Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dr Aidan Byrne's masterclass on The Mabinogi, nation, and rewriting myth

Last week, it was a real pleasure to welcome a guest speaker to HM43021 Fundamentals: Myth and Drama. Dr Aidan Byrne, Senior Lecturer in English and Media at the University of Wolverhampton, held a session on rewriting The Mabinogi (read on), the cultural endurance of national myth, and how our need for mythic stories remains undiminished. Having read The Mabinogion for the previous week’s class (in English translation, of course) students considered Gwyneth Lewis’s contemporary version of the Fourth Branch, The Meat Tree (Seren, 2010), in which Lleu, Gronw and Bloddeuwedd play out their destinies as a virtual reality game. Campion, the wanderer, has to experience childbirth, and Nona, male sexual experience. Lewis’s version, like the medieval tales, experiments with shape-shifting, gender fluidity and power roles, and it’s as open-ended, though arguably more tragic.

Why does myth endure? Post-Enlightenment texts privilege the rational and the ‘real’ – the novel is an eighteenth-century product – pushing myth to the margins (folk tale, children’s stories, local legends). Resistant minorities, such as the Welsh, returned to myth as a form of resistance to the status quo; and resistant readings emerged both in high and low culture, from the literature of the Celtic revival (of which Lady Charlotte Guest’s translation of The Mabinogi is a prime example) to fantasy and horror genres. Postmodernity has eroded our belief in the real and our stable sense of self; binary oppositions have vanished; genre has collapsed and we are prepared to embrace the uncanny. We have never needed myth as much as we do now.

Dr Aidan Byrne in HM4301 Fundamentals: Myth and Drama on 11 December, lecturing without notes, to our amazement. More pictures here.

Welsh culture has often returned to The Mabinogi as a source of national identity and resistance to English dominance, but to some extent ‘Welshness’ is an English construct. Matthew Arnold theorised the ancient inhabitants of Britain and their descendants as ‘undisciplinable, anarchical, and turbulent by nature’, the opposite of the ‘steadily obedient’ but unimaginative Anglo-Saxon (‘On the Study of Celtic Literature’, 1867). Even the title The Mabinogion is an Anglicisation of the Welsh word for ‘brothers’.


Alan Garner’s fine novel The Owl Service (1967) revisits The Mabinogi’s world, and Aidan played a clip from the 1969 ITV production. He concluded his session by discussing recent publishing ventures by Cannongate and Seren. Cannongate commissioned writers such as Margaret Atwood, Jeannette Winterson, Philip Pullman and A.S Byatt to create short novels based on Bible stories, Greek and Norse myths. Seren launched New Stories from the Mabinogion with contributions from Welsh writers such as Gwyneth Lewis and the remarkable Niall Griffiths.

In her introduction to The Meat Tree, Penny Thomas wrote that ‘some stories [...] just keep on going. Stir the pot, retell the tale and you draw out something new – there’s no right version.’ On her decision to transform The Fourth Branch into science fiction, Gwyneth Lewis remarked ‘I didn’t want to make the tale a parable about the folly of man’s tampering with nature because the life of the whole myth seemed to me to lie elsewhere. [...] Myths find a natural place [in science fiction].'

Although the material was new to them, students listened thoughtfully and contributed some really good responses to our conversation. We had some seasonal cheer to help us along (and on the subject of how capitalism works by illusion and absence, why were there no green triangles or purple caramels in our tin of Quality Street?) Aidan thanked them for the session. We thank Aidan in return for a rich and inspiring masterclass. It was a fabulous way to close the ‘myth’ side of Myth and Drama, with ideas that we’ll return to throughout the second semester, particularly in our sessions on modern drama.

Aidan also kindly made time for a couple of video interviews on subjects from Dr Who, Star Trek, the Cold War and psychogeography. Check them out on our sister blog



Monday, 15 December 2014

Professor Simon Dentith 1952-2014

Professor John Hughes remembers our friend and ex-colleague.

Former colleagues were immensely saddened to hear of the death of Simon Dentith, who was Reader then Professor of English, here from 1994 until he left to take up a Chair at Reading University in 2007. Simon had lived with his finally fatal illness for over a decade. For colleagues who did not know him, it is worth emphasising that Simon’s contribution to the development of this institution was enormous, perhaps even decisive. When he arrived in 1994, the award of University title was conditional on the kind of genuinely vital and extensive research culture that Simon, along with his great friend, Professor Peter Widdowson, rapidly established in English Literature.

