Monday, December 05, 2005

Lest We Forget

We've learned so much in this class this semester - not just about literature, but also about the horros of a war we can harldy even imagine. I think it's important for our generation to learn and understand what happened back then so we can prevent anything like it from happening again. It is especially important for us because (most likely) there is no one left to remind us what it was like to live through it. Even if we can't grasp the horrors of this war, at least we can try to prevent anything like it from happening again.
Thanks to my blog members for an interesting semester.

final note

I would also like to express thanks to my group members and to outside contributors of this blog. Although much of the content studied in this novel, and this course has been horrific and quite disturbing, it has been a pleasure doing research on The General and other aspects of the war as well of having interesting and informative discussions about it (as well as other interesting things!) with my group members and members of the class.
Although the end of this blog and the course is near, let us not forget the stories we have read and the events that have occured, as I believe that they have be written so that we may remember the horrors of the war in the hope that we may remember and be greatful, while also being hopeful that such atrocities will never occur again.


Just a quick note to say thank you to Mark Grimsley for the recognition of ours and other blogs from English 340 at SFU. He cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age to History News Network.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The End

At the end of the novel, we are brought back to where we started: Curzon is sitting in his Bath chair with his plaid rug, and Lady Emily is by his side. After all that Curzon has been through, it seems as though he has learned nothing at all. His mind is inflexible and stagnant all the way through the book, but I have a hard time believing that any real person could go through such an experience and not be drastically changed, unless stoicism is a much more powerful force than I thought. I found my self really wanting Curzon to have some great epiphanic moment, or at least a brief emotional ejaculation, but this never happens. Perhaps what is missing is the experience of shell-shock, which may be another difference between Forester's writing and the poetry of Sassoon and Owen, which I discussed in a previous post. But maybe the whole point is that he could not change. Anyway, it has been fun blogging with you all! This is my last post, so bye everyone!

The General + Google = Bad Idea

So it has been mentioned a number of times in class the dangers of using Google (or Wikipedia, Yahoo, etc...). Since we began this project, we've been looking for anything that has to do with Forester that is not H.Hornblower-related. Just for fun, let's check out some of the garbage I found. It all seems to take a rather simplistic view of the novel, especially in light of our project here and our class discussions.
  • on the Harry Potter fan site, MuggleNet, a review of The General
  • PlanetPapers, an essay-writing service (that "does not condone plagiarism"), offers a paper on The General
  • of course, Wikipedia's entry on The General


Saturday, December 03, 2005

The U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List

While searching using the dreaded “” I came across this website titled “Commandant Of The U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List”. “The General” by C.S. Forester is on the list for Colonels of the Marine Corps. Now I’m not sure how accurate this website is, but I could see this being on a reading list for Colonels and it is interesting that it is still used today, even when it is known that Hitler recommended it to his men. The book's "greatness" as a novel must over-shadow the fact that Hitler used it. Anyway, the site links back to this website, which is a collection of different booklists and it boasts “The Web's Largest Collection of Book Lists”. Just interesting.

Friday, December 02, 2005

C.S. Forester - Not Allowed to Fight

As Kirsty pointed out in an earlier post, C.S. Forester did not fight in the war. He was only 15 when the war started, and expected to enlist just like his father, brothers, and cousins once he was old enough to do so. His goals were to win a medal and then die along with the rest of his fellow officers, but to his dismay, this did not happen. At seventeen, Cecil was a 135 pounds and stood at six feet tall; he also wore glasses, but he still expected that he would be accepted into the army. Unfortunately, the doctor found a problem with his heart and would not let him pass the medical examination, leaving Forester devastated that he could not enlist and scared that his life would soon be over. What effect did this have on his work? How does The General compare to works of other authors like Owen and Sassoon who actually fought in the war? Apparently some of the first editions of his books actually said that he did fight in World War One. Because his descriptions of war were so compelling and realistic, people who wrote the bio's for the covers simply assumed that he took part in the war (Sternlicht, 23).

Perhaps his desire to fight in the war pushed him towards his career as a writer of war stories, allowing him to vicarioulsy live the war experience through his characters. But the experiences of the characters in The General do seem to differ somewhat from the works of writers who were actually on the front. In class we discussed the idea that the poetry of people like Sassoon and Owen is much more immediate. One is given direct access to the front lines of the trenches, while still getting the sense that one cannot fully comprehend the experience without actually being there. The following lines from "Dolce Et Decorum Est" are a good example of this:

"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues . . ."

