Dr Sue Walsh on The Jungle Book

We recently posted about Dr Sue Walsh in conversation with Anindya Raychaudhuri  and Frances Hardinge in the ‘Proms Plus’ series discussing Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

You can now here that conversation on BBC Sounds:

You can also access it on BBC iplayer and download it as a podcast.

And Sue’s article on The Jungle Book is now available at The Conversation.com.

If you would like more information on Sue’s work, you can contact her through the Department of English Literature’s website.


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Dr Sue Walsh on Kipling at Proms Plus

On 20th August, Dr Sue Walsh will be taking part in a Proms Plus Event that will be broadcast on Radio 3 during the interval that evening. That evening’s Prom features Charles Koechlin’s Les Bandar-log, a work seen as part of the composers ‘nearly life long effort to set The Jungle Book to music’. Dr Walsh will be discussing Kipling and The Jungle Book with the author Frances Harding, and the discussion will be chaired by Anindya Raychaudhuri (University of St. Andrews).

Sue writes:

The Jungle Books themselves were first published in 1894 and 1895, and they feature stories about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the Indian Jungle.  Since their initial publication these stories have remained popular, inspiring numerous adaptations, but their attitudes have been questioned by some parents and critics, who see them as a relic of Britain’s colonial past.  In my research into Kipling’s children’s literature I note that a classic way of reading the tales is as an allegory for the position of the white colonialist born and raised in India, with Mowgli, the Indian boy who becomes ‘Master’ of the jungle being understood to be ‘behaving towards the beasts as the British do to the Indians’ (John McLure, Kipling and Conrad: the colonial fiction, 1981).

This account, while persuasive in many ways, seems to me to be a bit reductive, and it misses some of the interesting ways the stories potentially raise questions about notions of belonging and identity.  To start with, the standard account relies on the idea that the human and animal identities within the stories are clearly distinguished from each other and fixed, and that this fixity of distinction extends via allegory to ‘white’ and Indian identities.  But what happens to our understanding of the stories if we don’t treat the human and animal identities therein as predeterminedly distinct?   In my research I argue that a species name doesn’t necessarily fix identity.  For example, Bagheera the black panther is described in terms of a series of other animals, he is ‘as cunning as Tabaqui [the jackal], as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant’.  Here then, attributes that are supposedly intrinsic to one animal can be found in another and this  thus undermines any claim that those attributes are in fact the preserve of a particular species and it also implicitly undermines narratives of essential difference between species.

Also doesn’t a closer look at the relationship of the child Mowgli to the inhabitants of the jungle complicate accounts of the Jungle Books as straightforwardly imperialist in character?  The clearest marker of Mowgli’s apparent difference from the jungle animals is his look which becomes his way of controlling the animals and could then be said to assert and fix a distinction between him and them.  Mowgli’s stare subdues the animal’s instinctual response but Mowgli’s difference from Bagheera is written precisely not as an absolute difference from the animal, but as the difference between the expressed and repressed animal.  Bagheera the panther’s eyes convey exactly how he feels, they ‘blaze’ when he is angry, but Mowgli’s eyes, even when he is angry are ‘like a stone in wet or dry weather’ according to Bagheera, ‘they say nothing’.  Thus Mowgli is constructed as having a hidden aspect to him (beneath what his eyes reveal), he has the same emotions as the panther but these feelings are repressed and it is this that marks him as human, but it also means that at the heart of Mowgli – at his core – there is the animal.

Finally, as I’ve already indicated, the Jungle Book stories return to the issue of belonging over and over again, raising questions about the grounds on which one may claim to belong to a particular group or community.  They ask whether belonging is a matter of essence or of convention and social agreement.

These aspects of the stories lead me to feel that there is more to them than an imperialist narrative, and in my monograph, Kipling’s Children’s Literature: Language, Identity and Constructions of Childhood (https://www.routledge.com/products/isbn/9780754655961) I deal with all these questions and extend my discussion to a number of Kipling’s other books for children.

if you wish to attend the concert itself, booking is not required and entry is on a first-come-first-served basis (doors open from 30 minutes before the event begins; capacity is limited). To hear the discussion, tune into Radio 3 at 17:45.


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Book launch: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s General Belinda (1924; 2019)

Nicola Wilson writes:

This week sees the re-publication of Ethel Carnie Holdsworth’s sixth novel, General Belinda, with a book launch at Great Harwood library in Lancashire, the town where Carnie Holdsworth grew up.

