Tag Archives: ACADEMIA

It’s been quiet around here on Clamorous Voice, as I’ve waded more securely into the chaos that is Not Waving, Not Drowning, But Trying To Finish My Thesis. I have a submission date of 1st August, which I’m inscribing on as many electronic surfaces possible in a bid for accountability/intellectual masochism. I passed my confirmation viva, which seems to be to the end of the DPhil process, that which transfer is to the beginning. In a total dereliction of my former principles, I have become one of those people who thinks that Oxford’s transfer of status process is a good thing – when seen retrospectively. I’m not yet bonkers enough to think it’s a good thing at the time.

I’m also still going on the radio. For those who missed the story of how this happened: a BBC researcher found my blog, or possibly my twitter, passed it on to their superiors and then apparently disappeared forever, leaving a confused but charming producer try to work out why she found herself on the phone to me. This Friday afternoon will be my third jaunt to BBC Oxford, and I love it. Given that I consume radio like oxygen, and have yet to listen to more than five seconds of myself on tape, this is not surprising. I am totally available for Woman’s Hour. I would just like to make this very clear.

I’m also giving three four papers this term, something which (in sharp contrast to transfer-of-status) looked like a good idea in advance. SO, if you’re in the vicinity and would like to hear me speak OR think any of my subjects sound innately interesting, please do come along! The list is below:

  • Friday 3 May, 12.45 – 1.45 p.m. “Ira Aldridge and Black Identity on the Victorian Stage.” Race and Resistance across borders in the Long Twentieth Century; interdisciplinary seminar sponsored by TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities). Radcliffe Humanities Building, Seminar Room, 3rd Floor, University of Oxford.
  • Friday 21 May, 5 p.m. “Women, Sex and Celebrity in the Victorian Theatre.” ‘Spotlight on Celebrity’ Research Network; Postgraduate / Early Career Researcher interdisciplinary network. Ryle Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building, University of Oxford.
  • Thursday 6 June, 11 a.m. “Manchester and the Forest of Arden: how one Victorian wedding became a global phenomenon.” The Global and the Local: North American Victorian Studies Association, British Association of Victorian Studies and Australasian Victorian Studies Association conference. San Servolo, Venice.
  • Monday 10 June, 5.15 p.m. “Shakespeare and the sleeping woman at the fin de siècle”. Victorian Literature Graduate Seminar. English Faculty, University of Oxford.

In other news, I am now twenty-six and one day. I am probably going to do something about the blog widget (to your right) which maintains the illusion of my youth and twenty-four-year-old promise. I am basically that blog widget’s portrait in the attic. I realise that, to anyone over twenty-six, twenty-six-year-olds who whine about their decrepit and withered proximity to calcification are appalling pubescents who deserved to be thwacked with a beehive. Believe me, that is how I feel about twenty-five-year-olds. Until I find how to change that widget, I crave your patience.

At some point I’ll be back, to express my rapturous love for Broadchurch and Endeavour, two programmes which took the distilled essence of my various enthusiasms and won me over completely despite containing ad breaks. Obviously, with Endeavour (doomed tragic policeman FIGHTS CRIME in Oxford) the bar for obtaining my love was always going to be set exceptionally low. I think that most programmes could be improved by being set in Oxford, and in Endeavour‘s case they threw in Roger Allam. Who walks around in a hat being splendid, and looking as if he confidently expects a forthcoming spinoff called Thursday (you could do worse, ITV, unless the Dowager Countess can somehow keep Downton going until the sixties).

I have not seen last night’s Endeavour, and I shan’t see Broadchurch until it hits ITVplayer tomorrow, so am anxiously avoiding spoilers. Re: Broadchurch, my money is on Elle’s Creepy Husband, although I’d be happier if we locked Nige up anyway. I’d be happier still if somebody tracked down that bloody postman and/or gave David Tennant a square meal. Anyway, yes, back sooner this time. Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

