Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mid-Term Workshop

We will have a writing workshop for the Mid-Term essay draught in tomorrow's class - come with your ideas for effective writing and your topic of choice.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"Some thoughts on writing well:

From the Nota Bene section of the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily today is a useful article which encourages plain English by offering "some thoughts on writing well."
At my local recycling center, the first bin is labeled “commingled containers.” Whoever dreamed up this term could have taken the easy way out and just written “cans and bottles.” But no, the author opted for words out of the bureaucrat’s style book, and chose the raised-pinky elegance of a phrase distant from normal English. He also added poor spelling (“comingled,” also a correct spelling, would have been clearer) and pointless redundancy (the concept of “co” is already embedded in the word “mingled”). How did they pack so many errors into two words of modern environmental prose?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mid-Term Topics

Chose one of the three topics here: the emphasis is on analysis, judgement and the mechanics of writing.
  1. Troubling the placidly laudatory lecture presentation of Scott's supreme literary genius in Rob Roy is the matter of the highly idealised characterisation of the titular character. Evaluate this in reference to the manifold artistic representation of the north and south opposition in the text, as detailed in lecture.
  2. On any reasonable view, the characterisation of women in Rob Roy and Princess & Curdie is formidable and inescapably noteworthy. Present your judgement of the literary functions of Diana Vernon, Helen MacGregor and the Princess Irene, in context of the paired opposites which are guiding our study through the long nineteenth century.
  3. Imagine that Charles Darwin had been influenced, not by Malthus' Essay on the Principles of Population as he claimed, but by Carlyle's "The Everlasting No" and Scott's Rob Roy. Write an article aimed at publication in a scholarly journal that explains how the course handouts from Darwin were specifically derived from those two Scottish texts.

Scott's "Rob Roy" & our Course subject

The first lecture, course week two, on Rob Roy did position the novel as terminus a quo for the course, but I want to be certain that I had made the point sufficiently well.

In the early years of the century, Scott's novel encodes as deeply as possible -- in structure, character, setting, plot, narrative -- the decadency of civilisation and the health & purity of rude places and people. Too obvious to be seen to present readers is the very fact that the novel's explicitly historical setting is effectively an invention of Scott's to that purpose.

One dimension of the fundamental opposition that the text represents, not covered in lecture, is presented in the following dictum from Rob Roy himself:
'Let it come, man--let it come,' answered MacGregor: 'ye never saw dull weather clear without a shower; and if the world is turned upside down, why, honest men
have the better chance to cut bread out of it.'
This formula -- a martial clash vivifies & purifies a decadent Age -- was to be repeated, heinously, almost exactly a century later, as the drumbeat of an entirely unnecessary and unforgivably-conducted war sounded to the same effect in the second decade of the twentieth century ....

Individual Writing Presentation: marks

Your draught of the individual writing presentation was returned in class today with a conditional grade. In order to confirm the grade, you bring it to an Office Hour over the next week or so to discuss the content and the degree to which it represents a sound understanding of the concepts, so crucial to the long nineteenth century, of progress and degeneracy.

In addition to the benefit to this assignment, this visit is, of course, designed to assist the construction of a sound draught for the mid-term essay, the circuit of which begins today.

I have about ten office hours a week, but I may be prevailed upon to hold additional time by appointment where it is absolutely necessary.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Scots: Pronunication & Lexicon

Scots -- either a dialect or a language, according as one's Scottish nationalist tendencies go, but, alas in either case, indisputably Anglic -- features in two of our course texts to varying degrees of obtrusiveness. Use this post as a central hub for lexicons, guides to pronunciation, and exemplary audio clips. A perma-link is on the blog sidebar.

  1. Scottish Dialect at the BBC
  2. More Scottish Slang at the BBC
  3. Pittin the Mither Tongue on the Wab
  4. Scots Language: at
  5. Scots Glossary
  6. Scottish Vernacular Dictionary

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Queen Victoria: Celebratory Day

We're soon to enjoy a holiday in honour of Queen Victoria.
I came across this oblique & tendentious article in the Telegraph on the predominance of women at the political head of England following on from Victoria's eminent sixty-four year regnancy:
Have you noticed that modern Britain is the most matriarchal society in the history of the world? The four most famous figures in the public service since the war have been women - the Queen Mother, the Queen, Diana, Princess of Wales and Margaret Thatcher.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mid-Term Assignment Criteria

Here is the arrangement and the schedule of dates for the Mid-Term Essay, twenty five hundred words and revisions. The assignment is worth twenty percent of the Course grade, of which ten percent is for the draught and ten percent for the revision.

Eight-week writing path:

  1. Course week three, Friday May 25th: choice of topics posted on the blog
  2. Course week five, Friday June 8th: draught version due in class.
  3. Course week seven, Friday June 22nd: draught returned with comments & grade.
  4. Course week nine, Friday July 6th: revision due in class.
  5. Course week eleven, Friday July 20th: revision returned with comments & grade.
  • The draught is an opportunity to get your ideas and structure freely down on paper. The marking will identify the types of error which require revision: after studying these you are encouraged to bring the draught to Office Hours for additional and thoroughgoing help.
  • The revision will be graded according to the improvements made from the draught.