But we cannot hear this experience. Although I have not read his other books, I think that Forester comes close to expressing the war experience with his wonderful storytelling ability, but Owen and Sassoon manage to go a step further, perhaps because poetry is a different, more effective vehicle of expression when it comes to war. I know that Sanford Sternlicht, a biographer of Forester, would disagree, but I am curious what other people think.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Last Salute to Oldest War Veteran

As discussed in Monday's class, there are only a small number of veterans that fought in World War One and earlier that still survive. One of these heroes, Alfred Anderson of Scotland, died last week and his achievements are briefly featured in a section of the BBC's website. What's even more astonishing is that not only did Alfred Anderson fight in World War I, but up until his death he clearly remembered the Boer War and the return of the troops from the Boer War. Doing research on the Boer War to understand its context within The General, it is extremely saddening to think that we lost one of the few human beings left that was alive during such an historical event and of whom can no longer visibly remind us of the sacrifices made for our safety and security today. He was also thought to have been the longest surviving veteran of the 1914 Christmas truce. Alfred Anderson died in a nursing home at the very ripe age 109.

Presentation Follow-Up

After my presentation last class on Conscription, the Military Service Act, and Conscientious Objectors I can't help but wonder how Curzon would have felt about these topics. I'm sure he would have agreed with conscription because it would help replenish his troops. However, I think Curzon would have had a problem with Conscientious Objectors. I think he would have felt that they were against everything he believed to be right and good. He may have even felt that because they were anti-war that meant that they must be anti-British. He sees things in a very black and white sort of way and I think he would have seen Conscientious Objectors as insulting to his position as a General.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Influence of the Boer War

In relation to my previous blog concerning the history of the Boer War, I find it necessary to use this information in order to gain a better understanding of why Forester chose to begin The General not with the First World War, but with the Boer War, and how this had an influence on Curzon. As mentioned in my last post, the Boer War was primarily between the Afrikaners and the Boers, with the British using primarily outdated and more traditional weapons (such as rifles and horses). One only has to look at the final scenes of the novel to understand how exactly the Boer War had an influence on Curzon, as he jumps on his horse and gallops into direct gunfire from the opposition, a seemingly ridiculous action but somewhat justified if we consider that not too long ago, in the Boer War, such an act would be seen as normal.
Beginning the novel with the Boer War, in my opinion, seems for Forester to show the audience how war was fought just before the First World War in order to directly contrast it with the new developments and methods of fighting as developed in the Great War. Had Forester begun the novel with Curzon heading off to fight in the Great War, one would not be fully impacted by the degree of change that occured between the two wars and that occured during the course of World War I.
To show us, the reader, the mentality of the soliders, and Curzon, in the Boer War allows us to understand better Curzon's mentality in the Great War. Although many of us feel inclined to laugh at Curzon as he grabbed his sword and galloped into battle, by remembering that not too many years prior doing so, against similiar opponents however, this was the way fight. Forester therefore manages to illustrate just how drastically everything changed once the Great War began, from warefare, weapons and military tactics to the thoughts and actions of everyone involved and unescapably affected by it.
(Picture courtesy of this website that has many nice pictures of the Great War).

The Bath Chair vs. An Artificial Leg

"Next to the loss of life, the sacrifice of a limb is the greatest sacrifice that a man can make for his country."
-The Times, 1920

In class, I did my presentation on medical advancements during the war, but I never looked into the area of prosthetic limbs simply because there were so many other advancements to discuss. I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of research on artificial limbs, since Curzon chooses to use his Bath chair as an alternative method of getting around after trying out six different prosthetic devices. Curzon's disability was not a rare one, as more than 41,000 British military men lost a limb because of the war. Unfortunately, the overwhelming number of these types injuries was too much for the small cottage-industry of making limbs. Eventually, they were able to be manufactured more readily, but people were not always adequately instructed when it came to using their new limbs effectively. Also, the devices were often very heavy, and caused physical discomfort. After the war, artificial limbs were further developed and became lighter and easier to wear, and classes were given to train people how to use their new limbs. Apparently Curzon never really learned how to easily get around while wearing his prosthesis, and he uses his Bath chair because it is easier to "acknowledge one's friends" (3). I do not think that this is the only reason because Curzon is not a man who makes his choices based on the easiest available solution. The text states that he "clings to the habit of the old-fashioned Bath chair" (3), which was a popular device in the 1830's. I think that this quotation clearly shows his disdain for new technology, which we see in the rest of the text, as well as his stubbornness for doing everything in a traditional manner. For further information on prosthetic limbs and other medical advancements, go to this site, or if you are interested in hearing a veteran's personal experience with his prosthetic limb, click here.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The General on Abebooks

Just out of curiosity, I thought I would check to see how much “The General” goes for. My search came up with a range from $1 for a reading copy, to $1338.04 for a first edition with the dust jacket in good condition. I could hardly believe it. There must be good investments in first editions. Apparently the dust jacket had the head of Curzon on it and there were only 2000 copies printed in February of 1936. Then in June 1936 the first British edition was published in red-brown cloth printed in silver on the cover. 5000 copies were printed.
I find it interesting to know what the book would have looked like when it first came out.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Coldplay and WW1

