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Monday, June 30, 2014

George Gissing's In the Year of Jubilee (1895): Mini-Lecture & Interactive Learning Object

Late Victorian writer George Gissing and his works are not well known, but they are emotionally gripping, psychologically realistic, and ultimately both destabilizing and reinforcing of how we come to understand the world around us vis-a-vis rapid cultural and technological change. To correct the fact that his works have slipped into invisibility, The Fringe Journal is launching a series of learning object mini-lectures. E-Learning Queen is providing a mirror site of these entries of The Fringe Journal. 

In the Year of Jubilee (1894) is the first in this series. You may click the link, or the graphic to access the interactive learning object. The full text transcript appears below. You may access the full text of the book at Project Gutenberg. There is an audio recording of In the Year of Jubilee at

George Gissing: In the Year of Jubilee  (1894)

TEXT TRANSCRIPT:  In the Year of Jubilee (1894) by George Gissing
Mini-Lecture by Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

In the Year of Jubilee (1895) is, as other novels by George Gissing, extremely sympathetic toward women. It takes place in the late Victorian world where there is more access and communication with far flung regions, and where the British Empire has enriched the nation.

However, Gissing's is also a complex word where one step outside the norms results in a loss of marriage prospects, a loss of inheritance, loss of social standing, and the potential for disease and literal starvation.
About "Jubilee"

Jubilee refers to the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, and also to the biblical concept of “Jubilee” a year in which property reverts to its proper owner.

Gissing’s novel starts with the Jubilee celebrations, which usher in disruptions.

The old order is turned upside down, and new enterprises are built upon false appearances, short cuts, and vanity.  They replace what came before.

Nancy Lord: Trapped in a Social Caste System and Gender
At the center of the narrative is Nancy Lord, the daughter of a successful piano dealer. She has been raised to a higher level than what might be expected, with the idea that education ushers in social mobility. Thus, she aims higher than previous generations may have dared to do, given that her father was in "trade," and not a gentleman (by Victorian standards).

Despite the fact that her father is in trade, Nancy's mother, who abandoned the family when Nancy was a toddler, was in fact, born of gentry. The mother, however, displays little innate nobility is a shallow woman who it seems will do anything to live in luxury.

Nancy’s mother rather hypocritically condemns the sisters, Fanny and Beatrice French, daughters of a wealthy builder, and their lives in a large home in a new suburb of London. 

Fraud and skill fakery are keys to success in this new world where mass production, advertising, distribution, and credit make it possible for women and men to achieve the appearance of the upward mobility as they do what they can to actually achieve higher places in society.

Jubilee: Restoration with Resignation

The restoration of money to rightful owners takes a long, convoluted path in the narrative of the novel, which includes attempts to hide Nancy’s marriage (and baby) in order to avoid losing her inheritance, and the ultimate unmasking of unsavory business practices on the part of spiteful, vindictive members of the sisters French.

At the same time, the energetic and entrepreneurial-spirited self-invented Luckworth Crewe, achieves wealth in the newly emerging business of advertising and public relations.

Apocalypse and the Jubilee

Jubilee is, at its heart, deeply apocalyptic, because it suggests a new order, or at least a return to natural distribution and order. Apocalypse is a theme that is a theme that occurs throughout Gissing’s work. Change refers the destruction of the old and a replacement of the new.

The purpose is to either rid oneself of old inequities or to create a vibrant world of technology (trains, telegraph, newspapers, gas lights).

At the same time, however, the world to be replaced already contains the consequences of change, including poisonous, lung-searing fog, dark, crowded urban landscapes, and hunger, both physical and psychological.

Women and Education: New Access, but to what end?

Gissing rails against the useless schooling that is bandied about as women’s “education” and the socially-encouraged destructive in-fighting, competition, dependence on others, enslavement in marriage, and lack of self-determination.

Gissing also suggests that when a friend of Nancy who works as a governess, Jessica suffers a nervous breakdown as she tried to pass an exam in order to matriculate at London University.

As Gissing depicts the situation, Jessica does not collapse because she is intellectually incapable, but because it is too difficult to work full-time as a governess and try to study all night (instead of eating and sleeping).

