DEL Island Discs Episode Eight: Esther Greenwood

Welcome to Episode Eight of DEL Island Discs! Our presenter this week is Sybil Ruth and our castaway is Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel, The Bell Jar. Sibyl Ruth graduated forty years ago, and as part of her English degree, she wrote a dissertation on Sylvia Plath.

It’s never easy to decide which eight tracks to take to a desert island and for Esther Greenwood, heroine of The Bell Jar, there is a particular challenge. It’s the soundtrack of our youth which makes the deepest impression on us. But for Esther her unhappiness, her preoccupation with achieving high grades meant that she couldn’t properly hear the music around her. Only later, as an optimistic young mother, would she have been able to look back on the music of this era and pick out some of its most enjoyable songs.

NB. You’ll note that Esther has not picked any miserable songs by 21st century indie bands and/or melancholy singer-songwriters. Despite a few progressive ideas, she was a creature of the 1940s and early 1950s.

1. Too Darn Hot – Broadway Cast.


For better or worse Esther’s adult life was shaped by one ‘queer sultry summer.’ Her New York hotel room was stifling, and by the time she got home to New England she was too depressed to change into suitable clothes and enjoy the fresh air. This was also a time of great frustration. Esther wanted to shed her virginity, but finding a suitable – or unsuitable – partner was not straightforward. So Cole Porter’s lyrics with their allusions to impotence and frustration would have been very apt.

2. Hound Dog – Big Mama Thornton


One of Esther’s many regrets is that she is ‘a terrible dancer’. While Doreen and lascivious ‘hound dog’ Lenny, the DJ jitterbug away at his impressive New York apartment – he’d have been playing the latest hits – she stands on the side-lines sipping vodka. But she relishes the air-conditioning and the glamour of the surroundings. Esther ‘wouldn’t have missed Lenny’s place for anything’

3. Kalinka (trad.)


Of all the men Esther encounters in New York, she will have the fondest memories of Constantin, a Russian simultaneous translator at the UN. When he invites her to his place afar dinner ‘to hear some balalaika’ records, she eagerly accepts his invitation, assuming that sex is on the agenda. It seems astonishing, given the rhythmic potency of the music, that no seduction took place. But their evening will have led to a lasting fondness for the balalaika.

4. Hernando’s Hideaway – Carol Haney


An especially unsatisfactory date ensues when Esther is set up with tango-loving Marco. When she protests, ‘I can’t dance’, he helpfully responds, ‘You don’t have to dance. I’ll do the dancing… Pretend you are drowning.’ The evening ends most unhappily, but Esther will have salvaged something from their encounter. At least she now knows that with a good lead, it’s possible to become submerged in dance music, to ‘blow and bend’ to its rhythm. Having freed herself from Marco’s clutches, Esther must have enjoyed the tango scene in The Pajama Game which opened on Broadway the following year.

5. Do I Worry- The Ink Spots


Esther is a worrier, a compulsive over-thinker. She’s unable to stop fretting about her future. And the person who worries her most is Buddy Willard. Initially he was useful. She gained status with her peers after he took her to the Yale Prom. But it’s scary that so many people expect her to marry someone she doesn’t respect – or even like. The soothing harmonies of the Ink Spots serve to validate her fears.

Am I frantic, ’cause we’ve lost the spark?
Is there panic when it starts turning dark?
And when evening shadows creep, do I lose any sleep over you?
Do I worry? You can bet your life I do

6. Massachusetts – Gene Krupa and his Orchestra feat. Anita O’Day


Esther may appear unenthusiastic about returning from New York – but this is because of having to spend the summer with her mother. Childhood places remain important to her, and even at her most depressed she gains benefit from exploring them. Once Esther’s had the chance to benefit from therapy, to establish herself elsewhere, it’s easy to imagine the rush of pleasure she will experience at the prospect of revisiting her home State

7. My Heart Belongs to Daddy (Bea Wain)


Who could be expected to love a mother, who keeps going on about the importance of a) virginity and b) shorthand typing? Esther’s refusal to conform to these expectations may be linked to having lost her father as a child. But she would approve of the partnership between the singer Bea Wain and her husband Andre Baruch. The couple presented a radio show together.

8. La Mer – Charles Trenet


Esther studied French at High School, and wishes to travel in Europe. Till she can get there, proximity to the ocean is best. Her happiest early memories involve ‘running along the hot white beaches. The sea a source of rebirth ‘The water had spat me up into the sun, and the world was sparkling all about me like blue and green and yellow semi-precious stones’. This record is probably Esther’s favourite out of the eight.

Esther’s luxury
For her luxury Esther who ‘loves food more than just about anything else,’ and whose favourite dishes are ‘full of butter and cheese and sour cream’ will choose a large American refrigerator.

Esther’s book
On the island she is going to take a break from literature. But Esther does need a project to which she can apply herself. So she’ll take along Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol.1. Julia Child’s complex recipes will occupy her till rescue comes.


Many thanks to Sibyl Ruth for being our guest presenter this week!

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DEL Desert Island Discs Episode Seven: Mickey Sabbath

This week’s castaway is Mickey Sabbath, the protagonist of Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater (1995), and our presenter is Professor David Brauner of the Department of English Literature.

Sabbath’s Theater is Philip Roth’s masterpiece. Its protagonist is one of the great anti-heroes of literature: equal parts King Lear, Humbert Humbert (from Nabokov’s Lolita) and Krapp (from Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape), but ultimately sui generis.