I am going to attempt to draw a somewhat loose connection between one of my favourite bands, Coldplay, and The General. I was listening to the radio the other day and I heard that the lead singer of Coldplay is the great-great grandson of William Willett, the man who invented daylight savings. In his 1909 pamphlet, Willett wrote, "Everyone appreciates the long, light evenings. Everyone laments their shortage as Autumn approaches; and everyone has given utterance to regret that the clear, bright light of an early morning during Spring and Summer months is so seldom seen or used". His origional plan was to advance the clocks by 20 minutes each Sunday in April, and put back the clocks by 20 minutes on each sunday in September. He thought that daylight savings would increase the health and happiness of British citizens, while saving the country about £2 1/2 million pounds a year. People thought that this was an absolutely ridicuous idea at first, because messing with time seemed absurd. However, in 1916 during World War One, it was declared that the clocks would be moved an hour ahead during the summers, so that precious fuel could be conserved. This idea was also taken up by several other European countries during the war and daylight savings as we know know it, was eventually used in most other countries as well. I really do not think that Curzon would have liked the idea of changing time. He is so rooted in his tradional ideals that he probably would not have cared whether this was an efficient idea or not.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

History of the Boer War

Seeing how The General begins with Curzon active in the Boer War, I found it necessary to examine a bit of history of the Boer War in order to understand how it is relevent to the course of events in The General and why it is that Forester chose to begin a novel on the First World War with a war the preceeded it. This first post will outline a brief history of the Boer War. (Another post will follow which outlines the more important point of WHY this history is important in relation to The General).

Through the course of my research I have learned that the Boer War (1899-1902) was a conflict in southern Africa between Britain and the allied, Afrikaner- populated Transvaal and Orange Free State, (in what is now South Africa). The lead up to the Boer War has a long history, as throughout the 19th century, as Britain expanded its possessions in the south of Africa feelings of hate rose between the Afrikaners and the Boers (the British settlers). This resulted in the Afrikaner migration called the Great Trek and the establishment of the three Afrikaner republics. In 1884 gold was discovered in the South African Republic, and thousands of British miners and prospectors settled in the area. Resentment grew between the Afrikaners and the newcomers, ultimately leading to a revolt by the British settlers.
In 1899, following a buildup of British troops in southern Africa, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State declared war on Britain. The Afrikaner forces were initially successful, but British general Frederick S. Roberts eventually won a series of military victories and occupied the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. Believing he had won the war, Roberts returned to England in 1901. Boer leaders then launched extensive and well-planned guerrilla warfare against the occupying British troops. The fighting continued for the next year and was finally stopped only after the British devastated the Afrikaner farms that sustained and sheltered the guerrillas. Although peace was reached in 1902, the resulting political unification of South Africa did not erase the causes that had triggered the conflict.

Another website nicely summarizes the long standing effects of the Boer War as well as provides poetry, maps and drawings. It also captures the essence of the war that Forester emphasizes and focuses on in The General. It states, " The Boer War can be considered a watershed event for the British Army in particular and for the British Empire as a whole. Their last European opponents were the Russians in the the Crimean War (1853-56). Since then, for the previous 40 years, the Empire had been fighting ill-equipped and ill-organized (although brave) native forces. Easy victories made for an over-confidence that was quickly shattered by the opening battles in South Africa. The British generals had a difficult time adjusting to the different tactics of a different war. The Boers were a fast and highly mobile guerilla force, using the new smokeless cartridges in their German Mauser rifles which greatly concealed their positions; and they employed hit-and-run tactics that not only caused losses the British couldn't afford, but thoroughly frustrated the Empire's view of a 'fair fight'. As costs and casualties mounted, with the generals continually professing that the end was near, and the war taking a bitter and brutal twist in the last two years, British public opinion soured. Thus began the long slow decline of support for the Imperial idea. "

For more information, pictures, maps and timelines on the Boer War visit this website.

Monday, November 21, 2005

In Hornblower's Shadow

As Candice said previously, when searching for information on The General, my search results were often over shadowed Forester's Horatio Hornblower Series. There are links to fan sites such as this and plenty of links to buy the novels. There is even a DVD boxset found here based on the novels. When I told my Dad (who is an avid reader and averages about 2-3 books in a week) what we were reading this semester, he had never heard of The General, but when I mentioned CS Forester he immediately responded, "Didn't he write the Hornblower Series?". I think it's unfortunate that The General is over shadowed because it is a great work of fiction.

The War Mania - Canadian Style!

In another class, I am reading the literature of Stephen Leacock, a Canadian humourist writing in the early 20th century. In his Moonbeams From the Larger Lunacy he has a short story titled "The War Mania of Mr. Jinks and Mr. Blinks," which I found online here.

