English Literature

You are currently browsing articles tagged English Literature.

MERL SEMINAR SERIES: RURAL RIDERS AND RADICALS

THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AND MERL SPEAKER SERIES 2018

Booking recommended – BOOK TICKETS

VENUE: The Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, RG1 5EX

A series of lunchtime talks organised by the Department of English Literature and the Museum of English Rural Life, in celebration of their ongoing collaborations. Events in the series feature (alternately) writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

22 MARCH – JON SMITH – VIBRANT LOCALISM: THE STORY OF COMMON GROUND

Jos will introduce the work of Common Ground and explore the group’s relationship to rural England, in which ideas of the local are re-energised through a close engagement with the arts.

This talk is part of Rural Riders and Radicals, a series of lunchtime talks in collaboration with the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Events in the series feature writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

Tags: , ,

MERL SEMINAR SERIES: RURAL RIDERS AND RADICALS

THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AND MERL SPEAKER SERIES 2018

Booking recommended – BOOK TICKETS

VENUE: The Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, RG1 5EX

A series of lunchtime talks organised by the Department of English Literature and the Museum of English Rural Life, in celebration of their ongoing collaborations. Events in the series feature (alternately) writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

This talk is part of Rural Riders and Radicals, a series of lunchtime talks in collaboration with the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Events in the series feature writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

1 MARCH – JAMES GRANDE – RADICAL TOURS AND RUSTIC HARANGUES: WILLIAM COBBETT AND JOHN THELWALL

This talk will explore the radical tradition of rural writing through the work of Cobbett and John Thelwall, focusing on their tours, agricultural experiment, political oratory, and their thinking about the English countryside.

Tags: , ,

MERL SEMINAR SERIES: RURAL RIDERS AND RADICALS

THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AND MERL SPEAKER SERIES 2018

Booking recommended – BOOK TICKETS

VENUE: The Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, RG1 5EX

A series of lunchtime talks organised by the Department of English Literature and the Museum of English Rural Life, in celebration of their ongoing collaborations. Events in the series feature (alternately) writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

This talk is part of Rural Riders and Radicals, a series of lunchtime talks in collaboration with the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Events in the series feature writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

15 FEBRUARY – SIMON KOVESI – JOHN CLARE AND PLACE

The Romantic labouring-class poet John Clare is regarded as English literatures’s first major ecologically-concious writer. Simon discusses place as a foundation of Clare’s writing, and asks what position he should have in contemporary versions of environmentalism.

Tags: , ,

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , , ,

MERL SEMINAR SERIES: RURAL RIDERS AND RADICALS

THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AND MERL SPEAKER SERIES 2018

Booking recommended – BOOK TICKETS

VENUE: The Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, RG1 5EX

A series of lunchtime talks organised by the Department of English Literature and the Museum of English Rural Life, in celebration of their ongoing collaborations. Events in the series feature (alternately) writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

This talk is part of Rural Riders and Radicals, a series of lunchtime talks in collaboration with the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Events in the series feature writers with a national profile, and academic authors showcasing new and exciting research.

1 FEBRUARY – CLOVER STROUD – THE WILD OTHER: ON LANDSCAPE AND GRIEF

Clover will read extracts from The Wild Other, her deeply confessional memoir about the role horses and the landscape of Oxfordshire have played in managing trauma in her life.

Tags: , ,

Steven Matthews is professor of English Literature, University of Reading. His latest book of poetry, On Magnetism, was launched this week. It features poems about loss and remembrance, about the relation of the Renaissance and the Classical worlds to our own, and about locales within lives. 

The following poem is reproduced by kind permission of the publisher. It is followed by a reflection on the poem, and its place within the book, by Steven Matthews.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , ,

By Dr Rebecca Bullard, Department of English Literature, University Reading

Jane Austen would, I think, have been delighted to feature on the new £10 note. Many of her novels are about the impact of money – and especially the lack of it – on women’s lives.

Her first published works, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, feature families full of daughters struggling under a legal system that keeps all property in the hands of (sometimes distant) male relatives. The famous opening of Pride and Prejudice, of course, tells us that ‘a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. Austen’s fourth novel, Emma, turns this observation on its head, with Emma Woodhouse declaring that, ‘A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid!’

Austen never condones this kind of snobbery: Emma comes to regret her unkind behaviour towards the impoverished spinster, Miss Bates, and the protagonist of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, is dignified in poverty. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that marrying well for Austen meant, above all, escaping the financial insecurity of a single life; love is a bonus.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , ,

By Professor Grace Ioppolo, English Literature professor at the University of Reading, and 2017 Sam Wanamaker Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe

Although the Sam Wanamaker Fellowship Lecture was scheduled several months ago, for Thursday 8 June, the timing is now auspicious, for it will take place on the evening of the General Election.

Whilst my subject will be how Shakespeare viewed his audiences, I will now be obliged to work in a few Shakespearean quotes and puns on elections (at least from Hamlet and Julius Caesar, not to mention All’s Well that Ends Well (‘thy frank election make; / Thou hast power to choose, and they none to forsake.”).

