Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Instructor's "Thanks!"

I say a grateful "thanks" to all of you for an exceptional course: I didn't have a bad moment this term and have countless wonderful memories. Most importantly, I understand the fiction much better than I did as a consequence of our congenial dialectic, week-in-week-out.
You each deserve credit for vigourously engaging -- in turns no-holds-barred or with delicate sensibility -- any topic on the representation of and relationship between the sexes that happened to arise (none were off limits) and yet without any of the dogmatism,didacticism, or domineering that (one hears) can happen ... out there!
It was your credit that the spirit of delightful schoalrship is alive and well -- in AD 2005 and here at Simon Fraser University.
I'll return to this post after I've submitted the grades so send your comments here then, when grades are no longer an issue!

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Lovely Guys, Loveless Girls"

From the Evening Standard's "This is London," this review of recent chick-lit by Charlotte Moore:
I've just read seven chick-lit novels in a week. It's like eating nothing but prepared meals. They're attractively packaged but you don't want to check the list of ingredients too closely. Their existence creates a hunger which they proceed, more or less successfully, to satisfy.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Final Paper

Your Final Paper, three thousand words of literary-academic excellence long, is due in my Department mailbox at midnight Monday August 1st. Yes, I know this is overly-generous and I appreciate your plaudits; I know also that you view the three-per-cent-per-day penalty for papers received any later than that as being excessively lenient. But there you are.
The choice of specific topic is yours; however your argument must refer to at least two course texts, one each from the chick-lit and lad-lit sides. Note that you may focus your essay on only one of the genres; you will in that event have to allude meaningfully to the complementary genre. Secondary sources are recommended, conforming in execution to the English Department Style Guide.
The course lectures have used Darwin's theory of sexual selection heuristically: that is, as a device designed to improve understanding. (I would never direct scholars to wikipedia, and I would always direct them to the OED, but if one were to go the Wiki route,
it would say of hueristic that it is "...a way of directing your attention fruitfully.") Your paper does not have to refer to sexual selection, or to my trichotomy of "cad, curate, or Colin Firth" - however some alternative organising schema for the genres is required of your essay.
I am available at all times by e-mail, in my regular Office Hours, or by mutual appointment to exchange ideas, edit a thesis paragraph, or engage in dialectic.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"Literary Bonbons"

Read this new article that dismisses lad lit off the cuff and damns chicklit with faint praise. (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)
It also makes explicit the struggle that many critics are having coming to terms with chick-lit as a genre: a struggle, in my estimation, that has ideological cause and which comes from an (again, in my estimation, unnecessary) essentialist attitude toward the books and their themes.
So what's the moral of the story? There's good chick lit and bad chick lit, just as there's good literary fiction and bad literary fiction - and maybe these labels are useless, anyway. I can hardly count the number of times I've read reviews that say, basically, "This book is chick lit, but never mind, read it anyway, it's great!" I wrote something like that myself, last summer, when I raved about Sarah Dunn's first novel, "The Big Love," which has just come out in paperback and which I would recommend in a heartbeat. The plot is nothing unusual - girl loses boy, girl has fling with cute boss, girl gets boy back and has to decide what to do with him - but the narrator's voice is so engaging that it lifts the book right out of the run-of-the-mill and into the perfect-reads category.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Literature the Opiate of the ....

I received the following stimulating email, which I am still mulling over. Your comments will be very welcome:
... it would be nice to talk a bit more about literature as opiate (OED: a. "Something that soothes or dulls the senses or causes drowsiness
or inaction" -- AND, I would stress the inaction....lulls a person into that they don't question things) ... I think some lit can be classified as opiate, but not all...however it might be hard to classify some works, since everyone's interpretation of a text will be different. It is probably more clear withthe lad lit books that end with the man being tamed and chosen for marriage after long occasions of intense rivalry with other men. It sends the message that it's ok to give in to the traditional roles of let women tame you, etc.. Similarly with the nice little romance novels where the woman chooses her man and becomes a wife and mother. Perhaps some women read those types of books if they are unhappily validate their lives, their choices, and to soothe any doubts the may have...Other literature COMPLETELY challenges these views or makes a complete riot of them, including Villette due to the tragic ending (I like to read the ending the way Bronte intended it...that is, that M. Paul drowns), and due to many other reasons besides. I think traditional notions of gender, sexuality, and social tradition come undone in the books we've read so far. It happens in almost every paragraph of Cranford!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mid-Term due time

The mid-term essay is due, as you know, this Thursday: it can be handed in to my Department mailbox until midnight, at which time I'll pick all up.

Gulp! - I Found the Quotation ....

Well, I found the source of the statement, which a classfellow suggested might exist, that women represent a lower evolutionary development than men. The originator is Charles Darwin, and it's in the Descent of Man. And not only is it even more misogynistic (if that were possible) than anything read by our visitor today from the Descent, but it is simultaneously racist in the same shockingly extreme degree.
I am naturally reluctant to read it in class, but I was able to contact our Vistor and ask if he would write out the words from the reference I sent him. Of course, as Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Darwinian Faith, he could not refuse, so here is his quotation from the Descent of Man, from the specific reference I gave him:
It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, or rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but at least some of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races [i.e. non-white], and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation." Descent of Man, 1896, 563-564.
And, once again, dear class, remember your signed "Waiver"-- do not attribute these views to the course instructor!

St. Paul & Darwin on Husbands & Wives

A classfellow sends the full passage from the New Testament on the strictures for husbands and wives in Christianity.

And here's the Bible passage from Ephesians 5:22-33 (New International Version):Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so
also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this way, husbands ought to love their
wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church -- for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery -- but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
We'll discuss this in seminar Wednesday, but my comments are that, as I read it now for the first time in some years, it seems entirely different from what Darwin said about women -- as we had it read to us by our visitor today. Darwin was clear and prolix- "men are superior to women" and in a great list of charateristics - courage, strength, intelligence, imagination, creativity etc etc -- with the only exceptions being maternality and vanity.

Ephesians, on the other hand, above talks only about _marriage_ -- and even there there is (a) reciprocity and (b) the quite remarkable -- indeed anti-Darwinian -- statement that men and women are _one flesh_. I just looked up what the Bible says about men & women, and it there it strangelyseems to emphasise their equality. As came up in class, the fifth Chapter (vs 1-2) of Genesis says that God is both male _and_ female:

... God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them;
And St. Paul on men and women says this (Galatians 3:28

... there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Again, your responses & developments are encouraged during seminar on Wednesday; but this does, prima facia, seem very different in spirit than "men are stronger in mind and body than women", and of course this from Descent of Man:

[Men have] a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women- whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music(inclusive of both composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, with half a dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Galton, in his work on 'Hereditary Genius' that..the average of mental power in man must be above that of women.
And so this is why I would not read Darwin's scientific assessment of women to the class! I would hate it to be thought that I endorsed such misogyny -- let alone this extreme.
[Update: "and" changed to "as" in the Ephesians quotation, thanks to a comment below.]


Darwinian Sexual Selection? The headline to this article from the Daily Telegraph threatens extinction for males: "Become more macho or risk your extinction, men told."
It's another move in the growing counter-reformation against metrosexuality, here labelled "mantropy" - as in, metrosexuality is causing male virility to wane. I cite it here singularly for it's lad-lit element:
Andy McNab, the forAndy McNab, the former SAS officer and best-selling novelist, said there was already evidence that some men were reconnecting with their masculinity in a bid to make themselves more attractive to women.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Lad-lit: Canadian and non-fiction.

