Call for Submissions – The Literary Encyclopedia

THE LITERARY ENCYCLOPEDIA (Older Scots) – Call for Contributors

(www.litencyc.com)

 

The Literary Encyclopedia’s section editor for Scottish Literature & Culture (Older Scots) – Kate Ash-Irisarri (Manchester) – has identified a number of new entries for which she is seeking contributing authors. Please contact Kate for the most recent list of Older Scots topics yet to be commissioned or for further information. Suggestions for entries on writers or works not currently on our list or the website are also welcome. By searching the website’s database you will see what entries are currently available. Access to the database requires a subscription either for an individual or an institution. For information about subscriptions, including trials, contact the Managing Editor, Cristina Sandru. Email addresses for Kate and Cristina are available on the Literary Encyclopedia website contacts page: http://www.litencyc.com/editors.php 

There are several advantages to writing for the LE. As a contributor, you will be given personal access to the LE, and publication will be prompt, benefiting readers around the world. The contributors share ownership of the publication, receiving shares and royalties commensurate with their personal investment. If you are willing to contribute, please refer to the Information for Authors (http://www.litencyc.com/php/information_for_authors.php) and the Editorial Policies (http://www.litencyc.com/php/editorial_policies.php).

About LE

The Literary Encyclopedia publishes biographies of major and minor writers; scholarly descriptions of all interesting texts written by these authors, including those often neglected; and a variety of descriptive and critical essays on literary, cultural and historical matters, which provide a finer understanding of the social contexts in which this writing was produced. We seek to cover all of world literature and endeavour to commission and publish articles on the widest variety of quality writing that has been produced around the world. We offer excellent coverage of English, American, German, Russian, Italian, French and Classical literatures, as well as substantial and increasing coverage of Hispanic, Japanese, Canadian, East European and various postcolonial literatures. (Other major literatures to be added as resources permit). So far we have published about 7,557 completed articles, with a total of about 15.77 million words. We are currently adding around 20-40 articles to the Encyclopedia every month.

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Mary at the Foot of the Cross

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Apologies for my absence. Personal circumstances since the end of 2013 have made it difficult to keep up with postings on here. I hope, however, to be back regularly from now on.

With it being Good Friday, my attention has been turned to the Crucifixion lyrics that I teach as part of our second year Medieval to Early Modern literature. We spend two weeks on ‘forms of piety’, examining the ways in which medieval and early modern writers expressed their faith. We also spend a lot of time talking about the possible ruptures between the medieval and early modern periods as a result of the Reformation, asking how the religious shifts during this period might have affected every day religious practices. To be honest, it’s probably the toughest two weeks of the course. A combination of a reduced religious literacy amongst my students combined with a cynical attitude towards religion more generally means that they often struggle to engage with this material and its context. My colleague, Dr Sarah Macmillan, whose specialises in working with late medieval religious material, is brilliant at leading students through the complexities of these weeks, and I’ve learned a lot from her over the past eighteen months.

One of the ways in which we’ve tried to help our students is to combine the study of medieval incarnation and crucifixion lyrics with a study trip to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Students are given the opportunity to work both with the lyrics that have been set as reading for the class, but they are also required to combine these readings with study of late medieval artwork and artefacts. What we finding these sessions is that students begin to appreciate more the interrelationship between text and image, and that they become increasingly interested in the role of affect in early expressions of piety. While this is emphasised by the immediate presence of the visual material in the gallery (and by the way, the collection at the Walker is really quite impressive if you get the opportunity to visit), what strikes me the most when we look at the Crucifixion lyrics is how students begin to engage in deeper close reading of the Middle English as a result. Many of the lyrics that we ask them to read are quite short (4 lines or so), and initially students have very little to say about them. By the end of the session,they are thinking about the ways in which a seemingly simple lyric becomes particularly effective (and affective) because of its initial simplicity. That kind of development over the course of a couple of hours is wonderful to see and be part of, and, as a result, those sessions are often the ones that I enjoy the most. I’m also repeatedly struck by the ways in which the shorter lyrics can elicit complex emotional responses as I’m reading them, and one of my favourites is a four-line lyric that depicts Mary at the foot of the Cross. On Good Friday, I leave you with it:

Nou goth sonne under wod;
Me reweth, Marie, thi faire rode.
Nou goth sonne under tre;
Me reweth, Marie, thi sone and thee.

