The latest publication from Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein

Professor Karín Lesnik-Oberstein has just published a new, edited, volume, for which she has also written the introduction and first chapter, and which includes contributions from a wide range of colleagues from CIRCL (The Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL)), including here at Reading Dr Sue Walsh and Dr Neil Cocks. The book, as with all CIRCL edited volumes, research and teaching, follows through the implications of considering the reading of perspectives and textuality for issues of identity, including questioning underpinning assumptions such as ‘voice’, ‘agency’, ‘affect’ and ‘the body’.

Rethinking Disability Theory and Practice: Challenging Essentialism, edited by Karín Lesnik-Oberstein (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2015).

Rethinking disability theory and practice


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Paddy Bullard looks forward to joining us

We are delighted to welcome to the department Paddy Bullard, who is one of several new colleagues joining us this Autumn.


Paddy writes:

Enlightenment-period literature and the history of the book are the two great enthusiasms of my professional life, and the University of Reading is a very special place to be pursuing them. For me the Whiteknights campus is haunted by the satirist Alexander Pope, who knew it well as the estate of his friend Anthony Englefield during the first decade of the eighteenth century. Two of my heroes from the end of the century, the inventor and memoirist Richard Lovell Edgeworth and the novelist Thomas Day, met and became firm friends a few miles down the road at Hare Hatch. And, as a book historian, Reading’s unique holdings of publisher’s archives and typographic collections promise many seasons of happy research and teaching at Redlands Road. I can’t wait to get started.

I come to the University of Reading with some baggage – two on-going book projects, and several other long-term plans for research. The main focus of my writing is a monograph, On Knowing More Than You Can Say: An Enlightenment Problem, 1600-1800. It describes how writers in an age of open inquiry dealt with knowledge that cannot be disseminated freely in print (the conventional technology of enlightenment) because it is tacit and unspecifiable, reproducible only by example or personal habituation. It will be my second book – my first, Edmund Burke and the Art of Rhetoric (Cambridge University Press, 2011), traced the origins of Burke’s thinking about political deliberation in seventeenth-century theories of moral psychology, and in the ‘commonwealthsman’ political culture of eighteenth-century Ireland. A second on-going project is The Oxford Handbook of Eighteenth-Century Satire, of which I am editor. My own research in this area is focused on Pope’s friend Jonathan Swift – in 2013 I published a co-edited collection of essays called Jonathan Swift and the Eighteenth-Century Book.

Outside the world of books my enthusiasms coalesce (very loosely) around things rural, folky and earthy. Gardening is my passion, British traditional song is my soundtrack, and an active life in the local community (wherever that may be) is what makes sense of it all. I expect to be hanging out at the Museum of English Rural Life on Redlands Road rather a lot.

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For Simon

The current issue of English: The Journal of the English Association (Vol. 64 No. 245, Summer 2015) contains an obituary for Simon Dentith by Prof. Helen Wilcox, of the University of Bangor.

It is followed by ‘Weather Events‘, a poem in memory of Simon by Peter Robinson.

seagulls and floods


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On the rise…

We are delighted to announce that  English at Reading (English Literature, English Language, and Creative Writing) has moved from 27th to 13th in the Guardian League tables:


The Institution as a whole has also risen, from 30th to 25th:


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Top tips for university life

Rowen Marlow, an English Literature student gives her top tips for first year life at Reading University:

top tips

1) Be yourself – it sounds obvious but simply being true to yourself and your interests will help you to feel comfortable at university. If your flatmates are going on a night out but you want to stay in and chat to your family on skype, then that’s okay!

2) Be willing to try new things – that being said, being yourself to the point of not trying new things will not be helpful to you. University is not just about getting a good degree, it means living with and meeting new people. You will learn more about yourself by keeping an open mind when considering others people’s ideas.

3) Be prepared – after you have finished your exams before coming to university it can be tempting to forget about education for the summer. It is best to try and have a good head start before you get to university so read some books on your reading list and make sure you have a pen and notepad by welcome week.

4) Join a society – maybe there is a sport you love that you would like to continue or a new sport you would like to try. There is bound to be a sports society for you at Reading like hockey, judo, archery or cheerleading. Or if you aren’t into sports there are numerous volunteer and club societies where you can harbour new skills or build on current ones for example: British Sign Language, St John’s Ambulance and the Duke of Edinburgh award.

5) Be money savvy – when faced with a surge of money in the form of your student loan, it can be tempting to buy that phone or pair of sunglasses you have always wanted… but your loan is there for a reason to help you at university. It is best to create a budget based on money needed for rent, bills, food and books before seeing what is left over to use for socialising and other items.