Simon was impressively wide-ranging in his interests, and possessed a rare capacity for drawing together material from numerous disciplines and periods – literature, science, history, sociological and political thought, philosophy and literary theory... His reading was simply immense, as was the scope of his publications. However, for Simon intellectual life was not about displaying learning (though his recall was almost comically prodigious), but pre-eminently about employing it in the kind of vigorous and enabling debate in which he excelled. For Simon, each intervention in a seminar, or article or book (or over lunch in the cafeteria), was always part of an open-ended and collective dialogue, a view of intellectual mutuality rooted in the thinkers and writers he most admired. Perhaps above all, colleagues will remember Simon for his vitality: for the force and passion, and the outbursts of humour, and the openness and modesty, he brought to any exchange. With this in mind, if I had to say one thing to remember Simon it would be that he never sought the last word, but always the next one… 

Friday, 12 December 2014

We've posted some new videos on our other blog

Dr Aidan Byrne of the University of Wolverhampton gave a masterful guest lecture on Myth and Drama this week, as you will read shortly. In the meantime, Aidan kindly allowed us to book him for a couple of videos. Topics range from Dr Who to radical pedestrianism and literary theory. Check out our sister blog, Video Resources for English Literature at the University of Gloucestershire.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The winning essay: Poppy Crumpton, 'Is Fiction More Important than Fact?'

We are delighted to publish the winning entry in our first English Literature A level essay competition.  Poppy Crumpton is a student at Headington School. Her essay demonstrated range, confidence and rhetorical sophistication. Congratulations, Poppy.

A fact is ‘a thing that is known or proved to be true’, whereas fiction is ‘literature in the form of prose, especially novels that describe imaginary events and people’- as defined by the Oxford dictionary. With these definitions one could conclude, as Mr.Thomas Gradgrind does in the quote above, that as facts are by definition true, they are right and therefore should have more emphasis put on them than fiction. Despite this, even within this speech Gradgrind says ‘Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’ Dickens’s ironic use of metaphor within a speech about facts helps to depict the notion that fiction and metaphor show truth, as much as facts and are accordingly, as, if not more important than facts. I will explore ways in which literature depicts truth, and how as a result fiction proves to be more important than fact. Other ways in which I will show that fiction is more important than fact will be to show its value in promoting the imagination and its use of escapism.  Literature types that I will focus on are: satire, social commentaries allegories, dystopian novels and etiological proverbs and fables.  

Thomas More’s Utopia, a sixteenth century criticism of European society that also includes many satirical asides, is a good example of how fiction can reveal truths about society, which is more important than the facts of the time. More questions the societal values of the time by inventing  an island that has opposing values, for example in Utopia children wear jewels, and give them up when they are mature- the opposite of society at the time in which you would earn money and get jewels when you’re ‘mature’. The contradiction shows how infantile the want of extravagant things to aggrandize your status in society is. A further example of More’s controversial statements of society is the significant modernization of a welfare state and ruling officials being promoted on a meritocracy, which contradicts the divine right to rule of the king and the lack of socialism in the country at the time. However, his naming of the place as a “utopia’ may be More claiming the perfect society he envisions is impossible because the etymology of the word come the Greek meaning ‘no-place-land’. Either way he importantly explores the decisions of the government and whether his improvements on society are good or bad cannot be distilled into facts. Additionally, in dystopian fiction works such as the recent bestseller The Hunger Games our society is explored by the exact opposite of the pleasant society that More creates. Collins creates a horrific society where people in the districts supply the capitol with primary goods, and then they give them back very little, as they starve; this directly reflects our own society where the core of North America and Europe exploit the periphery of West Africa and South America for its own gains. In this way More and Collins very similarly show that fiction can help us to question our own belief system, more than fact can- as countless facts have been given to society about how corrupt it is and yet the emotive portrayal of Katniss has led to a recent questioning of capitalism.

Similarly, social commentaries question society more directly as they don’t create a fictional world, but fictional events within the society of the time. Examples of social commentaries are David Copperfield and To Kill a Mockingbird. David Copperfield contrasts the so called ‘better’ upper class with the ‘less humane’ lower class, as Emily says to young David Copperfield ‘your father was a gentleman and your mother is a lady; and my father was a fisherman and my mother was a fisherman’s daughter, and my uncle Dan is a fisherman’ – the word ‘gentlemen’ connotes a better an than a ‘fisherman’ but later on in the novel Steerforth, a ‘gentleman’, takes advantage of Emily and they run away together leaving Emily in disgrace and Steerforth with no reprimand. Yet, Ham a ‘fisherman’ who was engaged to Emily at the time of her discrepancy, dies trying to save Steerforth showing a much greater moral integrity and gentleness. This ironic contrast of the two classes again shows the importance of fiction, as facts about both classes would have shown the better hygiene of the upper class leading one to believe perhaps that they were more humane however Dickens depicts the opposite. Correspondingly, Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird contrasts Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell in the first of the two climaxes of the novel. Ewell is described in the beginning of the novel as ‘the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations’ likewise Tom Robinson’s death is described as ‘typical of nigger’s mentality to have no plan’, showing they are held in equal contempt by society and yet Tom Robinson ‘was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.’. The questioning of prejudice is seen throughout the novel, but the theme of empathy is seen even more so because after at the trial when Bob Ewell assures the death of Tom, Atticus empathizes with him saying ‘I destroyed his last shred of credibility’ and Scout in retrospect says that he was born a Ewell, and therefore didn’t know any better. This again shows the importance of fiction because the facts would tell you, according to the court, Tom Robinson was guilty or even if you took the truth of Bob Ewell being guilty, you would fail to empathize with both of their situations and the fiction helped to depict this making it more important than the facts.

