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.

Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It: A Depiction of Trans-Queer Feminism Through the Casting of Rosalind, by Blythe Roberts

In March this year, students on the Shakespeare: Perspectives module went to see The Northern Broadsides production of As You Like It, directed by Laurie Sansom.  Second year student Blythe Roberts reflects on how this production speaks to 21st century ideas of gender and sexuality.

York Theatre Royal, 24th March 2022, Main Stage.

Two women embrace, one dressed in a feminine fasion, one in a masculine fashion
Image 1: Rosalind’s enforced female identity as a form of oppression (Billington, “Rosalind and Celia”)

Through casting a non-binary actor, E M Williams, to play Rosalind, Laurie Sansom’s As You Like It rejects patriarchal constructions of gender and sexuality. A trans-queer interpretation of the play is depicted through Rosalind’s journey of self-discovery, exploring possibilities beyond the female identity enforced upon them, concluding the play with Rosalind’s identification as non-binary. This interpretation creates a radical opposition to the patriarchy, as Rosalind’s rejection of gender constructs creates a liberating queer space where they are no longer confined within patriarchal structures.

Sansom, together with trans-disciplinary artist and designer E M Parry, conveys this trans-queer interpretation through costumes and performance of gender, depicting Rosalind’s trans-journey. In the rigid patriarchal structures of the court, Rosalind’s identity as a woman is presented as a form of oppression (see Image 1). Once Rosalind is alone with Celia, they abruptly conclude their performance of ‘femininity’, using the act of disrobing as a rejection of the identity of an oppressed woman. Sansom uses this refusal to become oppressed within a patriarchal society as the incentive behind Rosalind’s fleeing into the woods and disguising as a man. Continue reading “Northern Broadsides’ As You Like It: A Depiction of Trans-Queer Feminism Through the Casting of Rosalind, by Blythe Roberts”

“Returning” by Andrea Woodward

A white woman with long blond hair smiles at the camera
(c) Andrea Woodward

Andrea Woodward is a York St John English Literature PhD candidate. Andrea, who started her HE journey at 30, could have taken a very different path in life. Here she reflects on her experiences as a returning student, recalling the day as an undergraduate when she thought she would give it all up – and why she didn’t!

I first came to York St John as an undergraduate student in English Literature in 2006. I was 30 years old.

As a mature student who’d spent 15 years out of full-time education, I quickly felt overwhelmed and more than a bit out of place. Those classmates who’d arrived fresh out of college seemed to radiate knowledge in seminars, knowledge that my first essay results suggested to me I didn’t have. After several weeks into the first semester, I felt it would be for the best if I withdrew from the course, believing that I’d never succeed. Continue reading ““Returning” by Andrea Woodward”

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”

“Take the Time to Smell the Roses”: Megan Sales discusses Mindfulness in this Busy World

Final year English Literature student Megan Sales shares her thoughts with us about managing stress.

A group of students sit at a table and discuss a problem
(c) York St John University

As a literature student, with an obvious love of books, it may seem odd when I tell you that I have never considered reading a ‘self-help’ book. I’ve spent my years with my head stuck in 18th and 19th century books, finding amusement in the way humans work – How much do we change? However, after an intriguing conversation with my Auntie, I found myself reading a psychology book and from there I have moved onto my current read Stress, the Psychology of Managing Pressure by Diane McIntosh. The book itself so far has been an interesting read. I personally love to find out how the mind works but even more than a basic interest, I have found this book genuinely helpful. Here is what I’ve learnt. Continue reading ““Take the Time to Smell the Roses”: Megan Sales discusses Mindfulness in this Busy World”

Dissertation Corner: Tia Clifford on Fairy Tales for Feminists

Recent graduate Tia Clifford sums up some of her dissertation ideas for us in this blogpost.

Fairy-tales: the term itself is attributed to Madame D’Aulnoy, a French writer who coined the term conte de fée in the 17th century (Zipes, P. 222- B).