Further, Jessica must combat the ridicule and negativity of the men who scoff at her goals.


George Gissing’s late Victorian naturalistic novel, In the Year of Jubilee (1894) concerns itself with both people and property, and how both are both lost and gained in both material and metaphorical senses. 

Using people and property as a point of departure, the novel also addresses change in society: the changing roles of women, the impact of technological and commercial innovations, and about education’s form and impact in late Victorian times.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Interview with Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin: Innovators in Education Series

Writing prompts are no longer static when they are placed into an environment of active collaboration, reading and responding via any number of mechanisms (mobile, elearning, face-to-face, and hybrid). The key is to develop prompts that work in all environments.  Welcome to an interview with Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin, whose book, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press) was a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

1.  What is your name and your connection to creative writing / e-learning:

Valerie Fox: My name is Valerie Fox and I am primarily a poet. It's been my main genre my whole adult life. I'm interested in collaborative writing, also, and collaboration amongst those working in various disciplines and art forms.

As for e-learning, I have taught numerous online or blended classes (including first-year college writing and creative writing).

Lynn Levin: My name is Lynn Levin, and, like Valerie, I am mostly a poet. I also do literary translation and lately I’ve been writing fiction and creative non-fiction.

Online teaching platforms like Blackboard and Canvas gave me my first exposure to the benefits of e-learning, and I’ve taken a couple on MOOCs myself on Coursera.

2.  What makes PFTW unique?

Lynn Levin: First, I think we have to brag a little. The book was a finalist in education/academic books in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. There are quite a few excellent prompt books out there, and we’re proud of ours! But back to the book: all the prompts in the book are classroom and workshop-tested. I think that is one of the most outstanding aspects of the book. We also include samples of the prompt poems, and the samples are contributed by a wide range of users, from undergraduates to very well known poets.

Valerie Fox: The book contains a variety of writing prompts--some simple and some complicated. We think this helps to make it applicable writers at any level. We think we are respectful of various styles without seeming to privilege or be a "booster" for any particular style. Oh, and the writers and students have remarked on Don Riggs's whimsical and apt drawings.

3.  What gave you the idea to do it, and how did you select prompts and examples?

Valerie Fox: We like working together and had noticed that our teaching methods were similar. We had already been sharing ideas. We thought, why not make a book that would be useful for ourselves and others teaching similar classes?

We selected prompts that had been successful. We tried to select some prompts that tended to be formal (or invite writers to think about or even invent their own form) and others that were based on "content" (for lack of a better word) or rhetorical strategy. As for the examples, we again aimed for variety. It was Lynn's insight to include examples written by our students. I do not think it is apparent, typically, to readers which poems were written by students and which ones were written by notable poets, actually.

Lynn Levin: I’d like to add that we chose some of the prompts because, as Valerie says, they were formal, for example, the cameo cinquain, the Fibonacci poem, and the rules poem. We chose others because they were intertextual, such as bibliomancy, fake translation, and swipe a line, find a title. I think the formal poems help writers put their thoughts in a pattern. The intertextual prompts help writers bring an element of strangeness into their poems by nudging writers away from their usual rhetoric. Valerie taught me prompts I’d never heard of before, especially that cool bibliomancy prompt.

4.  How do you use the text in conjunction with writing workshops? Online courses?  F2F courses?

Lynn Levin: I haven’t yet used PFTW in a fully online class. So far, I’ve used the text in F2F classes (but those F2F classes have online components) and workshops. The simpler formal prompts, such as the cameo cinquain and the Fibonacci, work amazingly well for in-class writing. I use the cameo cinquain as an ice-breaker the first day of class because it is short and sweet and fun to share. Same for the Fibonacci. The more involved prompts, for example, swipe a line, find a title and unanswerable letter make great homework assignments, and they require students to do additional deep reading. For example, I’ll assign a collection by a poet and then have the students swipe a line for a title. That

Valerie Fox: I've found the book to work well in online or part online classes as a resource for writing at home. Students discuss their reactions to the example poems in discussion threads in the course. For F2F, I assign a prompt and have students write the poem and bring to class. Also, I really like pulling it out to use as an example for something. If we are discussing how a student's poem could be improved by working with line breaks, we can look at various handy examples from PFTW.