It is interesting to contrast this story with The General; they have very different perspectives on the War. In "War Mania," Mr. Jinks and Mr. Blinks act out battles as they ought to be fought, using bits of bread, olives, and table utensils while sitting comfortably in a men's club. However, in this story Leacock shares the same succint writing style as Forester and their involved play almost captures some of the same horror of the war that Forester addresses.

The Edwardian Duchess

The General focuses a lot on the war, but it also gives the reader a sense of the pre-war period, which is known as the Edwardian Era. The Duchess (Emily's mother) is a good example of the values and ideas that this period represents. Here is a link to an informative site about that era. It is mainly a fashion website, but it contains a lot of other pertinent information, as well as other links to sites. Anyway.....The Duchess is very concerned with titles, as any Edwardian would be. In other words, who you are is more important than what you do. This can be seen in her attitude towards Curzon's accomplishments: "Her Grace was sublimely confident in her share of the universal opinion that it was far better to receive distinctions for being someone than for doing something" (Forester 80). Clearly, she feels that Curzon, a mere general, is not good enough for the daughter of a Duke. Another example of Edwardian attitudes can be seen when Curzon first meets her and her family for dinner. She reflects the desire to be a good, proper hostess, while attempting to create an image of luxury around her. A good example of this is when she says "Only the dear Queen could expect people to dine without drinking" (Forester 66). Unfortunately for the Duchess, these attitudes are quite out of date because of the war and she has to adjust her behavior because of it. She has to let her daughter marry beneath her, and her dinners cannot be as extravagant as she desires them to be. I think that the war was a real shock to the people who embraced Edwardian ideals, and like the Duchess, they probably had a difficult time adjusting to the effects of the war.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Medical Photo

I've added another picture from the New York Times "Mid-Week Pictorial Series" (this one from November 1, 1917). In response to the class presentation we had on the 14th about medical developments of the war, I've posted this picture. I think it's the only one I have that is medically-related. Notice the unsanitary conditions these men are working in? I don't know if it scanned well enough, but if you look closely, I think you can see that this man has had a bullet/shrapnel/something go right through his shoulder. My guess is that there were few of these types of pictures published in the Pictorial Series because the family at home would not want to think about men being injured, especially in reading a popular magazine. It is alright to look at the destruction to the landscape, the weapons used to create that destruction, the day-to-day life of the soldiers, and so on, but we don't want to see the concrete, often deadly, results of the war.

Friday, November 18, 2005


A questioned raised in class recently by Dr. Ogden was, "why does a novelist write novels?" I think that one of the most enjoyable aspects of The General is how easy it is to read and how it engages the reader with the story it aims to tell to such a degree that it is difficult to stop reading before coming to the end.
I would argue that a novelist writes novels to express his beliefs about certain events and people, but also to encourage his audience to engage in thought that they might not otherwise do, even if it is different from the novelist's. Forester has mastered the art of storytelling to a degree that his characters are believable and actually evoke emotion from the readers, rather than passive apathy or indifference, which in my opinion is the worst response an author could recieve from his reader. Although many readers may hate Curzon's actions, it is the fact that Forester has managed to tell his story which such an eye for detail as to his character that the audience actually feels something towards him and his actions. Curzon in a sense becomes a real person for which the audience can either relate to, or at least recognize as having characteristics that are understandable.
I would argue that Forester wrote The General as a warning to other soliders and Generals to show them how the mistakes made by the half-fictional Curzon (as well as by much of the participants in the war) must be prevented from being made in the future in order to avoid another Great War. Forester tells us Curzon's story in such an enthralling and mesmerizing manner that it is not difficult to get absorbed and lost within it. He manages to write in a manner that not only channels elite storytelling, but is able to reach and speak effectively to the lower classes, which can be seen as one of the reasons his novel was met with such widespread success.
As Merrill L. Bartlett mentions in the introduction of the novel, "Forester was troubled by British indifference to what was happening in Europe. The General was meant to remind the British of just what did happen and that it could occur again" (Bartlett vi). One can therefore appreciate Forester's sincere efforts of translating this message into a novel for a widespread audience in the hopes that they may learn from the mistakes of the past in the hope that it would not be repeated in the future. I believe this was Forester's goal in the authorship of this novel.

Where's the Love?

After searching online databases, the SFU library, and the internet, I noticed that there was very little available information regarding The General. The only book I could find on the subject was a biography of Forester, by Sanford Sternlicht, which comments briefly on all his works. It includes a few pages about the The General, however, there was a lot more information about the Hornblower series, in the book and in other sources. I started to wonder why this was, but I still do not have a complete answer.

