the blog.

Here are a couple that I have found, relating to lecture.

An essential article for our course in today's online Guardian, here. I wanted to excerpt the pith, but it seems to be all pith. Certainly it addresses concisely and vigorously some of the genre issues with which we have been engaging.
It follows on this earlier piece sub-titled "Research shows men mainly read works by other men."