Words Matter 2022: “Literature and Its Uses” with Dr Adam J. Smith

Join us for the fifth annual Words Matter Lecture on Thursday 10th November, at 5pm.

Book here for a free ticket. The event is open to all, and includes a drinks reception.

The Lecture

 

Drawing on his research exploring the role played by print in mediating the relationship between citizens and the state throughout the long eighteenth century, Dr Adam James Smith (Associate Professor, English Literature) will consider the “uses” of literature. Adam will introduce a series of case-studies in which literature was “used” for the purposes of propaganda, protest and satire during the eighteenth century, before examining the ways in which this same literature was used (and perhaps also abused) by readers and critics. Tracing a brief history of reading, misreading, deliberate misrepresentation and the active avoidance of reading, Adam will argue that most valuable “uses” of Literature arise from a deep, careful and sincere engagement with the form and substance of texts. Finally, the lecture will investigate recent advocations for the “use” of Literature as a means of promoting citizenship, empathy and social justice.


Dr Adam J Smith

Adam James Smith is an Associate Professor of English Literature, specialising in eighteenth-century print culture. Adam has a PhD from the University of Sheffield, where he also completed an AHRC-funded post-doctoral project before joining York St John University full-time in 2016. He has published on the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Eliza Haywood, James Montgomery and Virginia Woolf, amongst others. He has co-edited three volumes – Poetry Conspiracy and Radicalism in Sheffield (Spirit Duplicator, 2016), Print Culture, Agency and Regionality in the Handpress Era (Palgrave, 2022) and Impolite Periodicals (Bucknell, forthcoming). He is also currently a series editor for People of Print (Cambridge University Press), a multi-volume collection of printer biographies documenting the lives of individuals who were integral to the print industry but who have been, historically, less well represented.

Adam is also co-director of the York Research Unit for the Study of Satire, co-host of the ongoing monthly podcast Smith & Waugh Talk About Satire, he sits on the executive committee for the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) and is chief editor of Criticks, the online reviews site for BSECS. His recent writing examines the relationship between politeness and satire and the character of the satirist across the long eighteenth century.

 

10 First-Year Texts That Shook Me, by Michaela Bosman

I’ll be honest: I chose to study literature to learn more about culture. Yes, that’s a broad statement. But, thanks to my religious and censored upbringing, I didn’t know much about anything other than Bible stories and virtuous allegories when I applied for the course.

To give you an idea of my ignorance, I wasn’t allowed to read or watch Lord of the Rings, and certainly not Harry Potter. At this point, references to either of those texts are hackneyed and eyeroll-inducing. Now my opportunity to partake in those conversations is over. It’s all because my religious bubble said that the magic wielded isn’t God’s, so it must be Satan’s. But it isn’t just magic that the church folks scorn. Any comment on society, say from Joyce, Dickens, or Orwell, means that these authors have an active interest in the ways of sinners. 

So, the texts I encountered during my first year at YSJU really did shake me (as I suggest in the title). It wasn’t because the contents shocked me, but because the texts entered me into new labyrinths of thought and meaning. Each text we study carries, not just the story it tells, but also a story of the time and place of its birth. It captures a moment in time, and echoes the voices of that period. As Dr Anne-Marie Evans says, all texts are intertextual. The texts we covered last year, and the discussions we had about them, made me want to read to infinity – but I’ll stick to ten. So, here are my top ten first-year texts, ordered by the level of impact they have on me, because favourites are for Buzz Feed.

1. Hanif Kureishi’s Buddha of Suburbia

Irreverent, colourful, and multifaceted, to tell you just one thing this novel does would be to do it a disservice. It says a lot about a lot – without telling you those things directly (because it’s quality writing). With a flippant and humorous tone, it critiques depths of society that many are too cautious to tread. In my essay about it, I focussed on its attack on a Marxist account of ideology – specifically, the ideology that whiteness is a constituent of Englishness. But this text does more than just promote diversity in England. It comments on different people’s approaches to racism. It points to individuality in a way that illuminates the humanity in each character. It highlights the infinite variations of the intersections of classes and races. And more.

But I’ve only got so much space for this blog post. The text’s multifarious critique of society is submerged in the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll of the seventies – it’s alive. Kureishi’s commentary is driven by the distinctiveness of each character, each of whom creates (by their peculiar life-choices) their unique modes of living. The problem I have with this novel, from an academic standpoint, is having to focus on just one aspect of it. It just has so much to say, in such a stylish way.

2. Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet

This comic doesn’t hold back. It’s loud. It’s satirical. It’s feminist. Using the blueprint of exploitation cinema, it has at least three satirical targets, all of which are connected to feminism. It satirizes the insularity of the patriarchal hegemony, the women who follow the patriarchy’s prescription of femininity, and the comic book form which circulates mostly among boys, and encourages sexual objectification and voyeurism.

Its impact on me stems from the overt nature of its witty satire. The satire is in-your-face, but it’s intellectually stimulating too. Page after page, the text makes an adroit critique of the patriarchy that’s coded into the material structure of society and the way we think about our identities.

