I am still at home. My poor parents are currently watching me write a chapter of my Masters thesis.
Working on coursework at home is always fraught – you don’t feel quite able to descend into the maelstrom of skank, lunacy and botched cicadian rhythms that have previously characterised your writing experiences in college, but just enough of the madness leaks out to let them feel concerned. It’s, you know, the little things – the slow spread of A4 printouts across the dining table (I have gone back to working on paper, and the planet weeps for me and its forets), the inability to type unless listening to 90s pop, 80s pop, godawful C-pop or, er, VERY LOUD BAROQUE. The tea-drinking. The broken skin. The appalling, stupendous bad temper with which no human being should have contact.
So to my lovely parents, I apologise. I have eaten and slept better this week than in months. It is not their fault I want to put a fork through my own eyes. Or the eyes of Constance Benson (1860-1946), that sanctimonious uncharitable cow, were she around for me to do it. She is so mean about Janet Achurch, guys. Not even the AMAZING FEUD between G. Bernard Shaw and E. G. Craig (look at his tiny smug face, I love him) can console me (basically, Gordon Craig, arch bastard, gave Shaw permission to publish his letters to/from Ellen Terry, then pretended he hadn’t. ALL OVER LITERATURE. It’s so great).
…I nearly said ‘I must remind myself these people aren’t real‘ (my usual tactic when raging at Dorothea Brooke, or Romeo, or the other Mrs Rochester), and then I remembered that no, actually, they were. The pitfalls of (semi-)interdisciplinary work, you store up all sorts of grudges for the afterlife. Including ‘Oscar, why were you such a git?’ and ‘Stuffed sacks of hay, Gordon Craig, what were you thinking?’.
Writing this post has actually cheered me. My thesis may not be hugely interesting – at the moment it is being written very slowly, yet reads like the work of a four-year-old twit on acid – but the subjects are. Divine Ellen Terry (look how beautiful she was at sixteen) has a death-story that reads like the rapture of a Catholic saint. Janet Achurch’s husband killed himself by drowning in a suit of armour. Helen Faucit had an incredibly messed-up relationship with Charles Kemble and doesn’t seem to have noticed. Simple pleasures.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.