A new book that is clearly lad-lit and clearly Canadian was reviewed very favourably in the centre fold of the "Books" section of this weekend's Toronto Globe and Mail. It was also well-reviewed in Quill & Quire, and elsewhere. The book is With the Boys: Field Notes on Being a Guy by Jake MacDonald, and is non-fiction of the reads-like-fiction type.
The Toronto Globe and Mail has the book's first chapter available online, and the following passage is worth our attention - especially as it echoes some of the ideas I've suggested in class.
Women appear in some of the stories too. Even when they're not on the scene, their absence is a kind of presence. Women keep an eye on men and exert a moderating influence on their behavior. That's one of the reasons that men like to occasionally get away from them. The singer Garth Brooks once remarked that he was teaching his little daughters a simple concept: "Men are pigs." All men know this about themselves, and they think it's funny. But at the same time, they have their own gender-specific code of ethics. Some kinds of piggy behavior are allowed, and some aren't. There are hundreds of rules affecting male behavior. That's too many to list here, and in any case every guy knows them. But women might find the male codebook strange and interesting. Women, for example, commonly assume that men like to talk about their spouses or sweethearts with their buddies. This is what psychologists call "projection." Women do it, so they think men do it too. A woman will happily dump the entire kitbag of her romantic woes on the table for the amusement of some other woman she's met four minutes ago. But no matter how late the evening or how debauched the conversation, you'll seldom hear a man say more than a few neutral words in passing about his mate. In the male codebook, talking about your love life is considered to be craven and unmanly. So women can at least relax about that.

Darwin's Writings on Women

A reminder that Monday we will finally hear from Charles Darwin's writings on women. Remember that you will be asked to sign a waiver in advance ...

Mid-Term Essay Due

A reminder that mid-term essays are due this Thursday, June 30th, in my Department mailbox.
They may be handed in earlier, of course, but not later -- to avoid the specified grade penalty....

Thursday, June 23, 2005

We Hit The Canadian Media

A feature on our course is now blurbed off the MotherCorp homepage: (It cycles in every half hour or so.)
Broadcast Thursday 10:00, FM 90.5 or AM 690.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Apologia contra Doctrinaria

Regarding my lectures on Cranford, I should perhaps state directly my Instructorial sensibility on fiction in general. Very much a matter of aesthetic and temperamental character as opposed to a developed intellectual conviction, I consider didacticism in fiction to be a blight. The more a work of fiction propounds a dogmatic position, the less do I regard it as art.
In fiction, I look to find agonism; I delight in dialectic; I rejoice to experience subtlty, balance, open-endedness; diversity in fiction is a golden attribute. Fiction -- novel and short story -- is an entirely uncongenial mode for phillipic, invective, diatribe and polemic. Any putative fiction by
Ayn Rand is utterly unreadable for me: it is an aggregation of words; not art.
Thus, I amiably resist any attempt to reduce works that I consider great fiction into tools for the propagation of an ideology. Thus, when I say that I cannot pin Cranford down to any hard background, I am paying it my highest literary compliment. At the asme time, I recognise that this is merely my own bent, and I enjoy few things better than a vigourous exchange with some fellow scholar who affirms that a work which I find diverse is in fact a work designed to promote this or that dogma.

This sensibility of mine is companion to a broader feeling I have: to wit, that I deplore and am saddened by ideologues in life - academic life especially. When a colleague moves from a friendly explanation and advocacy of a personal system of belief or social ideology -- Marxism, say -- to grim-faced disapproval of and censoriousness toward non-agreement, my heart becomes heavy and, too often, the colleague turns face away from sweet converse.

At Simon Fraser, needless to say, exchanges are nearly always a source of joy and enlightenment. May it ever be so.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sense on Student Coffee Cents

A good, sound fisking over at Ann Althouse's blog concerning students & coffee shops ...
A café is not just the coffee. It is an entire hours-long experience that contributes to your success as a student. It's true that to be financially savvy you have to realize that you spend a lot of money by spending a small amount of money on a daily basis, but there are much worse daily expenses that call out to students: bars, movies, cigarettes, fatty snacks.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Post Update: "Differences between the Sexes?"

I've added an update to the original post that summarised the seminar peer discussion on the question of difference between the sexes. The update adds a very helpful development from one classfellow to the posted graph sent by another.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Group Blogging Project Bleg

Would everyone post their Group Blog url into the comments section here please: I'll then post & cross post.
Please also add your group's ideas for publicising your blog ....

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mid-Term Essay

The mid-term essay, two thousand words in length, is due in my department mailbox on June 30th. The assignment is to explain, using techniques of literary analysis, how the two foundational texts for our course, Villette and Rob Roy differ in their qualities of genre. Both novels are masterpieces, but they are two different types of novel: your essay will present the independent qualities which make them different -- and which, at another level, categorise them as belonging to seperate genres.
Nb. It is of course possible to argue that the two novels are in fact two of the same type of work and belong in the same genre. You are welcome to make this just this argument; in which case your assignment will be to show how what appears to be difference is in reality identity.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Differences Between the Sexes?

Wednesday's seminar created a safe and open forum for student discussion on the topic of possible differences between the sexes as they may relate to the identifying features of our two literary genres. The question was posed, whether it can be said, for example, that women have unique qualities that men lack. The SFU Women's Studies Department holds this view in the affirmative: their homepage declares part of its mission to be:
".... exploring how knowledge can be reshaped when women are included."
The concensus of your views, summarised as tightly as possible, is that differences exist, none are innate and all are the consequence of cultural influence, and qualities of masculinity and femininity can be possessed by either men and women as a matter of choice. One student sends the following chart of overlapping distribution curves as her summary of your seminar discussion.

The definitive academic debate -- between Spelke & Pinker - was blogged in one of my earlier posts here.

A class-fellow sends along
a link to another helpful article in this regard.

And here's another helpful class-fellow who has the "Nerve" to add the following caveat:
I just wanted to forward you the link to this article by an avid reader of Chick Lit. It's quite a nuanced commentary albeit somewhat colloquial. Enjoy!

The above graph from a classfellow has proved very helpful in its visual representation of your discussions on this thread. Its overlapping y axese of femininity and masculinity were a starting-point for another classfellow to elaborate the seminar understanding of those qualities.
Specifically, each y axis is the aggregation of a number of particular graphs that map data points of some specific behavior observed in one sex or the other: watching the "W" network for one instance; eating beef jerkey for another; and so on.
The explanatory advantage of this development is that the extra-literary question of the cause of each separate behavior is left open -- nature or nurture for example -- and freedom of individual movement on any one behavior (changing the channel or drinking cosmopolitans instead of eating beef jerkey) is represented.
Your thoughts?

Support for our Course Thesis

Well, well....

An essential article for our course in today's online Guardian,
here: we'll review it together in seminar this week. 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, from last week, sub-titled "Research shows men mainly read works by other men."

[Credit to class-fellow "Steve" for coming across this on his own & posting in a "comment" below.]

