Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tennyson Lives....

Well, a phrase from his poetry, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" specifically, is used in the headline of an article online in the Toronto Globe and Mail:
Into the Valley of Death
Anger at vote-rigging has worked to rip a thin scab off many years of frustration at poverty, corruption and inequitable land ownership
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
January 26, 2008 at 12:28 AM EST
KIPKELION, KENYA — With the sun barely over the edge of the valley, the colours on the hills were muffled. The banana leaves were dull green, the sugar cane stalks pale yellow. And so the flames, when we saw them flare in first one house, then a second, then streets and streets on fire, were shocking, vivid orange, more alive than anything around.

Browning, Barrett, & Love

From "Today in Literature" a brief story on "Browning, Barrett, Love":

On this day in 1845 Robert Browning wrote his first letter to Elizabeth Barrett, so inciting one of the most legendary of literary love stories. The letter belongs to the 'fan mail' category -- the praise of a thirty-two-year-old up-and-comer for one just six years older and already internationally famous -- but it was more than just poet-to-poet. After commending "the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought," Browning confides that he is addressing "your own self," and that "for the first time, my feeling rises altogether."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Community Forum on Olympics

"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 very vital one that will have great effect on you ta SFU: your class schedules, for one thing.

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

Dummy Final Exam Questions

Here are two dummy Final Exam questions with answer (first question) or guidance (second question).

Leave any comments that you may have here, in this post.
C.W. "I love it -- this is so wonderful!"

Friday, January 23, 2009

Vancouver Sun "Victorian" Article

The article from the January 15th Vancouver Sun which I was kindly handed last lecture, titled "We squander the great legacy of the Victorians at our peril" is available online here at its original organ of publication, Britain's Daily Telegraph.

"We still live in a society that was in large part made by the Victorians. We may affect to despise them, ridicule them, even condemn them. We certainly misunderstand them. Part of this misunderstanding is that we mistake their confidence for arrogance; for we misunderstand the paradoxical nature of that confidence....

We imagine the Victorians as stuffy and orthodox; yet they were the most questioning, most radical and most open-minded generation in our history. Perhaps it is our own arrogance....that prevents our seeing this."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Give some thought to the way that Tennyson's poetry-type poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" might be have intellectual content" -- i.e. contain idea in the way familiar to us in prose essays -- but with a type of effectiveness unique to its genre.

For an account of the Charge, click here.

You can actually hear Tennyson himself reading the poem here (it is somewhat unstettling, actually, hearing a voice down through the ages) from a wax-recording arranged by another historic great; Thomas Edison.

In fact, speaking of great, here is the voice of one of the truly great: the angel of the Crimean War, the "Lady of the Lamp," Florence Nightingale.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Penny Dreadfuls"

As I suspected, there is excellent internet presence for Victorian 'penny dreadfuls,' such as can be seen here. And also here.

These are, in my opinion, the origin of comics, an argument, indeed, I make in my recent lecture series on graphic novels. This, of course, is what a Englishman would say against the Americans' claim for genesis.

Life in Victorian London: The Real Sweeny Todd

From Britain's Daily Mail, an article excerpting Sweeney Todd: The Real Story Of The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street by Peter Haining, published by Robson Books at £8.99. ° Peter Haining 2007. [The picture I include here is the most frightening, terrifying, maleavolent, horrifying Sweeny Todd image that I could find. Shudder. Anyone music fan from the '70s-'80s will feel their flesh crawl....]

Sweeney Todd's name is seen in Victorian 'penny dreadful' newspapers and then 19th century melodrama, complete with his own catchphrase, "See how I polish 'em off!" .... This undercurrent of malevolence was compounded by the young Todd's bizarre interest in the instruments of torture displayed at the nearby Tower of London. To escape his parents' brawling, he lingered in the Tower's museum, where thumbscrews, racks and other macabre tools were displayed to discourage citizens from dissent.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lecture Q&A

This post is a permanent link that records answers to student questions from the Q&A sessions in Wednesday lectures.
  • Q. Was it said that A Christmas Carol was a response to Origin of Species?
  • A. Strictly speaking, no; indirectly, yes. Both of the Charles D.'s authoring our opening two course readings were reacting to Whig ideology. Upper-middle-class Darwin was a Whig (a Whig of Whigs, in fact, born from the unity of two high-capitalist families); and lower-middle-class Dickens was anti-Whig. A Christmas Carol, like many of Dickens' novels, was directed against the Whig ideas that Origin of Species encodes as scientific law. So in this sense the texts form an excellent dialectic of the dominant Whig ideology of the early and mid- Victorians.