I’ll be honest, when it comes to visual satire, I’m used to seeing memes on Twitter. The bulk of Twitter memes have nothing on the wit of Bitch Planet, which makes it a compelling read. Yet, its attack is so acute that it boils my blood. I find myself disgusted by the depth from which women need to rise before we can reach true equality. Sure, Bitch Planet exaggerates, but I don’t think it’s inaccurate – and that’s the problem with (by which I mean success of) this text.

3. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

This novel is powerful. Its force lies in the imagery of the single communal spirit that captures whole crowds (different from groupthink), but also in its layered meaning. Its complex and nuanced message is gestured at by its simplistic style, devoid of any literary pomp. I read it as the reconciliation of two narratives – those of the Nigerian Igbo clan and the colonial missionaries. Achebe says himself, in his essay collection, Morning Yet on Creation Day, that he aims to

“teach [his] readers that their past – with all its imperfections – is not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them” (45).

 Achebe is writing in English while his intended readers are – judging by the above quotation – Nigerian, so he doesn’t dismiss all European practices. While he defends the Igbo culture against colonial notions of barbarism, found in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, he also employs his antihero to problematize traditionalism in the Igbo clan. With a feminist slant, his narrativity (which sometimes even his narrator is explicitly unaware of) urges us to dissect traditions and reconstruct them into more progressive structures – on either side of the cultural divide.

The narrative’s aim is to merge two people’s traditions, but it doesn’t reach that aim, alluding to the further work society needs to do. Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, and we’ve had sixty-four years to work out a way forward together. Yet circumstances in our current socio-political climate – from traditionalism to racism – are disappointingly similar to the ones in the novel.

4. John Fowles’s The Collector

I’d never understood the idea of a haunting text, because I’d never experienced a text that haunts me. That is, until I read The Collector. The text creates the feeling that there’s a supernatural presence hovering over me. It seems to live through all the characters, yet none of them. It certainly doesn’t die when I close the book. Perhaps this presence is the spectre of existentialism in excess. The text opens many doors of enquiry, without shutting them. I’d say this technique alludes to the unanswered questions of life’s meaning and purpose.

Miranda’s quest to define and become a real artist ends empty-handedly. Her hours of self-reflection that she writes in a diary, get buried in a chest and locked in an cellar by someone who’ll never read or understand them. But that’s a sub-plot which deals with individuals’ searches for meaning and purpose. There’s also a macro comment on the meaninglessness of classism. Fowles problematizes various ideological alliances as engendering hypocrisy and self-ignorance. Having sketched the problem with classist ideologies, The Collector also poses the question of whether it’s possible to become completely free of the identity we form as result of the class we are born into. It does all this, but I only realized that much later, because it still haunts me. The ghost takes shape over time as it hovers in the corner, insisting that it’s alive.

5. Poetry of Jonathan Swift and Lady Mary Montagu

Both of these figures are prominent satirists from the eighteenth century, and the poetry we looked at is a specific satirical exchange. It’s like today’s rap battles. Penning the scatological, as in earwax, snot, and excrement, Swift suggests that women are disgusting under their makeup and perfume, as if he’d got up close to a woman for the first time. In response, Montagu writes that the reason Swift wrote that poem is because he couldn’t get it up when he visited a prostitute and realized that she’s human. Montagu ends with a bang by having her character say, “I’m glad you’ll write. / You’ll furnish paper when I shite”. In other words, she says: yes, I do indeed defecate, and I’ll wipe my buttocks with your work. Well! that severed my ignorant assumption that all poetry is concerned with Romantic notions of elevated sensibility, nature, or sentiment.

So, is it any wonder that these poems take the fifth spot on my list by order of impact? I saw an eighteenth-century rap battle about poop and prostitution. It was so impactful that it spurred me to take the eighteenth-century module in second-year. In coming across these poems, I learned that – thanks to cheap print in the eighteenth-century which engendered wider public reading – this era was the birth of popular culture as we think of it today. Of course I wanted to learn the origin story of popular culture.

6. James Joyce’s, “The Dead”

This short story also haunts me. Not because it creates the feeling of a supernatural presence, but because the representation of the protagonist is imbedded in his every gesture and interaction with other characters – even the most minor ones. There are so many layers of meaning in each moment of the narrative, that unravelling it takes days. The discovery of its meaning is what haunts me. The fact that meaning lies in every action, every image, and every word choice, is what led me to see the formal mechanics of modernism. It draws attention to the wordy membrane through which meaning is expressed.

The wordy membrane in ‘The Dead’ also employs free indirect discourse that absorbs the voices of the characters while staying an objective narrator. This bolsters its status as a modernist text, because the free indirect discourse highlights the narrativity. Of course, the content of ‘The Dead’ critiques various socio-political issues, which is a feature of modernism. I’m more interested in its formal properties though. I suspect it’s because, thinking about the function of the diction opened me up to a way of reading that I’d never done before. Thinking about word choices isn’t just about thinking, ‘Ah, good word.’ It’s about looking at them in their context and considering the purpose they serve. Now, having seen modernism at work makes me think that I’m in on a little jargon. So, perhaps this short story haunts me because of the days’ worth of meaning it carries, or perhaps it haunts me because I’ll never forget my first.