Engraving of woman with arms folded
Dorothea Viehmann: a German storyteller and source for many tales collected and published by the Brothers Grimm

Oral fairy-tales, I contended in my dissertation, were often likely to have been told by women. Noticeably, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were given the title of “dignified scholars” after the publication of Children’s and Household Tales, their first revised fairy-tale collection for mass consumption in 1812; however, the lexis originally surrounding fairy-tales, prior to their appropriation by male writers, tended to be negatively gendered as “domestic art”, “women’s art” or “old wives’ tales” (Maria Tatar, P. XVI). I suggested that fairy-tales were initially a form of female rebellion against the patriarchal society oppressing women. Some fairy-tales acted as proto-feminist critiques of patriarchy, but they can also be viewed as survival manuals or as warnings by women for women regarding the dangers of a male-dominated society. In “Little Red Riding Hood”, for example, young girls learn that men are not always what they seem and that deviating from the socially accepted path will lead to danger. Continue reading “Dissertation Corner: Tia Clifford on Fairy Tales for Feminists”

The Top 10 Books Studied on English Literature! (According to a recent graduate) by Adam Kirkbride (he/him)

As we begin a new semester, and as some of us begin a new path in life as a university student, Adam Kirkbride reflects on his recent undergraduate studies and the books that inspired him:

This semester I began my MA in Contemporary Literature at York St John University, where I also studied for my BA in English Literature. I’ll be completing my MA on a part-time basis, so by the time I hand in my MA dissertation, I will have been at YSJ for five years.

So, I felt now was a good time to stop and reflect on my previous studies, and I’m writingToni Morrison author this down because it will help me to remember what I have learned in the years to come. Over the past three years the texts that I studied have helped to shape my views on literature, politics, representation and so much more. Reading is, in my opinion, the best way to educate or entertain yourself in an age of turmoil. And if I get to the end of writing this post without developing an overwhelming desire to read all of these books again, then I will be shocked!

The freedom and independence to pick and choose texts, topics, and modules on my degree was by far the feature that I enjoyed most. I rarely came across a text I disliked, and not once did I have to write about a text which truly bored me with no redeeming factors. Creativity and the study of literature go hand in hand, so it is important when reading to engage with texts that pique your interest and inspire originality. These ten books have nurtured my head and my heart throughout my degree, and I know that I am a better person for having read them. I can only hope that the texts I will read over the next two years will have the same impact on me. Continue reading “The Top 10 Books Studied on English Literature! (According to a recent graduate) by Adam Kirkbride (he/him)”

Student Blog Post: Megan Sales discusses Morality in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

woman in red sweater holding red bookI am currently conducting research for my dissertation project which aims to explore representations of the mind and soul within texts written during the long eighteenth-century. 

John Locke’s very influential text ‘An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding’ explores the concept that the mind is formed through experience – nothing is innate. Continue reading “Student Blog Post: Megan Sales discusses Morality in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”

Rainbows of Hope: Brooke Williamson reflects on The Masked Singer

As we are now able to meet with friends, sit in a café, or go to a film, Brooke Williamson looks back on her “comfort viewing” at the beginning of the year when we were at the height of a lockdown. It seems a fitting reflection in Pride season and when we are still thanking our NHS for their work in a difficult time. Here’s to rainbows and hope!

masked singer contestants dressed as dragon, chicken, clock, packet of fries etc.
The Masked Singer Season 2 (c) ITV

During lockdown it was easy to be a victim of Saturday night television, and I for one know, having been completely sucked into ITV’s primetime The Masked Singer UK back in February. The idea of the show, for those who escaped the tension and suspense, was that 12 celebrities transformed themselves by hiding their identity behind a creature or animal and performed songs, whilst battling it out to retain their mask – and consequently, keep their identity a secret. From the photograph of this series’ contestants there was one character, in particular, that caught my attention. This was the Dragon, who was later unmasked as Sue Perkins of The Great British Bake-Off. Continue reading “Rainbows of Hope: Brooke Williamson reflects on The Masked Singer”

Comfort Read: Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877) by Megan Sales

In the latest in our Comfort Reads series, second year student Megan Sales reflects on a childhood favourite… 

Re-reading one of my favourite childhood books wasn’t something I considered until my younger sister recently returned my copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877). It sparked memories of the me being so excited when I opened the book one Christmas Day that I raced upstairs to read it, unable to wait. When my sister returned the book, I opened it smiling, reminiscing, and re-read the whole book by the next day. Continue reading “Comfort Read: Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877) by Megan Sales”

Blog Post: Reflecting on “A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft” by Megan Sales

In a recent lecture and seminar for our module Revolution and Response, we discussed Mary Wollstonecraft’s text The Rights of Woman (1792). Two important points were raised to do with the context of this work; the first is that the concept of gender, as we understand it today, did not exist when Wollstonecraft was writing and the second being that feminism did not exist as a term then either. Wollstonecraft is considered by many to be the mother of feminism and even though the term did not exist during her time, her views on gender equality were pioneering. She discussed how women are satirised by male writers for being ignorant while these same men denied women access to education. Furthermore, she discusses how women are objectified and are led to believe that their only worth lies in their beauty and ability to please men.