The novel follows the fortunes and misfortunes (mostly the latter) of Morris (Mickey) Sabbath, a 64-year-old ex-puppeteer, theatre director and disgraced former academic. Unhappily married to a recovering alcoholic, Roseanna, the true loves of Sabbath’s life are his mother, who never fully recovers from the death of Sabbath’s older brother, Morty, at the age of 20, in the Second World War; his first wife, Nikki, who mysteriously disappears one day in 1964; and his long-term mistress, Drenka, who has recently died of ovarian cancer, leaving Sabbath bereft and planning his own death.

As ever in Roth, however, the plot is almost incidental. What makes the novel utterly compelling is Roth’s prose – by turns exuberant, indignant, lyrical, melancholy, hilarious and heart-breaking — and the tragicomic character of Sabbath, a man whose outrageous amorality and nihilism paradoxically invests him with the transcendent power of a prophet.

1. ‘Dry Land’, Joan Armatrading.

As a young man Sabbath serves in the merchant navy. If the ‘gift of love’ that the narrator of ‘Dry Land’ offers may be far removed from the sexual adventures that Sabbath enjoys, the ambiguous line ‘I’ll promise you so much more’ is very apt for the opening section of Roth’s novel, which is entitled ‘There’s Nothing That Keeps Its Promise’.

2. Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’

At Sabbath’s puppet shows ‘the atmosphere was insinuatingly anti-moral, vaguely menacing, and at the same time, rascally fun’, which sums up Metallica’s song rather well. The song also deals metaphorically with addiction, something with which Sabbath’s wife, Roseanna, struggles, without much help from Sabbath himself (he wouldn’t like Toto’s ‘Roseanna’, in case you were wondering!).

3. Claire Teal, ‘Messin’ With Fire’

Sabbath enjoys nothing more than setting things alight (metaphorically). He is a misanthropist who, like the protagonist of this song, loves to expose the hypocrisy of those who are ‘holier-than-thou’, believing that at heart ‘we’re all arsonists!’

4. Warren Zevon, ‘Mr Bad Example’

Sabbath prides himself on behaving badly and offending everybody – Warren Zevon’s comic song is the perfect theme tune for him.

5. Indigo Girls, ‘Ghost’

Sabbath is haunted by the ghosts of lost loved ones and even has regular conversations with his dead mother.

6. Blondie, ‘Hanging on the Telephone’

Sabbath loses his job as a drama teacher at a local college when an audio tape of him engaging in phone sex with a student comes to light.

7. Thea Gilmore, ‘The Dirt is Your Lover Now’

(the song begins at 11.25 mins in to the album)

Sabbath compulsively visits Drenka’s grave, communing with her in ways that I won’t reveal here!

8. Leonard Cohen, ‘You Want it Darker’

Sabbath also spends much of the novel thinking about suicide and trying to find the ideal plot in the ideal cemetery, although in the end he decides that he can’t end his own life as ‘Everything he hated was here’.


Sabbath’s book:

Sabbath would certainly appreciate the time to reread The Complete Works of Shakespeare: the epigraph from the novel is one of Prospero’s lines from The Tempest (‘Every third thought shall be my grave’) and at one point he goes begging on a subway train, reciting passages from the moment in King Lear when the old king is reunited with Cordelia (‘I fear I am not in my perfect mind’ etc.). But I think his choice would be The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, whose ‘Meru’ is quoted in full in the novel and with whose mad, raging old men he has much in common.

Sabbath’s luxury:

Although he has long ceased to practise puppetry because of arthritis, Sabbath’s luxury would have to be a puppet theatre, if only so that he could continue to amuse (and torture) himself with memories of his youth!

Which disc would he save from the waves?

It would have to be ‘Mr Bad Example’ – it evokes Sabbath’s anarchic, iconoclastic,
(self-)satirical spirit perfectly.

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DEL Island Discs Episode Six: Katherine

Our castaway this week is Katherine from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and our presenter is Department of English Literature alumna, Eleanor Dewar.

*Disclaimer/trigger warning* I know the play/character I’m about to talk about is very problematic for some and I am in no way condoning domestic violence in anyway. If you are worried about yourself or someone else, I will leave a links and contact for help below.

Katherina, or Katherine, or Kate, depending on who you are and whether or not you’re Italian is Shakespeare’s take on the infamous Shrew character, an outspoken female character with the audacity to not want to get married and who only needs a strong man to break her in like a horse for the whole world to be happy. But Shakespeare being his ingenious, if not annoying, self can’t leave these simple tropes alone and instead we are treated to a complex and well written woman with compassion and intelligence enough to comment on the absurd situations the men in her life decide to throw her into. I’ve always liked Katherine and think we are alike in a lot of ways: both of us hate to have our names shortened and both of us are loud and have little interest in what is traditionally expected of us but are simultaneously crippled by our desire to be accepted and loved.
All our disc selections are from women only as I think (and Katherine would agree) that men say enough in both her play and across all forms of fiction. Likewise, there is wide range of genres and stories in this list just to make sure people are aware that obedient and angry are not women’s only reactions.

Disc One- Hit Me with Your Best Shot, Pat Benatar, 1970

Never one to shy aware from a fight, Katherine and Petruchio’s first meeting Act II scene I is an explosion of rude innuendoes, false threats and overall chaos and this song is perfect for Katherine in letting Petruchio know exactly what he is in for.