The General is a brilliant novel, which relies on the art of storytelling in order to illuminate one of the reasons why the war happened the way that it did. The characterization of Curzon is wonderful and the descriptions of battle are engaging, yet, the book does not seem to be widely regarded as an important piece of literature because it has not won any awards, and as mentioned in class, it is rarely taught in schools. I think perhaps it may partly have to do with the unwillingness of people to deal with issues surrounding World War One. Even when I was in high school, this world-changing event was quickly glossed over, leaving students a little dazed and confused. Also, there does not seem to be a specific cause, but Forester's work points a critical finger towards generals like Curzon. It contains messages that may be a little frightening or alarming to some people. For instance, Forester seems to be blaming patriotism as a detrimental feature of the war because people like Curzon did what they were told since they thought it was for the good of the country. Also, thousands of people voluntarily put themselves into the war out of a sense of duty to Britain. There seems to be a condemnation of leadership as well, which was mentioned in class very briefly. So, to some, these ideas would be disturbing, and Britain would not want to teach a book, or give it recognition if people interpreted its meaning very simplistically as "patriotism and the leaders of the country are bad." By the time World War Two rolled around, Hitler was using the book against Britain, as mentioned in a previous post, and Lord Haw Haw, a British traitor was broadcasting passages from it to the army and the rest of England (Sternlicht 32). This probably explains why it was not a popular work immediately following the second war. I am still curious what other people think regarding this topic.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Curzon's unborn child - a response

I should have been more specific in my initial argument about Curzon's child. I agree with Kirsty that the idea of the child does highlight Curzon's brief lapse in stoic thinking and behavior. Perhaps it is a brief lapse and nothing more or maybe it actually offers a glimpse of hope for him. It is the death of the child, however, that brings out his stoic nature once again.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is Patriotism the Problem?

As discussed in a recent class, one cannot read The General without acknowledging the essential question Forester raises: Is patriotism the problem?
Patriotism is a strong issue in The General, and it clearly displays how prominent the belief in one's country, especially Britain, was in the lead up to the Great War. There were millions of volunteers for the army before the war even began, and those that did not enlist in the army were seen as cowards, traitors and even undeserving to live in Britain. As Caitlin mentioned in her presentation, forms of propaganda evoking feelings of guilt- ('What did YOU do in the war, daddy?') rode on the wave of patriotism that permeated England at this time. Forester very cleverly questions this patriotism and leads the reader to question whether this was in fact, one of the reasons why the war continued as long and as brutally horrific as it did. Although my presentation in class is on nationalism in the form of aspirations for national independence in a country under foreign domination, one must understand that nationalism in terms of focusing on the interest and goals of one's country was extremely significant at this time. For Curzon, there was no greater obligation, honour or duty than to fight for one's country, and this mentality, prevelant amongst many of the generals and soldiers fighting in the war, is arguably what made the war so much more prolonged and miserable. As Wilfred Owen beautifully illustrated in "Dolce Et Decorm Est," fighting for one's country is not as great as it idealistically seems, as "obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/ Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-/ My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory,/ The old Lie: Dolece et Decorum est/ Pro patria mori."

Remembrance Day 2005

Since we have been exploring the historical aspects of The General I thought I would share my Remembrance Day 2005 experience with you (it ties in, I promise!).

Every year, the concert band that I belong to provides music for the Remembrance Day ceremony in Maple Ridge. We play hymn tunes, marches, anthems, etc. This year, probably due to my reading of The General and Parade's End, I was overly conscious of the sound of the ceremony. Every year there are the gun salutes, the yelled military orders, the flyover, and, in the last two years, a cannon. You can imagine the noise. The difference this year was that the 4 rifles and 4 muskets were shot from within the bandstand where we were performing. And the cannon was set up in a tent directly behind the bandstand. I found myself very conscious of the closeness of the noise; we were all literally crammed in together much, as I imagined, like we were in a trench (hiding from the pouring rain and wind, as it were). Anyway, the smoke was thick and smelled disgusting, and the noise had my ears ringing for a couple hours afterwards. From all of this, I got an (admittedly trivial) idea of the reality that Madox Ford and Forester were trying to portray in their constant use of auditory sensation in their novels (ex. Forester's "crackling" is an honest word to use to describe the guns).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Stoicism can be Dangerous!

I've found this article on the BBC website that says "traditional British stoicism is a public health problem in terms of Alzheimer's disease." I think it adds another dimension to the Curzon we see at the beginning of The General, "when the memory of the war is fading" (4).

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Curzon's Unborn Child

To me Curzon's unborn child shows a lack of stoicism that I was not expecting. He seemed to actually care about something for the first time besides his "duty" to England (i.e. as a military man and by creating a family). When Emily tells him that she is carrying his child he shows emotion towards her when he Calls her "my darling" (137). He appeared to me an excited little child dreaming of the future. His son would be just like him because that is what he believes to be good and proper.