BBC Oxford & viva

On Friday, I made my radio debut! I was on BBC Oxford’s afternoon show, presented by Sybil Ruscoe, talking about my research & myself, as well as the show’s daily topics – which, on Friday, included disappearing surnames and readings. For reasons not unrelated to a passionate desire to be (you can’t really say ‘appear’) on Woman’s Hour, an average of 8 hours daily spent listening to Radio 4, and an unnaturally early acquaintance with The Archers, I have always wanted to be on the radio. The producer got in touch on Wednesday (a researcher had found my blog and twitter and thought it was funny), and I remained delighted until late Thursday evening, when I became so nervous I more or less wanted to die. A psychosomatic cough and 90 minutes’ worry about my outfit (for radio) ensued; the nerves receded slightly after I was talked down by my taxi driver, an elderly rocker who builds motorcycles for African midwives (apparently. I think he’s driven me before and spent that journey claiming to know Gary Barlow).

Everyone at the studio was lovely (especially Cristina Parry, the producer, and Sybil Ruscoe, who hosts the show), and apart from ten hideous seconds when I put on the headphones and remembered this was live, I really enjoyed myself. Unlike in Frasier, we all sat round a table, as opposed to facing out, which made more sense when I remembered that Frasier was a fictional radio psychiatrist whose booth only had three walls. I was profoundly but (thank God) silently excited to discover that Cristina, as producer, actually did sit on the other side of a glass panel, just like Roz Doyle. If you want to listen to the show (I’m on in the first hour), it’s on BBC iPlayer for the rest of this week, and, excitingly, they’ve asked me back – so tune in again on 22 March. I am, surely, only weeks from meeting Sandi Toksvig and Jeremy Hardy.

Also on the show with me (similarly for the first time) was wildlife photographer Andy Walmsley, whose work can be seen at awimages.net. Hopefully, he’ll also be back on 22 March – it was lovely to meet him.

I have my confirmation-of-status viva tomorrow. This is the Faculty’s final DPhil hurdle before, you know, actual thesis submission, and in stark contrast to the dreaded transfer of status, we’ve all been a bit… underinformed. I’m currently not nearly as scared as I was before transfer (though that particular maelstrom of terror set the bar high), although there are, of course, hours yet. I know a lot of first-year DPhil students are working towards the transition from PRS to DPhil, and remember (all too clearly) the combination of misinformation and panic which ensued. I wrote about it here, in 2011. My clearest memories are still 1) the total panic that my interviewer’s chair (an ex-theatrical prop, papier-mache) was going to dissolve beneath my rain-sodden state, and 2) being told by my supervisor that my interviewers had told me during the viva that I’d passed – something, conversely, that I don’t remember at all.

I just hope tomorrow goes well. I don’t mind being rained on, if it does.

The thesis itself seems to be going reasonably well – I’ve got a better overview of the project, now I’m revisiting all the chapters and redrafting more than one at a time. I do really like my research, and part of me is incredibly sad that this project ever has to end. Not so sad that I want to finish late or have the ending go anything but smoothly and swiftly – and I do know exactly what project(s) I want to do next. Apart from dreadful skirmishes with bits of rewriting, I know I’m lucky not to be in what the Thesis Whisperer calls The Valley of Shit. The hubris-obsessed part of me is very aware it could still strike as submission approaches. Basically: I’m still here, there’s another hurdle to jump, I’m still writing, and I have mixed feelings about being so close to the end. Not that I particularly want to do transfer again, of course… anyway, confirmation’s tomorrow. Wish me luck?

Any DPhil/PhD types reading this – how did your confirmation viva differ from your transfer/upgrade? Do you have any tips?

 

The dreaded rewrite

I have just finished rewriting the third chapter of my thesis. There are no appropriate metaphors for how I really feel about this chapter. I’ll stick to claiming that I feel like a successful fisherman waving aloft a shiny prize carp. This is, of course, a lie. I feel more like I’ve been locked in a cellar with something saber-toothed and nasty, until we eventually emerged, dragging each other by the teeth and splattered with most of each other’s brains. On this occasion, the chapter lost, but not by much.

This is, of course, an entirely irrational and overblown reaction to the end of a process that occurs while sitting down, in a centrally-heated flat, with ample access to tea (but not biscuits. I hate Lent. I would sell my face for a Jaffa Cake) and Twitter. I like my thesis. I love my research. I don’t like footnotes, except when I can knock the “pp.” off forty or so notes at a time, and thus pretend I’m saving words. But, my god, I have hated the last bit of rewriting this.

