Rereading Georgette Heyer: A Colloquium 
Monday, May 25, 2009, 01:58 PM
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Several of my female academic colleagues, past and present, are closet Georgette Heyer fans. Although our main research interests lie elsewhere – in Ricardian poetry and the plays of James Shirley for example – we thought it would be interesting (and fun) to organise a conference on Heyer’s historical romances. We’ve teamed up with colleagues at Lucy Cavendish College, and this is where the colloquium will be held on Saturday 7 November 2009. I’ve pasted our call for papers below – I’m planning a short presentation on Lady of Quality, inspired by the writings of the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick ...

“This conference, organised jointly by Lucy Cavendish College and Anglia Ruskin University, is aimed at all those with an interest in Heyer's historical novels, whether academics or general readers. It will include formal papers and more informal discussion sessions. We would welcome papers on any aspect of Heyer's historical novels. Possible topics might include:

sources and influences
theoretical approaches to her works
critical and popular reception
class, gender and sexuality

Proposals for 20 minute papers should be sent to me, Sarah Brown (contact details to left of page), by 30th June 2009.”

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Reinventing the Renaissance Occult at Anglia Ruskin 
Saturday, May 2, 2009, 12:27 PM
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Our department is currently hosting a Leverhulme Visting Professor, György Szönyi from the University of Szeged. Professor Szönyi will give two Leverhulme Lectures: ‘Exaltation and Power: The Historiography of Renaissance Magic’ (6.5.09) and ‘The Lure of the Occult: Renaissance Magic in Modern Cultural Representations’ (10.6.09).

Our Reinventing the Renaissance Research Centre is also hosting two related colloquia in the Autumn. The first, ‘Western Esoteric Traditions in the Renaissance’, will take place on Sunday 20 September. Speakers will include Stanton Linden, György Szönyi and Angela Voss.The second, ‘Reinventing the Renaissance Occult in Modern and Postmodern Culture’ will be held on Saturday 14 November. We have already confirmed some key speakers – including Ewan Fernie, Urszula Szulakowska, MarinaWarner and Rowland Wymer – and have also issued a call for papers. Here it is ...

“Over the last hundred years many creative writers, critics, thinkers and artists - for example Peter Ackroyd, Derek Jarman, Carl Jung and Marina Warner - have turned to the magicians and alchemists of the Renaissance period for inspiration. Some have been drawn to the intriguing remoteness of such figures from our own more scientific and sceptical age. Others, by contrast, have sought to discover unexpected points of contact between the mysteries of the occult and more modern mysteries, such as quantum science. The lure of the occult today may partly be explained by a growing dissatisfaction with Enlightenment rationalism and its perceived failure to address fundamental human concerns.

This conference, which will take place on Saturday 14 November 2009 at Anglia Ruskin University, will explore these more recent aspects of the afterlife of the Renaissance Occult. We welcome brief proposals for 30 minute papers from creative writers and scholars in any relevant field. Please send your abstract to Sarah Brown (contact details on the left) by 31.5.09.”


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Faustus and Falstaff 
Saturday, April 11, 2009, 01:49 PM
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I’ve recently been writing a paper about the Actaeon legend in Renaissance drama. Rereading Dr Faustus straight after The Merry Wives of Windsor made me wonder what further links there might be between two plays which, on the surface, seem to have so little in common.

There are two (apparently rather inconsequential) references to Dr Faustus in Merry Wives. Some horse thieves are described as making their getaway ‘like three Germane-diuels; three Doctor Faustasses’ in what seems to be a reference to the scene in Marlowe’s play in which Faustus swindles a hourse courser. And at another point in Merry Wives Pistol invokes the name of Mephistopheles.

Looking beyond these two obvious points of contact, I started to wonder whether Falstaff’s final comeuppance could be seen, in part, as a comic reprisal of Dr Faustus’s final shocking end. There is a similar sense of midnight drawing closer in each play. When Falstaff says ‘The Windsor bell hath struck twelve; the minute draws on’ (5.5) I was reminded of Faustus’s ‘The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike’ (5.2).

Both Faustus and Falstaff dwell on the idea of metamorphosis into a beast soon afterwards:

Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?
Or why is this immortal that thou hast?
O, Pythagoras' metempsychosis, were that true,
This soul should fly from me, and I be chang'd
Into some brutish beast!
All beasts are happy, for, when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolv'd in elements ... (Faustus 5.2.)

Now the hot-blooded gods assist me! Remember, Jove, thou wast a bull for thy Europa; love set on thy horns. O power ful love! that in some respects makes a beast a man; in some other a man a beast. You were also, Jupiter, a swan, for the love of Leda. O omnipotent Jove! how near the god drew to the complexion of a goose! A fault done first in the form of a beast-O Jove, a beastly fault!-and then another fault in the semblance of a fowl - think on't, Jove, a foul fault! When gods have hot backs what shall poor men do? For me, I am here a Windsor stag; and the fattest, I think, i' th' forest. (MWOW 5.5)

A further possible Faustus memory might be triggered by Falstaff’s ‘I think the devil will not have me damned, lest the oil that’s in me should set hell on fire’ (5.5). And there is something portentous – albeit in a comic vein – in the warning Falstaff receives from a disguised Hugh Evans:

Sir Iohn Falstaffe, serue Got, and leaue your
desires, and Fairies will not pinse you (5.5.)