When Curzon found out that his son had died before being born, he slipped right back into his old stoic self. He was just as cold and unfeeling as ever and didn’t even seem to care too much about his son’s death.

This being said, after reading your post, Candice, I believe you have made a valuable point that I had not thought of. It is quite possible that the death of the child (and Emily’s inability to try again) could symbolize the fact that Curzon really is the last of his kind by being the last of his family line. The country does not want any more of the kind of men that caused the immense amounts of casualties in a war that was fought only to hold up their “old fashioned” ideals.

Curzon - the last of a dying breed

We already know that Curzon lacks close, emotional relationships because of his interactions with his wife and the men around him. So why does Forester include the presence of Curzon's unborn son in the novel, other than to further reveal the man's stoic nature upon the death of his child? I think that the child is an indicator that Curzon is among the last of a dying breed of men. After the war, there will be no use for men like Curzon since men like him are purported to be the cause of the war - or at least the reason for the war being fought the way that it was.
He is obsessively patriotic and his character is rooted in traditional methods of war. Curzon immediately imagines his child to be the same way and thinks to himself that "his son would be one of a military family now, General Curzon's eldest boy, and after him there would be a long unbroken succession of military Curzons" (138). The world definitely did not need more little Curzons running around to cause even more chaos. The premature death of the unborn baby, and the recommendation that Emily should not attempt to conceive another child again, can be seen as a sign that there is no room for more Curzons. Perhaps it is a message of hope for a war-ravaged country when Forester writes, "There would never be a Herbert Winter Grevan Curzon now. He was the last of his line" (202).

Anti-England, Anti-Stoic

Following class discussion on Ford Maddox Ford's Parade's End Dr. Ogden has posted an article which can also be used to understand a different perspective of The General and to regard the view that Stoicism is not necessarily viewed as positive by all. In fact, many view Stoicism as a negative characteristic of Britain at this time. C.S. Forester certainly was successful in capturing mindset of Curzon and his steely emotionless resolve. This article from Arts & Letters Daily manages to capture feelings that run contrary to Curzon's views on suppressing emotion and maintaining a Stoic mentality until the end.

Curzon's Stoicism on the Battlefield

I can see your point on Curzon's stoicism in his relationship to Emily, Candice. I'd like to add on to it in a discussion of his stoicism on the battlefield because I think that we can see a certain amount of disconnect there as well.

As Curzon heads out to battle, he is having memories, both his own and of England's national identity, surface: “that very summer in England” (41), the memory of which “brought back that nightmare feeling of unreality again” (41); "the Houses of Parliament” (42); “Malplaquet or Waterloo” (43). All three of these memories take Curzon out of the battle situation and back home to England. All three memories remind Curzon of the familiar way of life. The unfamiliar territory Curzon now finds himself in disconnects him from his reality and he is unable to fight. In battle, “he stared mesmerized until he suddenly awoke to the realization that bullets were crackling all around him” (43). It is as if his stoic nature is at battle not only with the war experience but also in how Curzon resonds to this experience; it manifests itself with re-memory, suggesting both a disconnect with his current location and a disconnect with (supressed) emotion.

As a quick digression, it should be noted that I am assuming a connection between memory and emotion becuase I think that the act of memory triggers a memory of the emotion involved with that memory. Despite all outward attemps at stoicism, it has to be entirely impossible for someone to go through life with absolutely no inward reflections of emotion. To pick up from before, then: for Curzon, the memories of England seem to operate as longing for home, and in longing for the familiar ways of home Curzon reveals an emotional disconnect with his current situation on the front.

But while other soldiers are unable to remain stoic in battle, Curzon does (despite his momentary "mesmorization"). He expresses no outward emotion in his disconnect, and he does not dive for cover. He certainly wants to maintain his sense of patriotic duty “at all costs” (42). In the end, Curzon supresses his emotions/memories and maintains what he knows: his patriotic duty and his stoic nature. We do see, though, how his stoic nature conflicts with the war experience and disconnects him from it. Indeed for Curzon, the war and the unfamiliar welling up of memory is "a nightmare feeling of unreality."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Emily and Curzon - stoic 'lovers'