Fiction is also more important than fact because within fiction you can discuss morality, whereas facts cannot cover this because the question of good or evil cannot be verified. The medieval play Everyman, although not a work of fiction, does display fictitious events and uses allegorical characters to examine the question of whether you should go to heaven or hell. Everyman represents all of mankind and his anonymity allows the question to be directed toward the audience, as they realize that the characters of Goods, Knowledge and Fellowship (each abstract ideas personified into characters that Everyman summons in order to prove his worth to go to heaven) he realizes that he has not been a good person. This discussion of good versus evil cannot be valued in facts, Everyman realizes that he is alone in death and cannot take earthly goods with him. Accordingly, Harry Potter faces similar questions of good and evil in the Philosophers Stone. At the climax of the novel Professor Quirrell says ‘There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it’. This shows a very similar character to everyman someone who justifies the actions he makes, by saying that they make him more powerful but as Death says to Everyman ‘Drowned in sin, they know me not for their God;/ In worldly riches is all their mind,’, so the riches are what both Quirrell and Everyman seek but as he finds out at the end and as Harry shows the only thing you’re left with is good deeds like holding onto the Philosophers Stone and staying true to your parents. Harry Potter also shows another essential part of fiction which is escapism, this is important in using your imagination and relieving stress from people’s everyday lives. Society evidently values this because millions of books are sold every year for this reason; other escapist fantasy books include The Hobbit and Game of Thrones.

To conclude, fiction is more important than fact because it shows the truth in allegorical situations, it shows empathy, it encourages people to use their imagination (which even Einstein said was a truer sign of intelligence than knowledge), it can discuss questions that don’t have definitive answers like morality, it provides escapism and finally in stories such as Aesop’s fables it can teach us lessons. To counter my arguments many would say, as Gradgrind would initially argue, that fiction is essentially lies and therefore cannot be more important than the truth of facts, and that fiction manipulates truth. However, I would argue that in modern society the line between fact and fiction is drawing ever closer as spin doctors manipulate facts for propaganda, previously accepted facts change because of scientific discovery and religion is some people’s fact and others fiction. Only through imagination can new discoveries and inventions be made. Also through fiction we can explore moral dilemmas facing our generation such as getting involved in uprisings in the Arab world.  I think the answer to the question is best summarized in the dedication of IT by Stephen King in which he says ‘Fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists’.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Announcing the Winners of English Literature A level Competition

We are delighted to announce the winners of our first English Literature Essay competition for A level and sixth-form students. There were some strong entries and it was hard to choose the winners, but here they are:
First prize of an iPad: Poppy Crumpton (Headington School) for her essay on ‘Is fiction better than fact?’

Four writers receive a £20 book token each: 

Ella Shelvey (Tendring Technology College) for her essay on ‘The Book in the Bottle’

Alex Matraxia (Mill Hill School) for her essay on ‘The Book in the Bottle’

Catriona Cayley (Headington School Oxford) on ‘The Book in the Bottle’

Ian James Simpson (The Bishop Wand C of E School) for his essay on ‘Is fiction better than fact?’
Congratulations to Poppy, Ella, Alex, Catriona and Ian. And a special thanks to everyone who took the time to enter the competition.
Poppy's essay will be published on the blog shortly.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

PD James (1920-2014)

PD James, one of Britain’s most prominent and respected crime writers, passed away on November 27 aged 94. Her novels have deservedly enjoyed much success and critical recognition. Bridging the gap between genre fiction and literary fiction, PD James' work illustrates the nuance and complexity of crime fiction at its best.

Referring to PD James as the ‘Queen of Crime’ Marilyn Stasio wrote in her obituary for The New York Times that: ‘Many critics and many of her peers have said that by virtue of the complexity of her plots, the psychological density of her characters and the moral context in which she viewed criminal violence, Ms. James even surpassed her classic models and elevated the literary status of the modern detective novel.’  Fellow crime writer Val McDermid remembers her long-standing friendship with PD James in her recent tribute in the newspaper The Guardian. McDermid lists PD James among a group of writers which transformed crime fiction in Britain in the contemporary era. She states that, ‘Four writers of her generation reshaped the way we experience the English crime novel – PD James, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill and Colin Dexter.’