  • Q. How does the triangle relate to A Christmas Carol?
  • A. The triangle is one small example of one of the resonances that Dickens captures with his use of particularly three Spirits. The resonance here is the Classical: the number three was a central number for Plato, for instance, and, among the examples from Plato given in lecture, the triangle--with its a geometric axiomata-- was one of them. Rationalist triangles can be seen recurring in many guises through Western history: Marxism's thesis, antithesis, synthesis being just one (Freud's Id, Ego, SuperEgo was alos given in lecture.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Victorian Cool: Steampunk SuperHeroes

Follow the hotlink to "Gaslight Justice League" action figurines. The model pictured here is the Victorian Wonder Woman.

This is an excellent example of the Victorian Cool currently alive in our popular culture; and the type of material available to be worked into the Group Assignment for the course.

Steampunk superheroes: who knew?

Terms from Opening Lecture

The lecture slide for the literary terms for Darwin's rhetoric in the selection from Origin of Species is online at this link.

(Also accessible by clicking this post's title.)

Dreaming of A White Christmas? Blame our first course story

A current article from Britain's Times of London on our first course story, A Christmas Carol, (with a gratuitous climate-change shibboleth for good measure!)

Dreaming of a white Christmas? Put it down to Dickens’s nostalgia for his lost childhood.
Paul Simons and Will Pavia
Small flurries of Christmas cards are falling on doormats across the land today, bearing pictures that combine idyllic village scenes with the snow conditions of northern Greenland. The Met Office, which tends to be less romantic in its outlook, provided an entirely different forecast for Christmas Day in Britain yesterday: it will be cloudy, mostly dry and rather mild.
Some will blame climate change for the discrepancy, and imagine snow-bound Christmas Days from distant childhood — yet the truly snowy Christmas of Christmas cards has occurred only seven times since 1900. Before then, sparse records suggest that less than a score of 19th-century Christmases were white.
It now appears that the true culprit was Charles Dickens, whose childhood coincided with a decade of freakishly cold weather. The novelist persistently described a Britain smothered in snow on Christmas Day.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

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.

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

This schedule lists readings, not lecture schedule. Although lecture follows the order of readings here, it keeps to its own pace...lecture covers material read the week before.

This schedule is to allow you to structure your reading of the course material. Following this reading schedule will ensure that you are always one week ahead of lecture.

[Page numbers are from the Longman Anthology.]


Course Week One
Perspectives: 1137

Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species .... 1357

Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol 1464 (w.1520)

Course Week Two
Fanny Kemble 1140
Parliamentary Papers 1143
Henry Mayhew 1158

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The Kiss 1718
The Burden of Ninevah 1719

Christina Rossetti
Goblin Market 1731

Robert Browning
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came 1427

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Charge of the Light Brigade 1291
The Higher Pantheism + Response 1327-8
The Lady of Shalott 1235

Course Week Three
Lewis Caroll
Jaberwocky 1812

Rudyard Kipling
Without Benefit of Clergy 1860
Gunga Din 1882

Course Week Four
Algernon Charles Swinburne
The Leper 1767

Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Windhover, Pied Beauty 1794

Moral Verses 1826-1848

Course Week Five
Charles Darwin
from The Descent of Man (1365-1368 only)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
To George Sand x2 1198
Aurora Leigh 1203

Course Weeks Six to Seven
Longman Supplement
Jekyll and Hyde/The Secret Sharer/ Transformation: Three Tales of Doubles

Course Week Eight
Matthew Arnold
Dover Beach 1662
Culture & Anarchy: from Sweetness & Light 1695

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Scandal in Bohemia 1556

Course Week Nine
John Henry, Cardinal Newman
from Apologia Pro Vita Sua 1390
Thomas Henry Huxley
from Evolution & Ethics 1398

Elizabeth Gaskell
Our Society at Cranford 1522

Course Week Ten
Thomas Hardy
The Withered Arm 1538

Course Week Eleven
John Ruskin
from The Stones of Venice 1580-1590
Florence Nightingale
Cassandra 1608
Victorian Ladies & Gentlemen 1626
Sarah Ellis 1632
John Henry, Cardinal Newman 1638
Queen Victoria 1651

Course Week Twelve
Oscar Wilde
The Importance of Being Earnest 2003

Max Beerbohm
Enoch Soames 2091

Course Week Thirteen
Review and Recapitulation

[Lecture slides will be made available online 48 hours before the Final Exam]


The last five minutes of each Wednesday's lecture (& the five minutes following) will be used for an open Q&A with the Instructor. Any questions relating to the course, or debate on any of the ideas, are welcome. If you have no questions on the day, you are quite free to leave....

Schedule of Assignment Due Dates:
[Details of the separate assignments listed in "Pertinent & Impertinent" links.

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.

January 26th or 28th: Group Project Proposal due in seminar.
February 18th: Close-Reading Project: due in lecture.
February 19th: Mid-Term Essay topics posted.
March 4th: Mid-Term Essay due in lecture.
March 30th or April 1st: Group Project due in-seminar.
April 15th 8:30-11:30: Final Exam.