Curzon is just as cold, and stoic when it comes to his relationships as he is with regards to war. The only person that he has any sort of intimacy with is his wife, but it is very limited. I can't help but feel sorry for Lady Emily when I see the way that Curzon relates to her after their marriage. He is so disconnected from his emotions that he cannot even understand why the woman has tears on her face after the wedding ceremony, and he does not care to give the matter much thought (115). Instead, he is consumed by thoughts of Aunt Kate and other relations that were present at the ceremony. During the ride home, Forester describes Curzon's state as being "unfitted for love" with his wife seeming to be "a stranger to him" (117). Afterwards, there is no touching, caressing or love-making to celebrate the wedding, but Curzon does have sex with her "with a stern aloofness that could raise no response in her virginal body" (122).
When one looks upon this relationship with modern twentieth century values, it is easy to judge it as being something dysfunctional and unbearable, but at the same time it is somewhat successful in its practicality, and it does allow Emily to escape from her overbearing mother (although Curzon might not be much better). Emily's stoic upbringing has prepared her for this kind of marriage and "thanks to her patience and powers of endurance they learned after a short interval to live together as happy as two people of their limited capacity for happiness could expect to be" (122). It appears as though she accepts Curzon's limited ability to express himself and tries to be the good, dutiful wife. Emily does seem to be more adept at expressing herself in certain scenes, but their relationship on the whole is a stoic one.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hitler and "The General"

In the synopsis on the back cover of The General, it says that Hitler distributed the book among his staff. After doing a little bit of research I found that in 1938 he actually took specially bound copies of the book and gave them away as Christmas presents to Nazi military leaders, including Goering and Keital. But why would a British book about the First World War have such a strong influence on Germany's most infamous leader? I think that Hitler thought it gave an accurate description of the mindset of the British people, and more specifically, the British military. C.S. Forester created a character that seems to encapsulate the characteristics of the British general. Curzon is a man who is defined by old, traditional military principles, which he carries with him into a more modern kind of warfare. His intense patriotism, accompanied by his stubbornness to fight by the book are maladaptive when it comes to trench warfare. Even when the amount of men who are dying reach almost catastrophic levels, Curzon makes ignorant remarks like, "You can't make war without casualties" (172). He is a man who follows orders and expects orders to be followed, regardless of the consequences. It is through Curzon that Forester condemns the mistakes of World War One. Hitler probably saw Curzon's mindless adherence to a somewhat prehistoric view on warfare as a weakness of Britain and hoped that they would retain the same mindset when he put his atrocious plans into action. For example, Hitler would have seen that Curzon was unaware that new technology would be useful in fighting wars, so The Furher could have used such information to his advantage. Hitler was obviously a smart man, and knowing one's enemies is essential in times of war, but fortunately the British seemed to have learned from some of their mistakes of The Great War when World War Two rolled around.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

WWI Music Website

Here's another website that may be of interest: it lists song lyrics from the first world war, and has a list specifically of songs sung in trenches. Sarah Matheson's class presentation from a couple weeks ago concluded that music acted as an outlet for feelings and emotions about the war, and it's interesting to see in these lyrics the frustration and fear in particular that was present.

The question is: would Curzon be singing any of these songs? If they do act as an outlet for emotion, I don't think we would hear the stoic Curzon in a rousing rendition of "Forward Joe Soaps Army."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Postcards From War

Here is a primary source from World War I- a postcard from Britain during 1914-1915 featuring the King meeting with a soldier and a sailor. These postcards are excellent visual aids which can be used in an attempt to understand the mood, portrayals and different art forms that could be found at this time. They were taken from a First World War Website, which has a great number of photos, documents, biographies and historical representations of World War I.

Haig Article

After reading the last post I decided to do a little research and find out some more about who Curzon was based on. I found an interesting article on General Haig, which actually contains a document of his strategies and plans for fighting the war, entitled "General Factors to be Weighed in Considering the Allied Plan of Campaign during the Next Few Months" (1916). Basically, it outlines his intentions about carrying out decisive offensive attacks, rather than using an attritional option, even though he is aware that a gradual diminution of the enemy is a possible strategy. We know now that it did turn into a long drawn out war, but there is no actual record of Haig ever reconsidering his initial ideas. While reading this article, I really saw a connection between the real General Haig and the character of Curzon. Many of the statements that Haig makes could have easily come out of Curzon's mouth as well. The article also gave me a higher appreciation for Forester's work because in a way, he humanizes the the type of man behind this cold, precise military document.

General Haig

As C.S. Forester's The General is based on a composite of Field Marshal French and General Sir Douglas Haig, I deemed it appropriate to post a biography as well as some pictures in order to generate thinking about possible similarities between these men and the protagonist of the novel, Herbert Curzon. One can find a detailed biography of Sir Douglas Haig here, from a fairly comprehensive World War I website.
After conducting research on General Haig, I found a sense of appreciatation for Forester's characterization and eye for detail in his creation of Curzon and the subsequent actions he undertakes within the course of the novel. Although many historians and scholars continute to debate Sir Douglas Haig's decisions and course of action as a General, Forester's take on Sir Douglas Haig is certainly an interesting one- vivid in his conception of Haig, as well as of Field Marshal French. One must note that Forester is not attempting, with The General to state his opinion as a definate truth, as he states in the introduction to The General, "I was writing a novel, a self-proclaimed work of fiction, and fiction does not mean the truth, and certainly does not mean the whole truth and most certainly does not mean nothing but the truth" (Forester, xiii).
I believe that this is the key thought to keep in mind while reading The General, not to take a work of fiction and assume it to be an accurate, truthful testimony of history but to use it as a guide for thinking and learning about events and a culture and society we may not be familiar with.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Short Biography