One book which gave me invaluable insight into PD James’ writing and personal story is her Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography. I contributed a chapter to a critical volume, edited by Dr Christiana Gregoriou, called Constructing Crime: Discourse and Cultural Representations of Crime and 'Deviance' (Palgrave, 2012). In my chapter I explore three crime authors’ intellectual, political, and aesthetic engagement with discourses of gender and crime through the prism of life writing. My chapter is called: ‘A Life of Crime: Feminist Crime/Life Writing in Sara Paretsky, Writing in an Age of Silence, P.D. James, Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography, and Val McDermid, A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes’.  Researching this essay gave me fresh insight into the complex interrelationship between crime writers’ personal experience and their fiction. 

Students on my second-year Crime Fiction module have not been slow to realise the importance and impact of genre fiction and PD James’ place within it.  Nor has the literary merit and worth of her oeuvre escaped their notice. On my Crime Fiction module, we have studied PD James’ iconic novel from 1972 featuring a female detective character, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. This year, to mark PD James’ passing, we shall be studying another of her novels. This will provide a welcome opportunity for a new cohort of students and avid crime fiction readers to explore her oeuvre.

Having written about PD James in the past, I am still discovering treasures in her extensive body of work which I would like to examine and unpack in the future. Her books will continue to fascinate new generations of readers and capture their imaginations.

© Dr Charlotte Beyer

Friday, 28 November 2014

English Literature at the movies

The Roses Theatre Tewkesbury has for many years run a varied film programme, and is one of Gloucestershire's top venues for independent, art house and world cinema. This winter, supported by funding from the British Film Institute, a series of guest presenters, including University of Gloucestershire academics, will accompany film screenings and lead Q & A sessions with audiences afterwards.

Dr Hilary Weeks will be speaking at the screening of of Effie Gray (2014, dir. Richard Laxton, certificate 12A) on Monday 1 December at 7:30pm. Dr Debby Thacker will introduce Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete (1946, certificate PG) on Sunday 7 December at 7:00pm and that seasonal favourite It's a Wonderful Life (1946, dir. Frank Capra, certificate U) on Friday 19 December at 2:00pm.  Do please join us for movies and conversation this December.

More details at the Roses Theatre page.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Luke Williams, third year English Literature student, whose dissertation explores revenge tragedy, reviews 'The White Devil'.

The current RSC production of John Webster’s The White Devil is something to behold. Maria Aberg’s dramatic reimagining of this classic revenge tragedy really brings the text to life.

By modernising the setting and costume of the play, the decadence of a seventeenth-century Jacobean court was wonderfully captured through its night club atmosphere. Furthermore, the metatheatrical feel of the production brought certain aspects of the play to the fore. The fact that Vittoria’s costume changes were often performed in front of the audience gave the events that followed a certain sense of inevitability, particularly in the last act. Alongside this, the almost Brechtian projections and glass enclosed space to perform plays within the play added a gloriously modern feel to Webster’s classic.

Flaminio, RSC Stratford

Other innovations however I was more sceptical of. Vittoria’s brother Flaminio was made into her sister, played by the wonderful Laura Elphinstone (pictured above). Whilst the part was played well, I did feel that often I was being forced to think of the gender issues in the play at the mercy of other equally important themes such as the role of justice in a corrupt society.

Although, having said that, when Flaminio uttered such misogynies as ‘Women are like cursed dogs, civility keeps them tied all daytime, but they are let loose at midnight; then they do most good or most mischief’, which would be awful enough if spoken by a male, seemed even more intentionally abhorrent coming from a female mouth.
Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable production and well worth seeing. I look forward to comparing this with John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore when I see it in December at the Sam Wannamaker theatre in London.

Luke Williams at RSC, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Dr Rebecca Bailey reflects on a memorable performance of John Webster's 'The White Devil' at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Nicola, Sam, Beth and Jemma at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, November 2014.

English Literature Students and staff from across the Humanities enjoyed a gripping performance of John Webster's 'The White Devil' at the RSC Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon Avon this week. Webster's revenge tragedy swirls with multiple plots of betrayal and revenge to brilliantly interrogate the corruption of power, the tyranny of church and state, and the perilous position of women within early modern society.

Flaminio, The White Devil, RSC

The performance bristled with an electrifying energy, from the debauched dancing of the opening scene, to the pistol shots of the play's climax, and the chilling laugh of the young Duke Giovanni as he callously kicked the pile of dead bodies which quite literally littered the stage in the play’s closing moments. Kirsty Bushell offers a commanding performance as Vittoria Corombona – sensual yet defiant, witty yet vulnerable – which proves an admirable foil to the powerful Cardinal Monticelso, whose ruthless menace is consummately executed by David Rintoul.

