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Category Archives: literature genres

Someone has posted on Ted Hughes (HSC Module C)

And I am very grateful, for one. See Fulbright Scholars some notes. Thanks to Mel McGuinness, who has in turn kindly referred students to this blog for Frankenstein and Blade Runner.

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I propose to say something about Module C myself shortly.

Update 24 June

Some references I have found.

 

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NSW Module A English HSC Advanced: on not seeing the wood for the trees…

My coachee was unfamiliar with the expression “can’t see the wood for the trees”, so I explained that it means losing sight of the whole pattern because details grow and grow at an alarming rate. This is a state many HSC students find themselves in. So how to guard against it?

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Photo by Neil Whitfield 2008: artificial forest at the Sydney Chinese Garden

Make sure you read and understand the course description. My coachee and I are working on the Frankenstein and Blade Runner pair. The first thing to note is that the module is called TEXTS IN TIME: TEXTS AND CONTEXTS. That is the wood.

This module requires students to COMPARE TEXTS in order to EXPLORE THEM IN RELATION TO THEIR CONTEXTS. It develops students’ understanding of THE EFFECTS OF CONTEXT and QUESTIONS OF VALUE…

Students examine ways in which social, cultural and historical context influences aspects of texts, or the ways in which changes of context lead to changed values being reflected in texts. This includes study and use of the language of texts, consideration of purposes and audiences, and analysis of the content values and attitudes being conveyed…

OK, that means:

1. You need to know what issues or themes of interest each text embodies. In our two, for example, one can think of: the moral/ethical issues in science and technology; the need for companionship or love; what it is to be human; what is “natural”… And so on. It does not greatly matter what the issues are, so long as they are important ones and are major issues in both Frankenstein and Blade Runner. Your teacher and your class will no doubt determine perhaps two or three big ideas to hang your readings on.

2. You need to appreciate what was being thought, said and done around the time each text was composed: 1818 in one case, and 1982 in the other. Consider also where each text was composed. How does what you discover about this explain why each text may have been composed? Be careful here. It can be tempting to write history or philosophy and forget about the actual texts. Not a good idea.

3. Having found an issue, explore where and how it is presented in each text. Don’t forget to be specific rather than general. Find key passages or scenes. Look closely at the techniques used in their making. Then ask “Why is this passage/scene like this?” What in the context may have shaped the way it has been done? What in the context made this issue of sufficient interest to the composer and his/her readers and viewers? Where does the composer stand on it? What does the composer regard as important, or troubling, or worth arguing for or against on this issue? Now you will be exploring values and attitudes.

4. There are also genre issues to think about: The Gothic, science fiction, dystopias, film noir… Why have these genres thrived at various points in history? Why have they persisted? What is the relation of our two texts to these genres?

It really is hard to coordinate all this thinking. Anyone who tells you the HSC has been dumbed down is just plain dumb! I know that I never had to do anything half as difficult in my final year of high school in 1959! The good thing is that the issues raised in these texts really are interesting – and important!

So, good luck. Also, any suggestions about how to organise the material in an exam-friendly way will no doubt be appreciated by others. You may use the comment space here for that, if you care to.

The truth is out there

Yes, you are also lucky. There is so much good material to explore, some of it suggested on my previous post on this.

Here’s another, and very recent. This week an article appeared in The Times in London: Lynda Pratt, “Who wrote the original Frankenstein?”

Frankenstein – that most resonant and enduring of early nineteenth-century fictions – was born in the febrile atmosphere of the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816. Bored by the unseasonably cold, wet weather, the Villa’s residents, Byron, John Polidori, Percy Shelley and the eighteen-year-old Mary Godwin, amused themselves by writing ghost stories. The other female member of the party – the pregnant Claire Clairmont – did not take part. Surrounded by three competitive males to whose conversations on “the nature of the principle of life” she was a “devout but nearly silent listener”, frustrated by her inability to “think of a story” (and perhaps also by her future husband’s determination that she should “obtain literary reputation”), one night Mary had a dreadful “waking dream”…

As Marilyn Butler so acutely observed, Frankenstein is “famously reinterpretable. It can be a late version of the Faust myth, or an early version of the modern myth of the mad scientist; the id on the rampage, the proletariat running amok, or what happens when a man tries to have a baby without a woman”.