6) Make the most of welcome week – Chat to your flatmates and new friends from your course about what events you all are interested in going to and buy tickets for these. It will be one of your most memorable parts of university life so make it count!

7) Be organised – when welcome week is over, it’s a good idea to try and keep organised. Lectures and seminars won’t stop if you haven’t done the relevant reading or work and it will be harder to tackle if you don’t stay on top of it from the start. Make a timetable to fit in revision or essay time but don’t forget socialising time. First year will fly by so above all enjoy it and have fun!


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How our Junior Common Room works…

Student James Hart tells us about being a member of the Junior Common Room and events put on for those living in halls:

Before coming to university I was anxious about meeting new people. I was looking forward to having new friends, but not the awkwardness of first making them. However, the JCR (Junior Common Room) committee took away all this awkwardness by putting on events that really gave us something to bond over and get involved in, making those first two weeks at university some of the best!

The JCR is a committee of students voted in by fellow residents to take care of students in halls, mostly first years, and put on events for them to take part in. Luckily for me the JCR in my hall had recently set up a new role, a charity representative, and after a bit of persuading from my new friends and a short campaign I was elected into the role. Within a month I was involved in the organising and running of JCR events in my hall. We put on a wide range of events suited to everyone’s taste, for example I was able to run a charity week which involved film nights, pyjama days and a couple of silly competitions.

Organising and running Welcome Week was some of the hardest work I’ve done, but was all worth it when the new students arrived. We held fancy dress events, quizzes, games and movie nights, as well as the more typical events to make sure everyone had something to do and people to mix with. The enthusiasm of everybody involved really makes the events what they are.

In some halls, formals (think Hogwarts-esque posh dinners) were organised, each celebrating something different. We had Santa come to our Christmas formals, Bagpipers and Ceilidh bands at our Burns Night, and bucking broncos and boat parties in the summer. We had more relaxed events for Eurovision and Red Nose day and the weekly JCR fix came from regular pub quizzes and movie nights on homemade big screens. These events really bring  students together and inter-hall competitions create unity.

All in all being on the JCR is a great excuse to relive your first year again and something I’d advise to anyone.


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Scribblers, Reading’s creative writing society, meet every Tuesday evening. Emily Upson tells us more:

The weekly Scribblers sessions range dramatically. We’ve had a variety of speakers in; writers from publishing companies, writers who self-published, literary critics and professional creative writing teachers. During evenings with a guest speaker, we usually have a group discussion and opportunity to ask questions.  When our own members lead the meetings we start with a talk on a given topic, followed by some writing exercises as a group, and then people read out their work for others to give feedback on. Don’t worry, reading work out is not compulsory; although we encourage sharing each other’s work, we don’t force the matter!

Topics cover various genres; we’ve done sci-fi to fantasy, from horror to comedy – we’ve even done erotica, where we practised the genre with a published erotic writer! We’ve covered many other things in the past: including characterisation, how to edit pieces, literary change, book cover design, word games, scavenger hunts, and the ‘Story Formula’. We often take requests if there is a particular topic you would like to examine.

The work produced is typically poetry or prose, but we also have a few budding script writers in our midst! We’re a supportive bunch. Many of us have projects we’re working on – novels or poetry collections or screenplays – and as we’re all together, we understand and help each other out with proofreading, plot advice, or sharing information on upcoming opportunities.

As well as evening sessions, we’ve created a poetry anthology, filled with students’ work – this helps to fund refreshments at our guest speaker meetings. Often in the summer we run workshops, more intensively focused towards individual pieces of work. We have socials, summer BBQs, Christmas parties, and even trips out to sing Polish karaoke!

We also partake in Reading’s poetry slam, held every other Sunday at the Global Café, just ten minutes off of campus (details available on Facebook, link here: Poetry slams are a new way of keeping poetry alive, in the form of a spoken word competition – all partakers get a free drink, and the winner a bottle wine, so it’s a popular one!


None of this really touches upon the appeal of Scribblers. Writing can be a lonely practise, and it can also be an emotional one. Sharing that process with alike people brings the society close together quickly. The family of writers we’ve created is by far the best, and the most elusive element of our society.

It’s 7 – 9pm on a Tuesday night, and the room (on campus) will be on our Facebook page; We welcome everyone, so feel free to join us!

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Afraid of creative writing workshops? Not us!