7. Ursula Le Guin’s “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”

Just to be clear, everything on this list is a strong contender. It saddens me that this essay is only number seven. Le Guin makes a compelling argument in a deliciously satirical tone. The target of her hyperbolic portrayals is the patriarchal ideology that believes a battle to be the strongest metaphor for a novel. Instead, she suggests that a feminist and more inclusive metaphor for the novel is the carrier bag. Stay with me…

To do this, she starts by referencing the famous jump cut from Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The scene in reference depicts the first murder by Sapiens being committed using a bone. In this instance, the narrative told by men is that humankind’s first tool was a bone, with which they hunted and murdered. But Le Guin points out that this narrative ignores the mothers who stayed at home to nurse the baby. Instead of hunting, these women were gathering. Of course, they needed something to store their wild oats, so they invented the carrier bag, basket, or some sort of container. So, the battle and container being metaphors for novels, do two different things. The former is a story of conquering, which is typically a man’s story; while the latter is a bag full of human experiences that can belong to anyone, including a woman.

Being a woman myself, this essay is (for want of a less hackneyed word) empowering. Manly metaphors are so entrenched in our language, that I must often assume the identity of a man, to apply the metaphor (or another literary device) to myself. Le Guin’s essay reminds me that we can critique problematic metaphors and propose more inclusive ones, to achieve more harmonious modes of existing.

8. Charles Dickens’s Hard Times

Dickens’s caricatures of people who try to enforce utilitarianism animate this novel. While his exaggerated renderings of them foreground his critique (and are rather amusing), he drives his argument with the ironic logic of their rules. Almost every time they try to apply their utilitarian philosophy (which is constantly), they contradict themselves. It’s pitifully funny.

I say pitiful because these characters are victims of a societal structure – they’re just being good citizens. But their contradictions problematize the utilitarian need to quantify human nature and human problems. You just can’t. There are too many variables to any given human circumstance to accurately measure them.

Moreover, the variables in question can be drastically different: when each is approached from a different angle, the precedence one takes over the other changes. For instance, you might say that a straightforward way to quantify a human life is by its monetary contribution to society. How then, can you say that a fifty-five-year-old successful entrepreneur is more valuable to society than a jobless pregnant woman? Perhaps that unborn child will be a genius who finds the cure for cancer. Or not. But we won’t know if we discard her based on her job status, which might be a logical outcome of a utilitarian ideology.

These are my thoughts when reading Hard Times (and participating in the lecture and seminar accompanying it – which are great for guiding my thinking and expanding my perspective). And thinking about my thoughts, I’m starting to notice a trend in this list. These texts are impactful when they’re compelling to read, and the theory or history attached to them chugs a train of thought. I do like to think, which makes studying literature a pleasure.

9. John Gardner’s Grendel

The reception of this novel is a fascinating feat of irony. Critics praise its masterful existentialism, which is actually what Gardner tries to present as monstrous. Well, I’m on the critics’ side when I read this.

Grendel’s (the monster’s) absurdist visions persuade me of the poetic slant of an existential outlook. I get it when he says that the bard’s embellished tales of the king’s war victories are lies. The bard presents these wars as virtuous achievements, but what are wars really for? Greed and pride, is my answer. So it’s refreshing to find my sympathies with a monster. See, I didn’t know Gardner’s argument when I first read it. But when I found it out in the lecture, Grendel assumed an extra layer of meaning. Not to mention the meaning Gardner already gives it by giving a voice to the monster in Beowulf.

Gardner’s reimagining the aggrandized Anglo-Saxon poem with a warlike tone, in an existential novel from the viewpoint of Beowulf’s monster, is poetic in itself. For someone who, by force of habit, associates poetry with Romanticism, I sure see a lot of poetry in Grendel. Perhaps it’s because, when the Romantics wrote about nature, they often highlighted its sublime power, which diminishes the perceiver’s own sense of purpose. When confronted with the majesty of a gigantic waterfall, you begin to question what your life’s pursuits are really for.

This is the effect that Grendel has on me, which, funnily enough, is the opposite of what Gardner wanted (he says so himself).

10. Emma Rice’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

This lively production is, by The Globe’s standards, irreverent. I wouldn’t call it irreverent because I believe that it’s much closer to the style of productions that Shakespeare put on in his day, than the serious ‘comedies’ The Globe usually produces. Remember, Shakespeare was popular culture. His work is fraught with sexual innuendoes, when you look closely enough.

Emma Rice reimagines today’s equivalent of this Shakespeare comedy, with queer readings of characters, a racially diverse cast, and a narrator in drag. Of course, her actors also enacted the subtext – which is an ocean of sexual innuendoes. With this production, Emma Rice brings me to see the comedy in Shakespeare’s comedy. I’ll be honest, reading them, and trying to decipher them, draws the fun out of them.

So, this production – still in the original script – enlivens Twelfth Night and crams it with energy. Unfortunately, the board removed Emma Rice from The Globe theatre, on account of her tone, but luckily, she left us with this gold nugget.

