Two welcome reprints: Warner and Whipple 
Saturday, January 24, 2009, 11:31 AM
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I’ve recently read two very different books, both originally published during the Second World War, both recently reprinted. The first was one I’d very vaguely remembered seeing on TV back in the 1980s, Rex Warner’s Aerodrome. This strange and rather surreal novel is set in a typical English village which is gradually being taken over by the mysterious and fascistic local aerodrome.

The opening chapters were completely compelling. I’d expected something rather like 1984 but Warner seems as interested in playing allusive literary games with his readers as in creating a dystopian fantasy. The mystery over the narrator’s parentage seems deliberately set up to echo Fielding’s Tom Jones, for example. Hamlet is another intertext – most obviously in the scene (the best in the novel I thought) when the narrator overhears his foster father confess to murder in his prayers.

I thought the ending was slightly rushed and predictable. But this was an absorbing novel and the oddly cool and affectless narrator put me in mind of Ishiguro. Michael Moorcock’s introduction listed so many other fascinating early c.20 novels with similar sf themes that I began to wish someone would set up the male equivalent of Virago and reprint them all.

Persephone Books seem to have taken over where Virago left off, with their covetable reprints of (mostly) early to mid c.20 women’s fiction and non-fiction. I’d never heard of Dorothy Whipple until I read an appreciation of her works by Adèle Geras over at Normblog. Apparently Virago (who never reprinted her books) thought Whipple not worth reprinting because they were too safe and popular:

We had a limit known as the Whipple line, below which we would not sink. Dorothy Whipple was a popular novelist of the 1930s and 1940s whose prose and content absolutely defeated us.

They Were Sisters is particularly enjoyable – and totally unputdownable. It tells of three sisters growing up between the wars, and their very different experiences of marriage. The portrait of Charlotte, destroyed by her bullying husband, was especially compelling. You always feel, with Whipple’s novels, that this is what things were really like during this period – I love the way she communicates the texture of everyday life.

Whipple’s typical heroine seems to be a nice, intelligent but otherwise unremarkable middle aged, middle class woman. But she’s also very good at writing about children and there are some amusingly Outnumbered- like scenes in They Were Sisters – and also some almost unbearably harrowing moments. Great stuff.


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Return of the Vampires; Twilight the Movie 
Thursday, January 15, 2009, 05:26 PM
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I’ve taken three days holiday in order to get on with my research away from the office. Well, that was my original intention, but as the next research audit (REF) won’t take place until 2013 I thought maybe I could afford to bunk off for a couple of hours and go and see Twilight.

I’d tried to persuade my children to accompany me to see this film last weekend – but they turned their noses up at the idea. However I thought it was great. It was true – or true enough – to the book, and acting, cinematography and music all seemed pretty good. Kristen Stewart was a nicely sulky, grungy, perpetually grimacing Bella. And Robert Pattinson was every bit as dishy as Mark Kermode said.

I liked the way – and I think this didn’t come over so clearly in the book – that Bella herself seemed almost vampiric. Her new school friends express surprise that she is so pale seeing as she comes from Arizona, and she recoils in extreme alarm when anyone tries to take her photo. These annoyingly chirpy high school friends provide most of the film’s humour although, even at moments of high romance and tension, the film (like the book) doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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RAE 2008: The waiting is over 
Thursday, December 18, 2008, 09:10 PM
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Although we had some sense of how the Department had done yesterday, it wasn’t until today that we were able to see how English at Anglia Ruskin had fared in comparison to other universities.

So first thing this morning I downloaded the full set of results and bored my husband by going through the whole list going ‘ooh we’ve done better than x,y and z’, a process which took a cheerfully long time.

But although it’s nice to be in the top half of the league table (based on the ‘grade point average’ of our submitted research outputs) it won’t be clear for some time how these scores will translate into actual funding.

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Yet another mystery Latin poem 
Saturday, December 6, 2008, 06:57 AM
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I think I can say with some confidence that my Mystery neo-Latin Poem quiz has proved the least visited entry on this site. But I couldn’t resist this more recent example of neo-Latin –it’s a translation rather than an original poem, but of what?

Ad fucum in vultum eius intuebantur
Ad crinem nigrem ridebant, et lepotem animalem
Puer in caerulea toga
In scaenam salivit
Domina Sidorum cantus canebat
Tenebrarum infamiamque
Etenim iucundus erat, chorusque simul erant
Etenim iucundus erat, cantus in aeternum durabat
Vero amoenissimus erat
Vere spectaculum
In cantu pernoctabat

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Nice work if you can get it: Eros in Montpellier 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 05:57 PM
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Alex recently enjoyed a week long business trip to Jeju island, Korea’s top honeymoon destination. Jeju’s attractions include Loveland, a sex theme park or, for more timid newly weds, a museum devoted to displays of teddy bears enacting scenes from famous paintings. But now I’ve had my revenge, having spent four days at Eros, an erotic mythology conference in Montpellier. We enjoyed many stimulating and suggestive papers – but I’ll just pick out a few of my favourites.

I’d never really paid much attention to Cupid – I’d always thought of him as a rather static, emblematic figure (by contrast with say Actaeon or Pygmalion). However two papers offered fascinating insights into his representation and function in early modern literature. Andy Kesson gave an extremely assured and entertaining paper on Cupid – ‘Cupid, what hast thou done? The Career of the God of Love in Lyly’s plays’, and Jane Kingsley-Smith gave a fascinating presentation on Cupid within the (edgily erotic) context of early modern child rearing, ‘Cupid, Infantilism and Maternal Desire on the Early Modern Stage.

Laetitia Sansonetti’s paper, ‘Interpreting Desire in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis’, addressed the (vexed) question of how far early modern writers and audiences imported the full context of an allusion’s source into the derived text, negotiating the opposed positions of Martindale and Bate with sophistication and aplomb.

I also particularly enjoyed Marguerite Tassi’s compelling reading of Macbeth, ‘Enraptured by Images: Eros, Myth and Violence in Shakespeare’ – a paper which built on her 2004 monograph The Scandal of Images: Iconoclasm, Criticism, and Painting in Early Modern English Drama.

Agnes Lafont, Eros’s déesse tutélaire, together with her colleagues, made us all feel extremely welcome – we were taken on a private evening tour of the Musée Fabre and treated to a splendid conference dinner at the Brasserie du Théâtre.

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