Disc Two- One way or Another, Blondie, 1978

Another song centred around power; I always feel that people are too caught up in Petruchio’s own desire for Katherine that our girl’s desires are almost completely ignored. On the flip side, in the sequel The Tamer Tamed it is revealed that Katherine’s sharp tongue and cracking attitude resulted in many an argument between the pair so “one way or another” it seems Petruchio’s famous ‘taming’ techniques ultimately comes back to haunt him.


Disc Three- I won’t say (I’m in Love), Susan Egan, 1997

One of my all time favourite Disney songs, Meg and Katherine have a lot in common- the men in their life have caused them pain, they are misunderstood as the victim of their own story and deep down reject love because they do not expect to be loved. A deep and moving song once you get past the awesomely cool chorus.


Disc Four- Defying Gravity, Idina Menzel, 2003

Another musical classic, for this song represents the main issue facing Katherine, other women in literature and of course those unfortunate enough not to live inside a fictional world; that we can never just be ourselves. We are either perfect angels, the Biancas of the world obedient and meek or the wicked witch, unloved and rejected by all.

Disc Five- If I were a Boy, Beyoncé, 2008

Again, not the happiest of tunes and reasons, but it’s fairly self-explanatory why this is on the list. Katherine and Petruchio’s personalities are painfully alike which begs the question why are they treated so differently?

Disc Six- God is a Woman, Ariana Grande, 2019

Power and female identity is something that you cannot avoid in The Taming of the Shrew but for all the men’s silly games and bets, it is mostly the women who dramatically alter the narrative of the play. Bianca plays her father and suitors for fools, both her and the Widow publicly humiliate their new husbands by refusing to play along with their bet. Even Petruchio is forced to rely on Katherine’s grand speech in order to win his money, and even then, we are not hundred percent sure she means every word…


Disc Seven- I’m Going to Wash that Man right Out of my Hair, Mitzi Gaynor, 1958

This list is very musical heavy I know but I feel that perfectly represents the over the top and performative nature of Shakespeare’s interpretation of the Shrew story. But one of the reasons I want Katherine in my girl gang is to be my shoulder to cry on when relationships go sour. She would be the self-esteem booster, the ice cream provider and the reassurance that I’ll be just fine on my own.

Disc Eight- I hate Men, Alexandra Silber, 1953

Of course, I could not miss Kiss Me Kate out of a desert island discs centred around The Shrew and this song has me snorting with laughter every time I listen to it. I think if Shakespeare did write a song for Katherine to sing it would be this one. And with the nonsense she must put up with, honestly, I don’t blame her.


Katherine’s book
Katherine could take My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst, to reassure her that one day her ‘shrewish’ ways will be accepted and even appreciated. Good luck Kate and thank you for being our desert island castaway.

Call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.

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DEL Island Discs Episode Five: Edward Casaubon

Hot on the heels of Episode 4 comes our next castaway: the Reverend Edward Casaubon, also from Middlemarch, and our presenter is Kathy Williams, formerly of the Centre for Caribbean Studies and the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Warwick. Anyone on Team Dorothea will be happy to hear that we are sending Casaubon to an island far distant from hers.

 There is no one who better deserves to be cast away onto a desert island than the Rev Edward Casaubon, who marries beautiful, idealistic, principled Dorothea Brooke. Casaubon dies just over a third of the any through the novel, which is a relief but also allows her to go on to marry his cousin Will Ladislaw, and effect a happy ending for that part of the novel.

Casaubon is old, but has never been young.  With deep eye sockets, a spare form, a labyrinthine mind, a soul like an ancient ghost, and a sing song voice, he is an arid pedant. He also has two hairy moles on his face, and is venomous when crossed, and malicious customarily.

Casaubon doesn’t want a wife, but needs a compliant amanuensis, while he fails to produce anything from his lifetime work on The Key to all Mythologies.  Ironically he is unaware that Sir James Frazer will soon publish such a book, The Golden Bough: A Study of Comparative Religious Belief, and Scientific Thought. His objective was viable.

 It has been impossible, given his insensitivity to music, for Casaubon to choose eight conventional discs.  These choices therefore reflect aspects of his personality — or maybe how he would liked to have been remembered.

Disc 1. Tom Lehrer, ‘The Elements:  The Periodic Table’, here as a duet with Daniel Radcliffe

Here are the elements of knowledge that Casaubon is researching.  He would not approve of the wit and satire of Tom Lehrer, but might approve the geekdom of Daniel Radcliffe.

Disc 2. Horatio Bates Spoffard, ‘It is Well Within My Soul’, sung here by Brigham Young University Vocal Point

Spoffard had a vastly tragic life but still produced many hymns of great power.  Maybe Casaubon might find some solace, and if not, the thought of The Church of the Latter Day Saints might be an interesting footnote for him in his great work.

 Disc 3, Bach, ‘Toccata and Fugue in d minor, the Dorian’, performed by the Academy of St Christopher Orchestra

Might appeal to Casaubon’s tortuous mind.  In a minor key, it has elaborate effects, and very detailed notation for organ changes.  The Fugue is very long, and archaic sounding.  A series of questions and answers.

Disc 4. Esbjorn Swenson Trio, ‘Leucocyte 11 Ad Interim’

This should suit Casaubon.  The Trio move to more electronic experimentation than earlier versions, erasing melody, leaving just the warp and weft of the instrumental texture.