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The Problem with Alisoun

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‘Experience, though noon auctoritee

Were in this world, is right ynogh for me

To speke of wo that is in mariage’ (Wife of Bath’s Prologue, ll. 1-3)

 

In the past few months I have been invited to give study lectures to students studying Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale for A level, in conjunction with Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and Sovereign Education. Very few students get the opportunity to study medieval literature before they go to university: I was one of those unlucky ones, and so my first experience of Chaucer came in the second year of my degree (I’d studied Old English in my first year). It’s always interesting to go into schools and colleges, meeting younger students and hearing about how they approach medieval literature and the Wife of Bath in particular. I always find they’re very receptive to different approaches to the text and they welcome the opportunity to discuss the context of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a way of understanding what can be a very different kind of text for them.

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Wife of Bath – Ellesmere Manuscript, Huntington Library, CA.

And it always amazes me that students study The Wife of Bath at this level because, for me, it is perhaps one of the most difficult Chaucerian texts; just when I think I’ve got a handle on what Alisoun is about, I re-read the text and find myself completely unsure of my readings again. Of course, that’s the wonderful thing about this text, but it also seems to me a text that requires so much ‘outside’ knowledge, of theology, philosophy, and the fourteenth century. It’s a text that I love teaching, but one that I always find we never have enough time for in class. Does anyone else have a text that they grapple with like this?

A lovely write up and some student comments from my lecture at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls can be found here.

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A View of Florence

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After several days of stunning spring weather – blue skies, sunshine, a crisp wind – it is raining again in the north of England. Who knew?! Things have been a little slow recently; several events have made just getting through the day’s work tasks seem like unmanageable feats. Needless to say, the blog has been terribly neglected. So, to try to gear myself back up to writing more regularly and in an attempt to remind myself that, despite the miserable grey that confronts me now, warmer weather and brighter days are ahead, I’m posting some pictures from my trip to Florence last May.

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The Duomo

This was only the second time I’d visited Italy; the first time was to attend a conference in Padua in 2011. Despite the delayed flight out of Manchester, which meant we missed our flight from Brussels and had a five-hour layover, we had a wonderful couple of days in the city to celebrate D’s birthday. He’s very good at humouring my desire to visit church after church.

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Ceiling of the Duomo

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Details of the Duomo ceiling

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Details of the Duomo ceiling

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Details of the Duomo ceiling

 

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Some details from the Piazza della Signoria:

Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583)

Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583)

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Copy of Michelangelo’s David with the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in the background

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Copy of Michelangelo’s David

 

Michelangelo’s original statue (now in the Galleria dell’ Accademia) stood in the Piazza until 1873.

Perseus by Cellini (1554)

Perseus by Cellini (1554)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Renaissance graffiti on the walls of the Campanile

Some Renaissance graffiti on the walls of the Campanile

 

IMG_1239We loved being increasingly fascinated by the architecture, the painting, and the history of the cities we visit, and trying to find quiet places to explore; as you might be saying to yourself, this is not easy in Florence. But, on the Sunday we headed out to Fiesole, about 8km northeast of Florence. It provides some wonderful views of Florence itself, and affords a great place to eat gelato!