Yet the very familiarity of Frankenstein means that its complex pre- and post-publication textual history is often overlooked, and the actual process of composition of a fiction so centrally concerned with creation ignored. The novel’s textual instability is explored in the impressive introduction to Charles Robinson’s new edition. His honourable aim is not to give us another text of the novel we know – or think we know – but to strip away nearly two centuries of revision and appropriation in order to return to what he describes as the “original” Frankenstein. Or rather, since the “transcript of grim terrors” and the short versions of July and August 1816 do not survive, to reinstate the earliest recoverable version of the novel: the manuscript first draft composed between autumn 1816 and March-April 1817, which is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Robinson’s volume is the first ever edition of this manuscript (a facsimile, by the same editor, was published in 1996)…

The image, vividly evoked in Robinson’s introduction, of Mary and Percy passing the manuscript draft between them, each responding to the ideas of the other, is a powerful reminder that the popular myth of the Romantic author as an isolated, creative genius is just that – a myth. The Shelleys were part of a complex cultural network, involved in literary collaborations and (as the connections between Frankenstein and early nineteenth-century scientific debates illustrate) responsive to contemporary issues.

Frankenstein – in whatever form we choose to encounter it – is not alone in this. Other works central to British Romanticism, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (also first published anonymously), were brought into being by the creative interactions of their authors both with one another and with the political and intellectual climate of their age….

My next HSC post will introduce the concept of BELONGING and make a few suggestions…

 

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Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein” — and “Blade Runner”

Henry Fuseli "Dream of Belinda"

Henry Fuseli: Dream of Belinda

There is no lack of material on the Internet about this famous novel. Those of you doing the 2009-2012 HSC in NSW must compare it with Scott Ridley’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, which you will also find on this site. You must attend especially to the context in which each work emerged, issues of genre, and issues of language and technique, as well as of course forming ideas about the great themes each work embodies.

Look at this essay: Frankenstein as Lucy (PDF).

friedrich

Here is a beautiful site to look at: Nature, Beauty, and Power: The Romantics (Pitt State University). Another US university, Washington State, offers a plain no-nonsense introduction to Romanticism.

There is also Romanticism: an Overview on The Victorian Web. See especially Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (1818) — A Summary of Modern Criticism.

Two YouTube videos follow; if you are at school these may just be blank spaces! Try at home.

Kenneth Branagh 1994

Opening of Blade Runner

See also Studying the Gothic, or Emily Bronte?.

UPDATES

  1. The course material for this unit prepared by Melpomene Dixon for the English Teachers’ Association NSW is really excellent!
  2. I have since done a follow-up post.
 

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Poetry Viva — Wollongong 11 October 2008

Yet another email, this one from the South Coast Writers’ Centre.

Poetry Viva

SCWC PROGRAM
11 October 2008

Join our most exciting contemporary poets for an afternoon of challenge and contemplation. Featuring Dorothy Porter, John Tranter, joanne burns, Judith Beveridge, Peter Skrzynecki, Barbara Nicholson, Chris Mansell, Elizabeth Hodgson, Merlinda Bobis and more reading from their work. Call in to Wollongong City Gallery for half an hour or the whole afternoon, and experience these extraordinary Australian writers. A co-production of South Coast Writers Centre and Viva La Gong. Supported by the Australian Poetry Centre.

12noon – 4.30pm, Saturday 11 October, 2008
The Fine Gallery, Level 2, Wollongong City Gallery, corner of Kembla and Burelli Streets Wollongong, NSW 2500

Free Event

More information: Ali Smith tel 02 4228 0151 or email scwc@1earth.net

Bit nostalgic this one for me… Ten years I was down there, some thirty years ago.

HSC students will find it interesting. In her email Ali Smith says: students, teachers, and school librarians are more than welcome to come along and hear these poets read their work. I have highlighted poets Year 12 students/teachers may be especially interested in seeing. Deb Westbury will be there too, apparently.

Guess it’s nice that people are using my blog to publicise things too. 🙂

 

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Some Shakespeare sonnets

Not what you associate with YouTube, is it?

Sonnet 38

How can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O! give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rimers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

Sonnet 130 is actually very funny: it is a parody of the typical sonnet of the time, an anti-sonnet, but yet turns into a compliment. What do you think of Alan Rickman’s reading of it? Great voice, but is he too serious?

Here it is in 16th century spelling. ſ is “long S”, common up to the 18th century. Looks a bit like “f”.