Sounds suitably dense and inaccessible.

Disc 5. Alphonse Allias, ‘March for the Funeral Obsequies of a Deaf Man’

This early example of playing with silence rather than sound might appeal and aid concentration.  It contains more long silences than sound and has intriguing and eccentric notation which might provide an interesting exercise, while not making challenging listening.

Disc 6. Handel, ‘Saul: the Dead March’, performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

This comes with a long and detailed academic commentary. Pays tribute to Casaubon’s deluded notion of his significance.  Acknowledges his sombre and arid character in its grandiose effects, while he accepts his mortality.  This music has been a motif throughout his life, the death of his relationship with Ladislaw, the aridity of his marriage to Dorothea, and the failure of his life’s work.


Disc 7. Florence Foster Jenkins, ‘Salut, Demeure, Chaste et Pure’

Florence Foster Jenkins’s life was tragic.  Drawn to sing opera, and having the funds to underwrite her passion, she became notorious for her wildly out of tune performances and the delusion that she was a diva.  This delusion parallels Casaubon and his research.  Both musically deaf they could afford to indulge themselves. In addition, the theme of ‘emotions strange’ might allow Casaubon to discover emotions that he had not previously experienced, and how to express them.

Disc 8. John Cage, ‘4.33’

This is Casaubon’s perfect disc: four minutes and thirty three seconds of absolute silence with a full symphony orchestra. In three movements.

At once immensely serious and very funny, this disc admirably sums up Casaubon’s life and experience, the paradox of totally silent music, and of unrealised ideas.  And peace after the unforgivable attempt to destroy his wife after his death through his coercion.

Casaubon’s Book

It was decided that Casaubon could take his multiple notebooks with him, since they had not been framed into a book.  His mental state could not have survived the separation, which meant that the choice is Descartes, Pensées(1637):‘Cogito, ergo sum: Je pense, donc je suis.’


Casaubon’s Luxury

After long thought — bisadol, a now defunct indigestion remedy, for instance, or maybe a night cap and gown —the decision was made to choose a mirror.  Whatever the reality, he will see, as he gazes into it, the head of St Thomas Aquinas.

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DEL Island Discs Episode Four: Dorothea Brooke

Today’s presenter is Professor Gail Marshall, Head of the School of Literature and Languages, and Gail’s castaway is Dorothea Brooke, a central character in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life (1871-2).

Disc 1. Vaughan Williams, ‘The Lark Ascending’
This is Dorothea as we meet her at the start of the novel in the English Midlands, brimming with the purity of her potential, exquisitely beautiful, and ready to soar like Vaughan Williams’s lark, whilst being aware of the sadness of the world around her, of the deep plangent notes of suffering of those not enjoying her kind of privilege. But her energy wins out, as does the lark’s, and it’s her vibrant yearning that gives heart to the opening of the novel, whilst signalling a vulnerability in that yearning that Vaughan Williams’s final moments also capture.


Disc 2. Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’
This is a deliberately lighter piece of music, and a reminder of the importance of humour of Midddlemarch, which we often overlook. The song came to mind when I was thinking of Dorothea’s relationship with her younger sister, Celia, and the memorable scene early in the novel where Celia, eager to begin to wear jewellery, encourages her older sister to sort through the gems left to them by their mother. The scene is a wonderful example of the dynamic between the two young women: Celia’s quiet determination and a self-belief that plays havoc with Dorothea’s less grounded, less materially-determined sense of self. Dorothea is persuaded to take an emerald and diamond bracelet and ring, while Celia has the necklace of purple amethysts on which she’d set her heart. The song parodies Dorothea’s fears about the worldliness of jewellery, but also speaks of a collusion between women, and thus touches albeit tangentially on the relationship of the sisters, which, despite their being very different people, is the one of the most abiding and one of the closest relationships of the novel. Think Fleabag and Clare. Elizabeth and Margaret in The Crown. Jo and Amy in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.


Disc 3. ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ from The Sound of Music
Another inappropriate song you might think, but I wanted something to represent Dorothea as she becomes betrothed to the middle-aged Casaubon. Dorothea, like Liesl, is overjoyed with her older beau, revelling in his maturity and her belief that he will be able to teach the dead languages and ancient wisdom that she longs to know. Rolf betrays Liesl and Casaubon betrays Dorothea, and both men betray the better selves they probably were unable to become. The song rings with ungrounded optimism, and a naïve delight that later turns to tragedy.


Disc 4. Puccini, ‘Vissi d’Arte’ from Tosca, sung by Maria Callas in 1964
Chapters 19 and 20 are in many ways the most important in the novel. Dorothea and Casaubon go to Rome on their honeymoon. He studies in the Vatican Library; she is left to her own devices and to try to make sense of the ‘stupendous fragmentariness’ of ‘the city of visible history’. Dorothea is soon found sobbing in her room after a quarrel with Casaubon. Her marriage is already falling woefully short of what she expected it to be, and Rome signals all the plenitude that Casaubon will never be able to supply. Eliot makes it clear that Dorothea is overwhelmed by Rome, its art and its history, and, by what seems clear to the reader if not yet to Dorothea, by her dawning attraction to Will Ladislaw, Casaubon’s attractive young cousin. Puccini’s heroine lives for art and love, and this vision is what Rome offers – bewilderingly – to Dorothea.

