Monday, February 28, 2011

Channeling Ireland...

Met the writing goal for the day--well, wrote 4 pages, not 5, but feeling quite self-satisfied with the results.  Five pages forthcoming tomorrow.

I've been listening to lots of Mumford & Sons in an attempt to better channel the Irish vibe...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Page 13...My husband the warrior...

So I've taken all of the friendly advice and started writing.  I'd hoped to be knocking out 5 pages a day, but it's turning out to be more like 2-3 as I'm being a bit of a perfectionist.  But hopefully this will save me from making generalizations or hasty analyses which would require heavy revision later on.

My only concern is how am I going to to fit everything I have to say about Thackeray and Ireland in 40-45 pages? I'm on 13 and have just covered my intro, his background with Ireland and am just now starting my breakdown of the Irish Sketchbook.  Still need to cover Barry Lyndon, The Great Hoggarty Diamond, his letters & illustrations and the various Irish characters who pop-up throughout the body of his work! I'm trying to have faith, I'm sure it will come together.  At least I'm quite satisfied with my approach and introduction...

"Thackeray’s writings on Ireland are less straightforward; unlike Edgeworth (whose work he greatly admired) his Irish fictions don’t definitively support English rule; unlike Anne Radcliffe, Charlotte Bronte or Elizabeth Gaskell, he doesn’t clearly denounce Catholicism in favor of Protestantism; unlike Trollope, he reaffirms many Irish stereotypes and where he offers sympathy to struggling Irish persons and characters he likewise attributes blame and criticism.  And just as Thackeray consistently rebukes anti-Catholic sentiment and inspires empathy for Ireland’s impoverished, he reasserts the gamut of derogatory Irish characterizations including drunkenness, laziness, and uncleanliness in both his letters and fictions.  In the realm of Irish literary studies, scholars repeatedly try, and fail, to classify William Thackeray as either Irish sympathizer or colonial supporter.  While his most prominent biographer, Gordon N. Ray, credits his stereotypical depictions of the Irish (and other non-white, non English groups) to Thackeray’s “unfortunate nineteenth century prejudices,” contemporary postcolonial scholars such as Neil McCaw and Laura Berol divide the author from his various narrators and assure us that Thackeray is using irony to cast the blame upon the English reader rather than the Irish target.  However, careful consideration of the bulk of Thackeray’s letters, fictions, articles and illustrations pertaining to Ireland reveals a complex web wrought with English guilt and judgment, criticism of the Irish and denouncement of his own English preconceptions and prejudices.  This rich and complicated “gray area” is consistently overlooked as scholars confine themselves to the realm of his fiction and limit their analysis to the scope of definitive answers.  When his letters and articles are read alongside his fictions, a more developed and conflicted perspective emerges of an Englishman torn between the nationalistic views of his native country and what he observes in Ireland that is incongruous with his established belief system. Thackeray offers conflicting views of both the English and the Irish, as he typically narrates Irish-English conflict as he sees it, with little effort to conform to either nation’s or religious group’s political ideologies."

On a separate note, my heart was in my throat last evening as we drove home from the christening of my cousin's adorable twins--Craig was taking the stage for Philly Fight Night to box it out with another amateur in his weight class, he representing the Law School, the other fighter representing Wharton.  I called my dad as he watched the live video, and learned the fight was called in 47 seconds... because Craig was slaughtering the poor guy!

My dad somehow taped and sent me the video--it was a massacre and I'm beyond proud... maybe I'm a bit twisted! Regardless, my husband's clearly a warrior and I hope this isn't his last time in a boxing ring... 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holy cow! Success!

Despite the rain outside (and Blue's outright refusal to get wet, regardless of how long he might have to hold it), it's been a gloriously productive day! First, I uploaded my dozens and dozens and dozens of pages of notes to Kinko's website and had it printed as spiral notebook for the low price of $15! Having all of my citations/quotes there for me to flip through and annotate has made this process abundantly easier!

And, I met my writing goal today: 5 pages.  I figure at 5 pages a day, I'll have my new refined version of Chapter One up and running when Craig arrives next week.  

To be clear, I have notes and quotes and rants and paragraphs for three chapters thus far, but currently the refined and finalized products are being restructured, and I'm once more, for the last time, rebuilding Chapter One from the ground up.

More good news, my abstract for the Mid-Atlantic Conference of British Studies, March 26-27 at Pennsylvania State University, Abington, was accepted! I'll be heading back to Philly for that weekend to not only reconnect with the academic community but see some of my Philly friends over the weekend.  Plus, this means I'm writing about Thackeray and India next, as I need to have 10 solid pages to present on!  