MY Miſtres eyes are nothing like the Sunne,
Currall is farre more red,then her lips red,
If ſnow be white,why then her breſts are dun:
If haires be wiers,black wiers grow on her head:
I haue ſeene Roſes damaskt,red and white,
But no ſuch Roſes ſee I in her cheekes,
And in ſome perfumes is there more delight,
Then in the breath that from my Miſtres reekes.
I loue to heare her ſpeake,yet well I know,
That Muſicke hath a farre  more pleaſing found:
I graunt I neuer ſaw a goddeſſe goe,
My Miſtres when ſhee walkes treads on the ground.
  And yet by heauen I thinke my loue as rare,
  As any ſhe beli’d with falſe compare.

This one comes from Australia and works with Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Last, A short movie of Dave Mckean about Sonnet 138:

16th century spelling again. Notice how “u” and “v” are virtually interchangeable. That’s why we call W “double U”.

When my loue ſweares that ſhe is made of truth,
I do beleeue her though I know ſhe lyes,
That ſhe might thinke me ſome vntuterd youth,
Vnlearned in the worlds falſe ſubtilties.
Thus vainely thinking that ſhe thinkes me young,
Although ſhe knowes my dayes are paſt the beſt,
Simply I credit her falſe ſpeaking tongue,
On both ſides thus is ſimple truth ſuppreſt :
But wherefore ſayes ſhe not ſhe is vniuſt ?
And wherefore ſay not I that I am old ?
O loues beſt habit is in ſeeming truſt,
And age in loue,loues not t’haue yeares told.
  Therefore I lye with her,and ſhe with me,
  And in our faults by lyes we flattered be.

Go to The amazing web site of Shakespeare’s sonnets for all the sonnets on a very beautiful site, and more information on each one.

 

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Revenge Tragedy

One of the options in NSW English Extension 1 for the HSC is Revenge Tragedy; you will see an outline of the course there. From Euripides to High Noon is quite a jump, isn’t it, but I am glad to see that students have the chance to look at all those texts listed.

Revenge tragedy usually concerns an individual faced with the duty of revenge in a society where the law is unreliable and within the control of the powerful and protected.

In this elective students are required to study at least three of the prescribed texts as well as other texts of their own choosing. In their responding and composing they explore, analyse, experiment with and critically evaluate their prescribed texts and a range of other examples of this genre, which may include texts that extend or challenge the traditional conventions of revenge tragedy. Texts should be drawn from a range of contexts and media.

Given you can look up Wikipedia or Answers.com for yourselves, and should for “Revenge Tragedy” and for each text, here are a few other suggestions.

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The Literary Encyclopedia allows non-subscribers the first few paragraphs only, but it is still worth reading it.
The BBC’s Guide to Life, The Universe and Everything has a somewhat tongue-in-cheek account of tragedy, but there are some quotes there that could be good essay or discussion starters.
Is there such a genre? — Michael Bywater asks that subversive question, so look at his notes there. [July 2007: This site is being rebuilt. I will check later on to see if this excellent resource is restored.]
Rewriting Revenge by Gordon Carver reviews a production of Cyril Tourner’s The Revenger’s Tragedy.

The whoops and hollers of the dancers, the flashes of muscled legs, bare torsos, bare buttocks, and gold lamé thongs introduced the animalistic, highly exhibitionist, more-than-a-little homoerotic theatrical environment.

Sounds like a fun production!
Murder Will Out: Animated Tongues, Middling Values, and Elizabethan Urban Legend by Doré Ripley is a somewhat Marxist and historicist reading of the genre, focusing especially on Hamlet, The Spanish Tragedy, and Titus Andronicus. Worth a look.
Richard Keys, Curator Emeritus at Screensound Australia, has an interesting page on High Noon: “The year 2002 was the silver anniversary of the release of 1952’s High Noon. In this essay I will try to do justice to what is in my opinion one of the greatest American films.”
Theatre of Blood by Gary Kamiya is controversial and political, but it does indicate something of the place of revenge tragedy in our cultural heritage. You may or may not agree with him, but will find him interesting. Bush wanted his Iraq war to be a lofty Shakespearean history. He got a vicious, corpse-strewn revenge tragedy.

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Posted by on February 15, 2007 in English studies, HSC, literature genres, Media/Film studies, student help

 

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Studying the Gothic, or Emily Bronte?

