History Today article by Kate Macdonald

Last week I had an article published in the monthly history magazine, History Today, on some research that I’d done on a peculiar play that I found in a 1917 magazine called The Strand. The play contains the first cyborg in Anglophone literature, and sends an anti-war message, so it’s important for science fiction, for First World War studies, and for the literary history of periodicals. I presented the research at a conference last summer, and the response from the panel when we did an impromptu play-reading, cyborg voice and all, was so good, I thought, this is wasted on a scholarly journal.

Obviously I’ve written up the research for a journal as well, and – fingers crossed –  it’s been accepted, but I really wanted to get this story out to the public. Science fiction is an easy subject to pitch to a mainstream magazine, even one sold in W H Smith, and the First World War is very topical right now, as you’ll have noticed. What was more challenging was getting the illustrations right.

History Today said yes immediately to the article, with barely any revisions, so I didn’t have to source new images to add to those I’d already supplied. I originally sent them a selection of seven: two graphs from my data (to show them the article was based on fact, rather than supposition), and five images taken from Google Images and a website whose owner had already given me permission to use his high-resolution images. I didn’t expect the graphs to be used, and they weren’t.

Kate Macdonald blog post blood and iron

The Google Images were the first problem, as they weren’t from the Creative Commons pages, and thus their copyright was uncertain. One was a standard image of the three wartime Emperors: George, Nicholas and Wilhelm, so that could be resourced from a legitimate source. The two covers of contemporary publications were deemed to be safe for copyright, but their resolution was problematic. They looked pretty clear to me, but, apparently, for magazine publication a better camera was needed to photograph the covers again. Since one of the publications only exists as a couple of copies in the National Library of Congress, I declined this task, and cunningly threw it back in the lap of the History Today art editor. From my publishing background I know full well that art editors routinely ask authors for the moon and stars so they can choose one to use at their leisure. Faced with having to do the picture research herself, the art editor decided, pragmatically, to make do with the images I’d already supplied.

The website images were at a high enough resolution but it occurred to me in a 3am moment that I had no idea if their copyright was free. Both were of the two illustrations to the play, by Stephen Spurrier. When had this artist died? On checking, next morning, I found that his work was still within the 70-year rule, and thus I had to find his estate and apply for permission to use the images. Spurrier was a well-known war artist, and, after a little light Googling, I found that some of his paintings had been exhibited several years ago by a London art gallery who seemed to be acting as agents for his work. This was a remarkably convenient short-cut, so after three phone calls to the lackadaisical gallery owner, I eventually received his email assuring me that Spurrier’s son was happy for the images to be used, with no payment required.

The History Today art editor was mildly interested in my triumph of detection, but she had found a new problem: how to illustrate modern cyborgs to catch the casual reader’s eye? I argued forcefully for the inclusion of the Bionic Woman as well as the Six Million Dollar Man, and insisted in Imperator Furiosa as well as The Terminator, because Arnie, though instantly recognisable as a genre as well as a character, is actually an android, not a cyborg. Gender balance was also a concern. It’s too often forgotten in illustrations, so as I had some say with this, I was going to make it happen. I scoured the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction for other screen cyborgs, but Arnie, Charlize, Lindsay Wagner and Lee Majors were deemed to be enough. The art editor did the work, and the magazine came out last week.

Kate Macdonald blog post arm



Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Universities of the Revolution in The Guardian

Professor Steven Matthews has been quoted in The Guardian online talking about an exhibition with which the department is involved:

Universities of the Revolution, Berkshire Record Office, free, 27 April until 29 July

Universities of the Revolution

Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New book announcement

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s Helen of Four Gates (1917)

Helen of Four Gates by Ethel Carnie Holdsworth

This is a new edition of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s Helen of Four Gates (1917) – her bestselling second novel, originally published under the pseudonym ‘The Ex-Mill Girl’. As Pamela Fox makes clear in her introduction, the novel marks an important intervention in women’s writing, drawing on the feminist and gothic mood of both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in its portrayal of Helen, a lone female living in a remote and brutally patriarchal farmhouse nestled in the Lancashire hills. The treatment of class politics is more subtle than some of Carnie Holdsworth’s later works but is still present in the portrayal of working women’s lives, the importance of community and ‘comradely’ marriages, the discussions of migrant labour and tramping, as well as in its critical engagement with melodrama as a popular working-class form. The book was radical in its treatment of female sexuality and in its depiction of domestic abuse, and was made into a film by Cecil Hepworth in 1921.

Like much of Carnie Holdsworth’s oeuvre and despite the tens of thousands of copies that were sold, Helen of Four Gates had become rare and difficult to get hold of. The text for this new edition has been carefully copy-edited by one of our English Literature students, Cariad Williams (graduated 2015).

Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raymond Wilson Poetry Prize

University of Reading students are invited to explore their creative side by entering the annual Raymond Wilson Poetry Prize. The competition is held in memory of brilliant educationalist Raymond Wilson (1925-1995), former Emeritus Professor of Education at the University. The prize of £200 will be awarded for the best poem for children.

The competition will be judged by children in a local school and their vote carries equal weighting with that of a published children’s poet and with an academic; competition organiser, Stephanie Sharp of the IoE. This brings the perspectives of teacher, writer and young reader to bear on the judging.