Even deleting items from my three-column, word-documented, cloud-computering to do list (truly, I am the Hunter S. Thompson of doctoral research) hasn’t mitigated the pain. “Don’t get it right, get it written” is the golden rule of DPhil-writing, but in third year, you also have to get the damned thing formatted and polished and devoid of square-bracketed injunctions to [MORE] (also [QUOTE] and [EVIDENCE] and the stomach-churning [PUT CONCLUSION HERE]).

Perhaps the subject matter made this so tough. This chapter contains most of the really depressing stuff in my thesis; the sexualisation of children, child suicide, the anorexic aesthetic, and the fetishising of celebrity illness (especially female mental health). This has, in turn, led to much re-reading of Sarah Kane and looking at the growing cultural obsession with underweight female bodies in the late nineteenth century. It didn’t help that I’d written the first draft in an immensely slappable style, although lord knows I’d rather rewrite for style than because of terrible holes in the research.

Here’s a fun fact, though: rewriting makes me wish I were a man, because if I were, I would grow a big Periclean, Roger-Allam-as-Falstaff-style beard every time I had a major piece of work to complete. I would rejoice in it. It would be a totem of chapter-writing and people would bow before its length and unrepentance. Everyone, knowing I was writing, would close their eyes in silent respect. As totems of chapter-writing go, a majestic beard would be much better than the library mumble (when you go straight from studying to coffee with a friend, and can’t form coherent sentences until the caffeine kicks in), or just looking slightly rough after days at a laptop.

NB: I don’t think this is a case of misdirected penis envy, or even a desire to have Roger Allam as my spirit animal. ‘Spirit animal’ is my new phrase. In the last week, two people of whom I am fond have informed me that Enjolras from Les Mis is their spirit animal. One is a socialist writer on the working class, feminism and politics, and the other is my Christian, drama kid visiting student from California.

Anyway, the last few footnotes are underway, and although it’s a sunny day, I don’t want to go out in case the phone rings. #freelanceproblems.

Chapter-wise, next up is Ellen Terry in Cymbeline, or the chapter which is meant to be about a pretty Briton princess, but ended up involving vampires, somnophilia, and pseudo-medical fanfic…

Celebrity Illness

[Before we start, I’m jubilant that the Equal Marriage Bill has been passed by the Commons. Obviously, I hope that the Lords don’t now mess this up, and that (Mostly)-Straight-People’s-Views-On-Gay-Marriage Day is followed by an equally successful (Mostly)-Straight-People-Views-On-Gay-Marriage Day, Now With Coronets. Anyway, enough. I opened the gin to watch the result, and I don’t like Bercow’s face.]

Mrs. Patrick Campbell, actress, full-length po...

A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to attend the first study day of Oxford’s new interdisciplinary discussion network, ‘Spotlight on Celebrity’. The study day, hosted in Oxford’s new Humanities Building, brought together researchers of all levels, from a wide range of disciplines including English, Theology, Music, Modern Languages, History, Classics and Medieval Studies. Some of my favourite papers dealt with such diverse topics as the Soviet media’s presentation of sports stars in the USSR (this was brilliant, and made me want to research sport), and the local celebrity of (frequently grotesque) ballad singers throughout nineteenth-century British cities. A large number of the participants worked on performance in one form or another, which was a joy for me. I was the first speaker of the day and talked about the relationship between performance and celebrity in my own work, and the various research methodologies which I’ve found particularly helpful. Discussion ranged everywhere imaginable, and it was actually a brief tangent about Club 27, Pete Doherty and The Indelicates which came into my mind today.

I’m currently rewriting the central chapter of my thesis. When I’ve cracked it, Thesis 2.0 will seem a far less Sisyphean task (forgive the hyperbole; I am mid-gin, we’re getting marriage equality, and my French tutor says my R sounds are now less rubbish). It is not a cheery chapter. It is about Mrs Patrick Campbell and her various Shakespearean exploits, and while Mrs P.C. herself is all that is lovely (just ask Shaw), much of the chapter seems to be about such ghastly topics as the sexualisation of children, the Victorian rape culture and, of course, death.