There you have it: the cultural rollercoaster that YSJU put me on last year. I read and watched the widest array of texts I could have imagined.

Some notable texts that didn’t make it onto this list are the Medieval alliterative poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Early Modern poetry of Lady Mary Wroth. While they’re rich with substance, I suspect the reason they didn’t make the cut because their perspectives are too insular for my taste. Before cheap print became available in the eighteenth century, literature was written by and for nobility and priests, who have a limited view of society. Self-interest in isolation (which includes love affairs and chivalrous knights’ quests to prove themselves honourable) just isn’t my game.

As you might have deduced from my list, I engage more with texts that critique socio-political issues in interesting ways. On that note, I hope these reviews gave you something to think about, even if it’s just to ponder the reason for having such an eclectic mix of literary taste.

MA in Contemporary Literature at YSJU

Our MA

Have you been considering postgraduate study in English Literature? If so, places are still available on York St John’s MA in Contemporary Literature – one of only a small number of specialist courses in the UK to focus exclusively on literature of the very recent past (2000-present). The course can be completed part-time over one year or full-time over two, and is taught exclusively through evening seminars that allow you maximum flexibility to study while you work.

Help With Fees

Generous incentives are available to York St John graduates to continue their studies on the course. If you completed your studies in 2022 with a 1st-class degree from YSJU, you can receive a progression scholarship equating to a 50% reduction in your fee; if you received a 2.1, a 35% reduction applies; and if you received a 2.2 you can receive a 25% reduction. This means that you can complete a cutting-edge degree in a highly topical subject area, taught by familiar course tutors, for as little as £3500.

The Degree

The course focuses on twenty-first century literature, placing very recent texts in their social, political, cultural and formal contexts and emphasising how they speak to us about ‘the now’. Topics include:

  • The aesthetics and politics of global warming;
  • Literature, equality and justice;
  • Embodiment and speculative fiction.

How To Apply

We are accepting students onto the course until 7th October and York St John graduates enjoy a simplified application process which allows them to continue their studies seamlessly without a need for formal references. Please note that progression scholarships are only available for continuing students, so to take advantage of the reduction in fees detailed above, you will need to apply to enter the course this year.

Apply now for full-time or part-time study or, for more information, email MA coordinator Alex Beaumont. If you would like to hear more, Alex will be holding an online Q&A session next Thursday 22nd September at 17:00. To register for this session, just complete the form here.

The Ghosts of York in “Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty”

 

Image of Harland Miller

Over the past few months Level 6 student (and soon to be graduate!) Leah Figiel has been working as a Student Research with Drs Zoe Enstone and Adam J Smith on their ‘Reading York in Literature’ Project. In this post, Leah discusses a novel she found particularly interesting, Harland Miller’s Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty, and reflects on the experience of reading a novel about York after studying for three years at YSJU.


I recall the first time that I visited York. It was for an open day at York St. John University. As I stepped into the city centre, I knew that I had to live here. I felt like I was entering a time capsule, surrounded by history. It was the perfect place to capture my imagination, where the dead are revived and the past smashes into the present. With visual cues of its Viking and Roman past, Jorvik and Eboracum respectively, it is no wonder that York seemed to be the perfect place to write freely.

Three years later, and I still sit next to the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in the sun, as I time travel into the past. Many other people share this sentiment too, with the city becoming the setting for historical fiction such as Susanna Gregory’s Mystery in the Minster, as well as the popular TV series Gentleman Jack.

Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty

After being immersed in the ancient history of York for some time, it felt different to read York in modern history, fictionalised by the novel Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty by local artist Harland Miller. Set in the 80s, the novel describes how Kid Glover returns to his home city, after the death of his uncle, who he was working for in Scotland. Interestingly, Miller uses York’s ancient Roman name, Eboracum, throughout the text. This adds a surreal element to the novel, emphasising how the city is a step apart from concrete reality, instead founded on myths and stories. Amidst the backdrop of the miners’ strikes and the Yorkshire Ripper, Kid befriends charming David Bowie impersonator, Ziggy Hero.

Infused with the myths and legends that surround the Roman city, Kid forges his own relationship with Eboracum. 

Re-Reading York/Eboracum

After reading Slow Down Arthur, I walk through York with a new perspective, listening to the wailing of ghosts in cramped pubs with crooked floors. Graves litter the city randomly, letters faintly inscribed on the eroding limestone. I can just about make out what they say. Around the corner, I can grab a pasty from Greggs, and watch carefully to see if any skeletal hands break out of the ground. The headstones lie propped up against the wall, like a near-empty glass bottle on a Sunday morning. Everywhere you walk, traces of the bodies that once populated York remain, as bizarre memento mori.

Similarly to these graves, death follows Kid wherever he goes, the residual energy of Eboracum’s residents refusing to leave. Just from a mention of a street in York, Kid’s dad uncovers York’s gory past, as he explains how: 

Blossom Street, the main approach of the city, was, in Roman times, lined with the mutilated bodies of criminals and traitors, their heads displayed on long spikes between the trees. The heavy scent of blossom contended with but couldn’t prevail over the stench of rotting flesh, and the gutters would be awash with traitor’s blood (68). 