Grading Bonus: Lecture Attendance & Punctuality
Attendance and punctuality are both virtues that the professional world expects. Lateness and unpunctuality are penalised in the professional sphere and censured in the private. To help promote these real-world virtues, a grading bonus is available to the class. If high attendance (measured by unpredictable attendance checks) and negligible unpunctuality (based on the Lecturer's observation) is maintained in lecture throughout the Term, the grades on the Mid-Term essays will be retroactively raised to the next grade level at the end of Term. (I.e. C+ becomes B-, and so on.)

Research material is available on Library Reserve.

Nb: “Participation requires both attendance and punctuality ."

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

Course Approach:
Surveying, analysing, understanding and enjoying the vast empire of literature in the nineteenth century, concentrating on the material written under the majestic matriarch, Victoria Regina. Attendance and engagement in lecture, discussion and exchange in seminar, careful and close reading of course material, and group study and presentation of contemporary Victorian cool are the requirements of the course.

Can You Survive Dickens' London?

An amusing Flash game from the BBC online: "SURVIVE DICKENS' LONDON"

Dodge through Victorian London, avoiding the gangs and villains and trials and tribulations of Dickensian London in order to seek out Charles Dickens in his chalet hideaway in Rochester. You'll face tasks and choices - you might have to pick pockets for Fagin, or rob bodies for Gaffer Hexham. Perform well and you'll be able to wend your way through dark alleyways and winding streets. Make the wrong choice and you could end up in jail, or worse... You'll need to keep your health up and you'll need to keep your eyes open in order to make money for your fare to Rochester. Be warned; time is short and the streets of London are not for the faint hearted...

Mid-Term Paper Research

The BBC has a marvelous webpage on the Victorians, from a post-colonial point-of-view, and with several articles relevant to course lecture and, even, essay topics.

Close-Reading Assignment

The Close-Reading Assignment is worth ten percent of the course grade, will be one thousand words in length, and is due in lecture February 18th.

This long period of six weeks for the assignment allows for successive drafts to be worded and edited in seminar; both with peers and with the tutorial leader.

"Close Reading" in our context means reading the text carefully, paying attention first and carefully (i.e. closely) to the words and phrases: their diction, etymology, associations, order, meter, rhyme, metaphors, and the like. Close reading a text is to concentrate start on the particular before making remark on the general; letting, as far as possible, the text speak to you before you speak to the text.

When you have made been through the text and made notes and comments about this level of specific detail, you then write these discoveries up into essay form, where you then consider any conclusions that appear to you about the author and his or her intentions and significance; historical, intellectual or æsthetic.

Consider the famous line, l.15, from Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott,"
"Four gray walls, and four gray towers"
What does the first "four" give us? With "walls" we have a image of imprisonment. The four right angles implied invokes rationalism: closed rather than open, and thus associated with controlling masculinity (cf. Gaskell's Cranford.) This masculine element of the enclosure is strengthened by the phallic "four....towers": alluding perhaps to four levels of men (incl. lover) The "four" additionally suggests enclosure for the four points of the compass. It is also a sharply non-religious number: odd additional from the sacred number three. It is also the number of iambs in the line. The second word, "gray," denotes colourlessness, which is a direct contrast with the vivid colour-words in the stanzas immediately surrounding (e.g. "blue," "yellow," "red.") Gray also has a moral connotation of being neither openly good (white) nor openly bad (black.) "Gray" is the colour of ambiguity, which sets up the quality of the Lady's ambiguous action in leaving the tower.

That certainly is the beginning of a close reading of this one line (e.g. further work on the structure of the line's parallel clauses has intriguing relevancy.) It is just to illustrate the level of detail that a close reading has. And of course your own close reading will likely differ from this: a student once pointed out that l.485 of bk.2 of Aurora Leigh--'life develops from within'--adds a maternal dimension to the passage: a reading which, you won't be surprised to hear, had hitherto evaded me.

Seminar Group Project: Victorian Cool

This project is worth twenty percent of the course grade. Groups of five members are set in seminar and will deliver the project on the last seminar day of Term. A written proposal of the project is due in seminar, course week four (January 26th - 28th.)

Some suggestions for effective proposals are online at this link.

The project creatively engages present-day Victorianism; either Victorian Cool, or Canadian Victoriana.

Victorian Cool includes

  1. Steampunk (e.g. the Steamboy anime, books like Gibson & Sterling's The Difference Engine, pop-culture artifacts like Victorian action figurines, etc.);
  2. Gaslight graphic novels (e.g. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc.)
  3. Neo-Victorian movies (e.g. From Hell (i.e. on Jack the Ripper); Sweeney Todd; various Sherlock Holmes adaptations; etc.)

Canadian Victoriana presents aspects of the fact that Canada is a Victorian country.