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View of the Duomo and Campanile from Fiesole

 

And what birthday would be complete without some cake!943378_10200853787722475_1120455257_n

 

Women in Love

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In honour of St Valentine’s Day, I’m posting a poem from the Findern Anthology (Cambridge University Library, MS Ff.1.6), a fifteenth-century manuscript. The anthology itself appears to have been an everyday object: not only does it contain secular poetry, there is also a bill from the butcher’s! Of particular interest, perhaps, is that some of the scribes and some of the authors represented in the anthology were most likely women, and in a textual world dominated by male speaks confessing their love, three poems from the Findern manuscript provide a rare glimpse of female amatory experiences.

 

One poem presents the poetic reworking of the marriage vows and the woman attests to her love of her husband; a second poem warns against the dangers of those men who play the game of love and deceive women with flattery and nice words; a third poem deals with the grief felt by a woman whose lover is absent. I recently taught these poems with my second year students and it was wonderful to see their reactions to (often) hidden or silent voices of medieval women, and to see how they responded to the ‘female’ articulations of love within a male dominated secular tradition.

I hope you enjoy:

Continvance

Of remembraunce

Withowte ending

Doth me penaunce,

And gret greuance

For yowr partyng.

 

So depe ye be

Grauen, parde,

Withyn my hert

That afore mee

Euer I yow see

In thought couert.

 

Though I ne playn

My wofull payn

But bere yt styll,

It were in vayn

To sey agayn

Fortunes wyll.

You can access the three poems mentioned here through Blackwell’s online appendix from John C. Hirsh’s Medieval Lyric: Middle English, Ballads, and Carols 

CFP: The Three Estates International Symposium, University of Edinburgh, 6-8 June 2014

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Deadline: 31 December 2013

Proposals are invited for short papers of 20 minutes on any aspect of Lyndsay’s ‘Satire of the Three Estates’ for a symposium to be held at the University of Edinburgh between Friday 6 and Sunday 8 June 2014. If you would like a paper to be considered, please send a short abstract of your proposed topic (normally a paragraph or so of summary of the theme and argument of the paper should be enough) to greg.walker@ed.ac.uk before 31 December 2013.

Further details available on the Staging and Representing the Renaissance Scottish Court website.

Brook Memorial Lecture – 5 December 2013 – University of Manchester

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If you happen to be in the vicinity of the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, Manchester next Thursday (5 December), you might be interested in the annual Brook Lecture.

This year’s speaker is Prof. Helen Fulton from the University of York who will be speaking on “The Ruined City and the Politics of Troy in Medieval Britain”.

That’s right: her name is Helen, and she’s an expert on Troy. Further details on the flyer.

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Guest Post – Jessica George

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IS blog tour buttonI’m thrilled to have been asked to host a guest post as part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour, and I’m pleased to welcome Jessica George, whose story ‘New Town’ features in the collection. When I read Jess’s story, I was intrigued by the inter play between loss, perception and memory that runs through the story, something which resonates with my own research and also with Jess’s PhD work on the writing of Arthur Machan and H.P. Lovecraft. But, I’ll let Jess tell you more about that.

Hello there! I’m Jessica George, one of the contributors to the Hic Dragones Impossible Spaces anthology, released in July of this year. Impossible Spaces is, in the words of editor Hannah Kate, a collection of ‘dark, unsettling and weird short stories that explore the spaces at the edges of possibility’; you can find out a little more about I (and buy the book!) here. I’m chuffed to be contributing to the Impossible Spaces blog tour, and grateful to Kate Ash for inviting me to guest blog here.

When I spoke via email to Kate about writing a guest blog, she mentioned that the things that struck her most strongly in my contribution, ‘New Town’, were the ideas of perception, memory, and loss. I immediately seized on the last two of these, since they resonated with a theme that’s central to my writing and research: the ways that identity is constructed, and what it means for us – for our identities as individuals, and as humans – when we remove it from its context.