         

 I see the street where I went to the Everyman to watch The Green Knight differently now, the pink blossom leaves sinking to the bottom of puddles of blood. The dual context within this book is even more harrowing. York in the 80s, as it stands today, is haunted by its Roman remains. However, there was also the horror of the Yorkshire Ripper, which changed the atmosphere within York, as Kid observes: 

I saw myself as I must have appeared to her, a shadowy male figure lighting a cigarette, with perhaps a slightly sinister tilt to the head, half-hidden behind cupped hands (51). 

 For many women, their home in York was a site of terror instead of safety. Not too long before the year in which this novel was set, Reclaim the Night marches began in Leeds and spread through the country, in protest against curfews imposed on women following the Yorkshire Ripper cases. Kid realises that he appears monster-like to the woman, his male body a sign of terror. For women during the era of the Yorkshire Ripper, death tainted the streets, in tandem with the ghostly presence that lingers in York. 

York As Archive

The double bind of Roman Eboracum and 80s York when we read Slow Down Arthur… shows just how much of an archive York really is. A bit like Dr. John Kirk’s house, York is a collection of knick-knacks, all criss-crossing in time, coexisting in one space. This aligns well with Professor Michael Sheringham and renowned artist Richard Wentworth’s vision of the city as an archive, envisioning this as a ‘dynamic process, restless motion, [and has] multiple chronologies and levels of meaning’ (519).

Contrary to the belief of Kid’s friend, Baz, Eboracum is not ‘old’. Like a palimpsest manuscript which has been scrubbed clean and written over, Eboracum is ever shifting, with layers of chronology intersecting with one another.

This chimes well with how  Michel Foucault believed the archive to be ‘at once close to us, and different from our present existence, it is the border of time that surrounds our presence, which overhangs it, and which indicates it in its otherness; it is that which, outside ourselves, delimits us’ (130). I believe that this definition best describes the essence of what York is. The Roman walls of York visually surround us. It is fascinating because it has stood the test of time –  it shouldn’t exist but has done so nonetheless.

On one hand York is the archive– is it a space where the history as a linear concept crumbles, and history is less a line, and more a mosaic. But within Slow Down Arthur, Miller looks deeper into how York presents a narrative of its history. Albeit in a non-linear way, the environment of York is a representation of its myths and legends collated through history. A great example of this is when Kid Glover observes the capitalisation on figures such as Dick Turpin, when he describes:

the replica of Dick Turpin gallows, on the very spot where Turpin had been hanged for horse rustling. The rest of the drag was dominated by the hanging theme: an off-license called Dick’s Offy, the Black Bess pub, Turpin Taxis, the Stand-and-Deliver take-away (51).

       These comically named services all provide a narrative written about York, and re-package myths that are brought into relevance within the 1980s, and again to the early 2000s, and again as I read this now. The ‘Stand-and-Deliver take-away’ not only creates images of Dick Turpin’s presence in York, but also recalls the 1981 hit ‘Stand and Deliver’ by Adam and the Ants, written about Dick Turpin (brilliant song, by the way). Even now, I can see the commercialisation of historical narratives within York. You can have a pint at the Guy Fawkes Inn, take a ride through the replica of Jorvik’s Viking village, or go on a walking Ghost Tour after the sun has set. York functions as historical fiction itself, if we use Professor Jerome de Groot’s idea that ‘[f]undamental to the encounter with the historical text is the desire for a wholeness of representation that understands that the text is fundamentally a representation’ (8). The replicas that exist within York contribute to developing a mythological narrative, embodied further by Miller’s novel. 

What I realised through reading this novel, was that York undoes the idea of history as a linear narrative. I look on to the musket holes fired within the Civil War which leaves traces upon the Roman City Walls. St. Mary’s Abbey stands in ruins after the dissolution of the monasteries, its charred walls remain. Each place cites a catastrophe, which has left bodies who haunt these sites today.

York captures the imagination of historical fiction because of its archival relevance. It precedes boundaries and breaks linearity, which makes it all the more captivating to write about. After visiting York Art Gallery a few months ago, I purchased a postcard print of Harland Miller’s “York, So Good They Named It Once”. The humorous title says it all: Jorvik, Eboracum, York. These titles all fold within one another, documenting the same place. 

MY FAVOURITE PLACES IN YORK…

  • St. Mary’s Abbey/ Museum Gardens: Easily my favourite place in York – you would not expect this to be situated near the train station. It is incredible to think about the scale of the Abbey, before Henry VIII burned most of it down and ransacked it for gold.
  • York Castle Museum: Although the prisons are very chilling, the York Castle Museum exhibits all sorts, from an entire Victorian Street (Kirkgate), to dresses from the 60s and Dick Turpin’s prison cell, which is (surprisingly) quite spacious.
  • Homestead Park: I only discovered this recently, when I decided to wander further down the River Ouse than I usually do. The park was opened by Seebohm Rowntree, who was a pivotal social reformer throughout the late 19th and mid 20th century. Like the Museum Gardens, this seems set apart from the city centre, with vibrant flowers blooming throughout the year.