  1. Our province (British Columbia) and its original capital city (New Westminster) were named by & in honour of Queen Victoria, and our current capital is named after & in honour of her.
  2. Our neighbouring province is named by her & in honour of her husband.
  3. Our nation's Confederation -- in 1867 -- was a Victorian event: in her parliament & with her involvement.
  4. Queen Victoria's father lived & administered the military in Canada for over a decade; the Duke of Kent lived for nearly thirty years with a French-Canadian mistress (Adelaide Dubus, with whom, in all likelihood, he had illegitimate offspring) until his 1818 marriage to another woman, who became Victoria's mother.

The project can take the form of a blog; a video-taped theatrical presentation, documentary, a short film, etc.; a written collection; or any creative form of presentation.

The objective is to give evidence of a creative engagement with and understanding of the Victorian character; as a means of better comprehending the period and cultural character of the Age under our present literary study.

On the last seminar week of term -- March 30th or April 1st -- hand in along with the project any hard copy material -- scripts, blog URLs -- that you wish to have included in the grading.

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
N Incomplete
DE Deferred

Note-Taking for University

"Learn how to listen and you will prosper even from those who talk badly.” Plutarch (AD 46-120) Greek Biographer & Philosopher.

The Student Learning Commons at the W.A.C. Bennett Library has an exceptionally helpful on-line guide to effective note-taking at university lecture. (It is a trifle disconcerting reading for the Lecturers themselves, because it implies--indeed, all-but declares--that many of us are dull, confused, inarticulate, habituated and otherwise deficient in our craft.)

The guide is available online in .pdf format at this hotlink.

The Student Learning Commons additionally has an entire page of links to on-line resources to imprioove the student's "Listening & Note-Taking" at this hotlink.

Note-taking in lecture is one of the skills that one learns at university with broad applicability in life. Arguably, learning how to take written notes from oral delivery is one of the most practically valuable benefits of a university education.

These resources linked here are very valuable: especially as it is increasingly common for undergraduates to confuse note-taking with copying down PowerPoint slides. It is rule worth learning that PowerPoint is not the Lecture: lectures are what happen when you are distracted by copying down PowerPoint slides....

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Group Assignment Proposals

Proposals for Creative and Group Assignments can be helpfully constructed as failure standards. Failure standards are a real-world use of the falsification concept from experimental science, where a theory becomes ranked as scientific only when it is capable of being falsified in a replicable experiment.

So, for your assignment proposals, you would list (in either essay or point form) the full set of criteria by which your project can be gauged to have failed. for example "Our project will have failed if:"
  • the project does not advance an academic thesis.
  • the project does not have [some measurable degree of] quality
  • the project does not identifiably incorporate material from relevent scholarship
  • the project fails to relate directly to some number of the primary course texts
  • the project fails to represent and demonstrate advanced understanding of the central ideas of the course
  • &c, &c.
This effectively prevents creativity from being substituted by open license.

Additionally, proposals are accompanied by a concise justification of the academic validity of the project being proposed.

An effective proposal describes (nb. look up the etymology of this word in the OED) three components of a project:
  1. Area
  2. Range
  3. Structure
The Area is the specific subject of your project: e-mail writing, for instance. Range delimits the specific aspect of your subject: courtesy and professional manner in e-mail, say. And Structure outlines the manner in which the project will formed.

Two pages is a reasonable length for a proposal of this type, four pages at most.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Course Outline

ENGLISH 206 D1.00
Instructor: S. OGDEN

Steampunk & Beyond

Despite or, perhaps, because of the serene regnancy of its titular monarch, the Victorian age was a riot of conflict religious, political, intellectual, social, industrial, familial and, of course, artistic. Our course will experience the contradictions, energies and titanic attainment - for good and ill - of Britain under Queen Victoria through an apposite selection from its enduring literature. The concept of ‘literature’ itself is a case of the range, variety and contradictions of the Age. In our, Second Elizabethan, Age, fiction, poetry and essay are read by almost mutually exclusive populations of reader. The Victorians, quite the contrary, enjoyed all types of literature promiscuously for aesthetic delight, for improvement and for education. Their exemplary names - Darwin, Dickens, Martineau, Marx - have power scarcely diminished, and to a surprising degree the concerns of literary Victorians are the vivid concerns of our own day. For our course, we will read selections from the commendable Longman anthology and one ‘Victorian Novel’ entire and, among other benefits, will be able to better understand the implications of the deep imprints of Victorian England in the nation of Canada today.


Damrosch, et al. eds. Longman Anthology of British Literature, Vol. 2B, The Victorian Age
978-0321333957 Longman
Stevenson, R. L. . Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
0-13-246278-8 Longman

10% Attendance and Productive Participation
20% Group project
10% Close reading project (1000 words)
25% Mid-Term essay (2500 words)
35% Final examination