Vittoria, the 'White Devil', RSC

Questions remain as to whether the daring transformation of Flaminio (played brilliantly by Laura Elphinstone) from Vittoria's brother to her sister works - it certainly has fascinating implications for the text as a whole. No doubt we will be discussing this on HM5302: Renaissance, Revolution, Restoration when we explore the text in seminar next semester.

Laura, Abigail and Natalie at RSC.

Personally, I thought this was a fantastic evening, reminding me of the compelling power of theatre to seize the imagination and probe the darker side of society with a ferocious intensity. It was a delight to hear the energetic student conversations about the performance on the coach home. And I'm already thinking about organising a return trip to Stratford in the spring -although, next time, perhaps a comedy! Watch this space ...

For more pictures, go to our Flickr gallery.

Chloe, Hannah, and Luke at the RSC.

Watching The White Devil at the Swan Theatre: Cheri, Josie, Kris, and Niall.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Come to our Open Day at FCH on Saturday 22 November

If you are thinking about studying for a degree in English Literature, please visit us at the Francis Hall Close campus this Saturday 22 November. You'll meet tutors and students from English Literature and other Humanities courses and learn what it's like to study with us. We can also guide you through those very important questions about accommodation, funding, and support.  To find out more, please click here.  Take a look at our English Literature Course map to see the modules we offer currently.

We can't promise sunshine, but who cares?  We look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination at the British Library

Last week the British Library launched a major exhibition of British Gothic literature and art. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination traces the literary cult from the first Gothic novel written in English, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) to the present. The Gothic mode accompanied antiquarian interest in medieval culture and architecture, and Walpole built a fantasy house at Strawberry Hill in which to contemplate a romantic past. The mode also created a fascination with dark and supernatural forces, or at least the pleasure of being safely scared. Jane Austen satirised these immature fantasies in Northanger Abbey by listing the trashy novels that Isabella Thorne plans to read: ‘Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries’ (chapter 6). It is great fun to see all these books on display in the exhibition.

 Strawberry Hill

In the nineteenth century, Romantic writers understood Gothic’s power to disturb and, drawing on Burke’s theory of the sublime, to represent the unrepresentable. The Gothic moved towards horror and shifted location from baronial castles to the streets of London. Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stephenson and Bram Stoker blended older Gothic elements of psychological states with the grotesque and the morbid. Newspaper reports of the Whitechapel murders in 1888 exploited Gothic discourses to create an atmosphere of sensational fear. In the twentieth century, films such as The Wicker Man revisited Gothic tropes of isolation, racial fear, and atavism.


John Tenniel, 'The Nemesis of Neglect', Punch (1888)

Varney the Vampire' published in a 'penny dreadful' paper (1845)

Why has Gothic persisted? Fred Botting has remarked that Gothic subverts authority and pushes the marginal and occult to the fore. ‘In Gothic times’ he writes, ‘margins may become the norm and occupy a more central cultural place.’* This is certainly true of literature and culture. But the Gothic also offers an expressive space, and it was nice to see that the exhibition chose to explore Goth subculture. Music, dress, and specially commissioned photos from this year’s Whitby Goth Weekend revealed the mixture of playfulness and seriousness that has characterised Gothic since Walpole’s novel appeared. My favourite photo showed a top-hatted ghoul eating fish and chips on the seafront.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs until 20 January 2015 at the British Library.

*Reference: Fred Botting, ‘Aftergothic: consumption, machines and black holes’ in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold Hogle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 277-300.




Monday, 3 November 2014

Writing and Walking in Ledbury

English Literature and Creative Writing students at the University of Gloucestershire were invited to an event on the theme of writing and walking that took place in Ledbury on the 25th October. Anna Stenning (PhD candidate at the University of Worcester) began by introducing some perspectives on the theme from the work of Robert Macfarlane, Linda Cracknell and Richard Mabey. Anna also brought in the poetry of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, arguing that the enjambment and phrasing of Thomas’s ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ reflected the act of walking that the poem describes. After some delicious tea and cake, poet Ruth Stacey read from her work. She described how walking is an integral part of her creative process, and discussed some of the ways in which this has affected her poetry. Jenny Hope then read poems from her collection Petrolhead, as well as some new work. Her poetry brought myth and metaphor to bear on subjects that ranged from the wind to a local rook cull. Anna concluded the event by leading a walk out through the cobbled streets of Ledbury and into the nearby Frith Wood.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Degree Plus Internship: Editing a Renaissance Play

I'm delighted to announce that three students have just begun their Degree Plus Internship: 'Editing a Renaissance Play for a Twenty-First-Century Audience'.

The successful candidates are Hannah Lickiss, a final year English Literature student; Abigail Penny, a second year English Literature and Creative Writing student; and Chloe Phillips, a final year English Literature and English Language student.

