Tuesday, 6 November 2012

All the world's a stage

Cheltenham is a great town for lovers of the dramatic arts. The School of Humanities has long-standing partnerships with local theatres. Dr Rebecca Bailey, Senior Lecture in English Literature, and her students have been very busy lately on the dramatic front. Here's her report:

This term returning students have benefitted from wonderful local opportunities to enrich their studies. In October, third year students from EX340 had front row seats at the Cheltenham Literary Festival for a conversation with award winning, contemporary playwright, Jez Butterworth. Talking about his new play, The River, currently running at London’s Royal Court Theatre and reflecting on the success of Jerusalem (2009), Butterworth discussed the role of the playwright in contemporary society. A fascinating experience for staff and students alike!
Second year students from the Stages of Drama module have enjoyed theatre trips to the beautifully restored Cheltenham Everyman Theatre to see Oscar Wilde’s delightful comedy The Importance of Being Earnest and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good. Both texts are discussed on the module and students relished the chance to see such excellent live performances.

Whilst, last week, students from the Renaissance, Restoration, Revolution module ventured to Bristol’s Old Vic for a rare chance to see John Ford’s classic revenge tragedy ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Produced by the renowned Cheek by Jowl theatre company, this was an electrifying and darkly funny staging which gave a fascinating insight into the early modern imagination.
 More theatrical delights are in the offing! I understand the English Society is planning a trip to see the terrifying Woman in Black later this month and I’ve heard whispers about a Christmas pantomime extravaganza and a trip to Stratford to see As You Like It in the spring.

Victorian Spiritualities

Many scholars are working across disciplines as well as in their own. The Centre for Bible and Spirituality runs a seminar series each year that brings together theologians, litearture specialists and philosophers. Last week Dr Hilary Weeks presented a seminar paper on Tractarian (Oxford Movement) configurations of Victorain spirituality. Read all about it over at their blog Theoglos.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Robert Macfarlane delivers the Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture at the Cheltenham Lit Festival

As usual, students and staff are enjoying a fortnight of all things literary, cultural and book-obsessed at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. Yesterday something really special took place. Robert Macfarlane delivered the annual  Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the University of Gloucestershire, to a capacity audience at the Forum. Dr Shelley Saguaro, Head of the School of Humanities, introduced Professor Macfarlane's talk on walking the ancient paths and track-ways of Britain.  His long walks helped reconnect him with the landscape, as well as with walker-writers such as Laurie Lee, whose long walk from Gloucestershire to London and then on to Spain to fight in the civil war is described in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969). Professor Macfarlane's book The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012) explores, in all senses, 'the relationship between paths, walking and the imagination'. The autumn weather participated in the talk; thunderclaps and a terrific rainstorm forced him to stop speaking for several minutes. We felt that it was a tribute to his book.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Our students investigate Cheltenham's cultural delights

Induction week is over. We combine work and play as best we can, and try to get to know each other a little before classes begin. English Literature students and tutors enjoyed a visit to Cheltenham's gorgeous Everyman Theatre , recently restored to its late-Victorian glory.


For an hour and a half, we walked around the theatre, onstage, backstage, under the stage, up in the lighting galley, in the props room and the scene-painting area, the green room, and out onto the roof. The theatre is like a small factory dedicated to producing illusion and fantasy, challenging us to think about the relationship between reality and representation. Dick Whittington is the Christmas panto in 2012. We're going. Oh yes we are!

The visit formed the basis, or at least the inspiration, for the Induction week project, Literary Cheltenham: Writing the Town. Students researched some aspect of the town's cultural and literary life and history, and in a very short time - with a late night on Thursday, I hear - produced some sterling presentations on their findings. In the session I attended, discussion ranged from theatre architecture to Byron, from Lewis Carroll to C. Day Lewis, from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, from Stephen Fry to Geoff Dyer, from the local jazz scene to Jilly Cooper. We were impressed not only with the quality and engagement we saw, but with students' poise and confidence. It was a great start to the academic year. Our thanks to all English Literature students who took part.

Photos: H. Weeks

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Two passings

This week we read the sad news that the feminist writer Shulamith Firestone had died. Her work is little read now, a neglect that ought to be rectified. Her book The Dialectics of Sex: the Case for Feminist Revolution (London: the Women's Press, 1970) was one of the first works - certainly the most famous in its day - to combine Marxian and feminist analysis.