Teen Chick & Lad Lit

An excellent comment to the previous post from "Steve." (Note to "Steve" - I said "emergent" genre: you read it as "emerging," I think?)
I think the existence of these 97 titles, currently in print would qualify it as a genre.
Also, I get the feeling The Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley High would count as teen chick lit -- at least these are what my sister was reading when she was in her early teens. On the other hand, there are not a lot of lit geared towards young boys -- I suppose it is hard enough to get boys away from their computers, TVs, and X-Boxes, let alone convince them to read a novel.
I know Harry Potter has dramatically improved young readership, but I wonder what boys think about reading books written by a woman? Do they think about it? I used to love reading Judy Blume novels, but I think I had some qualms about it nonetheless.

No "Democracy" on MSN Spaces

Regarding the choice of platform for your weblog, here's one argument against using MSN Spaces:
Microsoft's new Chinese internet portal has banned the words "democracy" and "freedom" from parts of its website in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing's political censors.

Blogging is the antithesis of totalitarianism, so this is Big News in the blogosphere.

Teen Chick-Lit

A class-fellow came across this chick-lit link while proctrastinating earlier this week. Chapters Books knows that they are onto a good thing with teen chick lit - an exemplary title is Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson - as the eagerly made theatrical version of Ann Brashares' Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants testifies. I discovered recently that my younger daughter had simply devoured them -- and she is not much of a reader.
My prediction is that this will be an emergent genre ....

Kitsch: of Men and Women

Today's "kitsch display" stimulated a vigorous seminar discussion on the meaning of two contrasting bits of kitsch.
The first was a fridge magnet collection sold in the SFU BookStore:

The second was a metal plate found at a garage sale entitled "The Rules" and which read as follows:

1. The Female always makes THE RULES.
2. THE RULES are subject to change without notice.
3. No Male can possibly know all THE RULES.
4. If the Female suspects the Male knows all THE RULES, she must immediately change some of THE RULES.
5. The Female is never wrong.
6. If it appears the Female is wrong, it is because of a flagrant misunderstanding caused by something the Male did or said wrong.
7. If Rule #6 applies, the Male must apologize immediately for causing the misunderstanding.
8. The Female can change her mind at any time.
9. The Male must never change his mind without the express written consent of The Female.
10. The Female has every right to be angry or upset at any time.
11. The Male must remain calm at all times, unless the Female wants him to be angry or upset.
12. The Female must, under no circumstances, let the Male know whether she wants him to be angry or upset.
13. The Male is expected to read the mind of the Female at all times.
14. At all times, what is important is what the Female meant, not what she said.
15. If the Male doesn't abide by THE RULES, it is because he can't take the heat, lacks backbone, and is a wimp.
16. If the Male, at any time, believes he is right, he must refer to Rule #5.

From among the exchanges, two stick in my mind. One is the way that The Rules - highlight male insecurity. The other was the suggestion that if "the Female" in The Rules is changed to "God", then you have sixteen points of understanding Kafka's conception of God.

But one class-fellow felt hindered from speaking, and emailed me the following very commendable commentary.
My personal response to popular examples of "kitsch" such as 'TheRules' andthe "boys are stupid" magnets is very unsettling. More than the objectsthemselves, what I find especially disturbing is that these sorts of blatant exploitations of gender stereotypes are intended to be funny. 'The Rules'example in particular operates on exactly the same logic that allowed womento be oppressed for centuries, yet a simple gender reversal apparently makesit appropriate to laugh at today. I think any sort of humor that operates on the principle that a certain sex is contemptible because they necessarily possess some undesirable trait is unacceptable. It is offensive not only to the targeted gender but any person who doesn't feel like they fit theprescribed role
for their sex. For instance, I feel insulted by theinsinuation that the female is always the pushy, overbearing partner in arelationship, and while most children experience a certain amount of antagonism towards the opposite gender at some point, I certainly don't seehow it's appropriate to encourage them to deal with it by throwing rocks. Despite all the intellectualizing university students do about gender theory and social conditioning, the existence of humor like this makes me question whether sexism hasn't simply been institutionalized.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 Validates "Chick-Lit"

[Link to article now fixed.]
The liberal proto-blog has this recommendation for summer reading - and in the process validates the use of the term "chick-lit" for the left side of the blogosphere.

[Speaking precisely, and aren't blogs, since they are corporate and have editors. However, in their genesis they had the blog mentality, and they do include in-house blogs - kausfiles at slate is excellent. Their conservatice equivalents are probably and - and is the blogfather.]

Genre Debate: chick-lit

The "Books" section of this Friday's (formerly Manchester) Guardian had a critical commentary on chick-lit, here. The Guardian has been helpfully engaged with chick-lit and lad-lit for some years. I first got the insight into these two genre labels being market branding from this Guardian article in 2003.

Colin Firth - Again

Chick-lit author Sarah Sands has this article in today's telegraph online about a new film version upcoming of Pride and Prejudice. She has this to say:

If it is true that there are only four stories, then Pride and Prejudice must be one of them. Poor but proud woman spurns and loves rich, humourless man. Women consistently vote for Pride and Prejudice as their favourite novel, ever. Mr Darcy remains the most romantic figure created, ever.
And also this:

Dignity is perhaps the most important thing in a romantic hero, which is why Hugh Grant was always going to lose out to Firth. The greatest fantasy figures - Mr Rochester, Maxim de Winter, Heathcliff - are all grumpy.
And again this:

They are also, I am afraid to say, men of means. Women can run off with the poor and light-hearted (and usually artistic) - as Dorothea Brooke did when she chose Will Ladislaw, but it was not really very satisfactory, was it? I am still suspicious when women describe their menfolk as "supportive". It usually means economically unsupportive, and they tumble down the romantic league table.

And yet more, this to be relevant when we get to BJD:
Working Title is proud of its contemporary Elizabeth Bennet in Keira Knightley. No bodices and bonnets here. You would not be surprised to see Lizzy rolling a cigarette on the kitchen table. By contrast, Matthew Macfadyen is resolutely period, with a deep voice and breeches.
To all of which I say, "Cad, curate & Colin Firth"!


From OUP online:

ladette (also less frequent laddette) /lædet/ noun (BrE, informal)

a young woman who behaves in a confident and noisy way, and who drinks alcohol and enjoys sport or other activities that are traditionally enjoyed by men: 17-year-old Zola and her gang of ladettes boast about just how much under-age drinking they did last weekend.* He says that young women today may look at someone like Sophia Loren and admire the way she looks, but they aspire more to being sexy, pretty or a ladette. * She has also had a reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-partying ladette who seems to enjoy the single life. * Analysts believe the ladette phenomenon has been driven by increasing levels of financial independence among young women.

Ladette comes from the word lad, which originally meant a boy or young man. In Britain in recent years, lad has been used more often to describe a lively young man who is interested in drinking, sports and meeting women: All my other mates said he was a bit of a lad, always making trouble. Robert has a reputation as a bit of a lad. He dates lots of women and flirts with any attractive female. Young men have their range of lad mags (= magazines for young men), but what magazine is a man over 40 supposed to buy exactly? Boys who don’t fit in with the ‘lad culture’ feel left out and often get bullied at school, according to a 2001 survey.
The -ette ending has been added to make the feminine form.