My academic work focuses on the short stories of Arthur Machen and H. P. Lovecraft, and in studying them I’ve been struck by the frequency with which the loss of human specificity crops up as a theme. The human face, in particular, comes under attack with startling regularity. Sometimes this is literal – the gruesome demise of Arthur Munroe in ‘The Lurking Fear’, for example. In other places, it is the humanness of the face that is under attack – the family resemblance between Arthur Jermyn and his ape ancestress in ‘Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family’ undermines his human individuality. Facial expression, in other places, betrays the fact that someone who appears human – like Professor Peaslee, replaced by an alien being, in Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow Out of Time’, or the unfortunate victims of half-human femme fatale Helen Vaughan in Machen’s ‘The Great God Pan’ – is no longer fully so.

It’s not just the weird tale where this happens, of course. The integrity and individuality of the human self are brought into question again and again in horror fiction. Think of the shape-shifting creature in John Carpenter’s The Thing, or of the Buffy episode ‘Anne’ (s03e01), with its ‘I’m no-one’ refrain. More recently, Ramsey Campbell’s 2010 novel, The Seven Days of Cain, culminates, in a rather lovely metafictional manoeuvre, with one of the two protagonists realising that she is a fictional character, the creation of her frustrated-writer husband. (Ramsey Campbell, it is worth mentioning here, has also contributed a story to Impossible Spaces!)

My research has focussed upon the relationship between evolutionary theory and the weird tale. The source of horror in so much fiction after Darwin is the loss of human specificity that evolution occasioned. No longer favoured creations of a beneficent deity, we were the product of an indifferent force, a chaotic, non-teleological progression. The ‘humanocentric pose’, as Lovecraft termed it, became impossible to sustain. We were not only unimportant to a vast, uncaring cosmos, but subject to an ongoing process of transformation; unfixed; no longer immortal souls, but bodies—and minds—in flux. This anxiety around the permeability of the boundaries of self runs through (permeates, one might say) the fin-de-siècle Gothic. Dr Jekyll finds himself transformed, physically as well as psychologically, into his ape-like and amoral double; a young and impressionable Dorian Gray becomes as incapable of human feeling as his painted portrait; the aforementioned Helen Vaughan breaks down into a primordial slime, wavering ‘from sex to sex’ and descending ‘to the beasts’ in the process. The specificity of self vanishes, the bases of identity crumbling.

If evolutionary theory undid the notion of the inviolable human self in the nineteenth century, a similar undoing was accomplished in the twentieth by thinker like Lacan, Althusser, and Foucault, who questioned the naturalness of human nature. Sociologists such as Bourdieu and Dick Hebdige, meanwhile, discussed the construction of class and subcultural identity via ‘taste’ and consumer goods. Suddenly, our preferences were the product of our class, race, gender and socialisation, rather than being expressions of an innate and fixed individuality.

I wrote in a guest post at Hannah’s blog about the importance that place held for me when writing ‘New Town’, and I mentioned there the similarity I see between the 1950s new town and the all-American suburbia so beloved by horror writers and directors. Perhaps part of what makes these environments so unsettling is this: if we are constructed by our environments, then will living in environment like this construct us all in the same way? Will it make a lie of our individuality; throw the provisionality of our humanness into sharp relief?

This idea of loss of self, I suppose, is one of the ideas I was trying to get at through the character of Heledd, someone whose idea of herself—her reality, her groundedness in her present—is made up of purchased and gifted material signifiers, and of the expectations and desires of friends and family. Even here, though, I haven’t been quite able to get away from the idea of something else. Stripped of her context, and of the things that make her up, we might expect Hel to retreat into despair—or maybe madness, that trusty standby of the horror writer trying to convey the unthinkable. Instead, on the night before her final disappearance, she turns away from both familial and social expectations and effectively bids her time goodbye, not embracing her fate, perhaps, but accepting that she will need to find some new mode of being. Perhaps that’s a function of the impossibility of really reaching these kinds of questions via writing. Writing, after all, requires a point of view—a position of assumed stability from which to comment on ideas, to view the fictional action. The raising of questions implies a questioner, and perhaps it’s that, finally, that has to be at the centre of fictional identity: ‘Who am I?’