Just as we have assumed the biological division of the sexes for procreation to be the fundamental 'natural' duality from which grows all further division into classes, so we now assume the sex division to be the root of this basic cultural division as well. The interplay between these two cultural responses, the 'male' Technological Mode and the 'female' Aesthetic Mode, recreates at yet another level the dialectic of the sexes - as well as its superstructure, the class, and the economic-class dialectic.

(Quoted from Maggie Humm, Feminisms: A Reader (London: Harvester, 1988), p. 69)

We'll be reading a little of her work, in tribute, in the EX302 Modern Literary Theory module later this year.

Eva Figes died last week at the age of 80. Her most noted work, Patriarchal Attitudes, also appeared in 1970 - a remarkable year for feminist writing. Figes was perhaps a more controversial and politically active writer than the reserved and private Firestone. However, few remember her work on behalf of authors and their rights, as Tim Jeal notes in The Guardian.

You can read more about these writers in their obituaries at New York Times and the Guardian.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Welcome, and welcome back

Voices are returning to Francis Close Hall. The Virginia creeper has turned red. An autumn of reading, learning, hard work and delight is upon us. We love September, the best month of the year. See you all next week.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Welcome to all new English Lit students

I'm glad to tell you that the reading list for the first year (level 4) modules is now up on the Facebook Humanities Applicants Group. If you are not a member, do please request to join. Here is the link:  http://www.facebook.com/groups/humsatglos/

Monday, 23 July 2012

Alfred Tennyson in Cheltenham

Most people associate Alfred Tennyson with Lincolnshire, with good reason. The sights and sounds of the North Sea coast at Mablethorpe haunt his poetry - 'Break, break, break/On thy cold grey stones, O Sea'. However, the poet spent lots of time in Cheltenham in the 1830s and 1840s, partly because his widowed mother and his siblings took a house in the town, but also in the hope of improving his health. You can see his house with its plaque in St James's Square.

Photos of house & plaque from Reading Matters http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/2009/10/the-house-where-alfred-lord-tennyson-once-lived.html <accessed 23 July 2012>

Tennyson's father, Dr George Tennyson, had 'taken the waters' at Cheltenham Spa like many other eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century health-seekers. By the 1840s, a new and more dangerous procedure had become the rage. Practitioners believed that bad circulation produced chronic disease, and that stimulating the circulation with cold baths, cold wraps (patients swaddled in sheets dipped in icy water and left for several hours) and cold showers, plus plenty of cold water to drink, would allow the body to purge toxins. 'Hydropathic' establishments often appeared in spa towns like Cheltenham and Malvern, not simply for the water supply but because they were social centres; the fashionable could take a 'cure' while enjoying a holiday. Tennyson endured treatment at Prestbury, today a pretty section of east Cheltenham, and at Malvern, a few miles north in Worcestershire. It can't have been fun.

Last weekend,  the Tennyson Society celebrated the poet's local connections with a conference, Tennyson in Cheltenham. We gathered to hear research papers from Professor Roger Ebbatson, Professor Marion Shaw (Emerita, University of Loughborough), Dr Ann Thwaite FRSL, Dr Valerie Purton, and from your Course Leader; and then on to Malvern on the trail of the notorious Dr Gully and his water cure. Judging by his fancy house, this treatment made money. The Malvern Museum has a great display on the water cure and other aspects of local Victorian life.

After that we visited another of this region's architectural beauties, the Camelot-like Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. Look who was once a distinguished guest.

Photos of Eastnor: H.Weeks. G.F Watts's famous 'moonlight' portrait of Alfred Tennyson dates from about 1859.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Word in the world

Last year English speakers across the world marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. William Tyndale of Gloucestershire's translation is one of the greatest works of English literature. Without it, the work of Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Dickens, Tennyson, TS Eliot, Henry James, Yeats, Iris Murdoch - the list is endless - would not exist. It also formed the basis of the Douai-Rheims and most authorised versions of the Bible since.

Tyndale's translation was the first printed edition of the Bible, ensuring its distribution throughout Europe and thus helping to disseminate the ideas of the Reformation. Today I found a commemorative £2 coin minted last year that celebrates the printed word. If you look closely you'll see the opening words of the Gospel of John on the right-hand side, and its printing plate, with the characters reversed, on the left.

Humanities staff at the University of Gloucestershire created a blog to reflect on Tyndale's translation and how it shaped English language and culture. I hope you enjoy reading some of it here.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Another reason to read books

Last week I ordered books from ABE and Amazon. They arrived packed carefully in layers of compostible cardboard. One book was wrapped in a Budweiser 12-pack box.

The cardboard has now entered the nitrogen cycle:

Books are food for the mind, and if you're smart, you can use them to help you grow vegetables and to save the planet.