Other derivatives include:

    • laddish (adjective): Traditional laddish behaviour is generally a sign of
      insecurity and immaturity. His quick wit and likeable brand of laddish humour make him the perfect chat-show guest.
    • laddishness (noun): Behind all the laddishness, he is rather a sensitive young man.
    • laddism (noun): Beginning as a journalistic pigeon-hole for boisterously
      anti-social young men, laddism has since been extended to include anyone under 40 behaving badly.

A lad can be contrasted with a new man, a man who is more sensitive and not aggressive, and who shares the work traditionally done by women in the home, such as cooking and taking care of children: He is comfortable with his ‘new man’ image, and has been known to leave the office early to go home and cook dinner for his family.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Why Blogs are Great: # 87692.

"In the future, everyone will be Hitler for fifteen minutes."
Ha, as they say, ha. [Via Instapundit.]

Nb. This is a blog riff on Godwin's Law: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
In my experience -- all too lengthy -- Godwin's Law is infalliable.

Chick-Lit Defined

Welcome to photoblogging!
The series of pictures here were taken at Coles Books in Lougheed Mall. They help establish a functionalist definition of Chick-Lit. Recall in lecture that we decribed three ways of defining literary genres: the essentialist, the genetic and the funtionalist. So, according to functionalism, the genre of chick-lit is those books marketed as chick-lit.
Coles Books -- an excellent pruveyor of fine books -- tells us as much.

Here is their shelf display dedicated to the romance genre - which is exclusive of chick-lit. Proportionally a large percentage of the store. Not counting the genreal fiction section, only the science fiction & fantasy and the youth fiction genres are comparable. Pictures of their sections are below.

Nb. Click on each photograph for a larger image.

Here is the Lougheed Mall Coles Books' courteous and professional store manager, Ms. Lori Drazdoff, beside a sub-display of various fiction titles marketed to women.
Here are pictures are of several sections of the "Fiction & Literature" shelves that run along the main walls. The books marketed as chick-lit are clear: their covers are in bold pastels frequently with variations on retro-sixties movie-style line-drawings. My assumption is that the marketers are invoking the iconography of Breakfast at Tiffany's.

In addition to the covers, books marketed as chick-lit have titles that strongly declare their genre. Here, Mary Kay Andrews' Hissy Fit typifies the genre's reformative appropriation of idioms hitherto applied in the feminine pejorative.
Children's Literature section.
Science Fiction & Fantasy section.

Useful & Engaging Articles.

I found a couple or three links to newspaper articles relating to lecture and to issues brought up in seminar.
The first (from the formerly Manchester) Guardian was found via the indispensible Arts & Letters Daily and relates to our discussion -- also the topic of Maggie Holland's class presentation -- of whether or not a non-sexed reading of fiction is possible. Its title is "How male or female is your brain?" and contains a link to a pair of elaborate tests of your own brain.

The second, from the New York Times, is scientifically-directed also, and specifically on Darwinism and the "Urge to Win" in men & women. This is obviously pertinent to the question raised in lecture of how relevant Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection -- with its assigning of aggression to males & calm power of decion to females -- is to an understanding of the genres of chick-lit and lad-lit.

The third is more whimsical: an article from the BBC that says in so many words that Rob Roy is dead, under the title "Chivalry is a no-win battle for men." This is followed by a good overview of the vestigal status of chivalry today, with some helpful itemised tenets of chivalry, taken from 14th Century texts.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

World Record Marriage: Cute Story

I think you'll enjoy this little story about the Guinness World Record marriage: appropriately for our course, it is an English marriage.

Peer Seminar Discussion

One the advantages of blogging a course is the ability to informally publish scholarly analyses from seminar that would otherwise get no further airing. Yesterday's discussion of Rob Roy in terms of the two genres under study was especially strong, and I will use this post to edit & copy any of your written summaries that I receive.
I encourage you to continue the discussion in the "Comments" section ....
  1. "Before we can categorize Lad and Chick Lit we must first have a base criteria. I believe that the nature of the main protagonist gives the reader an insight to whether the book should be considered Lad Lit or Chick Lit. If the protagonist is having an internal conflict (ie. a struggle with one's identity or fight for individualism) then the book can be defined as Chick Lit; for example novels like Villette and Bridget Jones's Diary. In Chick Lit the protagonist looks inward for affirmation of womanhood. However, if the protagonist is in conflict with a villain or society (ie. external forces) then the book can be defined as Lad Lit; for example novels like Rob Roy and classics like Beowulf. In Lad Lit the protagonist must often prove himself to the world to reaffirm his masculinity. I would appreciate any comments on this working thesis."
  2. "We brought up was distinction between internal and external, or private and public. We have found that in chick lit, the female deals with her problems and emotional landscape via a direct link toher psyche and internal self. She directs her energies to fixing her problems by analyzing her own emotions; pondering her internal struggles; and fixing on the effects other people, places, or her own thoughts have on her own psyche. She may experience similar emotions of outward violence or anger that a male in lad lit might feel, though there often seems to beconstraints on such behaviour, and she thereforedeals with problems internally. In contrast, we have found that in lad lit, the male deals with problems by projecting them outwards - onto other people. He may be having similar concerns and issues that the female in chick lit feels, but he deals with them in an outward manner -- by engaging in battle, in other forms of physical competition, or by emotionally projecting anger though violence to antagonists, or "bad guys".We generally came to a conclusion much like the lectures, that Villette and Rob Roy are quite different novels with quite different attributes, but they do not easily fit into the simple genre categories of chick lit and lad lit. We did bring up the fact that much depends on how one defines the two genres. Our hypothesis is that the forthcoming books in the course will become more clearly defined and easier to separate into two limited genres.Someone in our group also mentioned that in chick lit the characters are not as divided into "good" and "bad", but in lad lit there are characterswho are more evidently "good" and more evidently "bad". We will see, though our research, how generally this applies to chick lit and lad lit .

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Group Assignment: Criteria

The Group project is designed to be straightforward, enjoyable, and beneficial. Each group will create and maintain a Web Log about two works of chick-lit: one from the course reading list and one from a selection of popular chick-lit to be handed out in seminar or from Course Reserve. The theme of your group blog will be to use classical dialectic to arrive at a definition of chick-lit, using any aspects of lad-lit you wish -- general or specific -- for your dialectial complement. Your Final Cause will be the advocacy within the blogosphere of the cultural relevance of literay scholarship.

A short tutorial on setting up a blog will be given during seminar this coming Wednesday .

The grading criteria are the scope, originality, inventiveness and literary insight of the accumulated blog entries. Technical proficiency will not be graded, but of course you are free to use any mechanical technique you wish. I will publish all the Groups' blog addesses on the Course blog and you are encouraged to solicit advice & criticism from the whole class throughout the course of the semester. Open collaboration is one great strength of blogging: some scholars, for instance, post parts of articles or even books in the blogosphere for criticism and correction before publication.

Of course, I am available for expert consultation: in person during Office Hours, and online most times.

Because this is a Group project, you will find that synergy will soon animate and enlived the assignment. I offer the suggestion that each Group assign responsibilities to members based on individual proficiencies and preferences. For instance, in principle, only one member need do the mechanics of posting the collaborative entries. There will be one group grade for all members.