Our student editors have just finished reading James Shirley's The Young Admiral in the original 1637 quarto edition (see below).

Now, they are absorbing the complex set of editorial guidelines which are used by scholars who are working on the Complete Works of James Shirley, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2016.
The next step will be to transform their chosen scene into a modern textual edition, aimed at the intelligent undergraduate, and underpinned by best-practice editing principles. 

By the end of this internship our editors will have a unique glimpse into the world of textual editing.
So, do look out for their posts over the next few months as they have promised to report on their editing odyssey!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Black History Month, Part Three.

In my previous blog post on Black History Month, I discussed teaching black British and postcolonial literature, and using this as an opportunity to explore elements of black histories in Britain and globally.  I also suggested that ‘texts studied such as the slave narrative connect in very specific ways to topics treated during Black History Month.’   Let us look a little further into this idea.  

We examine black British and postcolonial experiences on other modules that I teach, as part of our exploration of the multiplicity of literature and identity. On my third-year module, HM6308 ‘Make It New’, which examines 20TH and 21ST Century British Literature, we study a 2003 novel written by the Scottish author James Robertson, called Joseph Knight. This novel treats the topic of slavery and Scotland’s historical role in imperialism and slavery in the Caribbean. Joseph Knight is based on the real historical figure, the slave Joseph Knight  - see The Woyingi Blog,  

For more detail on Robertson’s novel, read the Guardian review of Robertson’s novel, written by this year’s Booker Prize nominee, the author Ali Smith:  She argues that:  ‘Robertson handles the mystery of who Joseph Knight really is with a subtle panache. Knight's presence and absence are both melancholy sorts of escape; and the novel is full of people hopelessly enslaved: slaves, colliers, spinners, women - and, more than anybody, the imperialists themselves.’  

The section called ‘History of Slavery’ on the Black History Month website also contains information about slavery which provides an interesting context to novels such as Robertson's.  Here, it states that: ‘Scots proudly played their part in the abolition of the trade. But for a time we misted over our role as perpetrators of this barbarism. Many of Scottish industries, schools and churches were founded from the profits of African slavery.’ 

These questions of race and narration deepen our study of literature, and further our understanding of its resonances and relevance during black History month and beyond.

© Dr Charlotte Beyer

Friday, 24 October 2014

Come and meet us at the Open Day, Saturday 25 October

Do please come and visit us on Saturday 25 October at Francis Close Hall. All the details, and how to book a place, are here:; but a booking's not necessary - just bring yourselves along. Share a coffee and chocolate chip cookie with us and find out what it's like to immerse yourself in English Literature in Cheltenham.

Gather in the Chapel....

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Chloe Phillips reviews 'She Stoops to Conquer' from a student perspective.

Northern Broadsides is a company I had not come across before. However I was completely won over by their performance of She Stoops to Conquer. I thought this was a really successful staging of this fun loving, comic masterpiece just as Oliver Goldsmith originally intended.

The over-dramatization of the characters, especially the animal print costumes and the use of a transvestite maid, shows the brilliant silliness that cannot simply be portrayed through the text alone. The multiple characterisations of the actors, such as the shy yet blundering Marlow who somehow manages by the end of the play to have engaged himself to Kate Hardcastle was really effective.
Likewise, Kate’s effortless transformation from the well educated daughter of Squire Hardcastle to the lower class barmaid clearly and comically accomplished laugh-out-loud moments from the audience: just the sort of ‘laughing comedy’ which Goldsmith was attempting to achieve.
The traditional characters of the fool, the hero and heroine, the mother and the characters of the sub plots were kept and played to perfection - especially Tony Lumpkin (pictured) who stole the show for most of the students!
Now I'm looking forward to 'The White Devil' at Stratford in November!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Laurie Lee celebrated at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

The University of Gloucestershire sponsored lots of Festival events this year. One event in particular goes back a long way for us. The School of Humanities sponsors the annual Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture, which in the past has been given by Paula Byrne and Robert Macfarlane. This year, instead of a formal lecture, three poets gathered for a special celebration of Laurie Lee's life and work, introduced by Professor Shelley Saguaro. The poets P.J.Kavanagh and Brian Patten knew Lee personally and shared their memories of the poet, Patten reading out part of a moving memoir. Nature writer Tim Dee talked about Lee's influence on his work as a writer, photographer, birdwatcher and, in a sense, memorialist of landscape (read Kathleen Jamie's review of Dee's work here.)

Laurie Lee is a writer we claim as our own, and we've celebrated the centenary of his birth in many ways. Poet and Creative Writing Lecturer Angela France, who knew Laurie Lee in his final years, hosted an evening of Lee's poetry at the prestigious Cheltenham Poetry Festival in March (and here); Angela was also on the panel of judges for the Literature Festival's Schools' Creative Writing Competition , in which Cider with Rosie made an appearance.