Here is a short biography of Forester, just for interest's sake, from this website:

Cecil Scott Forester was born Cecil Louis Troughton Smith in Cairo, Egypt. His father was a minor British governmental officer in the Egyptian Ministry of Education. In 1901 his mother, Sarah Smith, took her five children to London. Forester was educated at Alleyne's School and in 1915 he entered Dulwich College. He then tried to enlist in the army, but failed the physical. Forester studied medicine at Guy's Hospital for a few years. In 1921 he abandoned his studies for writing, taking the pen name Cecil Scott Forester.

I find it interesting that Forester tried to enter the army, but didn't make it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Trench photos

Here are a couple more pictures from the Mid-Week Pictorial. The first is captioned "British troops constructing trenches in a flooded area near Blangy in France" and is from Vol. VII no.2 (March 14,1918). The second photo is "A British wiring party under the leadership of an officer setting out on the perilous duty of repairing wire defenses" and is from Vol. VI no. 26 (February 28, 1918).

Response to Previous Post

I definitely agree on your first point about the photographs – they help us to have a greater, more well rounded, perspective on what it was actually like to fight in this war. As you were saying about the picture of trench foot that went around the class last Monday, one can not realize the horrors of the war without viewing what it was like, and the only way to do that, 100 years later, is through photography.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Presentation Follow-Up

I gave my class presentation yesterday and I thought I would post some follow-up thoughts, since they could be relevent to our discussion.

My idea was that the New York Times "Mid-Week Pictorial" Series would help us with a better understanding of the literature of our course (or in the case of our blog, in reading The General), specifically in addressing the portions of the texts that take place on the front lines of WWI (i.e. trenches). The reason for this is two-fold. First, I think that photography can add a dimension of reality to the images we get in the text. Take, for example, this passage from The General, chapter XVI, P. 161:

"The road they were on had ceased to be a road at the crossroads, where the red-hatted military policeman had stopped the cars. A vague indication of a trench had grown up around them as they progressed, and soon it was quite definitely a trench, floored with mud, in which they sank ankle deep - the warm weather had not dried it - crumbling and slipshod in appearance for lack of revetting. They floundered in single file along the trench..."

I enjoy the realism in Forester's text (in the setting and characterization especially), and I think the above passage embraces that and is effective on its own. My argument for photography is that it gives us, as an audience almost 100 years removed from WWI, a more rounded view of what it was really like on the front lines. We can look at a picture of the trenches, of the damage to the landscape, of the injured soldiers, and "get it," so to speak. Having this background knowledge makes us more attuned to the literary imagery in the texts we're reading. An example I gave in class responded to the picture of trenchfoot that was passed around. We've talked about trenchfoot before, but as I watched people's reactions to the photo, they appeared to be much more horrified when they actually saw what it looked like (let's call it the "cringe factor").

The other thought I had was that photography reminds us to question the texts. When looking at a primary source, such as the Mid-Week Pictorials, one must ask questions. Was this photo a set-up? Was it taken by an agency or individual? Where/who published it? What does the caption suggest? and so on... For me, it gives a gentle reminder to question the text. What perspective is Curzon coming from? What does his class have to do with his position in the War? How is his experience different from the War experience we get from Owen, Graves, Sassoon?

Do you guys agree/disagree? I'm curious what you have thought about the imagery in The General and how it contributes to the overall novel.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The New York Times "Mid-Week Pictorial" Series

I have attached a page out of my private collection of The New York Times Mid-Week Pictorial series that ran in that newspaper during WWI. I don't have much information on this series, other than that it began during WWI and continued into the 1920's due to popular demand. This particular page is from Vol.III, No. 24, August 17, 1916 (page 11). While it is a decidedly American publication (especially after the U.S. entered the War; it became a propoganda machine), there are many photos and articles about the British contribution to the war, so I think that it is worth while including a few here. I'll update as our discussion continues.

I thought this would be a good spread to begin with, partly because it is from the earliest edition that I have, but also because it gives us a great image to start with as we begin our discussion of The General. Is it just me, or do any of you see Curzon in that superior officer in the top picture? :)

One last note: please forgive me if the images are unclear or if the text is unreadable. The papers are pretty fragile due to their age and are difficult to scan. I'll try my best!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Wecome to English 340 group blog - The General by C.S. Forester.