I have had coachees doing this interesting genre, and I know others are. So here are a few good sites, once you have been sensible and checked Answers.com or Wikipedia.

nevermore

Online Edgar Allan Poe Exhibition from Cornell University: Nevermore: The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane, source of the picture above.
The Literary Gothic ‘is a Web guide to all things concerned with literary Gothicism, which includes ghost stories, “classic” Gothic novels and Gothic fiction (1764-1820), and related pre- and post-Gothic and supernaturalist literature written prior to the mid-C20. Its target audience is all students and fans of the Gothic, regardless of age, academic level, profession, or just about anything else.’
The Gothic: Materials for Study: “With this question in mind, we have assembled this compilation of Gothic “materials for study.” We imagine the project as a course reader for an undergraduate college course on the Gothic. The primary texts for the course include nine novels that we feel represent the”canonized Gothic”; novels whose popularity in both their time and ours attests to their appeal and longevity.” (University of Virginia).
The Victorian Web ‘is the WWW translation of Brown University’s Context 61, which serves as a resource for courses in Victorian literature.’ It is excellent.
Touched by the Hand of Goth: Classics of Gothic Horror Cinema, a good introductory essay by a Finnish student.
GOTHIC/HORROR FICTION QUIZ by Sara Martin. The answers are here.

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Emily Bronte from CUNY Brooklyn is concise and very relevant to the kind of study required here in NSW. Follow the links there.

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Posted by on February 9, 2007 in English studies, HSC, literature genres, questions asked, student help, works/authors

 

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War Poetry

Some HSC students read Wilfred Owen’s poetry, and at SBHS there was a unit in Year 9 or 10 on war poetry. This post was first prepared for that SBHS unit.

Resources for a study on how war poems from different ages and cultures embody diverse values and attitudes. Here are a few starting points to look at:

  • National Public Radio in the USA had a series in 2003 called The Poetry of War: Poems Inspired by Past Conflicts. There is much to read and hear there, ranging from ancient times to the present.
  • Lancaster Royal Grammar School has a page devoted to Attitudes to War, including much reference to poetry. The page is part of a Transnational Learning Network, the Comenius Project.
  • The Reliability of War Poetry. “These activities are designed to analyse the War poetry of a variety of poets, including the famous Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke, alongside less well known poetry from other Allied and German servicemen of the First World War.”
  • The First World War: Prose & Poetry.
  • 20TH CENTURY POETRY AND WAR:

    “…throughout the history of poetry-making, poems have provided a commentary – often critical – on what people, communities and nations do. And in the 20th century, the horrors and irreversible changes created by modern warfare changed poetry for good.

    “The thirty or so poems in this selection [written between 1914 and 1998] demonstrate – among many other things – this change. After the First World War it was clear that the subject of war could no longer be treated as though its slaughter was solemn and glorious. But how could war now be written about by poets? The following poems illustrate the diversity of answers to that question, in a variety of ways expressing the fundamental unacceptability of war. They also show that poets have not found the subject easy…”

  • A small but good collection of War Poems
  • Poet Links on Professor Eiichi Hishikawa’s websites, Kobe University, Japan, has many of the main 20th century English language poets.
  • A fascinating page that gives the original of a Han dynasty Chinese poem, “At Fifteen I Went to War”, together with five different English translations.
  • War Poetry (UK) – War poetry of the First World War. War poetry and anti-war poetry about Vietnam, the Falklands War, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Iraq.
  • Trinity College Perth – P L Duffy Resource Centre – more resources on War Poetry.
  • Poetry – the argument essay is very good. It includes this opening paragraph for an essay:

    In Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, both poets show clear attitudes to war. Owen’s poem centres around an horrific gas attack he suffered with a group of soldiers so tired they were ‘drunk with fatigue’. Owen leaves us in no doubt his attitude is anti-war but Tennyson’s poem is more generally thought to portray war as glorious and soldiers as heroes, ‘When can their glory fade?’ yet I believe that Tennyson shows an attitude that is far closer to Owen than might at first be realised…’

    The Poetry of War by John Stringer. “War, or battles, have been a subject for poetry since the earliest times. The Iliad, after all, is a war poem; and much of the message is concerned with the individual heroism and the ultimate overall pointlessness of it all…”

     

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    Good children’s literature site

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    Visit the site linked to that header*. Judith Ridge, the owner of that site, says:

    Hello! Thank you for visiting the Misrule website and for taking the time to find out more about me. I’ve been involved with children’s literature in many capacities; as reader, teacher, arts program co-ordinator, editor, critic, acolyte and advocate!..