You already know that e-reader manufacturers are spying on you, right?

Photos: H. Weeks


Saturday, 30 June 2012

The myth of the long academic vacation

Classes ended in April and exams were over by mid-May. Our students rarely see us from April to mid-September and naturally they assume that this is down time for us. But the University's life carries on, most of us are still here, and in fact we are busier than we were before teaching recess.

First, when all the marking is in and moderated (the academic equivalent of flight attendants cross-checking doors before take-off), University examination and Award boards take place. Every single mark across every module must be checked and accounted for. Students who have been ill are re-assigned late due dates, all of them different; some students are entitled to reassessments on certain bits of coursework or exams. Those reassessments must be marked. The very few students who have gone AWOL for a year or three tend to wake up just before the Boards and let us know whether they are going to join us again next year. We re-read all the student evaluations for the modules to ensure that our teaching methods and practices are working well, and reports are created. The Awards Board checks the profiles of all graduating students and we check that their marks add up to the correct degree classification (well, okay, the computer calculates, but we have to double-check that the original figures are correct).

That's just the teaching stuff from the past year. Long before the Boards we have to start planning Induction week activities and arrangements. We make recruiting visits to local schools and FE colleges. We work on the recruitment plans for the next cycle. We timetable classes for 12/13 - hundreds of class meetings must be roomed. We plan who is going to teach what class for 12/13, balancing those hours with staff members' other non-teaching activities (such as committee work and external examining), prepare documents for our annual appraisal meetings, and participate in staff development sessions (for example, attending briefings on new university regulations).

Some new modules have been approved for 12/13, and now is the time to design these modules, create a syllabus and reading lists, and preapre essay and exam questions. Existing modules are also updated around now, with staff deciding on set texts. The reading lists go live in the summer, because students, who are also extremely busy people, have to get some reading done before September.

Did I mention that lecturers also do scholarly research? The nature of university life means that extended research tends to get crammed into this ever-shrinking summer period between reassessment in July and Clearing in early August. Time to start speed-reading. Deo gratias that I live only an hour's train ride from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Travelling to London to use the British Library will not be on this summer. I'd be better off flying to Manchester, as indeed a friend of mine plans to do.

Vacation? Maybe the first week in August.

Students, we miss you. Things get dull when classes end. But please be assured that most of us are not getting into any mischief while you're away.

Friday, 15 June 2012

An existentialist masterpiece

Had the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan made only Uzak [Distant] (2002) his achievement would have been great, even in a country with such a remarkable cinematic history as Turkey. With his 2011 release Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da [Once Upon a Time in Anatolia], Ceylan has produced his masterpiece.

Critics who have praised Ceylan for alluding to Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, or for what they see as an extraordinary 'police procedural' movie, are misreading this work. Anatolia is an existentialist inquiry into what it means to be human.

In his essay 'Why Write?' (1948) Jean-Paul Sartre notes that the artistic impulse is motivated by 'the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship with the world'. That impulse works in dialectical opposition with another perception:

With each of our acts, the world reveals to us a new face. But, if we know we are directors of being, we also know that we are not its producers.

Martin Heidegger begins with 'Dasein', what Terry Eagleton calls 'the irreducible "givenness" of human existence' [... the world] has a brute, recalcitrant being of its own which resists our projects, and we exist simply as part of it'.

A murder has been committed; a group of officers, a forensic doctor and the chief of police haul a couple of miserable-looking suspects across rural Anatolia one night to identify where they buried the body. The suspects were too drunk at the time to remember. No motive for the crime is given. The officers, the doctor and their driver have their own preoccupations. One suspect may be covering for another. Human passions  - in all senses of that overused word - dwindle against the empty steppe, take shape by a field, an apple tree, a well, in the village chief's lamplit house, only to disperse into the darkness again. Detective Naci admits that after twenty years in the force, he has no more insight into human motivation than when he began.

At 157 minutes, lacking conventional markers of plot, action, beginning, middle and end, characters that the viewer can 'relate to' (that nostrum of pseudo-criticism), Anatolia may not be the best way to introduce oneself to Ceylan's work. But if you have the chance to see it, on the cinema screen, please don't hestitate - and please post a comment.