Impossible Spaces is published by Hic Dragones

Jess George blogs at http://greenglassbeads.wordpress.com/

I kissed thee ere I killed thee

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O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on ~ Othello, Act 3, sc. 3

 

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I’ve waited ten years to see Adrian Lester on stage. As a poor undergraduate back in 2003, I couldn’t quite afford the trip to London to see him play Henry V and, in the absence of the recent ‘live theatre in the cinema’ concept, I missed the opportunity to see it. So, when I heard that he was going to be taking the lead in Othello at the National Theatre, I was pretty determined not to miss out again. But expectations were also running high: I’d waited ten years. Would I be disappointed?

Quite simply, no. In a gut and heart wrenching performance, matched by every member of the cast, this performance of Othello had me captivated from beginning to end. It was a stunningly physical and subtly emotional performance that left me exhausted in that amazing way that only live theatre can do. I can only imagine the physical and mental fitness needed by the company to act that day in and day out.

I must confess that I have struggled with Othello as a play. From the performances I’ve seen (stage and screen), I’ve never ‘got it’. Call me a Philistine, but I couldn’t understand Iago’s motivation to be so nasty, or Othello’s willingness to believe Iago’s suggestions. I’d always found Othello’s gullibility unconvincing. With this performance, I was right there; I understood. In a world where trust is the defining principle, the possibility of trusting and mistrusting the wrong people is of the utmost importance. It is truly life or death. This is emphasised by the military context of the play, often lost in performances, but fundamental to Nicholas Hytner’s production, where its continual presence provides the context for understanding how Othello goes from besotted lover to jealous murderer in what seems like such a short space of time. The biggest need in the army is trust, without it the company’s solidarity ceases to exist. Little wonder, perhaps, that the production had a military advisor, Jonathan Shaw, who provides an interesting perspective on the operational setting (the functionality of military life) in the production’s programme. As Shaw explains, betrayal ‘is the most heinous of military sins’ but it is also ‘the last to be suspected’. That this is true of Iago’s plotting and Othello’s initial resistance to believe Desdemona’s ‘infidelity’, through to the final exposure of Iago’s machinations and the reactions of his comrades is what draws the audience in, and both Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester play their parts beautifully. Kinnear revels in those alone moments where he half converses with himself, and makes the audience complicit in his plan; Lester makes us believe that Othello is caught between two people he wants to trust, but who now are placed on opposite sides.

Olivia Vinall as Desdemona and Adrian Lester as Othello. Photo by Johan Persson

Olivia Vinall as Desdemona and Adrian Lester as Othello. Photo by Johan Persson

Applying the same code of conduct to his marriage, as he does to the governance of his military unit, ultimately, for Othello, the bonds of brotherhood seem stronger than those of matrimony. Desdemona (and his marriage) has no place in the military campaign, and her attempts to intervene in Othello’s military decisions (the demotion of Cassio for his drunken brawling) allow the suspicion of her rumoured infidelity to take hold. Her lack of ‘trust’ in Othello’s decision allows Iago to destabilise the trust Othello has in his wife.

I think the thing that made this production so compelling for me was the understated performances and the naturalness of character. It is all too easy to caricature Shakespeare’s characters, particularly his villains; to overplay Iago’s nastiness or Othello’s grand presence. But under Nicholas Hytner’s direction, this play is believably everyday (or as everyday as you can get in a military barracks). It isn’t the grandiose tale of a hero with a single fatal flaw that we are destined to learn about in school; it seems a more commonplace tale of the consequences of trust. And it’s all the more chilling for it.

Lester’s Othello is self-conscious, considered in speech, aware of his having risen from the ranks, and his position as general is commanded quietly; publicly, this is not a man who shouts the loudest, but a man who through his previous actions has earned the status he now occupies. Privately, in those moments where Iago goads him, Othello is quick tempered, turning over tables and smashing his hand through walls.

