In 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.
Dr Adam James Smith: “Regionality” in Eighteenth-Century Print Cultures
Dr Smith and collaborators Drs Rachel Stenner and Kaley Kramer hold the department’s motto, “words matter” at the centre of their book (though not literally, of course). They make a “strategic and deliberate attempt to realign the dominant terminology used to discuss book and print trades outside of London”. They aim to shift scholarly terminology from “provincial” to “regional”, and Dr Smith highlights two reasons for doing this. Firstly, “regional” reorients thinking about print trade relationships from a London-and-periphery model, to a region-to-region model. Their work challenges the comparison between “the centre” and “elsewhere”, which implies that the areas outside London are inferior. Secondly, “provincial” connotes narrow-mindedness and a lack in education, culture or sophistication. So, the change to “regional” is important: words matter.
Dr Saffron Vickers Walkling: “To Live or Not To Live?”
Dr Vickers Walkling is researching Shakespeare in Eastern and Central Europe, which is how she met academics from the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre. She reports Dr Darya Lazerenko explaining that in the nineteenth-century, translating Shakespeare into Ukrainian was part of a patriotic project. When Russian became the dominant language under the Russian annexation, Ukrainian was banned from public use, only allowed to be spoken at home. So, translating Shakespeare into Ukrainian became a way to validify the language. If Shakespeare was in Ukrainian, how could the language be dismissed? A Ukrainian translation of Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet, “To be or not to be” is “To live or not to live”, which has a rather live meaning in light of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. To find out more, you can listen to the podcast “To Make Oppression Bitter: Shakespeare Scholars on the Frontline in Ukraine” in the To Be or Not To Be: Lockdown Shakespeare podcast series. To donate to the Ukrainian Shakespeare Appeal, visit https://flutetheatre.co.uk/.
Dr Fraser Mann: “Venue Stories”
Dr Mann starts by asking us to step into a time machine, to follow him into the Fountains lecture theatre two years ago, when he spoke about his work in-person for the last time in long time. It was at the eve of the COVID crisis. He says, “working on books seemed like an odd thing to do, while the world was accelerating towards what we now call the new normal”. He spoke then about the book he speaks of now: Venue Stories. It’s a collaborative work with Drs Helen Pleasance and Robert Edgar, that creatively and critically revisits, remembers and revises the cultural significance of independent music venues in the UK. During the lockdowns, when music venues had to shut down and sell t-shirts and posters to pay the bills, and crowdfund to fix leaky pipes, and Fraser argues “their absence and potential disappearance meant that this was more relevant work than ever before”. In recent memory, there was no more pressing time to highlight the important role that indie music venues play in UK culture.
Dr Alexander Beaumont: “The Architect”
Dr Beaumont focuses on the point where culture meets politics. If we zoom in a little, he takes us to the production of space, where there’s a mountain of research material. Zoom in a little further, and we’re at the intersection of architecture and literature. While we’ll find material on architecture and literature, little has been published on the representation of architects. That’s where Dr Beaumont steps in.
Architects are simultaneously artists, technicians and businesspeople. Each role has a different set of values, which the architect needs to reconcile. Their technical ingenuity is sometimes highlighted, but is represented as “displacing a commitment to deep or transcendental values”. Architects are often depicted as ambivalent about values – architects such as the one in William Golding’s novel The Spire, and the one(s) in the Netflix series The Good Place – and Dr Beaumont is on the lookout for redemptive representations of them. Noble work, I’d say.
Dr Jo Waugh: Consumption, Myth-Making, and the Brontës
In her forthcoming book, Dr Waugh addresses the argument that in the 18thand 19th centuries, it was fashionable to look consumptive. Pale skin, sharp features, slimness and flushed cheeks were considered romantic, ethereal, sexy. Think Pre-Raphaelite art. This has been termed “consumptive chic”. Did Emily and Charlotte Brontë follow the trend? Dr Waugh thinks not. In Emily’s case, her peers remembered her for her “leg o’ mutton” sleeves, which slim the waist. She also wore straight petticoats, which made her naturally thin frame look even thinner. This is why it’s not hard to imagine a case for it. But, Dr Waugh points out that she famously didn’t care what people think, so she was unlikely to have been making a conscious effort to represent herself that way. Charlotte’s once wrote: “consumption is a flattering malady”. But Dr Waugh argues that some people take this quotation out of context: Charlotte was actually alluding to the false hopes the disease causes as it waxes and wanes. She famously hated flattery. So, as Dr Waugh says, “words matter; ‘flatter’ matters”.
In a research showcase including consumptive fashion, ambivalent architects, indie music venues, Ukrainian Shakespeare, and the politics of print cultures, there’s a little something to pique a range of interests. As a student, hearing my tutors present their research interests gives me a deeper appreciation for the time they spend teaching me, because teaching is often just a side benefit of the gig. This showcase highlights the fact that the modules they teach are student-centric, which our tutors engage in alongside their own passion projects. And they grace us with as much energy as they do their own pursuits.