General Belinda was first published in 1924 and has been out of print – and difficult to get hold of – ever since. Students on Class Matters (EN3CM) know that I’ve been working to get Carnie Holdsworth back into print for nearly ten years now, and this will be the fourth of her books to be republished by small, independent publishers: Trent Editions  and Kennedy & Boyd.

Ffion Evans, one of our recent DEL students, copy-edited the manuscript for this new edition, which includes an introduction by Dr Roger Smalley.

General Belinda is not as well-known as Carnie Holdsworth’s other works that are now back in print: This Slavery (1925; republished by Trent, 2011); Miss Nobody (1913; republished by Kennedy & Boyd, 2013); or Helen of Four Gates (1917; republished by Kennedy & Boyd, 2016). But it is peculiarly interesting and entertaining, and valuable as a rare critique of domestic service – at the time, one of the major forms of employment for young working women – written by a working-class woman. It’s also the first and only one of Carnie Holdsworth’s novels to deal with domestic service in any detail. Belinda, the protagonist, is a ‘general’ (a maid-of-all-work, meaning the only servant to be employed in a household) and the book offers a devastating critique of the conditions many interwar servants were faced with behind closed doors.

Formally, the novel is a mixed bag. Carnie Holdsworth wanted to reach a wide audience, and she experimented with different genres across of all her works, seeing how best to square feminist socialist politics with her desire to reach a wide audience reading popular fiction. General Belinda is at times light-hearted, at other times deadly serious, in exposing the wide-ranging, systematic abuses of domestic service and the precarious, exploitative relationships that oftentimes young and unmarried girls were exposed to. Another strand of the plot outlines the tragedy and waste suffered in World War One (Carnie Holdsworth was a pacifist, and her husband, Alfred, a conscientious objector). But comedy is never far away from the surface, and the plot relies on a strong comic tradition of sending up those in authority. Belinda – much like her contemporary, Jeeves, of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster – pretty much always gets the upper hand.

For more information about this event, go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ethel-carnie-holdsworth-in-voice-and-in-print-tickets-61148342338





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David Brauner on Philip Roth

Professor David Brauner has come to the end of his time as co-editor of the journal Philip Roth Studies. He and his fellow editor Debra Shostak have taken the opportunity to reflect on their interest in Roth, their time as editors of the journal, and on the recent death of Roth himself.

You can read their interview here.

Philip Roth Studies Volume 15, Issue 1, is now in print.

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Oscar Wilde, Collections and Collecting: Michael Seeney is our guest at Special Collections

Oscar Wilde with Cane 1892We have a guest speaker next Thursday, 30th May at Special Collections at 6-30.  Michael Seeney, the scholar and collector of Oscar Wilde items, will be talking about Wilde, collections, and collecting.

Michael has all kinds of things, from Wilde letters, signed rare editions and photos, to t-shirts and mugs.  Perhaps his strangest object is one of only two plaster casts of Wilde’s hand, made at his death-bed.  Michael is also a renowned expert on the life and works, and has written the biography of Wilde’s close friend, More Adey.  Michael will be talking about his experiences as a Wilde collector, and the value of private collections to researchers and to the wider public.  He will also tell us some of the extraordinary stories of important collectors of the past and what has become of their collections.

So, if you are a researching your dissertation on Wilde and want to know how collections might help you, or if you are just a Wilde fan who wants to know how much you would have to pay for an authentic Wilde autograph, Michael can tell you.

The talk is free, but you would have to reserve a seat via eventbrite:  https://merl.reading.ac.uk/event/collecting-oscar-wilde-public-and-private-good/


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Thank you to The Friends of the University


The Department of English Literature would like to extend warm thanks to ‘The Friends of the University’ for a donation of £500 for an ‘Images of Literature’ project. Maddi Davies applied for the money so that the Department could buy some framed posters from the RSC, The Globe, and The National Portrait Gallery to help produce a coherent literary identity for the Department corridors.

The new pictures will be selected and ordered over the summer; if anyone has any ideas for powerful images, please let Maddi and Cindy know.