Rory Kinnear as Iago and Adrian Lester as Othello. Photo by Johan Persson.

Rory Kinnear as Iago and Adrian Lester as Othello. Photo by Johan Persson.

Similarly, Kinnear’s Iago is not the creeping, Machiavellian type; his is at once a funny, disturbed, and entirely menacing portrayal of a man who seeks to maliciously destroy those around him through simple sleights of hand. His lack of conception that his opportunism will lead to his own downfall is entirely believable as he drip-feeds bits of unsubstantiated rumours to Othello. At the same time, Kinnear makes us laugh along with Iago; there were moments, where I’ve never heard audiences laugh before, that took on a new resonance. In a particularly telling moment, where he has tormented Othello so much that he has fallen into a seizure, Kinnear’s Iago banally takes a sip of the water that he had intended for his general. It perfectly captures Iago’s lack of humanity, and contrasts with his own sense of the injustice done to him in the world. There were also times when those bits of information that Iago drops into conversation don’t ring true to Othello, and the audience can only hope that his initial scepticism would hold out. Right through to the pathetic end, the interlocked nature of these two characters was overwhelming. We see them in a shared office, in the bathrooms, and rarely alone outside. Every key interaction had to take place in the private and enclosed spaces of two close army buddies. When Desdemona then interrupts the ‘maleness’ of these spaces, she seems out of place, unwelcome almost, and her ‘out of place-ness’ is suggested by Olivia Vinall’s deft portrayal of a young woman who cannot comprehend the situation in which she finds herself. Her young Desdemona has fallen in love with the image of Othello, and is ill equipped to reconcile this with the reality. A bird in a gilded cage, perhaps, and certainly one caught in the wrong cage.

 

Olivia Vinall as Desdemona, Adrian Lester as Othello, and Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia. Photo by Johan Persson.

Olivia Vinall as Desdemona, Adrian Lester as Othello, and Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia. Photo by Johan Persson.

The staging of the play reinforced this enclosure. Set in a military barracks, the production was, always nodding to its conclusion, suffocating. We consistently see the gates being locked, enclosing the characters and the audience, cutting them and us off from the outside world that exists at the back of the stage. The outside world that is meant to be dangerous; and yet, the greatest tragedy that occurs within the safety of the barracks. Caught in this military base, you could feel the stifling desert air (possibly helped by the fact that we are enjoying one of the hottest summers in recent years), and the set design succeeded in making the stage of the Olivier theatre feel particularly small. And of course, as the play progresses, both characters and audience move to more and more intimate enclosures, from the drill yard to the General’s office, to the bedroom. Again, the commonplace setting, the flat-packed furniture bedroom, sparse and lit by strip lighting brings the audience right back to the everyday, the operational.

The moment where Othello turns from enraged and entirely tormented by imagining his wife’s infidelity, to a broken sobbing pathetic man who can’t deal with the situation he finds himself in, is difficult to watch. Lester’s timing is spot on: his comprehension of what he has done in murdering Desdemona, and his attempts to then find a way through his guilt show us the mental anguish of a man so determined to do what is right that he ends up getting it spectacularly wrong. The audience is witness to a tragedy that we hear about all too often: a jealous lover snapping and acting out. Only here, in the guise of sixteenth-century drama, we see the build up, the twisting of words, the manipulation of gestures, and the aftermath where everyone is destroyed by two men who lose control: Othello in his violence, and Iago in his determination to exact revenge.

The production has been playing on my mind for the past week, and I think it will do for a long time yet. Its resonance with the recent news, and its explorations of what it means to trust and to doubt creep into my mind at the oddest of moments. I sincerely hope I don’t have to wait another ten years to see such a performance.

A great trailer for the production can be seen at National Theatre Live.  The play will be broadcast as part of NT Live on Thursday 26 September.

The production at the NT runs until 5 October.