We know how we feel about Shakespeare, but we don’t really know how he felt about his theatrical audiences and readers. My talk will look at evidence that still exists in archival records and in play texts from the late 16th and early 17th century about how Shakespeare and his colleagues viewed public and private audiences.

I assume that Shakespeare liked us as much as we liked him, although he knew that

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.  (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

So, it’s the poet who gives the audience the power to use their imagination. Whether they accept that power is up to them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,

Dr Rebecca Bullard from the Department of English Literature asks whether the digital revolution means we no longer have a need for old books? 

Bringing old books to life

In an attack on the censorship of books, the poet John Milton declared that ‘Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.’ Milton’s metaphor, taken from alchemy, claims that books store (like a vial, or ‘violl’) the distilled genius of their authors. These books, Milton claims, are kept alive by the elixir of their authors’ ideas. Other writers from the ‘early modern’ period (roughly, 1500-1750) were not so confident that an author’s spirit would be enough to keep a book alive. Jonathan Swift remarked, gloomily, that ‘Books, like Men their Authors, have no more than one Way of coming in to the World, but there are ten Thousand to go out of it, and return no more.’ Swift imagined books literally torn apart, their pages turned into firelighters, pie-tin liners, and toilet paper.

Research in early modern English literature has sought ways to preserve our printed heritage in ways that would have been beyond even Swift and Milton’s prodigious powers of imagination. A digital turn in humanities research has led to the creation of an array of resources designed to preserve early modern literary culture for current and future generations. Our University Library subscribes to several of these, including the extraordinary Early English Books Online (EEBO), which offers readers digital images of every page of almost every book published in the British Isles from the earliest days of printing in the late fifteenth century to the year 1700. Researchers at Reading are, themselves, responsible for such e-resources as Verse Miscellanies Online, an online edition of some of the most popular poetry anthologies of the English Renaissance, and a database of Italian Academy Libraries that allows users to enter the world of early humanist learning. Digitisation not only has the capacity to keep books alive and in the public domain but also, through functions such as word searchability and image recognition, to generate new avenues of research.

Does the digital revolution mean, then, that bytes store the ‘efficacie and extraction’ of living intellects better than books? Keeping special collections of rare books in libraries is a costly business – one that resources like EEBO might seem to make redundant. If we regard books simply as repositories of words or texts, the answer might be ‘yes’. But both Milton and Swift make it quite clear that books are more than just inert containers for the words that they contain. These authors draw attention to the life (and potential death) embodied, materially, in the physical document that is a book. Many of us in Reading’s English Department are carrying out research into early modern ‘material texts’ which demonstrates that books communicate with their readers in ways that cannot easily be captured in electronic form.

The codex – the folded series of pages that many of us think of, automatically, as the default form of the book – exists not just in two but in three dimensions. It has a depth and, therefore, a weight that eludes the virtual world of digital representation. Think about the last book that you read. You almost certainly made judgements about it based on its size and weight even before you opened the covers. And you were probably conscious of the peculiarly tangible form of narrative progress represented by turning pages. The knowledge that one is ‘104 of 286’ pages through a book – the kind of information imparted by a digital edition – cannot capture an aspect of reading material texts that is determined by the sense of touch more than abstract mental processing.

Perhaps even more significantly, digital texts give the misleading impression that the facsimile of a document that we see on our screens provides the definitive version of the text it contains. It conceals the fact that every early modern text is handmade and therefore unique. In this period, setting type, printing sheets, collation, and binding all took place in separate processes and separate places. No two texts produced in the pre-industrial era are exactly identical. Sometimes the differences can be quite radical. Authors were able to make alterations to the words of their texts (known as ‘stop-press corrections’) in the middle of the printing process. Paper and labour being expensive, no bookseller would withhold the uncorrected version from public view. Consequently, early modern texts often circulated in more than one version, even within ostensibly the same edition. When owners got their hands on books, the differences between texts could become even more striking. Early modern readers liked to scribble in books, adding notes and even blotting out words. An example of this practice can be found in images of the playwright Ben Jonson’s collected works, now held in Reading University Library’s Special Collections, which show the inky assault that one early reader made on Jonson’s plays.

Of course, the existence of digital editions does not in and of itself preclude researchers from consulting material editions of early modern texts. And digital resources like the one used to capture the images of Ben Jonson’s inked-out plays demonstrate that new technology can disseminate information about the unique characteristics of particular early modern documents. I don’t want to suggest that there’s anything wrong with the digitisation of early modern texts – far from it. I do, however, want to draw attention to the limitations of electronic facsimiles, and to the advantages of carrying out the kind of archival research that leaves the smell of centuries-old paper, ink, leather (and concomitant dirt) on one’s fingertips. It is expensive to maintain archives of rare books, to conserve and catalogue early modern print. But old books bring to life the words of Swift, Milton and other early modern authors, as well as the cultures that fostered and first read them, in ways that cannot be matched by any digital ‘violl’.

Tags: , , ,