Find out more about the ‘Reading York in Literature Project’ here.

WORKS CITED:

Foucault, Michel. “The historical a priori and the archive: Part III: The Statement and the Archive”. The Archaeology of Knowledge, translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith, Sixth Edition, Routledge, 1994, pp. 126-134. 

Groot, Jerome de. “Introduction: Perverting history”. Remaking History: The past in contemporary historical fictions, First edition, Routledge, 2016, pp. 1-10.

Miller, Harland. Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty, Second edition, Fourth Estate, 2001.

Sheringham, Michael, and Richard Wentworth. “City as Archive: A Dialogue between Theory and Practice.” Cultural Geographies, vol. 23, no. 3, 2016, pp. 517–23. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26168749. Accessed 5 Jun. 2022.

Reading and Re-Reading Jane Eyre, by third-year literature student Megan Sales

I bought my copy of Jane Eyre nearly twelve years ago. I distinctly remember buying the book from a charity shop. The cover intrigued me, and the raised eyebrows of the cashier followed with the comment it “may not be appropriate” for my age made me eager to read it.

A Passionate Heroine

The one thing I will forever love about this novel is Jane’s passion, her refusal to bow down to values she disagrees with. Throughout my studies I have continuously returned to this novel, The first time I was exploring the Gothic in the Brontë’s work, The second time I was considering Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea and their relationship to the literary canon. Continue reading “Reading and Re-Reading Jane Eyre, by third-year literature student Megan Sales”

YSJU Literature Research Showcase: What Are Our Tutors Up To in 2022? By Michaela Bosman

 

People talkingIn mid-March, YSJU’s Literature department holds its annual research showcase, in celebration of the scholars’ love of learning, reading, discovery, analysis and collaboration. While it might be disconcerting to share research when the world is literally on fire and families cross borders in desperation and in hope, Dr Anne-Marie Evans points us to the important work of literature to help us understand the world. And we can only improve the world if we understand it. Literature’s illumination of the state of society and the environment is one of the myriad ways that art is lifesaving. Let’s have a look at the understandings YSJU’s literary scholars are forging.    Continue reading “YSJU Literature Research Showcase: What Are Our Tutors Up To in 2022? By Michaela Bosman”

International Women’s Day 2022

 

#BreakTheBias

Happy International Women’s Day! 

This year’s campaign theme is #BreakTheBias – find out more at the IWD website

 

To mark IWD, Dr Anne-Marie Evans is hosting an online event on Thursday 10th March with acclaimed playwright Ade Solanke. Ade will be talking about her play Phillis in London. The play explores the life of Phillis Wheatley – an enslaved woman – who was famously the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry, and only the second American woman to do so. Find out more and book a ticket here.

You can also celebrate IWD2022 by calling into the Fountains Learning Centre to see their YSJ Women display, which  explores resources from our archives that provide a glimpse into the changing lives of female students over the years. 

English Literature Research Showcase Returns

The English Literature Programme are hosting their annual Research Showcase on Monday 14th March at 5.30pm.
 
Join the English Literature team for the first on-campus Research Showcase in two years! Staff will give short presentations on their latest research and talk about the projects they’re working on at the moment, from Hamlet to eighteenth-century print, and from music venues to architects in prose fiction to Brontë contagions, 
 
There are pre-event drinks if you’re attending in person, or you can attend online: just indicate your preference when you book.
 
Find out more and book your ticket here.
 
We look forward to seeing you!

Setting Goals and Writing: Workshop Opportunities

Study Development are running two workshop strands this semester. 

If you’d like some guidance on reflective writing, head to CD/006 on Thursday 10th March, 5-6.30 pm. There is also an online session on Thursday 31st March, 5-6.30 pm.

For help setting your goals, there are online sessions every Monday from 28th February to 28th March from 9.30-10 am. Goal setting and writing retreats are on Monday lunchtimes (times and rooms at the link below). For some structured writing time, you can join online every Friday lunchtime.

For more detail, click here.

Careers in Literature 2022

Please see below for a brilliant opportunity to find out more about careers opportunities for students from the Royal Society of Literature!


 

Images of contributors to Careers in Literature 2022

FREE for all. Feb 1 2022.

Our annual event, chaired by RSL Fellow Edmund Gordon, explores the varied working lives of those in the literature sector, and how to get started in your own career in words. During this 90-minute Zoom webinar, each panellist will speak about their own work, followed by an opportunity for you to ask questions to people who have been there and done it.

This year, we will hear from: a renowned literary agent; a Literature Officer at Creative Scotland; a T.S. Eliot Prize-winning poet and Professor of Creative Writing; and the Programme Manager from Manchester Poetry Library. We hope their journeys will inspire you as you embark on your own career in literature.