Photos & Links: Chelt Fest 2014:
Angela France photo courtesy of Western Daily Press.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Dr Rebecca Bailey reports on a very lively theatre trip to see 'She Stoops to Conquer' at Cheltenham Everyman Theatre.

Theatre enthusiasts from across the English course enjoyed a wonderful evening at the Cheltenham Everyman last week when Northern Broadsides gave a sparkling performance of Oliver Goldsmith's exuberant comedy, 'She Stoops to Conquer'.  

Tony Lumpkin, played by Jon Trenchard, stole the show with an irrepressible eighteenth-century zaniness - creating the outrageous 'mistakes of the night' before deftly offering resolution. The costumes were fabulous, embodied by Mrs Hardcastle's wild orange wig and ludicrous leopard print Georgian gown, which perfectly matched Gilly Tomkin's brilliant portrayal of an outlandish, overly-protective mother. Equally impressive were the musical interludes which deftly enhanced the performance and added to the jollity of the occasion. 

Many thanks to Sally-ann Rhodes at the Everyman for being so patient and helpful in arranging this event which whetted the theatrical appetites of over twenty five students. Personally, I think this is quite possibly one of the best performances we have seen at the Everyman. 

Undoubtedly, it's a huge boon for an English Literature department to have such excellent live theatre right on our doorstep. I am sure that this performance of She Stoops to Conquer will prove central to our discussion of this text, next semester, on HM5305: Staging the Cultural Moment.

Student Writing Competition: Commemorating the Great War

An announcement from the Chaplaincy.

To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War, and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, The University of Gloucestershire is holding a special competition.

We would like you to produce a poem, short story, illustration, painting or piece of digital media which you feel perfectly encapsulates the importance of this joint anniversary.

All submissions will be displayed in the chapel at FCH from 11th November 2014.

The same day we will be hosting a Remembrance Day concert from 5.30pm at the chapel.

A prize will be awarded for the winning entry.

Please send your entries to:

Rev. Bruce Goodwin, Chapel, FCH Campus

Or email them to:



Monday, 13 October 2014

Black History Month, Part Two

I ended my last post on Black History Month by suggesting that this annual event represents, ‘a call for us to engage with the diversity of 21st Century British culture, and to recognise the past contributions made by blacks and diasporic groups to the history of our country.’

On the second-year module HM5304 ‘After Windrush’ which I devised and also teach, we explore a range of post-1945 Caribbean, black British and postcolonial literary works. We make links to the legacies of slavery through the literature that we study on the module. We also investigate other historical and cultural issues such as migration, education, sexuality, politics, and depictions of childhood. 

One of the Black History Month events in Cheltenham next week - the screening of the recent acclaimed film ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ - resonates with the material on slavery that we are studying.  Reading Fred D’Aguiar’s novel The Longest Memory as part of the module syllabus gives us an insight into the history of slavery and its present-day depiction. On HM5301, the 19th Century American literature module, we also study the slave narrative. 

Watching ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ will contribute to our understanding of how contemporary artists and authors portray black histories and traumas such as slavery. Texts that we study, such as the slave narrative, resonate and connect in very specific ways with topics treated during Black History Month. 

See the section called ‘History of Slavery’ on the Black History Month website for information about slavery.

© Dr Charlotte Beyer

Friday, 10 October 2014

Brave New Worlds at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

'Brave New Worlds' is one of several structuring themes of Cheltenham Festival 2014.  Readers and writers explore how 'new' worlds are projected and represented, with topics ranging from digital technology, democracy, futures, nature, the environment and architecture to dystopian writing. There's even a little 'new world' garden in Imperial Square.

Aldous Huxley's futurist novel Brave New World still has the power to shock and unsettle. His most recent biographer, Nicholas Murray, spoke to a capacity crowd in the Salon this morning at a university-sponsored event, introduced by Professor Shelley Saguaro.  Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual was published in 2002, reissued this year, and has never gone out of print; Nicholas Murray used the occasion to reconsider Huxley's ideas in a twenty-first century context. He revealed Huxley as a thoroughly Victorian intellectual in some ways, who inherited his grandfather Thomas Huxley's liberal and scientific thinking.  More personal details were just as interesting, though. I hadn't realised how bad Huxley's eyesight was (an eye infection picked up at school almost blinded him) and I wondered whether it might have contributed to Brave New World's strangely compressed visuality. Perhaps I should have asked Nicholas Murray, but the other questions were less niche.

Afterwards it was time for me to head for the Town Hall Drawing Room and a workshop on dystopian writing. About seventy students ranging from year 10 to A/AS level joined me for a really good discussion about utopian/dystopian literature, satire, and science-fiction - a very wide-ranging session indeed. One student had asked Nicholas Murray a very probing question about gender, and we agreed that the novel remains non-committal, oblivious almost, of gender's ideological force.