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Women in Publishing Conference Friday 14th June 2019: Call for Papers

“All publishing was run by many badly-paid women and a few much better-paid men”
(Diana Athill,
Stet: An Editor’s Life
, 2002)

Feminist book history and print culture is thriving. Recent books and projects exploring feminist publishers, modernist presses, and women’s work in periodicals and magazines has revealed the variety of ways in which women contributed to the circulation and production of nineteenth and twentieth-century print cultures. Academic interest in the value of networks and collaboration and the often overlooked aspect of women’s creative labour (#thanksfortyping) is at the forefront of some of this renewed interest in women’s
diverse, deeply embedded work in publishing and the circulation of global print cultures. This one-day symposium at the University of Reading will engage with the varied nature and roles of women’s work in twentieth and twenty-first century magazines and book publishing. Though high-profile women publishers and editors continue to attract public and scholarly attention, there are many aspects of women’s labour in the print and publishing trades, understood broadly, that are often overlooked. We invite papers exploring the broad and diverse ways in which women have shaped recent modern print cultures in a variety of roles: as translators, designers, illustrators, booksellers, advertisers, patrons, editors, travellers, office staff, publisher’s readers. We are particularly interested in work exploring transnational exchanges.

Papers may consider any of the following:
– Women’s work in the book, magazine, newspaper, and publishing trades
– Women publishers, editors, author-publishers, publisher’s readers, travellers, booksellers, office staff, printers
– Women translators, designers, illustrators
– Sex + gender + literary production and the literary marketplace
– Women as patrons, booksellers, feminist bookshops
– Archives, cataloguing, and women’s labour
– Women in publishing and the gender pay gap
– Politics and methodologies of recovery work
– Women and the suffrage press, feminist presses, lesbian presses, BAME press
– Networks/collaborations
– Women entrepreneurs and the creative industries
– Womens’ trade organisations in publishing and bookselling

Please submit abstracts (up to 200 words) and a short 2-line bio by 26th April 2019 to Dr Nicola Wilson at n.l.wilson@reading.ac.uk.

Speakers will be notified by 3rd May.
The event will be held at Special Collections, University of Reading, UK, with no fees to attend.
Organising committee: Dr Nicola Wilson, Dr Sophie Heywood, Dr Daniela la Penna.

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Archives & Texts seminar Thursday 28th Feb.

Thursday 28th Feb, 5-6pm in Edith Morley, G44

Dr Will Davies (Reading) ‘“A Wedge from the North”: The Founding of Poetry Nation’.

Dr Davies’ paper  will consider Poetry Nation, postwar journals and American and European postwar literary history.

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The DEL/MERL Seminar Series, 2019: Writing the Rural

All events take place on Thursdays in February and March, 1-2pm, at
The Museum of English Rural Life, Reading. All welcome.

‘Graceful clods: soil in eighteenth-century poetry’
Tess Somervell, (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Leeds).

‘Seagulls and Hares: Writing in a time of Environmental Crisis’
Suzy Joinson in conversation with Tim Dee, author of The Running Sky,
Four Fields and Landfill, and with poet and critic Hugh Dunkerley.

‘Song Maps and Ridgeways: songwriting and landscape’
a non-musical interview with one of the UK’s most celebrated folk musicians, Martin Simpson.

‘Time Song – Journeys in Search of Doggerland: Time and Landscape’
Suzy Joinson in conversation with author, Julia Blackburn.

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Poetry and Europe: A Celebration

However the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland leaves the European Union, if it does, on 29 March 2019, the long and deep-rooted connections between the poetic cultures of these islands and those of continental Europe will continue to be, and need to be, sustained.

As a celebration of these continuities, whose existence has, if anything, been made more urgently manifest by the current political crisis in which the countries of the British archipelago find themselves, the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading and Two Rivers Press, the town’s most prominent publisher, are hosting an evening of readings featuring poems and translations from or about experiences of Europe.

This event will also serve to launch two new volumes on these and related themes, Ravishing Europa by Peter Robinson (published by Worple Press) and A Part of the Main by Philip Gross and Lesley Saunders (publish by Mulffran Press). Jane Draycott, reading from Storms under the Skin, her translations of Henri Michaux (Two Rivers Press), a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation in 2017, will join them; and the evening, hosted by Steven Matthews, will include guest appearances by other poets published by Two Rivers Press in 2019, including Kate Behrens, James Peake and Conor Carville.

The event will take place in the foyer café at the Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, Reading, on Tuesday 12 March 2019. Doors will open at 5:30 and the event will be from 6 to 8 pm.

There will be a pop-up bookstore and refreshments.


This event is supported by a grant to the Department of English Literature from the Endowment Fund of the University of Reading and by gifts in kind from Two Rivers Press.

Further information: p.robinson@reading.ac.uk

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