5.  What kinds of results have you seen? 

Valerie Fox: The chapters (like "Fibonacci Poem" and "The Cameo Cinquain") that get students to think about syllables, line breaks, and meter are excellent in-class exercises. The students display a huge amount of creativity with these prompts. Lately I suggested the Cameo Cinquain prompt as a revision strategy. One student used it to edit a long poem (that was a kind of portrait) about a specific person/serious situation. She really succeeded with that poem.
Students who have a kind of dominant mode when forced to try the prompts sometimes discover a new strength, as relates to their writing and writing process. Seeing them discover that is a real kick.

Several individual writers (those writing not with a group or for a class) have told me that the book has been really useful to them. That's very gratifying, too, as it was our hope that this would be the case.

Lynn Levin: I like the way some of the prompts, such as the I-hate prompt, help writers loosen up and have fun with what bugs them. And the unanswerable letter prompt has given birth to a lot of very touching poems about pets and grandparents as well as vehement poems about departed kin. So I guess I find the emotional results very rewarding.

6.  What are your plans for the future?

Lynn Levin: We are always adding new elements to the prompts or coming up with new prompts. We also like to help other creative writing teachers use the text. In fact, I think that we may be focusing some of  our attention on workshops for teachers of creative writing.

Valerie Fox: We've had a wonderful time giving workshops. We have one slated for this July 2014 at Poets House in NY and we are so excited about that. We have ideas for some new prompts. We will post some or all on the blog we made to go with the book ( I know we will continue to collaborate in some ways (both writing or presenting). I am open to various possibilities.

Lynn Levin is a poet, writer, and translator. She is the author of four collections of poems, most recently Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky Press), a 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in poetry; and co-author, with Valerie Fox, of the craft-of-poetry textbook Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press), a 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in education/academic books. Lynn Levin is the translator, from the Spanish, of Birds on the Kiswar Tree (2Leaf Press, 2014), a collection of poems by the Peruvian Andean poet Odi Gonzales. Levin’s poems, essays. translations, and short stories have appeared in The Hopkins Review, Cleaver, Young Adult Review Network, Boulevard, Southwest Review, Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, and other places. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

Valerie Fox has published numerous books of poetry, including The Glass Book (Texture Press) and The Rorschach Factory (Straw Gate Books). Her poems have appeared in Apiary, Hanging Loose, Ping Pong, Sentence, West Branch, Blip, Per Contra, Qarrtsiluni, Juked, and other journals. Much interested in collaboration, Fox has published many poems and stories co-written with Arlene Ang. Their compilation, Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon (Texture Press) came out in 2008. She co-wrote Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture Press), a 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in education/academic books. She was a founding co-editor of the magazines 6ix and Press. She teaches writing at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Booth Tarkington's The Turmoil (1915): A Mini-Lecture

Booth Tarkington’s novel, The Turmoil (1915), negotiates the psychological minefield of rapid industrialization / technological shifts / structural social change due to new innovation and rapid growth. While it was written almost 100 years ago, the disruptive technologies and their impact on social structure and individual psychology hold true today. The Turmoil is first of the Growth Trilogy, which was launched by The Turmoil,  and then followed by widely-known (thanks to Orson Welles's film version) The Magnificent Ambersons and finally concluded with The Midlander. 

The Turmoil was published in 1915, and written before the Great War had broken out. There is not much concern in the Midwestern industrial town for the goings-on in Europe, and you do not feel the threat of anarchists or Bolshevik anti-aristocratic rage, except in the sense that fortunes of the past are ephemeral, and the families that considered themselves to be the local gentry, even aristocrats, traced their success back five decades or so, not five centuries. The Turmoil has a resolutely American feel, and it immediately connects to the American reader who would instantly recognize people and places in his or her own experience, and forces that have acted upon one’s own community, family, and sense of identity and/or self. 

