Monday, 1 September 2014

September the First

Francis Close Hall is coming back to life after the summer break. The virginia creeper's turning red. We have only sixteen days to go before Induction week. We're rushing around and enjoying every minute of our favourite month.

Cheltenham is gearing up for the  Literature Festival 2014, too. The School of Humanities has close ties to the festival and the three-week event is the highlight of our year. Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Ben Okri are just a few authors among many who'll be in town for England's biggest literary festival.

The town is already looking autumnally fine.



A very warm welcome (back) to all current and new students of English Literature, Creative Writing, History and English Language. See you soon.

Photos of Cheltenham courtesy of and

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Fires of August

In Greece August, not Midsummer, marks the year's zenith. Equinoctal Midsummer is more meaningful in northern and western Europe, where festivals echo ancient religious practices of sun worship, and the longest day gives way to appoaching darkness. But Greeks love August because it marks the beginning of the harvest months, a period of abundance and pleasure. August also belongs to Panagia, the Virgin Mary. Three important festivals fall in the month, particularly the Dormition (August 15) when all Greeks try to return to their ancestral villages and islands.

Rural communities gather on the evening of 31 July to celebrate the gifts of  'Mr August' - red grapes, walnuts and figs - with feasting, street parties and fires, over which the bold are invited to jump.  I joined the celebrations this year (short of fire-leaping) at Kalivia Limenaria on Thasos. The main street was cordoned off for the dancing and bale-jumping, food stalls handed out loukoumades (tiny doughnuts in honey), and the tavernas spread their tables out beyond the pavement. The festivities, organised by the local council and the Kastro Arts Centre, began with folk dances performed by local schoolchildren and ended with the lighting of the bales. The leapers outstripped my ability to photograph them, and in any case the air was full of smoke. Lots of fun.


I wondered where the tradition of leaping the bales came from. In Greek myth, the Eleusian mysteries commemorate the creation of a god, Demephoon, from a live flame. Harvest festivals, however, celebrate something completed, and afterwards, when the corn is gathered, the chaff must be burnt. Perhaps the 'fires' also indicate fever and pestilence, and purification by burning. Even the serenest month, as Patricia Storace notes, has two sides: 'In Greece it is a month in which you imagine life would never end. But it is also a duplicitous month, a month also commemorated in foreboding verses about getting winter clothes ready, about the short days beginning, the summer meltemia gales prefiguring the sharp winter winds.' *

Our lives are governed by the cycle of the academic year; we too feel the change of season, as May exams give way to the summer recess and then to September, our favourite month.  It is good to remember other cycles, new and old orders of time.

Have a wonderful August.

*Reference: Patricia Storace, Dinner with Persephone: Travels in Greece (London: Granta, 1998), p. 373. Photos: H. Weeks.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Good luck to all A level students

We wish all A level students the very best of luck on Results Day, and hope that you achieve everything you worked hard for.
Photo courtesy of The Guardian

Friday, 25 July 2014

Calling all sixth-form English Literature students: our essay competition is still open for your chance to win an iPad

As you immerse yourself in your summer reading, don't forget that the English Literature essay competition is still open.  The first prize is an iPad, and there are four runner-up prizes of a £20 book token.  Writing an essay will also help you keep your skills honed - so you've nothing to lose. For topics, deadlines, terms and conditions, click on the tab at the top of this page or go to .Good luck! 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Vampires! Dr Hilary Weeks discusses Dracula and the literary Undead

We are building a new blog especially for videos and podcasts. Check Video Resources for English Literature at UGlos for short interviews and discussions about literature, culture, education, A level texts, and everything cultural and topical that we like to argue about. You can use the tab at the top of page for a quick link.

Here I discuss Dracula with Dr Dave Webster:

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Three great names in theatre


Regular readers of this blog know that we love Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre.  Designed by the Victorian architect Frank Matcham, the Everyman has been at the centre of the town's cultural life since 1891. Each autumn, we take our new students to the Everyman for a guided tour behind the scenes, and it remains a very special place for all students of English Literature at the University.

Last week, the Everyman hosted a performance of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey, in a new production by the celebrated Hull Truck Theatre company. Now with a permanent base in Hull, this touring company lived on the road for many years, travelling around Britian's small theatres. Its founding director John Godber gave up teaching for a peripatetic life in theatre, writing and producing many of Hull Truck's plays as well as developing an extended repertoire of new, modern and classic plays.

The Everyman, Hull Truck, and Delaney: I wasn't going to miss the chance to experience three great names in British theatre. I was also curious to see how the play would be performed. The Everyman's proscenium arch was designed for a particular type of nineteenth-century theatrical experience. John Barnes notes that to modernist writers 'the proscenium appeared conservative and restrictive, encouraging a private response in each spectator rather than a shared audience experience.'* Yet far from separating the audience from the action, the arch invites us to step through the frame while reminding us that art is not life itself, but life represented, mediated, made more intense and universal.

Mark Babych's excellent new production explores the claustrophobic physical and mental spaces of Delaney's radical play.  A buckled street lamp projects just beyond the edge of the arch, and between scenes the actors (who are also singers and musicians) step forward, stand under the dismal low-watt light to sing or play the washboard or ukelele. A grim iron walkway marks the entrance to the unheated one-room flat where the action takes place, its lattice standing in for the gasworks that the characters (but not the audience) see when they look out of the window. Like the stage set, the songs refer to a world beyond, and drew collective recognition and response from the audience; the actor playing Helen kept breaking the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly.

The best dramatic productions use material and spatial conditions to project a world, and to project us, the audience, into that world. Only our imaginations lay down the limits.

*Reference: The Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance, ed. Dennis Kennedy (Oxford: OUP 2010), p. 481.

Images: Shelagh Delaney, early 1960s. Hull Truck Theatre. Decorated safety curtain at Cheltenham's Everyman theatre.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Join us for our Open Day on Saturday 28 June

As summer gets underway, we look forward to welcoming you to our Open Day on Saturday 28 June. To find out more, and to book a place, click here. Even if you haven't booked, do please drop by.

To see how our courses look, and the modules we currently offer, look at the course map for English Literature, for English Literature and Creative Writing, for English Literature and History, and English Literature and Language. Scroll up to the tabs on the top of this page to see our Flickr album and our new video blog.

We hope to meet you tomorrow, rain or shine.