It is basically illegal to post on celebrity death without including this picture, you're lucky it's not Diana in a headscarf.

Chatterton (1856). Henry Wallis. Tate, London.

Celebrity death is a tabloid staple, since not merely the good but also the bad, and, crucially, the notorious regularly die young or just messily. I’ve mentioned Club 27 and stopped off at the shrine of Chatterton. What I’m really interested in is the idea of celebrity illness: the idea of a celebrity (above all an artist, writer or performer) whose health is sacrificed for their work, or whose creative output involves the self-destruction of their health. This seems to have been resonant for (some of) the women I write about (particularly Campbell and Bernhardt) and their publics, and I’d like to explore why. I’ve jotted down some thoughts on possible factors below, but this post really is a case of me thinking out loud and contributions (on any period, including contemporary celebrity culture) are hugely welcome!

Why have the illnesses and addictions of celebrities (particularly artists) fascinated the public, and resonated through culture?

Ideas:

  • Celebrity/artist illness can make their art seem more “authentic” when their illness indicates clear emotional and physical investment. In acting, the nervous breakdown or exhaustion of a performer seems to indicate that their performance involves “real” emotional and carries a “real” emotional cost. They can’t rely on “cold” technique.
  • Celebrity/artist illness seems to indicate an individual’s greater commitment to their work, since they are prepared to “suffer for their art”.
  • A visibly ill or suffering artist (or one presented as such by PR/the media) can play into narratives of the artist as a marginalised/persecuted figure (e.g. the “starving artist”). A comfortable or economically viable artist is perceived to have “sold out”.
  • Communities/cultures which believe in the Romantic figure of the  “tortured genius” or “tortured artist” privilege those over the alternative.
  • Celebrity/artist illness identifies the ill artist with respected or admired professional forbears who suffered similar illnesses or a celebrity death – this is particularly true of Campbell, who constantly self-fashions to be like Bernhardt. Bernhardt’s memoirs are FULL of descriptions of her mental health issues, physical illness, fragility etc. Links to tragedy brings a spurious glamour in some cultural settings.
  • Celebrity/artist illness can attract sympathy from fans, and boost press coverage. Narratives of illness or addiction can “humanise” the celebrity subject, making them seem less intimidating or career-driven, and creating admirable narratives of overcoming obstacles.
  • Conservatives opposed to certain kinds of artists can draw on evidence of celebrity illness to present certain public professions, activities, or lifestyles as innately dangerous, with the illness as evidence.
  • Some illnesses and their manifestations are of interest for different reasons; so the tabloid press might be more interested in the risky or embarrassing public behaviour of a celebrity addicted to alcohol or drugs, while images of a very thin female celebrity (e.g. one known or suspected to have an eating disorder) proliferate in women’s magazines and “thinspiration” blogs. The aestheticising and fetishising of illness happens in all sorts of ways.

Finally, if you’re interested in being part of the Spotlight on Celebrity network, which is run by Jess Goodman (Modern Languages) and David Kennerley (History), please do get involved – there will be further study days, seminars and hopefully a conference or symposium at some point! You can email spotlightoncelebrity [at] gmail [dot] com for more details, or just comment below.

Career planning for the frivolous.

The finishing line of my DPhil is apparently in sight. I’ve rewritten and deleted this paragraph a lot, obviously, but the gist is that I have to send my Faculty a schedule for completion, and my supervisors got quite excited. There is now a schedule. My mouth is quite dry.

Meanwhile, I am obviously researching and angsting over jobs. Again, can’t really talk about that without an oral desert and a twitching superstition gland, but I CAN talk about the other side to job-hunting.

Thus, putting the pro in procrastination, and making public a list I wrote last week:

Jobs at which I secretly believe I would excel:

1. Hostage negotiator.

I could do that.