Booth Tarkington's The Turmoil (1915)
It may first appear that The Turmoil is either a simple homage to pluck and American values of individualism, as the ultimate heroes are more free-thinkers than simple cult followers, or, a critique of nature-despoiling aspects industrialization. However, Turmoil is not so easily classified along such dualistic lines. Instead, The Turmoil explores the space between the two extremes. In fact, the novel never actually inhabits the space representing one extreme or the other, but in reality undermines its own potential as an epic encomium on of human ingenuity to result in growth, jobs, prosperity, or a cautionary parable that seeks to incite social reform.

In The Turmoil, “Bigness” is the new god, but what does “Bigness” do? It is an obvious driver of change, and consumer. It despoils, and yet “bigness” creates a structure. It is the framework of change and turmoil. Bigness forces a closer look, and an emphasis on subtle, small behaviors that flow together like streams into a river. “Bigness” could be viewed as pure thanatos drive.

It is worth mentioning that Tarkington, like many of the writers in the late 19th century and early 20th century, were quite taken with Schopenhauer. In fact, the entire existential tragedy that informs the world of The Turmoil reminds one of Schopenhauer in Essays on Pessimism and also Parerga and Paralipomena (Appendices and Omissions) (1851) the vanity of existence “in the interdependence and relativity of all things; in continual Becoming without ever Being” (Schopenhauer, paragraph 1).

Later, the turmoil that the characters in Tarkington’s novel experience also echoes Schopenhauer: “In a world where all is unstable, and nought can endure, but is swept onwards at once in the hurrying whirlpool of change” (Schopenhauer). Needless to say, Schopenhauer’s “whirlpool of change” is much like the “turmoil” described by Tarkington. 

Also “Bigness” is an illustration of precisely the desire for Being, but is in a nexus / netherworld where the “continual Becoming” never achieves Being or Beingness. It’s a bleak world: “happiness is inconceivable. How can it dwell there, as Plato says, continual Becoming and never Being is the sole form of existence?” (Schopenhauer, 1851).

The novel concerns itself with industrialization, and ultimately reveals a humanistic technocracy. The novel locates itself on edges and margins – the edge of the penitentiary (the Sheridans early in his career), the edge of hunger and degradation (the Vertrees family).

As a humanistic technocracy, machines are sometimes anthropomorphosed but always traversing the territory between humanizing and dehumanizing. Are cars or people  the master or mastered?

The Turmoil is in no way an apology for industrialization and economic growth; and yet, it stops short of advocating unions or social reform. It is, however a multi-faceted critique of

a) investment based on “me, too” greed without any real contributions

b) pollution as environmentally irresponsible growth and industrialization

c) nihilistic growth (a certain frisson upon embracing nihilism) eradicates the accomplishments of the past / cuts away scaffolding

d) unethical growth (stealing intellectual property, etc.)

Lessons learned? You can’t “opt out” without serious consequences. If you think you can, simply look at Young  Bibbs … 

Question: Is there room for art in the world of The Turmoil?

We can say that there is not – not at least for the kind that changes to old patrician notions … after all, the patricians get their “come-uppances” pretty resolutely … crushed / buried / appropriated – slapped onto the wall of a mansion or plaster caricature of a cast bronze or iron statue – what is this about, anyway?

But we can say “yes” – at least for the kind that turns the tables on values, and embraces “the art of noise” and harnesses / subjugates the classics into the service of a framework that is, at first confused with plebian, but turns out to be technocratic –

And it has, as its primum mobile, the need to reconstruct the Great Chain of Being, so that divine is not a noumenous spirit, but one that resembles a machine – in other words, a facsimile of human enterprise, but writ cryptic and (well) sad… this is what young Bibbs resisted …

And yet older Bibbs came to realize that love and heart could make a hybrid occur, and the hybrid was, perhaps, a dialectical resultant … and a synthesis of “old school” aristocracy and the hyper-new…

In other words, World War I was never necessary, if only love had blazed a way (love, meaning unity) …

This is what Booth Tarkington’s message is … and it’s ultimately tragic because the understanding of the waste to come (WWI) is foreshadowed – in 1915.

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