Good things all around, hopefully more momentum tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mucho Productivo!

I've been having some health problems and being bed/couch-ridden the better part of the week has really dampened my spirits.  I came across a passage in one of Thackeray's letters (1854) that really summed it all up:

"I think I have been ill ever so many times since you went: that is why the time has passed away so swiftly: why I haven’t written either books or letters, and why the latter must be so stupid.  I mope about alone, avoid company, sit up stairs in my rooms, and am sick of being unwell, that’s a fact” (Letters & Private Papers I: 656).

On the upside, I found a wonderful doctor--at first I was put off that she's my age (or younger) but then remembered, "wait, I'm freak'n old," and she's been incredible!

Thanks to her, today was 'mucho productivo'--Liana feel free to correct my butchered Spanglish!

Made it through:
Ó Síochái, Séamas. Social Thought in the Nineteenth Century. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2009.
Sadly, compiled of essays tailored to specific authors, nothing on Bill Thack.  Pulled a few key quotes from the introduction.

Fisher, Judith L. “Image Versus text in the Illustrated Novels of William Makepeace Thackeray.” Victorian Literature and the Victorian Imagination. Ed. Christ, Carol T. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. (60-87).
This article was brilliant! Focused specifically on Vanity Fair in her critique of the relationship between Thackeray's illustrations and his writings.  Pointed out that the dark drawings of characters like Becky Sharp are to reinforce to the reader not to trust the narrator (who continually makes excuses for her plotting).  Excited to apply these ideas to Irish Sketchbook and see how they hold up!

Klotz, Ganther.  “Thackeray’s Ireland: Image and Attitude in the Irish Sketchbook and Barry Lyndon. Literary Interrelations: Ireland, England the World. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1987. (95-102).
This article is so spot on and even irked me in that several of the points he makes reflect my own ideas... wish it wasn't from 1987!!

On a side note, I have 200+ pages of notes.  Craig and Noella are going to inflict bodily harm if I don't start producing finalized pages ;-)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some pictures of interest...

I just wanted to share a few pictures: Bill Thack himself, a sketch of Jane (around age 30), and a drawing he did of her looking forlorn.  Perhaps I'm overly imaginative, but I feel you can see that he loved her...

A Day Late & A Dollar Short

“The following entry applies to Thursday, Februrary 17.  Yesterday entailed illness and doctors visits, but enough of that!”

Yesterday I neglected Ranciere's The Politics of Literature in favor of Edgar Harden's two volume collection of Thackeray's hereto unpublished letters--I felt that Bill Thack (as he sometimes dubbed himself) and I needed to reconnect.  In scanning for relevant letters and journal entries I found maybe a dozen gems and made it through 500+ pages, which still doesn't count for one of the volumes!  Afterwards, Grandma and I cashed in a "Groupon" from Craig (our Valentine's Day gift) and went to Mama's on the Hill (Italian restaurant in downtown St. Louis).  Appetizers were divine, salad was interesting, main course subpar, but as always we shared sparkling conversation when I wasn't fixated on Blue scratching up the interior of my new-used car...

We got home with just enough time to Skype my brother in Japan and watch Cary Grant in Father Goose.  He's truly one of the few Hollywood stars who managed to be drop-dead sexy at 60+! As much as women gush about present-day Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, they kind of give me the nursing home vibe… but Cary certainly has it going on…

But back to Bill Thack’s letters: several years ago I wrote a paper shredding the false stories in his biographies surrounding Jane Brookfield.  As I mentioned before, Thackeray’s frail Irish wife, Isabelle, went mad shortly after the birth of their third child and had to be permanently institutionalized, a huge drain on both his heart and his wallet.  And as he was a good Victorian man (supposedly with a pesky VD to remind him of his youthful dalliances with French prostitutes) he could never “date” or remarry as Isabelle was living.  Thus, when he met his old friend, William Brookfield’s, wife Jane (ten years his junior, 5”9, beautiful from a literary family) he was smitten.  That much the biographies have correct! But if you pick up any Thackerayan biography it will tell how Thackeray and Jane were innocently in love her husband came between them like a tyrant and forbid them to continue their friendship.  For my aforementioned paper, I read ALL of Thackeray’s published letters to Jane AND all of her published letters from throughout her lifetime.  It’s true she and William were woefully unhappy, despite finally conceiving children after 10 years of marriage, but the truth is she was a notorious flirt.  Her husband was a clergyman, and not a wildly successful one, plus 10-15 years older.  She found him severe and often dull and thus used her sharp mind and lovely face to garner attention from male company.  She’s the perfect Victorian hypocrite, never consummating anything and refusing to be in the company of “scandalous women” like Caroline Lamb who stepped out on their abusive husbands, and surely would never give George Eliot (Marion Evans) the time of day.