I will take a snapshot of your blog on the day of the last seminar of the term and use that for grading: however I will look in regularly throughout the term as a means to, shall we say, encourage you not to leave the whole enterprise until the last minute. The experience of blogging regularly for a couple of months will, I believe, be its own benefit to you down the years.

Individual Presentation: Criteria

The individual class assignment is to give an oral presentation of no longer than five minutes any one of the course texts in light of the Darwinian model of sexual selection. Your presentation will shed light on the ways in which your selected text represents in fiction the antogonistic model of mating behavior among the animals (Darwin considered human beings to be animals.) Your presentation can make any connection, comparison, or argument for identity between chick-lit and lad-lit that you find congenial.
The intent of the assignment is to help get you started on your Term Paper. After your five-minute presentation, your class-fellows will provide beneficial response and resulting discussion to the end of directing (or re-directing) your research.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tribalism Alive & Well

Enduring Tribalism
Look at this picture of today's victorious Champions League winners, Liverpool FC. Let it be admitted first that academic interpretations of cultural and anthropological phenomena can be, on occasion, to say it kindly, a stretch. What the heck: say it unkindly, pompous and preposterous. That being said, the picture here shows me that primitive emotions and forms of behavior are still part of lad nature. The leader of the tribal warrior (i.e. the team captain) lifts the "trophy" over his head. Now here is my typing of the OED definition of trophy.
Gr. and Rom. Antiq. A structure erected (originally on the field of battle, later in any public place) as a memorial of a victory in war, consisting of arms or other spoils taken from the enemy, hung upon a tree, pillar, etc. and dedicated to some divinity. Hence applied to similar monuments or memorials in later times.

What I saw when I watched this live after class was some chieftan lifting the decapitated head of the defeated rival before the tribe dances in ecstasy of celebration. Sir Walter Scott clearly represents Rob Roy as an eighteenth-century avatar of such behavior. The cover painting to our PenguinClassics edition of Rob Roy is well in line of this. [Posted below.]

At the moment, I find no better explanation for the peculiar nature of the ritual depicted in this photograph, or the intensity of the passions of those involved -- both victors and those defeated. Your thoughts?

Tribalism: Rob Roy

Detail from "The Death of Morris the Spy" (1827) by Camille Roqueplan, in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille.

Blogging is The NBT

Well, proof positive of my contention that Blogging is the Next Big Thing -- that is, five years on every class will blog like they now eMail -- here.

Class-lad Reading of "Rob Roy"

I think this first response from a class-fellow to Rob Roy is well worth sharing....

Rob Roy brought back memories of throwing my head against the wall trying to get through Trainspotting. Luckily, the narrator wasn't a Scotchman as well. I found it kind of peculiar that the title character wasn't really revealed until 200 pages or so into it and it makes me wonder whether or not Scott originally set out to write about Rob Roy. Even in the earlier encounters with Rob Roy when he was known as Cambell, he didn't really make that big of an impression on me. I find it hard to believe that Scott would have written more than two hundred pages on Francis Osbaldistone to set up Rob Roy. Then again, maybe that's why I'm not an author.
Aside from the nature of the story, I think Rob Roy is considered ladlit because of the assumptions that the narrator makes in his storytelling. Some of Frank's episodes offer little in motivation, but I still understand why he acts the way he does because we share the biological trait of not having a uterus. Also, Frank acts without thinking very hard, as he follows Rob Roy to see Owen in jail without knowing for sure whether or not he means him harm. That directly contrasts Villette in that Lucy thinks too hard about everything and ... she doesn't really do much as far as I know.
I guess it's necessary for Frank to act on instinct for the story to progress smoothly and maybe that's another characteristic of ladlit that we have yet to discuss. hmm. curiouser and curiouser...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bronte's Gallophobia in a Modern Context

To help understand the gallophobia that animates Charlotte Bronte's Villette, have a look at this BBC article on the Royal Navy's bicentenary re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar. The antagonism the English feel toward the French is palpable. One of the event's organisers -- defending the decision to use "red" & "blue" fleets in the re-enactment instead of English & French -- felt the need to assert that "This will not be a French-bashing opportunity."
Read the full article, and Google some of its key-words if you're interested enough, for a better sense of the atmosphere which bred the Yorkshire Bronte's aggressive patriotism.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Posts to "Comments"

For the present, please post comments using the identity choice of "Other." I'm going to see if the spamming problem was isolated: creating blog members comes with problems that I hope to avoid if possible.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

"Villette" Literary Qualities

Your groups' analysis of Villette in Wednesday's seminar I'm sure produced some good insight. However, I'm not certain that we had sufficient opportunity to reduce the various ideas that you presented into a tidy enough dialectic conclusion.

Here is a list of some features of Bronte's novel that may qualify as identifying elements of the chick-lit genre.

  1. An unmarried female protagonist, Lucy Snowe, with competing rival male suitors.
  2. A text that valourises a female protagonist, and insists that her internal qualities -- character, intellect, acumen, &c -- be acknowledged and valued, while external limitations -- physical or mental state, material circumstance, &c. -- are to be ignored. The narrator emphasises the plainness of her appearance -- but presents it as a virtue, in concert with her sensible Yorkshire rusticity. Her savage denunciation of the painting in "Cleopatra" represents her attitude toward luxuriousness in dress, cosmetics and apartment.
  3. A dark and dangerous Byronic-type male: M. Paul - the fictional representation of Bronte's employer and desired lover in Brussels, the married M. Heger. Also, a fair and pliant gentlemanly object of desire: Dr. John Graham Bretton. One neuter male to be derided: the metrosexual de Hamal.
  4. Problems and complications in the matter of romance with all suitors: including their complete obliviousness to their status as suitor.
  5. Dissatisfaction, conflict, &/or lack of fulfulfilment with work: or, as the West Riding Yorkshire Bronte might have put it, "trubble a' mill!"
  6. Obssession or unhealthy degree of focus on some aspect of self: in Villette this is mental stability, specifically melancholia.
  7. A romantic setting and mood -- "romantic" used here in several senses. Villette with its dark-&-stormy-nights, its large, old, heavily-built, former nunnery, and possible haunting by a reputedly murdered Nun, applies the gothic tradition to its artistic purpose.
  8. Great emphasis on dialogue and description of place and character over plot. Suggestion of mock epic in the faux and very petty suspense that the narrator -- soon understood to be of questionable reliability -- habitually presents.
  9. Heavy-handed villainising of an "other" -- here, Roman Catholicism.
  10. Unmistakable affirmation of the narrator's system of value: in Villette an incessant and loud English patriotism. This laudation of all things English is ubiquitous in the text and is the heavy-handed antipathetic complement to the portrayal of decadent non-Protestant Europe.

So, there's a list. I'll give a synthesis sometime later. For now, I'm interested in considering your posted comments on how you summarise Villette for purposes of our research into the genre of chick-lit.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Meta-Course Discussion

I've been enjoying a meta-discussion about our course with a class-fellow. There are few greater blessings for an Instructor than a collegial back-&-forth about the nature and direction of a current course with one of its members.
Blog comment sections are ideal for all sorts of converse: I'm posting the thread here in case anyone else wishes to join the enagagement.