2. Member of the Kennedy family.
3. Set dresser for theatre or TV, but only if all the sets were people’s student bedrooms.
4. Florist.
5. Royal nanny.
6. Curator and/or founder of a small (it must be small), esoteric museum on any of the following subjects: bookplates, Madge Kendal; Dorothy L Sayers; the Mitford sisters; Shakespeare’s women; the reasons why Jo March should have married Laurie; the now-demolished Surrey Theatre; sundry instances of Liverpudlian true crime; Alfred Douglas’s deranged family; and the less successful partners of famous actors/writers/artists. In no particular order, and somewhat worryingly, these are the subjects on which I know most, and which (crucially) that I think might make the kind of small, weird museum (nothing that would merit a large, lucrative museum is included) run entirely on an individual’s obsession, and which slightly frightens the punters. These are the museums I most love. It is my parents’ fault for accidentally taking me to Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, as a child. They were thinking Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but there turned out to be pictures of naked Satanists. I wish I’d been more traumatised. Also, when finding a link to check it was actually Boscastle, I discovered, heartstoppingly, that ‘Neopagan Witch Cecil Williamson tried to open a museum to hold his collection of witchcraft and occult artefacts in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1947‘. Guys. We could have had Cecil’s Museum of Witchcraft AND Gyles Brandreth‘s Teddy Bear Museum (you don’t know. You weren’t there) both in my town.

I could hold that (I definitely couldn’t make it).

7. Suffragist.
8. Travelling tutor for children who live/perform in circuses.
9. Parisian.
10. Proprietor of year-round Christmas shop.

There, you see. If academia doesn’t work out, that’s at ten plausible career options…

That was quite a silly post. I am planning more sensible posts, regarding lecturing-from-iPads, Oxford’s new Interdisciplinary Network on Celebrity, and my thoughts on the RSC‘s #RSCWinter13 season (though that’s less a post, more feelings), but now I’m going to edit the draft I’ve been editing since the late Middle Ages, and then see Quartet. Have a lovely weekend.

 

 

[Lectures] Before Oscar 2013

Before Oscar

Before Oscar:

Reading Gender and Sexuality Pre-1880

a cross-period lecture series

Hilary Term 2013

2pm Wednesdays – Weeks 1-8 – Seminar Room K

Oxford University Faculty of English, Manor Rd, Oxford

Crossing period and national boundaries, this lecture series will introduce the pleasures and dangers of reading pre-twentieth century literature through a queer-studies and gender-studies lens.

1st Week, 16th January, Sophie Duncan

“The Reinvention of Love”:

or, why the Victorians didn’t think Oscar Wilde was built that way

2nd Week, 23rd January, Emma Smith

The Room in the Elephant: Shakespeare and Sexuality Again

3rd Week, 30th January, Bronwyn Johnston

Gendering Magic: Male Witches and Female Magicians on the Early Modern Stage

4th Week, 6th February, Anna Camilleri

Que(e)rying Poetics from Pope to Byron, or, Doing Boys Like They’re Girls and Girls Like They’re Boys in the Long Eighteenth Century

5th Week, 13th February, Liv Robinson

Reading Gender in the Romance of the Rose

6th Week, 20th February, Daniel Thomas

Belocen on ecnysse: the spatialization of gender in Old English literature

7th Week, 27th February, Anna Caughey

Blood, Sweat and Tears: Chivalry and Masculinity

8th Week, 6th March, Naomi Wolf, title TBA*

* please note that in Week 8, lecture will take place in Lecture Theatre 2.

Building on the success of last year’s Before Oscar lecture series, we’re back in 2013 – now with added Emma Smith and Naomi Wolf. I hope to see many of you there (you may have noticed that I’m first up, this coming Wednesday…).

[REVIEW] Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon

https://i0.wp.com/www.oxonianreview.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/shakespeareshrine-e1353084043362.jpgMy review of Jane Thomas’s Shakespeare’s Shrine: The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-upon-Avon was published in the 18 November issue of the Oxonian Review. You can read it online here.

Apart from the legitimate book-reviewing part, there’s a healthy dollop about the time your own correspondent was a guide in the aforementioned Birthplace (2010). Let’s just say that my mother cannot recall the sight of me in costume without hysterical laughter. I talk about that too. I also go on a bit about Oscar Wilde and French nudity. As ever, any excuse.

Soul-crushing academic feedback: The Collector’s Edition

This is a post about soul-destroying feedback.