But back to Thackeray—their letters became too familiar, and in a judgmental 19th century society, William Brookfield was right to call a halt to their gushing letters and Thackeray’s “innocent” proclamations of love.  And I’m fully convinced that Thackeray believed her husband was an abusive ogre he wanted to save Jane from, while she wasn’t attracted to the 6”4 grey-haired paunchy author, but LOVED his celebrity, and for this reason alone encouraged the flirtation.   Biographies will have you believe it was true love cast asunder, but in the new volume of letters I’m reading, Thackeray himself said “[Brookfield] acted like a man.” Still, though he mentions in one letter he can’t bare the idea she played him like a “fool,” he writes the following note to Kate Perry (not the “Fireworks” version): “Kiss her: tell her that in giving that frightful lecture my only thought was to see her; that all week (except Wednesday) I prowled around her house hoping to see her—that near or far I am only hers and always hers.  Console the dear friend and believe in all my gratitude…” (Letters & Private Papers I: 430).   I get too wound up reading such lines, getting indignant that this coquette hurt my “dear friend” Bill Thack, so deeply, but I guess that’s why I know this story all too well…

But ‘what does this have to do with Susan’s dissertation?’ my father asks.  ‘Not much!’ she responds.  Save I’ve had a bit of a break through with his letters composed in French—and God bless Edgar Harden for translating them! Just as he confessed his “stalking” habits to Kate Perry in French, I found a similarly revealing letter composed to a French journal that tore apart the Irish Sketchbook—only in French does he seem uninhibited enough to stand by his anti-Catholic, anti-Irish rants, instead of hiding beneath the veil of his narrator.  In my opinion, this blows many of the postcolonialist assertions out of the water, but more on this tomorrow… today I finished these invaluable unpublished letters!

**Laptop is dying, no editing of the blog today! **

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A brief rant about the "F" word...

More to come on my French philosopher friend later (and no, the aforementioned "F" word is not French)! But I'm irked by several recent postings on Facebook.  One of my former students noted that her current professor called her the "F" word yesterday--feminist--and one of her male Facebook friends jokingly noted "we can't be friends anymore."  

A wave of frustration hit me: why has "feminist" become such a dirty word? I had this same conversation with my dad, for whom the word conjures angry, hypocritical female extremists.  I'd say it's Rush Limbaugh's fault, but it would be complete a cop-out to blame it on conservatives.  We've all complacently let the words feminist & femi-nazi merge together.  When our generation hears the word "feminist" it conjures images of buzz-cuts (and buzz saws!), man-hating angry females looking to spread their venom to innocent younger women.  And we buy into this as women because the entire world has taught us that being feminine and attractive are among our top priories--hence we now have fourteen-year-olds running around with "Juicy" and "You Wish" scrawled across their asses: if boys want them, they win, as the hottest girl is the best girl.  Or as Liz Lemon notes on 30 Rock, when Jack brags about dating the beautiful news anchor, Avery, Liz exclaims: "I know her! I saw her on Maxim's 'I'd Rape that 100!'"  

But back to the issue at hand.  Last semester I was teaching my unit on gender for my EN 101 (freshman comp) class and one of my most dedicated and driven male cadets said, "I'm sorry, but my wife needs to understand that she's in charge of keeping the house clean, making the meals, and taking care of the kids."  Always the devil's advocate, I noted that I was currently working 50 hours a week and writing a dissertation while my husband was focusing on his three classes.  Who did he think bought the groceries and ran the vacuum?  When someone countered by asking if my husband was "whipped," I told her that she was welcome to ask the grizzly veteran herself.  After what I felt was a productive discussion another male student, who didn't speak up much in class, meekly walked into my office and asked, "Ma'am, you're not a feminist, are you?" He whispered the word like it was a profanity, as if he was asking if I was secretly a communist or perhaps a KKK member.  We had a productive chat about the term, but I'm still baffled that in 2011 we've let that word be turned into something profane.

So please remember, if someone who stands up against racism is an 'anti-racist activist,' a person who stands up against blatant sexism is a 'feminist'.  Her goal isn't to make all women burn their bras, break off their heels, and bite the heads of men, but rather resonant of the goals of the 'anti-racial activist': to be treated fairly, paid the same, and recognized for her talents not her cup size. 

Ladies, if you can’t stand your ground every time a disapproving man (or woman!) throws the “F” word at you, I suggest you get on board with Cartman’s views on gender: “If a woman told me what to do, I’d tell her to get back into the kitchen and make me some pie!”

