Registration open: Reading Joyce’s “Aeolus”

Registration is now open for Reading Joyce’s “Aeolus” on Saturday 02 March. Please follow this link to see a list of confirmed speakers and register for the event.

Tickets are £5 (the event is free for postgraduates).

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Lyndall Gordon, Outsiders (2017)

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World is a crossover title: Lyndall Gordon is an academic at Oxford University, but the book is published by Virago, the renown feminist publishing press. Aside from it being a perfectly-chosen Christmas gift from my mother, I was keen to read as, having completed a PhD and with designs to write for popular audiences, I wanted to see how Gordon would pull of this feat. To be clear, this is not her first trade book, but it is perhaps her tradiest: the cover, in the Suffrage colours of white, green and purple, visibly taps into the trend for feminist publishing that was especially in vogue in early 2018 – think of Diana Atkinson’s Rise Up, Women!, for example.

Gordon takes five canonical women writers and assigns them each a role. Mary Shelley is a Prodigy; Emily Brontë a Visionary. George Eliot is the only one assigned inverted commas around her title: she is the ‘Outlaw’. Next up is our Orator, Olive Schreiner, and finally we meet the Explorer, Virginia Woolf. The book ends with a stylish and brief conclusion, The Outsiders Society (sic on the lack of apostrophe). Gordon’s thesis is that these women, outsiders though they apparently were, made great and lasting contributions to intellectual and literary life.

We begin with Mary Shelley. I struggled with this chapter: Gordon’s writing is hard to follow at times, with occasionally as many as seven paragraphs to a page (there are eight on page 33, for example). Her argument – that the feminist aspects of Frankenstein often emerged from the events of Shelley’s own life – is well made, but I’m afraid to say that what transpires most clearly here is the fact, as with so many other women writers of history, that so many of the men around her were selfish, unkind, obstructive, or some awful combination of all three. Her father, William Godwin, treated her cruelly; Byron caused untold misery for her sister, Claire Clairmont; and her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, was eye-wateringly self-involved. Such a cast of dramatic personae made for a miserable start to the book, but, to her credit, in this chapter Gordon achieves a fine balance of literary and historical readings.

Next up: Brontë the visionary. Brontë is perhaps the greatest outsider of the five: Gordon paints a picture of a woman socially and geographically isolated for large stretches of time. There’s an obvious issue with this claim – surely the case of three novelist sisters is a uniquely remarkable one? – and Gordon might have been more to build this counterargument in to her readings of their various novels. The chapter feels a little light, but it’s entertaining enough.

George Eliot comes next. I adored this chapter: in this loving portrayal, Eliot appears an intelligent and stoic woman, capable both of kindness (to Herbert Spencer, who inelegantly rejected her) and of cruelty (to various family members whom she did not help when they found themselves in financial difficulty). On page 130 we have a whopping nine (count ‘em!) paragraphs, but, this aside, I was gripped by the argument. In her discussion of Eliot’s quiet radicalism in the face of marriage restrictions (she and G. H. Lewes could not marry, so, quite scandalously, lived together instead), I saw most clearly a demonstration of the claim made in the book’s blurb on the cover: ‘They came, they saw and left us changed’ (sic). Reading about Eliot’s editorship of the Westminster Review, too, was especially interesting in light of recent interest in the work of women in the publishing industry (I’m writing this days after the death of Diana Athill).

It’s often said that responses to Mansfield Park – whose author, incidentally, crops up surprisingly rarely in this book – are guided by one’s own attitude to Fanny Price. If you like her, you’ll like the book; if not, you certainly won’t. Gordon’s critical perspectives on her subjects are, similarly, guided by personal feelings. To this end, her chapter on Schreiner is by far the strongest: there’s a nicely sentimental touch in the way that she recalls people, places and songs associated with her own South African family. The feeling of a deep and rich shared heritage permeates the chapter, with Gordon rightly angry about the injustices at the hands of the British that Schreiner was forced to tolerate. The focus is on Women and Labour, rather than the literature; this section leaves me wanting to know much more about Schreiner.

We end with Woolf, the Explorer of the bunch. It’s never quite clear how Woolf is an Explorer and I remain unconvinced that she was an Outsider in any meaningful sense. Yes, she was frequently isolated, literally and figuratively, due to her breakdowns. But she belonged to one of the most prestigious families in the country: Gordon frequently invokes Woolf’s father, aunt, grandfather and even great-grandfather in discussions of her politics. One must also be sceptical of Woolf’s own claims about the extent of her outsider status: Gordon regurgitates the view, put about by Woolf herself, that ‘[her brothers] were sent to school and Cambridge. She had to mop up Greek as best she could at home’ (237). My PhD supervisor, Professor Anna Snaith, showed in this article that Woolf took classes in, among other subjects, Greek and German at King’s College London Ladies Department. To see such valuable scholarly work overlooked is frustrating. Perhaps it is my love for Woolf and her novels that made this the least enjoyable chapter, for me; moreover, it seems too safe to opt, after Schreiner, for a figure who is ubiquitous in university English departments and literary culture more widely. What of those other twentieth century women writers who really were – and remain – outsiders? Emily Dickinson is mentioned in passing in every single chapter, and while I acknowledge that ‘I wish the book was about something else’ makes for a churlish review, I couldn’t help but wonder why Gordon had chosen not to focus on the American writer, or any other, in more detail.