Second year English Literature student Becky Liddell takes the fear out of creative writing workshops:

The idea of people giving feedback on your work can be daunting. At first, the concept of showing other people my writing in a workshop was like someone casually suggesting I waltz into a room full of strangers wielding magnifying glasses and measuring tapes, ready to judge my every imperfection. You start wringing your hands, don’t look people in the eye, suck in your metaphorical stomach and look shiftily from side to side.

The fact is, when you walk into the workshop for the first time, everyone (except maybe the professor) looks like they feel just the same as you do. It’s oddly comforting, seeing other people share your discomfort, which soon fades away when you find out that, contrary to what your new flatmates teased you about, everyone else hasn’t already written a novel and had a poetry anthology published. In reality, everyone just wants to write, and to the best of their ability. Unless you seriously want to, you don’t have to write your deepest darkest secrets in iambic pentameter, dark red ink and complex calligraphy. People just want to get better at what they love, and help you get better too.

book love

It’s much better to think of the class as people holding maps with new roads you might take. Showing people your writing in a workshop makes your writing a collaborative process, with you in the front seat. It’s easy to think of your critics as pesky backseat drivers who don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, but they can help you find a shortcut you weren’t aware of, or tell you about a beautiful path you can take if you take a slight turning. They’re out to help you, and to receive your help in return on their work. If you’ve been writing for a while it can add a whole new dimension to your work. If you’re relatively new to it all, your classmates and seminar leader can help point you in the right directions. The best part is that sometimes people can make you see value in parts of your work that you hadn’t realised.

Ultimately though, everything is up to you. Creative writing workshops are support systems for like-minded people. It’s like having a team of advisors. When it comes to your work, you’re the boss, and you can do whatever you want to do, but people advise you on what might work best, so it’s good to listen. While doing things entirely your way can work out sometimes, it’s more of a laugh if you do it alongside a bunch of other writers.

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Joint degree: English Literature and Film and Theatre

Jake Blunt talks about his experiences and the benefits of studying a joint degree:

‘Doing a joint honours course allows for a broader spectrum of skills to be developed while at university. The skills you gain from one course may well be transferable to the other, and both can work together to make you a more rounded and effective student as you progress. My time management and confidence has improved so much by studying both English Literature and Film & Theatre. I’ve met countless new people and worked closely with so many of them in seminars and group projects that my interpersonal skills and confidence have benefited greatly. The choice of modules can bring individuality and variety to the course and allows individuals to pursue branches of subjects that interest them. The choice of modules is divided between the two departments, with the core modules being the same as Single Honours students, but with space being left for separate modules that you can select. My course is helping me specialise in contemporary literature and analysing directorial decisions for a job as a lead writer for a film company in America. The skills I will have gained by taking joint honours will prove to be essential in the future.’

book  and film

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Hannah Franklin reviews The Children’s Hour

Hannah Franklin reviews The Children’s Hour a play by Lillian Hellman, a text from the first year module ‘Twentieth Century American Literature’:

 Lillian Hellman’s play, The Children’s Hour, studied on the first year ‘Twentieth Century American Literature’ module, follows the progression of a child’s lie, after being punished at her boarding school, into serious, adult consequences. Mary reacts to her punishment with the allegation that her two female teachers, Karen and Martha, are in a lesbian relationship. What follows demonstrates Hellman’s grasp and control over the power of words, and the fears that can underlie misinterpretation and miscommunication. Challenging the expectations of children and innocence, Hellman creates a child with eerie adult-like control over those around her, manipulating the play’s events like an on stage director while using her supposed innocence to protect herself.

Lillian Hellman play

The fear and implications of the “unnatural” run throughout the play’s action, the meaning of the word changing with each repetition, becoming a series of Chinese whispers with irreparable consequences. Used first in adult conversation and then picked up by children, it is used for destruction in the manipulative hands of Mary. Hellman demonstrates the disconnections that can occur between our words and meanings when the meanings of words such as “unnatural” and “guilt” are challenged in the lie’s progression. The lie becomes so strong, that both the audience and characters begin to question where the truth resides in Mary’s crafted web and begin to see the innumerable and unpredictable reactions to language. Martha states in the middle of a frustrated conversation, “this child [Mary] is taking little things, little family things and making them have meaning that-”, cutting off as language fails her in a struggle to reveal its force, attempting to explain the insinuations that can be forced upon words and situations. Hellman’s play exposes the ways in which words come to have control over actions, creating damage that cannot be undone when meaning is stretched beyond intent into something much more real.

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