Book Online 

Martin Kratz is Programme Manager at Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University. His work includes developing their collection through events programming and he is particularly passionate about their collection of poetry in Manchester’s community languages and poetry in recording. After completing his MA Creative Writing and PhD at Manchester Metropolitan, Martin worked on Manchester’s successful bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature. He was co-editor of Penned in the Margin’s Mount London and the author of a poetry pamphlet, A Skeleton’s Progress. His translations of the poetry of Nelly Sachs and Jusuf Naoum appeared in The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature.

Sinéad Morrissey FRSL is the author of six poetry collections and was appointed Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Her accolades include first prize in the UK National Poetry Competition, a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the E M Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her collections Through the Square Window and Parallax received the Irish Times Poetry Prize. Sinéad won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2013 and The Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2017. In 2020, she received the European Poet of Freedom Award for her collection On Balance, translated into Polish by Magdalena Heydel. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

Emma Paterson joined literary agency Aitken Alexander Associates in 2018 after eight years at Rogers, Coleridge & White and The Wylie Agency. Emma became a member of the Booker Prize Foundation Advisory Committee and was made a Director of Aitken Alexander in 2020. She was recently included in British Vogue’s list of 25 influential women shaping 2021 and beyond.

Katalina Watt’s work was longlisted for Penguin Write Now 2020 and has been published in Haunted Voices, Unspeakable, and Extra Teeth among others. In 2021 she received a Writers Grant from Ladies of Horror Fiction and has appeared at festivals and literary events including Edinburgh International Book Festival, Cymera, and FIYAHCON. Katalina is Literature Officer at Creative Scotland and Audio Director for khōréō, a speculative fiction magazine for immigrant and diaspora authors.

Edmund Gordon is the author of The Invention of Angela Carter, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize and an RSL Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. His essays and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including the Financial Times, the Guardian, Independent and New Statesman. He teaches literature and creative writing at King’s College London and is a regular contributor to The Sunday Times, TLS and the London Review of Books.

Founded in 1820, the RSL acts as a voice for the value of literature, honouring and supporting emerging and established writers whilst creating a bridge between authors and audiences to engage as many people as possible with the breadth of UK literature.

In partnership with

 

Peer Career Coaches

If you’re thinking about next steps, careers, or placements, this should be of interest! More information and contact details below.

ON BEHALF OF THE YSJU CAREER COACHES:

  • Have you thought of your next placement?
  • Have you considered a part-time job?
  • Are you stuck on where to go after graduation?
  • Do you want to explore the opportunities while being at university?

If any of the above questions applies to you, then come and see us.

Who are we?

We are Peer Career Coaches. We are students from a variety of courses and levels (Undergrad and PhD) at YSJ who work with the careers team offering friendly 15-minute chats about all things’ careers. As students, we understand the pressure and how overwhelming students’ life can be.

How could we help?

We could offer support around a variation of topics including:

o Placements

o Part-time jobs

o Graduate jobs

o Changing courses

o Job interviews, etc

Where are we?

You can find us in LaunchPad (the big glass extension) at Holgate.

When can you find us?

We are available for walk-ins and/or pre-booked appointments on Wednesdays between 12:30-14:30.

To pre-book, please the link below: https://yorksj.jobteaser.com/en/users/sign_in?back_to_after_login=/ 

To find more about us, please find the PDF attachment (Who are the Peer Career Coaches)

Best wishes,

Lauren (On behalf of the Peer Career Coaches- Rida, Steph, Claire, Sophie, Katerina & Jazmin)

 

Top Ten Books Read at YSJU – by Charlotte Crawshaw, Class of 2020

I completed my BA in English Literature last year. I was one of the sub-editors for Words Matter during my time at the university, with my undergraduate graduation just around the corner (finally!), it feels like a great time to reflect on my time studying at York St John.

Since finishing my BA at York St John University I have completed an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of York and I now work as a Research Intern with Elizabeth Montagu Correspondence Online. The texts that I studied during my three years of studying at YSJ had so much influence over the course I have taken after completing my degree, including my current job.

One of my favourite things about the texts that I studied during my degree was their diversity; I had the freedom to write about texts that interested me, as well as read texts I would have never even thought about before. I studied authors I’d never heard of before,  and forms of texts I’d never even imagined.

These top ten were so difficult to choose – over my three years at YSJ I studied so many different texts –  but I decided to go for those that left a lasting impact on my view of English Literature.

10. Charlotte Brontë, Shirley (1849)       

 I had always been a fan of Charlotte Brontë,  and growing up not far from her hometown I read a lot of the classic Brontë novels. I read Shirley as part of the “Sick Novels: Literature and Disease” module in my second year. It is a beautifully written novel with classic Brontë twists. It’s a great intersection between romance and something new; Brontë delves into the issues of women’s health and illness whilst drawing on many cultural anxieties about ‘punishment ‘ for certain behaviour choices. Brontë’s inclusion of these anxieties is what intrigued me the most in this novel.