Photo: N. B. Ceylan, movie still: http://www.nbcfilm.com/anatolia/photos.php?mid=7 <accessed 15 June 2012>. Image copyright N.B. Ceylan/nbcfilm. Reproduced for educational purposes only. No copyright claim intended.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

"Cotswold or Malvern, sun or rain, my hills again"

Centre for Writing, History and Place


'F.W. Harvey: A Poet for Today'

a talk by Roger Deeks, F.W. Harvey Society

F.W. Harvey (1888-1957), war poet, friend of and collaborator with Ivor Gurney, broadcaster and activist, was known as the Gloucestershire Laureate. This promises to be a fascinating talk on a local poet by Roger Deeks of the F.W.Harvey Society.

Wednesday 13 June

Francis Close Hall

FCH HC205, 5:15 p.m.

Everyone is welcome

The view from Cleeve Common. Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cotswolds_Cleeve_Common.jpg <accessed June 7, 2012>

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The (Dis) United Kingdom: Symposium

Centre for Writing, Place, and History


The (Dis) United Kingdom -

Historical & Literary Perspectives on Devolution

Wednesday May 2nd, 2012

1.00-6.00 pm – TC 103 Park Campus, Cheltenham

The Centre for Writing, Place and History is holding a half day symposium to bring historical and literary perspectives to the debates on devolution, separation, and nationalism. The event will consist of two lectures followed by questions and discussion and a final plenary. The lectures will be:

‘Between States: Scotland, the UK and the Prospect of Independence’

Dr. Catriona Mac Donald (Reader in Late Modern Scottish History, University of Glasgow)

'A language is a dialect with an army and a navy - contemporary Scottish poetry and the language question'

Professor Simon Dentith (Head of Department at the Department of English Language
and Literature, University of Reading)

Please note that refreshments will be provided. To book a place or for further details, contact Prof. Neil Wynn - nwynn@glos.ac.uk - 01242 714697 – School of Humanities, University of Gloucestershire.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


Every avid reader understands that some books are to be tasted, some to be seen through to the end, and others to be read again at various stages for the rest of our lives. Last week in the Guardian several writers revealed the books that sustain them.

This is not to say that we re-read the same copy or edition. Most of my undergraduate books are still in storage somewhere in the West Country. When I must re-read something, for teaching or pleasure, I have to find another copy, preferably second-hand from wonderful bookshops like this one. Then I update my profile for anyone who cares (see right).

Kindle-owners tell me about all the extra reading they enjoy now that millions of texts are now within their reach. But do these readers (a) really finish the books they start and (b) despite the ease with which they can scare up any book they choose, do they re-read - or does the Kindle (TM) encourage a marathon mentality of getting through as many books as fast as possible? I need to know.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Adrienne Rich, 1929 - 2012

Many students of literature will know some of the prose writing of the poet Adrienne Rich, who has died aged 82, if not her poetry. 'When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision' (1972) urges readers to rethink - recognise, even - the patriachal assumptions underpinning literary criticism. Her obituaries remind us that she remained a fully committed writer to the last; Saturday's Guardian piece by Julie Bindel notes how many honours Rich turned down, for she would not accept them for the wrong reasons. The L.A. Times notice reprints some of her poetry.

Rich rejected the cult of personality and the rivalries it produces. In 1974 three poets wrote a collective acceptance speech for the National Book Awards. Here it is:

We, Audre Lord, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker, together accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as token women in this culture, often at great cost and in great pain [...] none of us could accept this money for herself, nor could she let go unquestioned the terms on which poets are given or denied honor and livelihood in this world, especially when they are women. We dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all women, of every color, identification or derived class: the poet, the housewife, the lesbian, the mathematician, the mother, the dishwasher, the pregnant teen-ager, the teacher, the grandmother, the prostitute, the philosopher, the waitress, the women who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet; the silent women whose voices have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work.

(repr. Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own, revised edition (London: Virago, 1982), 315-16)

Thursday, 29 March 2012

'The Waste Land' on BBC Radio 4

T.S. Eliot at the BBC, undated photo.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2009/10_october/08/poetry.shtml <accessed 29 March 2012>

Eileeen Atkins and Jeremy Irons read T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow, Friday 30 March, from 2:15 - 3:00.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Printed books: so much more for your money

Books, like food, are essential. That is why they are not taxed. Not so ebooks; VAT at the usual 20% is charged because the government defines them as software, not printed matter. That may change if angry ereader customers get their way.

Wait, there's more. Today's Observer reports that certain ebook publishers, such as the one named after legendary female warriors, seek to limit the amount and type of annotations one can make on e-texts, and reserve the right to withdraw the book you've bought. We are free to read and buy books - why would we submit to this form of censorship, I wonder? I feel a new post coming on.....