The debate surrounding Maggi Hambling’s “A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft” [pictured] erected in London in November 2020 has become a focal point for discussing some of these issues. Continue reading “Blog Post: Reflecting on “A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft” by Megan Sales”

Blog Post: COVID 19: One Year On. How can Shakespeare’s portrayal of Time alter our perspectives? By Annie Denton

We have recently marked one year since the UK went into a national lockdown. I keep thinking about how quickly it all changed. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Time is a character, who struts upon the stage to say: “I, that please some, try all, both joy and terror Of good and bad, that makes and unfolds error, Now take upon me, in the name of Time, To use my wings. Impute it not a crime To me or my swift passage” (The Winter’s Tale 4:1). These lines stuck with me when I read the play for the module I’m taking on Shakespeare. It altered my perspective. I realised that I have it all wrong: a year passing is not a bad thing at all. Of course, I could get political and complain about how we should not be in our third national lockdown, or that I was just getting settled in at university before it was all taken away. We can be pessimistic about ‘losing a year’ of our lives, but I like Shakespeare’s personification of Time. There is nothing that resonates more than “please some, try all, both joy and terror of good and bad…” when we all consider the last 365 days. Yet, Time begs us to “impute it not a crime” that time is passing. I understood this as acceptance. Time will use its wings to fly by us, and by accepting that the passage of time is life – whether it be good or bad, joy or terror. I choose to take the perspective that Time is inevitable and will “try [us] all” and that’s okay. We can’t neglect the year we have had, choose to ignore it, or tell people we have ‘lost’ a year. We lived through it all, and hopefully, we are better people for it, and strong enough to face whatever errors Time will throw at us next.

 

Annie Denton is a second year student at York St John University taking our second year module Shakespeare: Perspectives.

How Did Lockdown Help Me Come Out As Non-Binary? by Ripley Cook for Trans Day of Visibility

In this post by one of our YSJ literature students, Ripley Cook, they explain how lockdown helped them understand their neurodiversity and their gender identity. 

nonbinary flag
The non-binary flag via Stonewall

For most of my life I can honestly say that I was never comfortable in my own body. I put it down to a lot of different reasons: how men perceived me and the sexism that came with that, basic insecurities, and the bullying I experienced because of my appearance in high school. It never occurred to me that it was more than that, at least not until lockdown. Continue reading “How Did Lockdown Help Me Come Out As Non-Binary? by Ripley Cook for Trans Day of Visibility”

Mask 4 Mask: Should we really be comparing COVID and AIDS? by Adam Kirkbride for LGBT History Month

As human beings, we have a tendency to look back at our history and compare it to what is happening in the present. This, by and large, is a fairly good thing. We get to learn from our past mistakes and exorcise the ghosts that haunt our cultural memory. However, the recent tendency to compare the COVID19 pandemic to the AIDS crisis is, I believe, a tendency that is rooted in ignorance.  Continue reading “Mask 4 Mask: Should we really be comparing COVID and AIDS? by Adam Kirkbride for LGBT History Month”

An Unexpected Surprise in Julius Caesar! by Annie Denton

cast signaturesAs a literature student, I am used to buying books second hand. The quality of the copy doesn’t necessarily matter because when we’re finished with it, it will undoubtedly have illegible scribbles in the margins and post-it notes spilling out of its edges. For this year’s Shakespeare: Perspectives module, I found an online supplier of second-hand books for the exact editions that were suggested for the reading list. I found a copy of Julius Caesar with the description “excellent condition, slight yellowing of the pages and a lovely dedication”.

 When it arrived, flicking through the pages to see the condition, I discovered a series of signatures on the inside cover. I immediately researched some of the more legible names, as they were unknown to me at the time. I discovered the names belong to the Royal Shakespeare Company cast of 2004, starring Christopher Saul as Caesar and Zubin Varla as Brutus. Continue reading “An Unexpected Surprise in Julius Caesar! by Annie Denton”