Disc 5. Joni Mitchell, ‘Both Sides Now’

A popular choice recently on the real Desert Island Discs, this song speaks to the bewilderment of adulthood, and the reality that experiencing more doesn’t necessarily mean knowing more: ‘I really don’t know life at all’. Dorothea’s young expectations that knowledge would give her fulfilment are dashed, but she does begin to realise that the recognition of complexity is itself a gain. Eliot and Joni Mitchell guide their readers and listeners on a similar journey.


Disc 6. Stormzy, ‘Crown’
I love this song. And it’s perfect for Dorothea when she’s struggling after Casaubon’s death to recognise everyone’s needs, and particularly when she comes to believe that her beloved Will is in love with the married Rosamond Lydgate. Dorothea is utterly lost – ‘Searching every corner of my mind, Looking for the answers I can’t find’. Will isn’t of course disloyal, but the pain and depletion that his apparent betrayal brings upon Dorothea is beautifully recognised in ‘Crown’, as are the misunderstandings that Dorothea’s attempts to do good provoke. In its Shakespearean echo, the song also reminds us of Eliot’s on-going conversation with Shakespeare through the novel’s allusions and quiet references to the playwright.


Disc 7. Bill Withers, ‘Lovely Day’
But then, in a wonderfully romantic moment, Stormzy’s ‘rain falling down at the Brits’ is replaced by real thunder and rain crashing outside, and all misunderstandings dissolve as the lovers declare themselves:
While he was speaking there came a vivid flash of lightning which lit each of them up for the other—and the light seemed to be the terror of a hopeless love. Dorothea darted instantaneously from the window; Will followed her, seizing her hand with a spasmodic movement; and so they stood, with their hands clasped, like two children, looking out on the storm, while the thunder gave a tremendous crack and roll above them, and the rain began to pour down. Then they turned their faces towards each other, with the memory of his last words in them, and they did not loose each other’s hands.
Her lips trembled, and so did his. It was never known which lips were the first to move towards the other lips; but they kissed tremblingly, and then they moved apart.
The rain was dashing against the window-panes as if an angry spirit were within it, and behind it was the great swoop of the wind; it was one of those moments in which both the busy and the idle pause with a certain awe.

This gorgeous song knows, as do Dorothea and Will, that the world isn’t perfect, that things will continue to ‘bear heavy on their minds’, that someone else ‘always seems to know the way’, but in each other they’ve found a source of deep and lasting happiness in expressing the mutual love that’s been obvious to readers for a very long time.


Disc 8. Roger Whittaker, ‘Streets of London’
This final choice is prompted by a comment from Celia when she hears that Dorothea is marrying Will and moving to London where he’ll become an MP: ‘How can you always live in a street?’ I barely noticed this sentence until it was used by Andrew Davies in his outstanding adaptation of Middlemarch. At a time when a significant demographic shift to cities was beginning, the line signals quite how far Dorothea is moving away from Celia’s and her own previous existence. The song lyrics also show, however, that even in the city, there will be a need for Dorothea’s philanthropic work, and that it’s there on those streets that ‘the effect of her being on those around her’ would become ‘incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs’.


Dorothea’s Book
Dorothea will diligently read the Bible and Shakespeare, so I’d like to cast her away with a DIY manual, so that she can try to build a shelter. She once designed model cottages for the workers on Sir James Chettam’s estate, and with a little help, she’d probably do a good job on the island.

Dorothea’s Luxury
A miniature of Will’s grandmother. The portrait appears throughout the novel, and as Dorothea falls in love with Will she comes to relish the resemblance between the young woman of the miniature and her handsome grandson. At one point in the novel, when Dorothea fears she’ll never see Will again, ‘For the first time she took down the miniature from the wall and kept it before her, liking to blend the woman who had been too hardly judged with the grandson whom her own heart and judgment defended. Can any one who has rejoiced in woman’s tenderness think it a reproach to her that she took the little oval picture in her palm and made a bed for it there, and leaned her cheek upon it, as if that would soothe the creatures who had suffered unjust condemnation?’ It would be a comfort on a desert island.

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DEL Island Discs Episode Three: Mosca Mye

This episode has been co-written by Dr Mary Morrissey, Cait Cromartie (Year 12) and Aideen Cromartie (Year 9).

This week’s castaway is Mosca Mye, the main character in two books by Frances Hardinge: Fly by Night (2005) and Twilight Robbery (2011).

These novels are set in a world that is far too mundane to fit most people’s idea of fantasy; it has some elements that are reminiscent of early modern history and others that the author has invented. But the characters are very recognisable, as are the feelings of greed and fear and friendship and loyalty that motivate them.

Mosca spent her childhood in the waterlogged village called Chough. She is an only child to a distracted academic and has recently been orphaned at the opening of Fly by Night. But her worst problem is her name: in this world, people are named after the demi-god to whom the period of time (often only a few hours) in which they were born has been dedicated, and their personalities are thought to be shaped by their names. Mosca was born in the time dedicated to Palpitattle, a trickster who (when well disposed) ‘keeps flies out of jams and butterchurns’ but who is also a thief and a liar. So Mosca (from the Italian for ‘fly’) has a name that makes people think the worst of her right from the start.

Mosca knows this about her name, and she knows that her name does not define her. So her first song is ‘This is me’ from The Greatest Showman musical.

In Fly by Night Mosca has to leave home in a hurry after a disaster in which she is blamed for burning down her house. She travels to Mandelion, a great city where all the intellectuals live. She has only vague plans for what she will do when she gets there. But she has one very important ally: her companion on her travels is Saracen, a ‘large and homicidal’ goose. Saracen could never be called a pet; he is, rather, a ferocious protector of Mosca. Mosca is aware of how small and weak she is relative to those who would harm her. But she is immensely brave, and so she and Saracen make an ideal team. There is only one song for this kind of friendship, from Toy Story, ‘You’ve got a friend in me’.

Mosca’s first job is given her by the glamorous but cold Lady Tamerind of Mandelion. Mosca is instantly fascinated by her elegance and power. Mosca always has great trouble keeping her bonnet on and her hair tidy; the apparently effortless grace of Lady Tamerind seems at first to be something admirable. Later Mosca would learn more about the darker of Lady Tamerind’s machinations, but the unquestioning admiration of an older, elegant woman is a very sympathetic characteristic in Mosca, and it reminds us that she has missed out female role models and friends. How better to explain the effect that Lady Tamerind has than K.T. Tunstall’s ‘Suddenly I see’:

Mosca’s job is to spy on a pot-poet who glories in the name Eponymous Clent. The two become uneasy partners and eventually friends, although they are a very odd pair. Clent is a rogue, a liar and a ne’er-do-well who is constantly in debt but never short of elaborate reasons why he should not pay. Clent has no problems with self-esteem but enjoys an inflated sense of self-importance matched only by a well-honed survival instinct. His concern for Mosca over the two books in which their adventures coincide becomes deep and settled. But she is never unaware of the faults as well as the saving graces of her bombastic friend. The song that best suggests the generous egotism of Clent is The Pogues, ‘I’m a man you don’t meet every day’, sung here by Cait O’Riordan:

In both Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery, Mosca finds herself on the wrong side of the powerful Locksmiths’ Guild. Because the Locksmiths are in charge of keeping people and their belongings safe, they can control all criminal activity, and in effect they become not the punishers but the managers of the criminals. Controlling all the locks means that they control all the secrets. Mosca quickly sees the power the guild have and how unjustly they use it. She has an all-consuming sense of what is right and fair, and even though she is small and almost friendless she is determined to do what she can to break the Locksmiths’ hold on ordinary people. So Mosca would love Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ about a Revolution’:

Mosca inherits her father’s love of books, but unlike her father she is not satisfied with just reading about things that happen in the world: she wants to be involved with them and to go on adventures. And so, although she initially cherished a hope of settling in Mandelion and being accepted into one of the academies there, at the end of Twilight Robbery she decides against that future and instead takes to the road with her friends Eponymous Clent and Saracen the goose. She has decided on the life of a rover and so her last song will be a celebration of the life of travelling people: here is Luke Kelly singing ‘The Travelling People’:

Mosca’s book
Mosca loves reading and her favourite books are adventure stories, including many ‘penny dreadfuls’. If she is only allowed one book on the island, however, she needs to choose one that she will happily re-read. The best adventure story to read many times over must be Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and so we will send that to Mosca on her island.

Mosca’s luxury
Mosca’s stockings are always getting ripped and torn and stained on her many adventures. For her luxury we will give her a pair of really well-fitted jeans, because they will withstand whatever she throws at them!

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DEL Island Discs Episode Two: Sue Trinder

Welcome to the second episode of DEL Island Discs! To celebrate the weekend and the end of the first week of term, we are going to cast away an extra victim this week.

In this series, literary characters are cast away on a distant desert island, located somewhere on the enigmatic fourth floor of the Edith Morley building. Each week we will hear the musical choices of a new castaway, presented by one of their fans from the Department of English Literature.

Before getting started this week, we’d like to thank the Department of History for giving us the inspiration for this series, and recommend you give their castaways a try, too.

Our second castaway is Sue Trinder from Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002), presented by Shelley Harris.

Fingersmith is a modern classic, a neo-Victorian novel which is a masterpiece of narrative structure. At its heart is seventeen-year-old Sue Trinder. Brought up by petty thieves, she has always been told: ‘You’ll make your fortune – and ours along with it.’ One day, the mysterious Gentleman comes calling. When he asks for her help in cheating another girl of her inheritance Sue agrees, thinking the time has come to fulfil her destiny. But destiny has other ideas…

Disc One – London, England – Corduroy


Disc Two – Shoplifters of the World Unite – The Smiths


Disc Three – Opportunity – Joan Armatrading


Disc Four – Constant Craving – K D Lang


Disc Five – Can’t Stand Me Now – The Libertines


Disc Six – Mama – Bjork



Disc Seven – Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who


Disc Eight – All I Want is You – U2


Sue’s book
Sue cannot read, but there is one book she might treasure enough to take to the island. It’s mentioned on the final page of Fingersmith – but I won’t give any spoilers.

Sue’s luxury
A single glove.

You can find out more about our presenter this week, Shelley Harris, on the DEL website, or on her own website here. Thanks for joining in and see you next week!

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DEL Island Discs crossover – Elizabeth I

The DEL Island Discs team are very grateful to our colleagues in History for giving us the idea for this series (interdisciplinarity in action). We recommend you pop over to the History blog this week and catch up on the musical choices of Elizabeth I, presented by guest blogger Professor Carol Fuller. Students or prospective students of our Part 2 module Renaissance Texts and Cultures might like to listen to these alongside reading or revising Elizabeth’s poems for the module.

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David Brauner’s top five graphic novels.

Professor David Brauner recently wrote for the online magazine ‘The Conversation’ about his favourite graphic novels.

Here he writes for us an expanded article on his top give graphic novels. Student readers might wish to note that David teaches all the texts featured in this piece on his third-year module ‘American Graphic Novels’. So enjoy!

Compiling an all-time top five of graphic novels is challenging not just in the way that any such list is – i.e. the difficulties of deciding which criteria to use, the agonising decisions over which favourites to exclude etc. – but also because it raises the tricky question of what counts as a graphic novel and what doesn’t. There are anomalies in every medium — novels written in verse and prose-poems, for example — but most people can agree on what a poem or a novel look like. With graphic novels things are rather fuzzier. That the term refers not just to fiction but to all sorts of life-writing is accepted, but beyond that there is little consensus. If a comicbook was originally published in serial instalments and only collected in one volume retrospectively, is it a graphic novel? If there are multiple volumes (e.g. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or the Hernandez brothers’ Love and Rockets series), should the whole series be counted as one epic graphic novel, or should only individual volumes be eligible for consideration? And what about a book like Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2002), which tells the story of an authorial alter-ego, Minnie, through a combination of prose diary entries, illustrations with captions, comic-strip narratives, letters, poems and photographs? Or Joe Sacco’s comic-strip documentary journalism? Or Lynda Barry’s mash-ups of essays, sketches, collages and workbooks? Or Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening (2015), which is based on his PhD thesis and is part philosophical essay, part scholarly history, part experimental artwork? For the purposes of this exercise, I have chosen five books that I (and many others) regard as central to the graphic-novel canon. They are all richly-textured, powerful, nuanced books that are immediately arresting but also reward repeated rereading.

  1. Watchmen (1987), Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. A book that works on so many levels — it is, among other things, a whodunnit, a love story, a commentary on Cold War politics and an exploration of fundamental philosophical and ethical questions — Watchmen is both an homage to, and a deconstruction of, the classic superhero comic-strip narrative, which in turn has inspired numerous subsequent revisions of the genre, from Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) to the Marvel Comics (and later MCU’s) Avengers civil war storyline. Shifting points of view, disrupting chronology, layering texts within texts, Watchmen is a hugely ambitious narrative that discloses new details (visual as well as literary) with every fresh reading. It’s also a real page-turner.
  2. Maus (1991), Art Spiegelman. Maus probably did more than any other graphic novel to make readers and critics take graphic novels seriously as an art-form (though Spiegelman, like Moore, dislikes the term graphic novel). It’s the story of the author’s father, Vladek, who survived Auschwitz; the story of Spiegelman’s relationship with him; and (in the second volume) the story of the ramifications of the success of the first volume. Controversially representing Jews as people with mouse-heads (and sometimes tails), preyed upon by German cat-people and often betrayed by Polish pig-people, Maus nevertheless resists stereotypes, representing both its author and his father as flawed, complex individuals who struggle in different ways to deal with the legacy of a trauma that makes itself felt in every aspect of their lives.
  3. Ghost World (1997), Daniel Clowes. Ghost World is the shortest, and at first glance the most straightforward, of my choices. It is a bittersweet tale of the friendship, and gradual estrangement, of Enid and Becky, two young women (recent high-school graduates) on the cusp of adulthood. Cynical and vulnerable, with a sardonic sense of humour and a nostalgic streak, Enid is, in part, a portrait of the artist as a young girl grappling with her sexuality, ethnicity and her conflicting expectations of herself. But Ghost World is also a powerful evocation of what it is like to drift, ghost-like, through a nondescript, soulless urban environment that it is itself ghostly. Full of quirky characters and memorable images, Ghost World manages, paradoxically, to represent boredom and ennui vividly and entertainingly.
  4. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), Chris Ware. The publication of Jimmy Corrigan was a landmark moment for the graphic novel. It was the first graphic novel to be awarded major literary prizes on both sides of the Atlantic — the American Book Award and The Guardian First Book Award – and has been hugely influential in the field, for example on Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina (2019), the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Like Watchmen, Jimmy Corrigan has a complex, non-linear structure and subverts conventional notions of (super-) heroism; like Maus, it is a book about fathers and sons; like Ghost World, it has a protagonist who is drifting aimlessly through life, alienated from the world around him. Yet it is visually and formally more radical than any of the other books on this list. Ware’s dark palette and landscape format and his use of diagrams, instructions and definitions make the book, as an object and text, highly unusual. Narratively, too, Ware is a great innovator: the absence of exposition and page numbering, the abrupt transitions back and forth between a historical narrative focusing on Jimmy’s grandfather and the present-day narrative focusing on Jimmy, the use of surreal dream-sequences, and the disruption of conventional panel sequencing all make Jimmy Corrigan quite difficult to read (and to teach). But it’s well worth the effort. It is a beautiful, heart-breaking story that has been much imitated but never bettered.
  5. Fun Home (2006), Alison Bechdel. Through its adaptation as an award-winning musical, Bechdel’s work has reached an audience that might never have encountered her graphic novel, or indeed anyone else’s (though the book itself was a bestseller). Fun though Fun Home the musical is, in common with the film adaptations of Watchmen and Ghost World, it can’t quite do justice to the complexity of the original. Fun Home the book is a coming-of-age and a coming-out story, a self-consciously literary Bildungsroman that pays homage to James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde, among others. It is also a moving memoir about the author’s relationship with her father, whose queer sexuality finds an echo in her own lesbianism, and whose (possible) suicide haunts the book. I might also have included Bechdel’s sequel, Are You My Mother? (2012): if the later book can’t quite match the emotional power and fierce intelligence of Fun Home, Bechdel can console herself with the knowledge that few other graphic novels, or novels of any sort for that matter, can.

And this is the point that I hope a reading of these titles will demonstrate to any newcomers: these are not just great graphic novels but great works of art. The term graphic novel was initially deployed in order to confer intellectual credibility on what had been previously seen as a trivial form of entertainment aimed primarily at children, but the works listed above (and many others) rival anything done in the novel form over the same period, and right now some of the most innovative and exciting work in fiction and life-writing is being done in the graphic novel form.

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DEL Island Discs Episode 1: Dr Faustus

Welcome to the first episode in a new series of DEL Island Discs!

In this series, literary characters are cast away on a distant desert island, located somewhere on the enigmatic fourth floor of the Edith Morley building. Each week we will hear the musical choices of a new castaway, presented by one of their fans from the Department of English Literature.

Our castaway today is a true Renaissance man: a scholar of considerable erudition, learning and intellect. However, he notoriously passed up the opportunity to live a godly life and chose instead an infernal pact with the devil, sacrificing his own soul in the process. Probably he’d welcome an eternity on a desert island in comparison to burning in the fires of hell for all eternity, but unfortunately, that’s not a choice he ever got to make.

Today’s castaway is Doctor Faustus from Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, presented by Chloe Houston.

Dr Faustus is Marlowe’s version of the cautionary tale of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and worldly pleasures – a bargain which he comes to regret. Marlowe’s play begins with Dr Faustus listing all the subjects he’s mastered. Despite having read every authority of human learning, he yearns for something more, and turns to “necromantic books” to help him. With the assistance of his friends Valdes and Cornelius, he learns enough black magic to summon a devil, Mephistophilis, and contracts to sell his soul to Lucifer in return for twenty four years of service from Mephistophilis. He questions this decision several times during the action of the play but ends it convinced that he is going to hell and cannot be redeemed. The action finishes with him descending into a hell-mouth onstage, and his scattered limbs being found by the scholars whom he leaves behind.

There is a fair amount of music and dancing in the play of Dr Faustus, but who knows what it actually sounded like, so for this list we’ve allowed Faustus to make a wider selection …

Disc One – ‘I’m Bored’, Iggy Pop (1979)
The video for ‘I’m Bored’, with Iggy Pop lounging around moodily, is a fitting version of Faustus as the play starts, frustrated with his reading and looking for trouble…

Disc Two – ‘The Magic Number’, De La Soul (1989)
With Valdes and Cornelius, Faustus learns the arts of magic. Like De La Soul, he is also looking for the magic number and how to be the best at what he does, but unfortunately Faustus chooses to summon the devil instead of create a hip hop masterpiece. Still, it seems worth allowing him one happy song when he’s on the up, and he can dance to this one while he works on some new spells.

Disc Three – ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’, Stevie Wonder (1970)
Faustus signs his pact with the devil in his own blood after cutting his arm. Although the clotting of his blood nearly prevents him from finishing the job – he should have paid attention to what his body was saying, maybe – Faustus eventually manages to sign, seal and deliver his soul to Lucifer.

Disc Four – ‘Losing My Religion’, REM (1991)
This one is self-explanatory. Faustus says he will “Despair in God, and trust in Beelzebub”.

Disc Five – ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’, The Charlie Daniels Band (1979)
This is the classic country tale of what happens when the devil comes looking for trouble, leading to a violin battle between him and a mere mortal. The outcome of this song would have been a happy ending for Faustus; in this version, the human wins.


Disc Six – ‘Go To Hell’, Megadeth (1995)

You can’t have a hell-inspired playlist without some heavy metal, and Faustus might appreciate this classic of the genre, which also, trivia-fans may care to know, featured on the soundtrack of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Faustus can nod along to the lyrics: “much too late I realize […] It’s true you reap what you sow”.

Disc Seven – ‘Everything Goes to Hell’, Tom Waits (2002)
Tom’s message is simple: you can’t trust anyone and hell waits for us all.

Disc Eight – ‘Pandaemonium’ from ‘La Damnation de Faust’, Hector Berlioz (1846), Op.24/Part 4, Scène 19
If Faustus wants to hear some other works of art about his story, he could do worse than listening to Berlioz. Berlioz’s music was inspired by Goethe’s poem Faust and his imagination of hell is full of fury; a review of the 1892 revival of Berlioz’s Faust commented that “when all pandemonium opens, and the infernal chorus breaks forth, the music becomes an unspeakable horror: it screams with agony, it buffets us with the sounds of orgy, it exults in the triumph of hell”. A nice, relaxing listen for the beach.

Doctor Faustus’ book
Doctor Faustus is allowed to take the Bible and Shakespeare to his desert island, but he might not want the Bible for obvious reasons, and few of Shakespeare’s plays had been performed by 1592, so he’d probably choose his necromantic books instead. Good luck, doctor, and thank you for being our desert island castaway.

Doctor Faustus’ luxury
“pleasant fruits and princely delicates”

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