Meanwhile the publishers must do whatever they can to scare up some sales. The recent Penguin edition of H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Other Tales boasts a 3D cover and comes with free glasses to see it with.

Fearful symmetry.

What's new in the publishing world?  Have you come across any curious gimmicks or in-store displays - or republished books packaged anew? Post a comment.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Spirituality and Dementia

The Centre for Bible & Spirituality

Research Seminar:
Spirituality and Dementia

Rev. Rob Merchant

Thursday 15 March
Francis Close Hall HC204
5:30 - 7:00

Everyone is welcome

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir by Claude Lanzmann

Claude Lanzmann publishes A Patagonian Hare: a Memoir later this month. Lanzmann is a filmaker, writer, existentialist thinker, French resistance fighter in WWII, traveller, editor of Le Temps Moderne, founded by his friend Jean-Paul Sartre. His greatest achievement is still his film Shoah (1985) that records the witnesses - many now dead - of the Shoah [Holocaust]. Simone de Beauvoir remarked that she could not have imagined 'such a combination of horror and beauty' as in this remarkable film. At over nine and a half hours, this film requires much of us. It is our duty and privilege - in Hebrew, a mitzvah - to watch it. Lanzmann filmed it over the course of eleven years, using no archive footage, no visual record of atrocity. The scenes are filmed in the beautiful Polish countryside. We follow the rusting railway tracks into the forests.

Read the Observer interview with Lanzmann, 4/3/12.

Friday, 2 March 2012

'Divine Glory Danced': A lecture by Professor Melissa Raphael

The Severn Forum

Tuesday 6 March
Professor Melissa Raphael
Professor of Jewish Theology, University of Gloucestershire and the Hussey Lecturer for The Church and The Arts, University of Oxford.

Main Lecture Theatre (TC 014), The Park Campus,
University of Gloucestershire 

Divine Glory Danced: Jewish history and the theological imagination

Developing ideas from her book, Judaism and the Visual Image: a Jewish theology of art (2009), Professor Raphael’s illustrated lecture will show how Jewish revelation is more incarnational in character than is usually supposed, both by Christians and Jews alike.

Free to students and Severn Forum members.  Otherwise £3

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Dave Webster considers non-religious spirituality

University of Gloucestershire
Centre for the Bible & Spirituality

Dispirited: Does Contemporary Spirituality Make Us Stupid, Selfish & Unhappy?

Dr David Webster

(University of Gloucestershire)

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Francis Close Hall TC007

5:30 - 7:00

Everyone is welcome

The envelope, please

And the winner of Hatchet Job of the Year is Adam Mars-Jones for his review of Michael Cunningham's novel By Nightfall. 


Friday, 13 January 2012

Your book stinks

Reading a bad review is one of life's smaller and meaner pleasures. But when they aren't wholly destructive, bad reviews offer wit and critical rigour. On Tuesday, the shortlist for the Hatchet Job of the Year Award was announced. the prize aims to restore professional criticism to its central place in literary culture. The reputation of criticism has been damaged by the all-purpose insta-criticism and subjective droolings that Amazon and social networking sites have encouraged. Even professional writers may be seduced by the promise of impunity.

A bad review can goad a writer to greater things. After Byron's first volume of poetry Hours of Idleness (1807) was trashed by the Edinburgh Review, the poet got his own back with English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. He went for the famous (Wordsworth, Scott, Moore) and those at the bottom of the pile  ('neglected genius'). Robert Southey was honoured thus:

    Oh! Southey! Southey! cease thy varied song!
    A bard may chant too often and too long:
    As though art strong in verse, in mercy, spare!
    A fourth, alas! were more than we could bear,
    But if in spite of all the world can say,
    Thou still wilt verseward plod thy weary way;
    If still in Berkely ballads most uncivil,
    Thou wilt devote old women to the devil,
    The babe unborn thy dread intent may rue:
    'God help thee,' Southey, and thy readers too.  (ll. 225-34)

Do you know of any really memorable bad reviews? Share them here.

Mark Vernon lecture at the University of Gloucestershire

The Centre for Bible & Spirituality
seminar series 2011-12

'What has philosophy got to do with religion?'

A lecture by Mark Vernon

Mark Vernon is an author and journalist known for his work on religion, friendship, wellbeing, philosophy and spirituality. Learn more about him.

Wednesday 18th January
Francis Close Hall TC007
5:30 - 7:00
Everyone welcome

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A great new resource

The University Library now offers access to many scholarly journals through JSTOR. This is a fantastic resource for students and researchers. Details here or at the Library at Francis Close Hall blog link on the right.