Compare the similar warnings of the angels in Faustus:

EVIL ANGEL. If thou repent, devils shall tear thee in pieces.
GOOD ANGEL. Repent, and they shall never raze thy skin. (2.2)

If we remember that Hugh Evans is dressed as a satyr (in other words he looks very like a devil) at this point we may feel more inclined to link Falstaff’s comic fate with Faustus’s tragic and violent end, and to see in Falstaff’s complaint a parodic invocation of the torments of Hell:

Haue I laid my braine in the Sun, and dri'de it,
that it wants matter to preuent so grosse ore-reaching as
this? Am I ridden with a Welch Goate too? Shal I haue
a Coxcombe of Frize? Tis time I were choak'd with a
peece of toasted Cheese ... (5.5)

Shakespeare’s rare use of the verb ‘o’er reach’ also links Falstaff with Faustus. Although Marlowe is strongly associated with the figure of the over-reacher he only used the word once.

... now his heart-blood dries with grief;
His conscience kills it; and his labouring brain
Begets a world of idle fantasies
To over-reach the devil. (5.2)

It’s interesting too, that The Merry Devil of Edmonton (a play sometimes attributed to Shakespeare) seems to combine plot elements from both Dr Faustus and The Merry Wives of Windsor (which it predates).



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Norman Geras: Posterity Poll and Writer's Choice 
Thursday, March 26, 2009, 05:23 PM
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I’m a great fan of questionnaires and quizzes of all kinds so I quickly sent off my response to Norman Geras’ call for entries in his Normblog Posterity Collection Poll. (Update: the deadline has now passed)

You just had to nominate your favourite artists for at least nine out of 12 categories – ‘transferring’ up to three from categories you don’t feel strongly about. Here were my answers:
1. Poet Milton, Chaucer
2. Playwright Shakespeare
3. Novelist Austen, Dickens
4. Composer Mozart
5. Jazz musician
6. Rock or pop star/group Bowie
7. Country music
8. Movie director Kubrick
9. Painter Titian Vermeer
10. Photographer
11. Sculptor Michelangelo, Rodin
12. Architect Palladio

I’m not sure these were the best choices. I think I should have replaced Chaucer with Ovid. And as I don’t really know much about architecture maybe I should have left that category blank and - stretching country to include folk - put down Bob Dylan or Sandy Denny under 7. I also wondered whether Shakespeare should have been excluded from the dramatist category to make things more interesting?

Anyway, having dutifully sent in my poll, it was very nice to receive an invitation to submit an entry to Normblog’s regular ‘writer’s choice’ spot. Quite a few obvious books had already been taken, including my favourite Dickens novel, David Copperfield, pretty much everything by Jane Austen, and even Georgette Heyer’s wonderful Devil’s Cub.

I considered Road to Wigan Pier which made a big impact on me when I first read it, also the Metamorphoses which I’ve been writing about on and off for nearly twenty years. I also thought some of my favourite recent holiday books – Eliza Lynn Linton’s flawed but fascinating Rebel of the Family or Robert Tressell’s absorbing dissection of labour conditions a century ago,The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Alex suggested Remembrance of Things Past, Buddenbrooks, something else by Georgette Heyer and the Gault Millau guide. These were all good ideas (even though the Gault Millau is the only one Alex has actually read).

But in the end I chose something completely different ...


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Chichester's Winter Forum on the Uncanny 
Sunday, March 1, 2009, 09:53 AM
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On Thursday I travelled down to Chichester. By chance I met someone on the train who was, like me, in the middle of writing a book about the uncanny. This would have been uncanny indeed – were we not both heading for the Winter Forum on the Uncanny at Chichester University. Nicholas Royle was there and so was Nicholas Royle. (Both writers independently developed an interest in uncanny doubles).

The opening session was a panel discussion on The New Uncanny. Ra Page, Adam Marek, Alison MacLeod and Nicholas Royle (the fiction writer one) discussed their contributions to this recent collection of short stories and also read from their work. Stories of the uncanny are nearly always most effective when they are set in an ‘ordinary’ environment rather than one which is remote in space or time, so it’s appropriate than these new tales engage with the modern and the everyday, with Tamagotchis, the Sims, and foot massage machines. I’ve now ordered both this collection and Alison MacLeod’s collection The Wave Theory of Angels. (I’m sure someone could write a good uncanny story about Amazon ...)

Then we broke out into panels. I gave a paper on the relationship between allusion and the uncanny and then heard an illuminating paper on uncanny and negation by Catrin Edwards and a striking presentation on the processes of writing uncanny fiction by Carol Fenlan. The closing address was given Nicholas Royle (the academic one) – a witty and personal exploration of the uncanny.

I got some useful ideas for further reading and was relieved not to hear that there was already a book about the relationship between allusion and the uncanny written by the other Sarah Brown.

Yet there was one uncanny outcome from the conference. After ‘twittering’ my trip to Chichester I was informed that I was now being followed on twitter by Sigmund Freund ...

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