The closing date for entries 10th October 2016, with the winner being announced on 9th November via the University website.

poetry competition

Raymond Wilson was an exceptional educationalist, as well as an inspired educational editor who introduced new editions of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry and Jane Austen’s novels. Wilson was also well-known as an intuitive, sensitive critic and a prolific anthologist.

Entries to the Raymond Wilson Poetry Prize may be sent to the competition administrator: Chris Tibbenham, Institute of Education, University of Reading, London Road Campus, RG1 5EX.

Queries about any aspect of the competition can be addressed to Stephanie Sharp: s.sharp@reading.ac.uk (ext 2675). Competition rules are below.

The Raymond Wilson Poetry Prize Rules:

  • Poems should be written for children.
  • Entrants may submit up to three poems with a maximum length of 40 lines for each poem.
  • Poems must be the original work of the entrant.
  • Poems should be word processed.
  • Poems are regarded as copies and cannot be returned.
  • The writer’s name should not be included with their poem(s). The poem(s) should be submitted in an envelope accompanied by a separate sealed envelope giving the author’s name, connection with the University, contact address and either the title or first line of their poem(s).


Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Professional Track newsletter

We are delighted to be able to share with you our first Professional Track newsletter.

Professional Track poster

Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More time to enjoy the Social Learning Space in HUMSS 106

From next Monday, 25th April, the Social Learning Space for students from the School of Literature and Languages, HUMSS 106, will be open until 8pm every weekday evening.

Even more time each week to enjoy learning together!



Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Leave a comment

Our alumna giving an Archives and Texts seminar

We are pleased to announce that Jessica Sage, a Reading English Literature alumna, will be delivering the final Archives and Texts seminar of the year.

Jessica Sage (Newcastle, Seven Stories) ‘Edith Morley: Writing the Female Professor’

In 1908, at what was then Reading University College, Edith Morley was appointed as the first female professor in the UK, 37 years after Harriette Cooke achieved the same distinction in the USA and 5 years before Caroline Spurgeon was appointed to the role at King’s College London.  Far from being feted as a landmark decision, Morley’s appointment was met with resistance and calls for retraction and is only now starting to become more widely known.

This paper examines the 1908 letters between Morley and William Childs the principal of Reading at the time, as well as the letters and paperwork regarding Reading’s discussion of demoting Morley in 1912 in preparation for becoming a university.  In doing so it considers the ideas at stake in naming a woman as professor for the first time and the ways in which these identities are produced as conflicting and contradictory.  It also examines Morley’s construction of her career in her memoir Looking Before and After, which was rejected by Allen & Unwin when she first wrote it and has recently been published by Two Rivers Press.  The talk focuses on selfhood and identity and the ways in which constructions of Morley as female, an academic, a writer and a colleague intersect and it considers the implications this has for our thinking about female professors then and now.


Tuesday 3rd May, 1.10-2.30pm

Humss 181

Please do come along and send this message on to others who might be interested.




Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congratulations to Dr Cindy Becker

We are pleased to announce that our colleague Dr Cindy Becker is part of a team that has been given a University Collaborative Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching and Learning 2015/16. The award was given in recognition of the work carried out on screen capture and learning as part of the GRASS project.

Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Special Collections exhibition opens

A new exhibition opened earlier this week at the Special Collections Service. It is called ‘Ex Libris: marks of ownership in rare books from the University of Reading Special Collections’, and explores the variety of different ways in which readers from the sixteenth to the twentieth century have indicated ownership of their books including bookplates, armorial bindings, inscriptions, annotations and marginalia. The exhibition is on display until 1 July 2016.

view of exhibition

In the context of the exhibition, two talks will be taking place at the Special Collections Service next term on topics relating to book ownership and provenance. All are welcome to attend. Please email merlevents@reading.ac.uk to book a place.


‘For the better Prosecution of their Studies': parochial libraries in the long eighteenth century.
Tuesday 10th May 2016, 6-7 pm

Four collections of early printed books held at the University of Reading Special Collections are labelled ‘parochial libraries’. As they vary enormously, in size as well as in the language, place and date of publication, and subject matter of the books, can they even be grouped together? In this talk, PhD student Maria Franchini will explore the nature of the parochial library. The talk will be accompanied by a display of early printed books from the parochial libraries collections.



The Social Life of Books
Thursday 2 June 2016, 1-2 pm

In this talk, which accompanies the Ex Libris exhibition, Dr. Paddy Bullard explores how books from the University of Reading collections reveal their past lives as objects of private devotion and possession, as tokens of exchange between families, lovers or friends, and as valued goods within communities or institutions. The talk will be followed by an opportunity to view the exhibition.


Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A production at The Watermill, Newbury

One of our alumnae, Lydia Massey, writes of a production in which she is involved:




Set in the high Edwardian world of 1907, The Sea is a fascinating blend of wild farce, high comedy, biting social satire and poetic tragedy.

A wild storm shakes a small East Anglian seaside village, and Willy is unable to save his friend from drowning. The raving coastguard is too drunk to do anything; Hatch the draper is passing by but he believes that hovering alien spaceships are slowly replacing people’s brains, and he refuses to help, while the grande dame Mrs Rafi, bastion of respectability, amateur theatricals and velvet curtains from Birmingham, sets her face against the chaos.

This collection of furious eccentricity, the bitter collision of class, and the fierce burning of grief sways between light-hearted comedy and desolate poetry, an examination of rural manners and humanity’s unqualified potential.

The Sea was first produced in 1973 at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Posted in Department of English Literature news and events | Tagged , , | Leave a comment