What a great day. And Benjamin Zephaniah was in the green room.

Photo: Dr Debby Thacker

Thursday, 9 October 2014

From the Festival: Bethany Norris interviews a Festival organiser

Beth Norris, a second-year English Literature student, reports from the Festival.

Madeline Toy is a freelance publicist who lives in Bristol and who also is part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival programming team. I was asked to interview her at the festival and upon looking her up her LinkedIn profile was very impressive, boasting a degree, a masters degree and important publishing houses that she had worked at.

It was interesting to speak to Madeline about her different experiences as a publicist. She had previously done a degree and then a postgraduate degree in publishing. When I asked her about how she got into her current position she couldn't put enough emphasis on how important it was for her to do work experience in her chosen field.

She also brought up an interesting point on how the world of publishing is changing now with e-books and how social media effects her job. It's the kind of thing that you don't necessarily think of effecting the industry but it does actually bring good and bad points to the table. For example it's good that social media can reach fans instantly and offer a more personal touch, but at the same time it means there's a lot more competition.

Another thing that I found intriguing was that Madeline said that the benefits of being freelance meant that she could be her own boss and move away from London. She admitted a lot of publicist jobs are in London and that someone starting out should probably look there, but she didn't want to stay there and when she became freelance it allowed her to move away. It's the kind of lifestyle question that are often not thought of until later on in a career. It was good to get a perspective of someone who has been in the industry for over eight years.

Overall I think talking to Madeline has made me realise how important it is to make sure that your reputation is known if you want to get into a competitive line of work. Work experience, social media as well as education can all contribute to a professional reputation.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

English Literature team scores at the Cheltenham Festival Literary Quiz


The Spiegeltent.

Professor Shelley Saguaro, Head of School, and Dr Debby Thacker, Subject Group Leader for Literary & Critical Studies took part in the Festival Literary Quiz, as invited guests of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, on Tuesday night in the Spiegeltent. The question-master was James Walton, who sets the BBC Radio 4 programme The Write Stuff.  We were on a team with two avid Festival-goers and we came third out of 21 teams. For a long time, we were running a close second to the winning Sunday Times Literary editorial team, and if we had remembered the existence of Stieg Larsson, and that Anne of Green Gables was called Anne Shirley, or that Birdsong was, indeed, written in the 1990s, we would have licked them.  The last round, in which any wrong answer would have lost us all of the points for the whole round, made us extremely cautious.  We did know that Edgar Allen Poe was one of the authors on the Sgt Pepper album, but even the Sunday Times team did not risk putting the answer ‘Dupin’, as the name of Edgar Allen Poe’s detective, that late in the evening.

Can you put, in order, the deaths of PG Wodehouse, Noel Coward and John Betjeman?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Black History Month, part one

Every year in October we celebrate Black History Month. The Black History Month website, on, gives the details of all the different initiatives which form part of Black History Month here in Britain.  For more background on Black History Month and how it came into existence, read Professor Neil Wynn’s excellent piece over on the History blog: Black History Month promotes a number of projects and events which raise awareness of - and celebrate - the contributions that black and Caribbean communities have made to British society and culture. Problems such as racism, discrimination and cultural marginalisation which blacks still encounter are also examined. In Cheltenham we also now have a series of events to celebrate Black History Month, ranging from film and music to interesting guest speakers.  Details of the events on this leaflet can be found here: This is the first time that Cheltenham has its own Black History Month events.  It is a timely acknowledgement of the significance of Black History Month:  a call for us to engage with the diversity of 21st Century British culture, and to recognise the past contributions made by blacks and diasporic groups to the history of the country.

© Dr Charlotte Beyer

Friday, 3 October 2014

Cheltenham Literature Festival has begun

Cheltenham Literature Festival, last year. Will it look even better tonight?
We've been planning for the Festival for a long time. Our students are there, interviewing people and tweeting the latest action.  Please follow us on @EnglishLitGlos, and please send us your Festival pictures.

Will Self is on.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Take a trip around the fabulous Everyman Theatre next Wednesday!

During Activity Week, on October 8 we are going to have a guided tour around the fabulous Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. For an hour, you’ll have a VIP view behind the scenes of one of the country’s oldest rep theatres. You’ll be taken around the theatre, backstage, under the stage, above the stage; see the costumes and props, and find out about the theatre’s history (and current  productions).

If you are going to the performance of She Stoops to Conquer on the evening of Thursday 9 October, this tour around the Everyman is an absolute must.  And it’s on us – there’s no charge.

The tour runs on Wednesday 8 October from 2:00 – 3:00pm. We’ll gather in front of the CEAL building at 1:30 and walk over. Please email me on if you want to go.