Classics of the genre have been floating round my friends for years; the oh-so-appalling comment which had you marvelling at the skill of the cruelty even as tears of pain rushed down your cheeks. A few months ago I canvassed opinion on facebook, intending to post the Greatest Hits here on Clamorous Voice, but then I got approximately four thousand jobs and had to write nine hundred chapters and moved house and went to Grimsby. The first draft of this post was written in a B&B (although which I’m now not sure).

The following are all real comments made by teachers, tutors and supervisors on essays, problem sheets and practical work. I should say that neither of my lovely supervisors (or anyone at my undergrad college) have ever said anything even remotely resembling the horrors after the jump or, well, I wouldn’t be posting this, I’d be gnawing my own hand somewhere, still.

Contributing universities (and drama schools) came from the Europe, the US and Australia! Original contributors are welcome to out themselves in the comments.

Friends and fellow survivors, thank you so much for sharing. Now raise your right hand and promise not to hand this on to your future students….

    The Worst/Most Mythically Terrible/Nearest-To-Heart-Stopping Feedback You Ever Got On Your Essay, Chapter, Acting or Life From An Education Professional (click below for the horror. Slow scrolling is advised).

 

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[PODCAST]: Oscar Wilde’s Women for Great Writers Inspire

A couple of weeks ago, Alex recorded me for a podcast that rounds off the series called Great Writers Inspire. Great Writers Inspire is an amazing project providing open access, FREE lectures, talks, ebooks and other material on all sorts of writers. You don’t need any kind of educational affiliation or specialist background to enjoy them – they’re a great way to discover new writers.

Equally, listening to the other podcasts (generally in a state of sweaty apprehension and/or while on trains) allowed me to revisit authors I’d not studied since undergrad. Since I’m massively about to plug my own contribution, I’ll pre-emptively recommend those I most enjoyed:
Dr. Jennifer Batt on Mary Leapor, a fascinating eighteenth-century kitchenmaid and poet of whom I’d never heard (I didn’t get much beyond Stephen Duck).

Professor Daniel Wakelin on Chaucer (I loved this & enthused nostalgically about glory days of undergad).

Professor Tiffany Stern on Shakespeare and the Stage (concise, entertaining and illuminating, this is the best of the introductory talks).

My talk is here: Oscar Wilde’s Women. If the link dies, I am also searchable on iTunes, which will never stop being bizarre. In the podcast, I talk a bit about the ways in which I find seeing Wilde’s life as radical or inspirational problematic, wave the flag for Constance Wilde, and then suggest where the really radical Wilde is to be found – in his society plays’ depictions of women. I very much hope you enjoy it.

I was incredibly nervous about participating, but am so glad to have been involved. Do check out the Great Writers Inspire blog and library (including the unexpected opportunity to download Fanny Hill to your Kindle).

And, if you’re reading this in Oxford, enjoy the last of -1st week…

[EVENT] The Hogge Hath Lost His Pearle, 22 September, Oxford.

Saturday, 22nd September 2012. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The Malone Society with the Oxford English Faculty, at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

A semi-staged reading and discussion of Robert Tailor’s The Hogge hath lost his Pearle.

Registration, to include sandwich lunch and a copy of the text (or alternative Malone soc publication): £35 full, £15 student/Malone Society members. You can register online here.

If you prefer, please send a cheque payable to the Oxford English Faculty to Emma Smith, Hertford College, Oxford OX1 3BW.

Corpus Christi College, Oxford. (c) college website, 2012.

Corpus, incidentally, is the prettiest of all Oxford’s smaller colleges excluding ORIEL and Brasenose.

I was there yesterday, showing E. the wonders of its Jesus-pelican, inexplicable greenhouse, stunning gardens and commitment to really beautiful planting. Also, there’s a sun terrace.

(Note to Oxonians: did we know about the sun terrace? Shall we all meet up there and share sundry ice-cold beverages? Is Corpus so cool that its possession of a sun terrace is, to the …corpuscules,  not even A Thing? In any case, here’s the view from said terrace).

So yes. £15; Hogges; Pearles; sun terrace. Please do propagate the link and forward it to anyone who might be interested!