9.  William Wordsworth, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge (1802)

 “Composed upon Westminster Bridge” was a poem we studied in second year, in the “Revolution and Response: British Literature 1740-1840”. The speaker of the poem is pondering on the views of London from Westminster Bridge, considering both its beauty and its power. Wordsworth’s vivid and detailed exploration of the city below is beautiful.  He draws upon ideas of community versus individuality, as well as nature versus industrialisation, and it is a poem which really stayed with me after reading it. Wordsworth also explores the impermanence of things – the city that the speaker is looking down upon in particular – creating a sense of reassurance for the reader.

8. Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1772)

 A Journal of the Plague Year was one of my first encounters with a piece of fiction that was presented as non-fiction. Of course, the events which unfold in this text are the events which occurred in 1665 during the plague. Defoe’s text tells the story with the voice of a man surviving through the bubonic plague outbreak in London, told in loosely chronological order, with incredibly specific details of neighbourhoods and individual houses. The legitimacy of Defoe’s account was speculated about for some time, until it was accepted in 1780 as a piece of fiction. This text stuck with me after studying it as it opened up a whole new genre of literature. It played quite a large role in my desire to study eighteenth-century literature.

7. Stephen King, Cujo (1981)

One of the more contemporary novels on this list, Stephen King’s Cujo is a classic thriller / psychological horror. Similar any Stephen King novel, it is a slow burner to begin with, with the threat looming in the background for a while before it strikes. I’d always been a huge King fan before beginning my degree, so I was thrilled to be studying this in the second year module “Sick Novels: Literature and Disease”. Cujo differs from other novels by King, as rather than a supernatural threat, such as Carrie’s telekinesis or Pennywise, the threat here (a rabid dog) is real, although exaggerated.

6. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)

This short story was a key text for the study and understanding of feminism and attitudes towards female mental health in the late nineteenth century. The short story follows an unnamed woman and her inner narrative as she describes the room her husband has locked her in, in order to aid her nervous disposition and “temporary nervous depression”. Gilman draws on the discourse of women’s subordination to their husbands, as well as the ignorance of the struggles of mental illness in women, often dismissed as hysteria. This is another text I think about often:  Gilman’s writing style is beautiful, in stark contrast to the content. 

5. John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)

I’ll be perfectly honest, when I first read Paradise Lost I did not quite get it. It seemed convoluted, unnecessarily long and generally confusing. It was one of the first texts we studied, alongside texts such as The Metamorphoses and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I remember going home after my seminar on Paradise Lost and rereading it again. It was after this that I realised how much I enjoyed it. This epic poem concerns the Fall of Man, and conjures images of Satan, Beelzebub and Hell. The character of Satan is charming and charismatic, rather than evil and aggressive as he is usually portrayed in popular culture. The reason this text is in my top ten is because of how it turns a traditional story on its head, but also for the controversy it caused after its publication.

4. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1995)

Another contemporary novel, Lolita follows the narrative story of a middle-aged literature professor “Humbert Humbert” and his gradually increasing sexual obsession with a twelve-year-old girl. Being narrated by the aggressor of the novel himself creates an unreliability to the story itself. The reader has to work out what is true and what is not, between Humbert’s manipulation of the young girl. Although difficult to read in many ways, Nabokov’s narrative style is unlike other authors’, and this was truly a great text to really read between the lines.

3. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

The Bell Jar quickly became one of my favourite texts – ever. Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel follows the narration of Esther Greenwood and her descent into mental illness, along with her attempts of recovery which ultimately reflect Plath’s own struggles. Through this narrative Plath was able to express and explore her own struggles, as well as bring issues of women’s mental health to light. The Bell Jar is an incredibly emotional, thought-provoking novel which is why it’s so high on my list.

2. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (2012)

Gone Girl was a text we studied on the “Gender & Sexualities” module in third year. It was a popular choice due to the film adaptation in 2014 and is the most contemporary of my entire list. The unreliable narration from both Nick and Amy creates an immense amount of suspense and really makes the reader question who is telling the truth (most likely, neither). Neither Amy nor Nick is the ‘perfect’ protagonist:  both are flawed and even borderline psychopathic at points, Flynn creates a great chemistry between the two whilst also setting out a new concept – the “Cool Girl” in contemporary feminism.

1. Jonathan Swift, “A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed” (1731)

If someone were to ask me what satire was in the eighteenth century, I would direct them towards this poem. Swift is unrelenting, brutal, and savagely satirical in this poem – and many other poems which follow later. The poem follows Corinna as she undresses in her dressing room and transforms from a beautiful young woman to an old worn-down shell of a woman. It has been argued that Swift is simply admiring the strength and determination of the woman to continue working despite her declining health, however it is more commonly accepted to be a scathing criticism of the deceptive nature of this woman – and perhaps all woman who engage in cosmetics to alter their appearance. This poem makes its mark on a reader, which earns it the top spot in my list since it began an interest in the study of the eighteenth century and satire which influenced much of my academic career from there on.

 

The Human Experience of War: Online lecture on 1st December

Literature staff and students are invited to hear a special online lecture by Dr Carla Barqueiro, who is based at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Dr Barquerio will be talking about the human experience of war. The lecture will be held on Wednesday 1 December at 5pm. It is free and open to all. To register, please go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/human-experiences-of-war-tickets-209213572427?aff=Internal