Overall, though, Outsiders is worth attending to: I’ll always read women who write about women. I’ve a few niggles: as mentioned, Gordon’s style and syntax occasionally rubbed me up the wrong way. A dear friend recently remarked, ‘Save me from the non-fiction book with no index’; though this has an (excellent) index, I wish more trade non-fiction titles offered superscript numbers or asterisks to indicate that there are, in fact, notes at the end of the book. Why minimise one’s research? But the project is valuable: Frances Wilson, quoted on the cover, claims that Gordon is ‘a biographer of the imagination as opposed to a recorder of historical facts’ and the rich sense of these women’s characters that emerges on every page is this book’s most valuable contribution.

Open Library of Humanities video

In November 2018, staff at the Open Library of Humanities, and others, appeared in a video produced by the Derek Jarman Lab, explaining what the OLH does. Published in January 2019, you can see it here. I am on briefly at 3.27.

The work features: Martin Eve (OLH Director), Andy Byers (OLH Senior Publishing Technology Developer), Paula Clemente Vega (OLH Marketing Officer), Helen Saunders (OLH Editorial Officer), Ernesto Priego (City UoL, Editor of The Comics Grid) Ross Mounce (Director of Open Access Programmes, Arcadia) Chris Banks (Director of Library Services, Imperial College), Caroline Magennis (University of Salford, Editor of Agreement 20 Special Collection) and Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra (Open Science Officer, DARIAH-EU)

 

Teaching, Autumn 2018-19

Another term of teaching has just finished! From September to December, I taught two weekly seminars on the second year BA course Mapping Modernism, which is convened by Professor Anna Snaith, who supervised my PhD. This was alongside my new role in publishing, as the Editorial Officer at the Open Library of Humanities, covering for maternity leave, which I also began in September (props to my boss for letting me work flexibly to fit it all in). It’s been another busy but rewarding term!

Mapping Modernism is a great course. As “mapping” suggests, we covered a fair bit of spatial theory; another important strand of the course is getting students to think about how and why the field of modernist studies looks as it does. Why do we study some authors, and why do others get overlooked? How can we rehabilitate certain authors? Etc. The course covers a good range of texts/authors: after a theory week to get things started, we covered Conrad, Mirrlees, Eliot, Lawrence, Claude McKay, Larsen, Walter Greenwood, Rhys and Woolf. I’m a Joycean, but it’s always a delight to get out of Joyce Studies.

While I’ve been teaching since 2014, this was the first second year course I’ve ever taught. It’s a sweet spot: students are receptive to ideas and keen to be pushed (at least, I think mine were!) but the course is still nice and broad. If possible I’d love to teach the KCL third year Ulysses course again, and it would be a joy to see some of these students in that class. Both my groups were really great to teach: they featured some really committed, hardworking, intelligent and interested students.

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Again, I used my handy grid system to keep on top of everything week by week, as well as my feedback form. If you’re reading this and you’d like to copy it, please do (I mention this only as a couple of people have asked already). In my previous blog entry summarising the term’s teaching, I reflected on why I think this is a better feedback form than some others, especially the official ones that the College likes students to complete; it is a truth universally ignored by the TEF brigade that women academics are routinely considered to be less capable than male ones. To this end, again this term I was told by a male undergraduate – when I asked him to leave a room I’d booked – that I was lucky to look as young as I do (he’d assumed I was a student). I do not like anyone in a professional environment commenting on my appearance (perhaps I am hypocritical, as I did tell a female student, as she was leaving a class one afternoon, how much I liked her blouse) and I would not want opinions such as that one to jeopardise any feedback about me as a teacher.

As much as I enjoyed teaching this term, Mapping Modernism is likely to be my last course for a while. I was asked to cover a couple of courses next term, but teaching – at least for me – really takes up time, time that I’d like to spend writing instead. I have plans for my PhD book as well as having other writing/creative things I want to get my teeth into in 2019. It’s also very poorly paid – this is well known but worth reiterating – and I’m fed up of the exploitative nature of academic institutions. To be clear, my immediate colleagues are wonderful: I’m suggesting, instead, that it’s unfair that president and principal of King’s, Ed Byrne, earns £350,000 while I earn £19.20/hr (and that’s because I have the doctorate — the wage is I think around £15 or £16/ph without this).

To end on a happier note: in addition to reading some great modernist literature this term, I’ve managed to keep up with my reading for pleasure: more on that in another post later this month. It being mid-December now, I’m pretty shattered, so I’m relaxing with a Marian Keyes and very happy about that.

CFP: Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’

London: Saturday, March 2, 2019.

Of the 18 episodes of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), ‘Aeolus’ has claims to be among the most neglected. Conspicuously revised after its first appearance in The Little Review in October 1918, it belongs exclusively neither with the opening chapters of Joyce’s novel nor with the more radically experimental narratives of the later episodes. In this way, it presents a textual curiosity in the book, long overdue critical reappraisal.

This workshop, a collaboration between the James Joyce reading groups at the University of Leeds and the Charles Peake Ulysses reading group, hosted by the Institute of English Studies at Senate House, aims to offer new perspectives on this all too easily overlooked episode.

We welcome papers that focus on this episode exclusively, or explore its relationship with other chapters of the novel, or the rest of Ulysses more broadly, or other texts besides. Possible paper topics include, but are in no way limited to:

  • Newspapers, popular media, and advertising
  • Technology: trams, telegraphs, and printing presses
  • Parnellism, the Irish language question, and political history
  • Alcohol, socialising, and homosocial spaces
  • Geography; city planning; urban infrastructure; architecture; mapping
  • Minor and ‘real-world’ characters
  • The Little Review: adaptation, revision, annotation

Papers should be no more than 20 minutes in length. 250-word abstracts and brief biographies should be sent to the organisers, Helen Saunders (helen.saunders@kcl.ac.uk) and Steven Morrison (steven.morrison@nottingham.ac.uk) by 30 November 2018.

When: Saturday 02 March 2019

Where: Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London

Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’ (PDF)