K.] I'm just writing about the David Sexton article. I'm still very confused about this whole gap between male and female reading patterns. I've been reading rabidly from a very young age, and I really have never noticed such a huge gap in the things my girl friends and guy friends read .... I've made ! many friends who are also readers, and I still don't see a huge difference in what they read. None of my female friends read "female books" about what Sexton calls "love and family". I understand the difference between chick lit and lad lit, but I don't think it can be easily applied to everyone.
Villette is neither chick lit or lad lit. It's written by a woman, but as you said in class, it's universal. It's about "love and family", but also about "sex and violence". Unless we're talking about what women and men are "supposed" to be interested in? If the book marketing world wishes to apply the terms chick lit and lad lit, aren't they also applying prescriptives as to what they think each gender should read and be interested in? Also, just because there are such things as chick lit and lad lit does not mean that the differences in what each gender likes to be entertained by is purely biological. I think these differences (as they do exist, but not, it seems, in my social circle!) could definitely arise out of expectations on each gender. aybe I'm totally missing something, but it's been very hard to relate the differences to my own experience.

S.] Well, as you know, our business is academic research: by nature descriptive, not prescriptive, so there is no "should" built into what we are doing. As for publishing Houses, it is possible that they have prescriptive intentions. That is an empirical question: in other words, before an academic could remark on it, a formal research project would be required. (A journalist, by contrast, will write or say whatever opinion happens to be wafting across his or her mind at any given time.)

However, insofar as I understand capitalism, it does not seem to have a moral component: that is, free-market capitalists want to maximise profits and will try to match product and market without reference to what "should" happen. As you know, the amorality of free-market capitalism is one charge familiarly laid against it by its opponents.

Here are some of the research constants that I have for our term-long experiment. One, that there are in fact two acknowledged genres called chick-lit and lad-lit. Two, that the fiction in the two genres have exclusive qualities - in other words, research will show that chick-lit, for instance, has some set of qualities that lad-lit doesn't (or, more likely, will have significant;y different proportions of shared qualities) and vice-versa. Three, that the readerships will differ by proportion by sex, but not be exclusive. In other words, romance literature is read primarily by women, but some men read it and some women won't like it. In fact, I would hypothesize that although the majority of readers of chick-lit are women, the majority of the population of women readers don't read chick lit. And four, that the sex of the author is indifferent to the genre: to speak broadly, Ann Radcliffe writes lad-lit and Nick Hornby writes chick-lit. These are important constants in response to your discussion -- & number three is that kind of fundamental but subtle distinction that can tend to mislead.

Regarding Villette in particular, assume that the conclusion of our research is correct - that Bronte's novel matches criteria of chick-lit: plot and performative "action-&-adventure" are de-emphasised; it contains a preponderance of dialogue and reflective character decription and analysis; it follows the Darwinian sexual selection model in a form that a female protagonist choses between rival competing males (who also, on my additional theory, form the Cad-Curate-Colin Firth trichotomy); etc. That allowed, because of its masterful quality, it will have appeal broader than the usual genre readership.

Now we need to note in this regard that we are talking about two different clas! ses of readership. The members of the class of readers who enjoy literary masterpieces will -- it is argued -- contain proportionally few members of the class who like popular romance fiction. The latter class will find Villette tough sledding. One theory of my own is that what popular fiction (like, mutatis mutandis, popular music) does is take any one main element of a literary masterpiece and make that the unvaried entirety of the pop work. Thus, Disco music was one single beat & rhythm from funk, isolated and repeated - ad nauseum!

Ergo, chick-lit has isolated some few major elements from works such as Villette and is selling them to a mass market. And by "mass market" one means "a large number of a particular class or quality of reader." This, then, is why I am saying that our course has a print culture component.

Lastly, am I correct in configuring your comments as what I described in lecture as an essentialist approach to the two genres? That is to say, you are opposed to the contention that chick-lit and lad-lit have qualities that are essentially for men and essentially for women by nature of their biological differences? That is probably what attracted Arts & Letters Daily to the Sexton article. If that is in fact the background to your addressment, then might you wish to do your term paper on that approach? As for the lectures, as I mentioned are taking alternatively a genetic and a functionalist approach to understanding the two genres. That is, we are exploring a historical arc for chick-lit & lad lit and we are looking at the ways in which the two genres are configured as market entities in the print culture.

K.] I am opposed to the essentialist view, yes. I don't know what you would call my view, but you could say what it isn't....and that's definitely that I don't think there are essential female qualities or essential male qualities. I think there are biological givens (guys have testosterone, girls have estrogen and oxytocin, etc....guys don't have babies, girls do, etc.), so that it isn't totally "tabula rasa", but I think these givens take a back seat to cultural experience. I think that a person's experiences and environments are imprinted on their body, psyche, personality, etc..
And I understand that there is no "should" in our research. I'm just saying that there are "shoulds" in many places in society, including the publishing companies, etc..
I totally understand the differences in chick lit and lad lit, in terms of the different styles of writing and the different occurences that take place in each form, although it's harder for me to see Villette as purely chick lit because it existed prior to the marketing terms. It seems like the terms themselves have given way to a certain prescriptive type of writing style. I think that the writing caters to those who would like to keep the genders distinct, with their own assigned roles, their own proper and acceptable conduct, etc.. I know it's not so blatant like the book you brought last class, but it's much more subtle (though possibly not all the time!). So, while I'm totally fascinated with the study of chick lit and lad lit, I'm also a bit disturbed that the distinction is there in the first place. I'm not saying that it "shoudn't" exist, only that it tells us a lot about what's going on in the world.
If writing that is aggressive and violent and sexual is only meant for males, then what do females experience when they feel these things or are attracted to them, but are told that they are not appropriate for their gender? And vice versa -- if writing that is based on family and cultivating love and friendships is meant for females, then what do males experience when they are told that these things are not appropriate for them to be concerned with? I have many guy friends who are more maternal than some of my girl friends, but they sometimes hide these maternal qualities when they are around other guys. And the same is true of some of my girl friends, who act more "girly" when they are around other females. It's like there's a certain code to be followed, and if you don't follow it in some circles, you are looked down upon.
Isn't there also a Darwin-like selection model in lad lit, though, other words, instead of cad-curate-collin firth....there's bitch-angel(i.e.pure sexless mother figure)-sex kitten (sorry, i lost the alliteration!) :) ?? I'm not as much certain about these figures in lad lit, but I know for certain they exist in movies and tv shows. There's many movies where the guy has to pick a girlfriend, and he has to decide if he wants a nice good girl he can bring home to the parents, the crazy half-psycho witch girl, or the seductress. Or the main guy figure has these sorts of female figures around him, and they each seem to pose their own specific benefits/problems, pros/cons, etc..
And what about the travel writing of the 19th century, much of it aimed at a female readership?....and this writing was chiefly about exciting happenings during the author's travels, etc.. Where would that fit in?
I really like your theory about popular artefacts (lit, music, etc.) focusing on one element of a lit masterpiece. However, I think Shakespeare was considered popular and even vulgar in his time, but he became the "head of the canon" so to speak. Regardless, I think one could apply your theory to many many cases.
And one of my main problems with the Sexton article was that he said the fact that women are attracted to a certain thing and men are attracted to another thing is PROOF that there are biological sex differences governing their responses to the world around them (and if this is true, then I'm TOTALLY a biological oddity!!! ha ha!). I would agree with you that this kind of "fact" only appears in certain niches (eg. that romances are read by primarily women, but that a good deal of women do not actually like romances, etc..)....and therefore does not apply to all men and women.