Group Polemical Project

Groups of five or less will be set in class on course week six, Friday June 15th. The project will include the following:
  1. at least two of the primary course texts,
  2. Darwinism as presented in the handouts
  3. any one of the great Victorian essayists
  4. Either (a.) a polemical account of the nineteenth century funeral of God, in the manner of our early twenty-first century's fashion for the topic à la Hitchens, Harris, Dennet et al; or (b.) a polemical engagement with a present-day issue revelatory of the death of God and the progress-degeneration axis.
  5. a creative OODA Loop concept.

There will be a intra-group peer status review of the Group projects in class on course week ten, Friday July 13th. The results of the peer review will be handed in to the Tutorial leader and form part of the grading of the project. The project is due in class August 3rd. The assignment is worth twenty percent of the Course grade.

Explicit Writing Criteria

The explicit writing criteria for the course are detailed in The Little, Brown Handbook, ranking Canada alongside England with its Oxford English Dictionary, Fowler's Modern English Usage, and Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.

The Little, Brown Handbook is set on Course Reserve and is available at the SFU Bookstore, on the tradebooks floor. It is an indispensable work for anyone who will ever write non-fictionally.

Part I of the Handbook gives the specific criteria used in grading writing in 105W. They can be summarised under the following simple headings.

  • Precise fidelity to the Rules of Grammar.
  • Correct spelling.
  • Use of Plain English.
  • Opening paragraph is a statement of thesis.
  • Subsequent paragraphs develop the thesis logically (ideally, by dialectic.)
  • Concise paragraph structure, including:
    • three to five sentences;
    • one clearly-identifiable topic sentence;
    • two or three sentences that develop the topic;
    • one transitional sentence to conclude.
  • Individual characteristics of scholarly writing, appropriate to fourth-year undergraduates. An excellent succint guide is Harvard College: Making the Most of College Writing.

Individual Writing Presentation

This tutorial assignment, worth ten percent of the Course grade, is an opportunity for peer-editing.

Ten-week writing circuit:

  1. Course week two, Friday May 18th: write in tutorial a two-page summation of the Darwin handout in terms of progressivism and present to Tutorial leader for five-percent credit.
  2. Course week six, Friday June 15th: in tutorial, groups of four or less read each others' draught summations and provide peer evaluation to be used for the revision.
  3. Course week twelve, Monday July 27th: twelve-hundred word Revision presented to Tutorial leader for grading.

Nb. The draught, completed, receives five percent; the revision is worth five percent; for an Assignment total of ten percent of the course grade.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

Reading Schedule

Following this schedule will keep you technically abreast of lecture. The advisable reading schedule is, as always, to have each text read in full before the first lecture upon it.

Week 1: Charles Darwin: Selected Passages (Handout.)
Week 2: Sir Walter Scot, Rob Roy
Week 3: Sir Walter Scot, Rob Roy
Week 4: George McDonald, Princess & Curdie
Week 5: George McDonald, Princess & Curdie
Week 6: George Eliot, Mill on the Floss
Week 7: George Eliot, Mill on the Floss
Week 8: Charles Dickens, Mystery of Edwin Drood
Week 9: Charles Dickens, Mystery of Edwin Drood
Week 10: Charles Kingsley, Water Babies
Week 11: Charles Kingsley, Water Babies
Week 12: Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan
Week 13: Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan

The two recommended texts are A.N. Wilson, God's Funeral and Buckler, William (ed.) Prose of the Victorian Period. They are recommended for several reasons. I would say primarily because, I am convinced, they are indispensable features of each English scholar's library: permanent furniture that will be perennially beneficial. God's Funeral is a delight and an education: the style and the personal details captivate while the dialectic informs the sweep of the intellectual nineteenth century clear ringingly in your mind. Prose of the Victorian Period is a trove of hard, gem-like prosaic art that shows the living mind of the century: and that a life which shows our century how writing can -- even, how should -- be done. Of course, more immediately, they form the ideational basis of course lectures.

Schedule of Assignment Due Dates:
Assignment details in "Pertinent & Impertinent" Links.
Update: Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a four percent per day late penalty for all assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, provide a letter from a physician on letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that illness or injury prevented work on the essay. The letter must cover the entire period over which the assignment was scheduled and may be verified by telephone. For any matter effecting deadlines, consult with the TA in person and before the assignment period.

May 18th: Draught of Individual Writing Presentation.
May 25th: Mid-Term essay topics posted.
June 8th: Draught Mid-Term essay due.
June 15th: Group Polemical Project, members assigned.
Individual Writing Presentation peer analysis.
June 25th: Graded Mid-Term draught returned.
July 9th: Revised Mid-Term essay due.
July 13th: Group Polemic Project: peer review.
July 23rd: Graded Mid-Term revision returned.
July 27th: Revised Individual Writing Presentation due.
August 3rd: Group Polemical Project due.
August 13th: Final Essay Due.

Support material available on Library Reserve.

Nb: “Participation requires both participation and punctuality ."

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday & Wednesday 10:30-3:00. Bring your coffee and discuss course matters freely. E-mail to Please only use your SFU account for e-mail contact. Other e-Mail accounts are blocked by white-list.

Course Approach:

From the direction of the engagement with God. "God's Funeral" is the result of the materialism which produced, and was then strengthened by, Darwinism and Urban Industrialism (each of the pair then strengthening the other; and is then the cause of search for Resurrection: that is, a literary search for a revivified humanism. Giving shape to this is the perhaps paradoxical, perhaps merely natural, double-sided obsession, century long, with both progress and decadence.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pre-Darwinian "Survival of the Fittest" Image

Henry De La Beche’s drawing Duria Antiquior (An earlier Dorset), 1830: