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by Professor Peter Stoneley, Head of Department, English Literature, University of Reading

A poem about a man who murdered his wife isn’t an obvious choice for Valentine’s Day, but Oscar Wilde made it clear that his The Ballad of Reading Gaol was, in fact, about love:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.

Written after his two years of imprisonment with hard labour from 1895 to 1897, and first published on February 13th 1898, Wilde’s poem focused on an execution by hanging that was carried out in Reading Prison during his own incarceration. Charles Thomas Wooldridge was a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards who, out of jealousy, stabbed his wife to death. Wooldridge thought his death sentence was right, and he did not seek clemency. He was hanged on 7 July 1896, and buried in an unmarked grave within the Prison walls.

Oscar Wilde’s ‘love poem’ was also a plea for prison reform

In the present climate, where attitudes and behaviour towards women are rightfully being challenged, presenting Wooldridge as a hero, or suggesting his actions were a “crime of passion”, seems abhorrent.  Wilde, though, draws Wooldridge with sympathy.  The trooper seems haunted by his crime, as he looks “with such a wistful eye/Upon that little tent of blue/Which prisoners call the sky”.

Further, Wilde chooses to explore the thought that all people fail their love in one way or another: “each man kills the thing he loves”.  The paradox of the poem is that Wooldridge becomes the hero of love because he, out of the intensity of his devotion, commits the greatest crime.

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Multi-award-winning author Eimear McBride is the inaugural Creative Fellow at the University of Reading’s Samuel Beckett Research Centre. This role allows her exclusive access to the University’s Beckett Archive and leading Beckett academics, and will see her produce a brand new piece of work inspired by the work of the Irish playwright. Here, in part one of her monthly journal, she talks about the daunting, and fascinating, task of following in Beckett’s footsteps.

Eimear will get to explore the University’s Beckett Archive

I have the good fortune to be in receipt of the inaugural Creative Fellowship at the University of Reading’s Beckett Research Centre.

From now until the summer I’ll be haunting their reading room and ordering as much material by, and about, Beckett from their archive as I can possibly read – having already cast an eye over the fascinating ‘German Diaries’ and seen Beckett’s handwriting up close, it’s fair to say, the reading itself may prove something of a challenge.

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By Dr Helen Dacre and Dr Andrew Prata, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading

Mount Agung is erupting in Bali

The volcanic ash being spewed out by Mount Agung in Bali has brought back memories of the 2010 eruption in Iceland, which caused chaos for holidaymakers in Europe. Airlines operating flights to and from Bali and its neighbouring Indonesian islands have again been hit this week, however research is being carried out to reduce the impact of eruptions in the future.

Mount Agung had been showing signs of increased seismic activity since mid-September, but last Tuesday it moved into a new phase and began releasing steam and volcanic ash into the atmosphere. Denpasar International Airport in Bali has reported ash at ground level accumulating on aircraft and satellite images show glimpses of an ash-rich plume, but it is often obscured by meteorological clouds.

Due to the damaging effect of volcanic ash on jet engines – molten ash blocks engine cooling holes causing engines to overheat and shutdown – air travel is restricted in ash contaminated airspace. A prolonged eruption, such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland that grounded flights across Europe, will lead to inevitable economic damage to Bali and the surrounding area due to lost tourism and productivity.

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By Dr Teresa Murjas, Department of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading

Image from the Huntley and Palmer archive held at the Museum of English Rural Life

Over the last couple of months, I have been working with Reading Museum and The MERL to support and advise colleagues from The National Archives during the development of their Edible Archives theme. This is part of the national Explore your Archive campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness of, and increasing public engagement with, archives and collections. (see last month’s blog post)

This exciting collaboration arose from my ongoing creative work with the University of Reading’s Huntley & Palmers archive, which is entitled ‘The First World War in Biscuits’. A 100-year-old ration biscuit, put on display at Reading Museum as a result of the project, was modified by young Private George Mansfield during the war to hold his photograph.

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By Professor Tim Dixon, School of the Built Environment, University of Reading

Is this how Reading will look in 2050?

As the world’s urban population continues to grow, it will be increasingly important for the built environment sector to offer solutions that work for individual streets as well as whole cities.

Buildings already make up 20% of global emissions, and the world’s population will be 70% urban by 2050. So, understanding how we can join up our thinking and disciplinary understanding from individual building level to neighbourhood level and at the urban level will be essential to make the built environment work better for society and create more resilient and sustainable places.

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By Professor Roger Matthews and Dr Wendy Matthews

Bestansur site in Iraq

The transition of humankind from mobile hunters to settled farmers after the Ice Age is a period in history still shrouded in mystery. Very little evidence exists to shed light on what life was like in the world’s first villages in the Middle East 12,000 to 9,000 years ago.

But our archaeological research, carried out in collaboration with local communities in Iraq and Iran, is uncovering clues that will help us understand how ancient civilisations developed. We will be presenting our findings at a public lecture on Wednesday 22 November, as part of the national Being Human Festival.

Earlier this year, we conducted excavations and interdisciplinary research at the Neolithic site of Bestansur, in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is in the eastern Fertile Crescent – one of the areas of the Middle East where farming originated. Our aim is to learn more about how humans first started farming in this region, taking steps towards a more domesticated lifestyle.

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By Lydia Messling, University of Reading

Is it fair that climate change has the worst effects in areas that contributed to the problem the least?

It isn’t just polar bears being affected by climate change – people all over the world are already being negatively affected by changes to the climate, from droughts, flooding, and ruined harvests.

That’s not fair. Particularly as these communities had no role in making the problem in the first place. Fast forward a few years, and the environmental situation for our children’s children is not looking too peachy either… but could it look green?

If we changed the way we thought about climate change instead of it being ‘just a problem for science to solve’ to a problem about social justice, could we come up with a solution that addresses injustice that would help these communities and climate change at the same time? Can fairness create a green future?

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By Professor Rosa Freedman, Professor of Law, Conflict and Global Development, University of Reading

United Nations flag

The vast majority of the over 100,000 UN uniformed peacekeeping personnel perform their jobs with courage, dedication and professionalism. Yet those who do commit sexual offences bring shame on the entire UN system and betray the trust of those that they have been sent to protect.

There is a need for system-wide reform to ensure that such abuses cannot again occur with widespread impunity. University of Reading researchers and Keeping Children Safe are forming a proposal for such reform (details on our website) and the project will be showcased during our ESRC Festival of Social Science events next week.

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By Dr Yota Dimitriadi, Institute of Education, University of Reading

The pain and fear of death is a topic that unites us all.

Generous funding by the ESRC is allowing us to put together a community event during the upcoming Festival of Social Science to discuss the unspoken ‘D’ word.

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By David Brauner, Professor of Contemporary Literature, University of Reading

Lincoln in the Bardo is a worthy winner of the Man Booker Prize and is further confirmation of the supremacy of American authors in the field of contemporary fiction, following Paul Beatty’s win last year for The Sellout.

With a few notable exceptions, British novelists seem tame and timid in comparison to their American counterparts. It was great to see Kazuo Ishiguro win the Nobel Prize but he would probably be the first to agree with Garrison Keillor that it’s a scandal that so many of the great contemporary Americans – Philip Roth pre-eminent among them – have been consistently overlooked for the honour. Every year, for the best part of two decades, Roth has been heavily tipped for the prize – alongside fellow Americans Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Joyce Carol Oates – but when, last year, they finally decided to give it to an American writer (an American Jewish writer, at that), it was Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) who got the nod.

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