S.] I like very much what you say about a genre acting as a de facto enforcer of prescription. Its a print culture fact. It's why I hear most songs on modern rock stations having the same vocal affectation: new bands and their labels want mass purchase so they try to find what has the widest appeal and then copy it. Same for mass-market genre fiction.

For this course, I see my duty as providing a framework for understanding that is broad enough to be inclusive but tight enough to provide clear focus and research productivity. I should present an honest range of available material and then encourage and support any practical and valid academic interpretation.Does that sound like your underst! anding of the proper professorial function?Your observation that Villette is pre-chick-lit is an intelligent one. For myself, I'm still undecided: I am still going through the process of examination into the question of how far back the genre goes. I also need to research specifically whether Mundy's kept data on the sex of their lenders by title in ninteenth century Britain.

The Darwinian sexual selection model for lad lit is the competing male: Darwin says they will be displaying heightened traits based on what the female's preference is. My working hypothesis is that for lad lit, women are not explicitly central -- or, better, they are the sublimated goal of the quest! In other words, the purpose of a quest or adventure, on the Darwinian model, is to demonstrate performative success so that the hero will be able to get a woman to select him.

I like further your idea that men might have an analogue to Cad-Curate-Colin Firth. The "madonna-whore" trope that we commonly hear about is not relevant here -- we can talk about that elsewhere if you have any interest. For me, that question is interesting, but in a different type of course -- i.e. here we're concentrating on the Darwin experiment.

That's because there are many possible intellectual levels at which these matters can be questioned - a "gender studies" level, for instance, or a theological, or a Marxist level. But I believe that it is a mistake -- unrigorous and academically unproductive -- to simply throw in any and all approaches in any one course. A good academic study has a humble aim. Here, we are not looking at the matter of sexual politics as a whole, for example, rather we are isolating two important and interesting literary genres and applying a helpful cohesive idea in order to, by the end, understand the genres better -- and of course improve our literary analytical skills and appreciation!

K. ] ... in some cases there are more similarities than differences between a chick lit book and a lad lit book .... I would argue with the Darwin model, according to the notion that men compete and display the trait that women want, because women do that, too. Doesn't everyone do that to some extent? They perceive something that they think others find desirable, and so they "heighten" that aspect of themselves...and if they don't have it, they try to get it. Breast implants for example, etc. etc. etc. etc..
I guess everything I've said thus far is to get closer to the Darwin model, closer in the sense of understanding it and then applying it. Darwin's model has seeped into our ideals for sure, and those show up in chick lit and lad lit. But other literature appears to have transcended Darwin's narrow constrictions. I think Bronte transcends it, but she goes back and forth. She at times tries to follow the role of passive (and therefore also Godly) female, but at other times she shoots daggers into the distinction itself. I think she realizes the limitations of the different roles for males and females, but at the same time feels that it is difficult to act outside of these roles.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Course Field Study

Wednesday May 25th we will be conducting a field study into lad culture. From 11:30 until 1:30 we will be in the Highland Pub observing and taking notes on the behavior of the lager louts watching the Champions League Final between Liverpool FC and and AC Milan. To blend in with the environs and avoid compromising our scientific observations we will either consume or hold in hand a lager; which I will purchase for you.
At 1:30 we will proceed to our lecture room for a course lecture.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Reading Gap Between the Sexes

This seems tailor-made for our course:
“Women and men are set to become more alike in today’s liberated, unisex world.” What codswallop! Let’s read a little fiction with David Sexton.... More>>
[From Arts & Letters Daily]

Huffington on Darwin & .. Oh! ...

Taking a Darwinian perspective on issues of ... well, say, romance, is au cuorant it appears. (Note the Bronte-ism there.) Read the the lastest from the newly-launched


Well, where have we gotten to in the first two weeks of the course?
We are researching two literary genres - chick-lit and lad-lit - to see if any complementary relationship exists. Three possible ways of defining the genres were outlined: the essentialist, the genetic, or the functionalist. The course texts are arranged for a genetic definition: that is, they follow a chronological sequence that, research may or may not establish, follow an arc of development. A functionalist definition, however, is used for our operational purposes: to wit, the two genres exist by virtue of the market demographic by sex - a study, that is, in print culture. Individual students may prefer to develop an essentialist definition through their research contribution.
Our literary experiment is to analyse representative works to see if Charles Darwin's doctrine of sexual selection is a valid explanatory model for elements of the fiction. Here is Darwin's summarisation of his sexual selection mechanism:

The sexual struggle is of two kinds; in the one it is between the ndividuals of the same sex, generally the males. In order to drive away or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive; whilst in the other, the struggle is likewise between the individuals of the same sex, in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex, generally the females, which no longer remain passive, but select the more agreeable partners. Descent of Man. 6th ed. (New York: Appleton & Co, 1898) 629

The inter-male rivalry that Darwin prescribes will, it is argued, put performance as a dominant theme in fictional representations of the masculine. The power of choice that Darwin configures for females has a literary manifestation in the "cad, curate or Colin Firth" model of romantic hero, with the female protagonist manifesting inner strength and the power, expressed dialogically, of character configuration.

We are currently analysing Charlotte Bronte's Villette as a literary masterpiece sui generis. Following an account of her life and background, and a close reading of the first volume, we will place the novel in the context of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and Ann Radcliffe's
Mysteries of Udolpho before resolving pertinent elements against the Darwinian hypothesis.

Charlotte Bronte and Gallophobia

One of Villette's most conspicuous features is its derogatory portrayal of Francaphone Brussels -- and more broadly of continental Europe -- coupled with a muscular English patriotism. The overdetermining causes and the significance of this are discussed in lecture. However at a very easy level, it is simply an expression of the inter-European and English character. Follow this link to today's online Telegraph to read how that characteristic is alive and well.

Visiting Speaker: Author Nancy Warren

Another coup for our course: best-selling romance author Nancy Warren will lecture to us on chick-lit during the Monday June 13th class. Ms. Warren has a sensational website at which includes, uhm, informative, material such as this:

Nancy holds an honors degree in English literature and lives in the Pacific Northwest. She spends her days sensibly employed inventing men who combine amazing sexual prowess with sensitivity to a woman's needs, and women who aren't afraid to fight for their dreams.

To quote a line from Bronte's Villette: "Ouf! Je n'en puis plus!"

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sex Differences: Spelke vs. Pinker

The debate over the question of difference between the sexes is advanced in the best academic tradition at between two eminent Harvard psychologists: Elizabeth Spelke and the Montreal-born Steven Pinker.

Lively "Comments" Threads

It is well worth checking the "comments" sections regularly to the various posts: some very enlightening and insightful points are being posted by class-fellows. Here's just one sample -- all are alike good:
I didn't know where else to post this, but another issue that is worth viewing throughout the class that coincides with 'questioning Darwin's Theory. If humankind is the odd species out for women to possess the physically attractive characteristics (in contrast to the Peacock's feathers) and if women have chosen their men based on what they can sustain them with, what occurs when in recent decades, esspecially with the 'dawn' of metrosexuality, men (openly) prep themselves in much the same manner, and how does this affect the female's choice, and if it does affect it, how does this affect Darwin's Theory?
Questioning Darwin? Now, how brave is that?
Regarding metrosexuality, look forward to a truly astonishing video "find" in Monday's lecture ...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Optional Film Viewing: 9:30 am Wednesday May 11th

My Engl 342 class is in AQ 4140 this Wednesday to view the lad-lit film The Browning Version: Tony Asquith's screen adaptation of Terence Rattigan's magnificent one-act play. Among other benefits, it will embellish your sensibility for the setting of Stalky & Co. Nb: This is not the characteristically abysmal '90 Hollywood remake. Engl 369 students very welcome, schedules permitting.
CORRECTION: For our class, the embellishment will be general -- the contrasting portrayal of the husband, wife & lover, particularly.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Cosmopolitan: The Drink

Well, this would seem to be the drink you were discussing in seminar: the blurb on the page says it all. (Via "the website for women."
Wednesday it is ...

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Print Culture: Purchase Preference by Sex

On the print-culture topic of purchase preferences for chick-lit and lad-lit, here is part of a wider controversy -- not one that is centrally relevant to this course -- over the question of difference between the sexes: pro (via Arts & Letters Daily) and con (via

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

Bronte, Charlotte - Villette
May 2nd & 4th
May 9th & 11th
Scott, Walter - Rob Roy
May 16th & 18th
May 25th
Gaskell, Elizabeth - Cranford
May 30th & June 1st
June 6th & June 8th
Haggard, H. Rider - She
June 13th & June 15th
June 20th & June 22th
Fielding, Helen - Bridget Jones’s Diary
June 27th & June 29th
July 4th & July 6th
Amis, Martin - Money
July 11th & July 13th
July 18th & July 20th
Reading Review
July 25th & July 27th

The two recommended texts for the course will be discussed throughout the term and should be read before and after the Mid-Term assignment.
See support material available on Library Reserve.

Assignment Deadlines: Nb. There is a 3% per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted.

1. Mid term paper, two thousand words: due June 27th in lecture. Assignment sheet with suggested topics will be handed out in lecture on June 13th. Criteria will include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics.
2. Group e-text project: in collaboration with the Course Instructor, create a web log dedicated to a distinct topic the works from the course reading list. Groups set & assignment sheet handed out May 25th. Seminar time will be set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor on this project
3. Individual class presentation: schedule and assignment sheet handed out in seminar. A five minute polemical presentation, on one of the course texts, that adds to the class' understanding of the course material and which lays out a possible research direction for your Final Paper.
4. Final Paper, three thousand five hundred words: due in lecture July 27th.

Course Approach

The course is working toward an understanding of two literary genres: chick-lit and lad-lit. The genres exist as an empirical fact of print culture: writers write, publishers publish, marketers market and journalists ... well, let's say journalists look for money, under those headings. We will look at a representative historical arc of texts in each genre and submit them to a literary-critical analysis.

This course is a research project: we will be analysing the works under a specific hypothesis - that Charles Darwin's theory of Sexual Selection is a valid explanatory scheme for the two genres. Each student, as an independent scholarly researcher, will present his or her conclusions, rigourous and reasoned, in the Final Paper.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Course participation
10% Seminar presentation
20% Group e-Text project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 1500 words)
40% Final examination

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Class System in Britain

I noted in lecture that North Americans are prone to some misunderstandings when reading British fiction due to a lack of awareness of the almost universal effects of the class system there. This was a propos Charlotte Bronte and her fictional autobiography (in part) Villette. This drew a couple of comments in response. One, that the majority of North Americans stay within the same income bracket that their parents earned; and, two, an example was given of a working class father from the north of England who earned a doctorate from Cambridge.

Let me elaborate here. First, our class-fellow's working class father (clearly a highly admirable man) earned Cambridge in the nineteen fifties, by which time the class boundaries were feeling the blows of many engines: the two World Wars for instance. And second, at a larger remove, remember that Britain has a system of class not caste: in other words, there had always been some opportunity for mobility - in both directions. Profligate aristocrats had for centuries dropped their posterity well into the middle class. Successful business acumen brought some middle (and even some originally lower) class men into the aristocracy via a knighthood. Consider Sir William Lucas in Pride and Prejudice. And elevation by marriage was also an avenue: the stage was an effective platform in more than one sense; and "let a man be ordained to the clergy and he can marry as high as he likes" is a line from Born in Exile by George Gissing.

But beside all this, mobility is only one aspect of the class system: the levels are enduringly divided by the behavior and attitudes that the members of each level share. Mr. Lucas could rise to status of gentlemen, but he could not prevent Mr. Bingley's sisters from sneering at him behind his back. Indeed, only Elizabeth Bennett's omnipotent womanhood could make Mr. Darcy repent (with obsequy) of his disdain for her Cheapside relations, the Gardners.

My point about North America is that culture is uniform to a degree not experienced in England. Members of the Canadian Senate watch NHL games in undershirts while drinking beer - as does a longshoreman in Surrey whose choice of beer is quite likely to be Stella Artois. During the last American Presidential election, John Kerry -- a north-eastern aristocrat -- rode a mountain bike, wore a trendy yellow Lance Armstrong bracelet and had rap on his iPod. Bank balances allow for important -- even critical -- differences in health and opportunity among North Americans. And ethnic diversity provides reasons to celebrate significant difference. But for all that, a remarkable similarity of taste and value makes "class" a problematic term to apply. The "Red State/Blue State" divide, for instance, is a geographic and regional divide, not a class divide. And the rural/urban divide in Canada does not map faciley to income.

Less so under New-Labour Britain (which is just what is argued as a master hypothesis by this course,) but still very much alive, is exactly a class distinction where North America has a conformity. It was the fact that Diana: Princess of Wales, behaved like Anna Nicole Smith that caused Her Unstable Majesty to be ostracised by the British aristocracy. And, contrariwise, the fox-hunting passion of aristocrats -- nouveau and old alike -- produces derision against "toffs" from the man on Wigan pier.

Speaking of George Orwell, here is one of his many characteristically pithy insights into the British class differences in terms of attitude rather than mobility.

And again, take the working-class attitude towards ‘education’. How different it is from ours, and how immensely sounder! Working people often have a vague reverence for learning in others, but where ‘education’ touches their own lives they see through it and reject it by a healthy instinct. The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a ‘job’ should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly. The idea of a great big boy of eighteen, who ought to be bringing a pound a week home to his parents, going to school in a ridiculous uniform and even being caned for not doing his lessons! Just fancy a working-class boy of eighteen allowing himself to be caned! He is a man when the other is still a baby. Ernest Pontifex, in Samuel Butler’s Way of All Flesh, after he had had a few glimpses of real life, looked back on his public school and university education and found it a ‘sickly, debilitating debauch’. There is much in middle-class life that looks sickly and debilitating when you see it from a working-class angle.
Note how this corrects the mistaken North American misunderstanding that the proletariat pines in frustrated envy for the values of the middle and upper middle classes. As an exemplary aside, I often observe students and professoriat alike stating that some group or another of fellow citizen are "deprived" of a university education: making, that is, university attendance a quality of universal worth. Too flagrantly pretentious and distastefully preening, I believe, to insist that one's own accidental preference or aptitude must be the sine qua non of social worth.