    I have published reviews and critical articles about children’s literature in journals and publications such as Viewpoint: On Books for Young Adults, Magpies, The Melbourne Age, Australian Book Review, Good Reading Magazine, Australian Bookseller and Publisher and The Horn Book (USA).

    I teach a class in writing for children in the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney. I also tutor second year children’s literature at Macquarie University where I am currently working on completing my MA and then, hopefully, my PhD. My tutor is John Stephens and I am writing my thesis on retellings of fairy tales, particularly in YA novels.

    You will find much good material here, and if you are a writer Judith also offers a manuscript assessment service for children’s authors.

    * UPDATED

    That link now takes you to the new Misrule site.

     
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    Posted by on January 17, 2007 in Australian, English studies, literature genres, works/authors

     

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    Studying comic strips? Really!

    Yes, I expect some of you out there will find this confirms all your worst fears about the “dumbing down” of the noble study of English, and ushers in the apocalypse! I don’t see it that way, given that the Year 8 students for whom I prepared the material which follows in November 2004 were also studying Shakespeare and much more besides. The unit itself was partly training in visual literacy, partly training in critical literacy. These texts exist. What is there function? How do they work? All valid enough, as far as I am concerned. The concept of “hero” was also part of this unit. All that is learned through studying the humble comics would have application later in many contexts, some of them more traditionally respected.

    phantom Year 8 students exploring what values are represented in comic strips: explore the first and greatest superhero to get some examples of vintage Superman, and The Phantom: A Publishing History in the U.S.A. gives you lots of vintage covers for this strip. See also The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks which gives some more history.

    Here is a good fan site on Spiderman. Dark Knight is a wonderful Canadian site that tells you all you wanted to know about Batman. It is really beautiful, but made by someone who thinks everyone else has a really good computer. Check alternative Batman information here.

    For even more links see Wikipedia. This is very good and leads you to just about all you need. Toonopedia gives an alphabetical set of links that will lead you to details of the superhero of your choice. In some cases the links are dated so you can see how the character was represented over time.

  • This is very interesting from BBC Science: The Science of Superheroes.
  • Teachers and more advanced students might be interested in this reflective essay by Kai Friese from Transitions magazine, “White Skin, Black Mask,” about reading The Phantom as a boy in India.

    Some thirty-five years ago, the Indian publishing firm of Bennett and Coleman introduced the Phantom comic books that would fill the misspent afternoons of my boyhood. The first four frames were usually given over to the terse phrases and fragments of the perennial recap that was soon consigned to memory as I raced wide-eyed through my purple-clad hero’s latest adventures: thwarting gangsters, rescuing women, keeping the jungles of Africa safe. It was a quieter, gentler time. I lived in a somnolent neighborhood of Delhi called Bengali Market (after its largest establishment, Bhimsen’s Bengal Sweets). My father drove home at noon on weekdays for a lunchtime siesta. And my friends and I belonged to a cargo cult…

  • Update 19 March 2007

    Read Hero deficit: Comic books in decline, a feature article by Brad Mackay published in the Toronto Star Mar 18, 2007.

    The superhero comics that kids once knew (and perhaps loved) are in trouble. Notwithstanding Hollywood’s recent infatuation with big-budget superhero movies, for much of the past 30 years the monthly comic book adventures of Spider-Man, Batman and their kind have been suffering from shrinking readership and slumping sales.

    For example, during the heyday of the late 1970s, a bestseller from DC or Marvel Comics, two of the biggest publishers, could expect to sell 300,000 copies. These days a similar title would be fortunate to move more than 50,000.

    For an industry famous for tales packed full of muscles and melodrama, the situation has prompted an unusual amount of soul searching. The would-be villains are many. Some have blamed the sales slide on cultural upstarts, like video games, manga and the ever-present Internet. Others point to the increased popularity of bookstore-friendly graphic novels, sales of which have recently surpassed traditional comics.

    But there are those who have begun to ask more complex questions, like how characters that are 40, or even 70, years old can remain relevant in an increasingly diverse society. This raises one of the oldest and most uncomfortable truths about the superhero genre: its surprising dearth of non-white heroes, particularly black ones…

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    Posted by on January 13, 2007 in literature genres, Media/Film studies, questions asked, student help

     

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