Now back to my French philosopher friend... Must remember to focus on empire, not gender studies..

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Down in the dark...

There will be two short posts from me today.  Yesterday I got through three books--still have to type up the notes.  A migraine hit around 4 yesterday and had me in the bedroom with the blinds closed and wet towel on my head (how very Victorian of me!) I tried for natural solutions: lots of water, took the dog for a walk (it's nearly 50 degrees here!), and eating a healthy meal, but the real solution was watching Tootsie (1982/Dustin Hoffman) with my grandmother last night.  No one cackles like she does!  She really is the best roommate in the world (sorry Andi & Nada!).

So, as per academic-type-stuff:
Laurence Kitzan's Victorian Writers and the Image of Empire: The Rose Colored Vision (2001).  Fascinating stuff! Just wish it was a bit more recent as this falls into the category of postcolonial studies from ten years back (or more).  But he points out how travel and adventure literature set out to construct a hopeful new understanding of empire, building on the idea of Kipling's "the white man's burden" and how Britain's used such fictions and travel narratives to filter the imperial process through the aforementioned "rose-colored glasses."

Antoinette Burton's Politics and Empire in Victorian Britain (a Reader) (2001). I thought it would be a work of criticism (as per the title, all I went on during my massive online search of the UPenn's library) It's a collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century speeches/lectures/essay on issues involving the British empire: slavery, race, imperialism, women's suffrage, Chartism, etc.  What's most relevant to me is the inclusion of Daniel O'Connell's "Speech at Mullinger" (1843).  This is the moment in time Thackeray published Irish Sketchbook and wrote Barry Lyndon.  He even mentions O'Connell's monster meetings in Ireland, rather dismissively.  But O'Connell brought together thousands to speak against the Act of Union and forced taxes to the Church of England/Protestant Church (when so many of them were Catholic!) and instigated a nation! Also, the book includes John Stuart Mill's "The Negro Question" (1950) which might be useful to Chapter Five which considers slavery.

Dinah Birch and Mark Llewellyn's Conflict and Difference in the Nineteenth Century (2010) certainly has the right publication date, but was mostly a bust for my purposes.  It's an interesting collection of essays but sharp critics, ranging on topics from the American Indian to Dickens and the culture of commodity, but barely touches on my focus.  I'll pull a few apt points about representations of conflict in nineteenth-century lit from the introduction.

So on to typing up my notes--would be a boring enterprise but I have the Ella Fitzgerald station on Pandora and the kitchen is bright and cheerful--and starting Rancière's The Politics of Literature, as recommended by my brilliant friend Eve.  Good day my friends!

Monday, February 14, 2011

More Weapons for the Arsenal...

So a due date is approaching: I assured Craig the refined and perfected Chapter One would be complete upon his arrival on March 6 (?) as he’s spending spring break here with us in St. Louis.  It’s sad, I should be rounding out Chapter Two, at the least, but keep finding new and more insightful works of criticism that I want to bring into the fold.

Like most of my students, I sadly approach writing (at least initial drafts) as a marathon, or going to war! A caffeine, adrenaline fueled, 1-2 day enterprise, leaving revision and second-guessing for a later time.  But before I really tackle it, I keep adding weapons to the arsenal, new works of criticism broken down into dozens and dozens of pages of notes… Before I belabor this metaphor, I’ll end by noting I got through three books today, a pace I need to keep up to make it through the last twenty (yes, twenty!) books I want to incorporate into Chapter One:

Julia M. Wright’s  Ireland, India, and Nationalism in Nineteenth-century Literature.  
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Duncan Bell’s Victorian Visions of Global Order: Empire and International Relations in Nineteenth-Century Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Philip Leonard’s  Nationality between Poststructuralism and Postcolonial Theory:  A New Cosmopolitanism. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2005.

Leonard’s book was a bust for me… The points he’s making about the nature of contemporary criticism are sharp, but he dauntingly summarizes and cites every relevant theorist from the past two centuries and it’s difficult to get to the root of what HE actually thinks: what are his truths about literature? Also, I really dislike theory with no application.  It’s philosophy, which can be illuminating, but not my bag baby!

Bell’s work is purely historical, and it’s so refreshing to read a historical text! I didn’t have use for many of the anthology’s articles that weren’t his, but he makes brilliant points about Britian’s fluctuating sense of identity in the nineteenth century.  He notes the anxiety that swept through England following the French Revolution and national unrest that persevered until a sense of stability began to set in in the 1850s, as marked by the Great Exhibition and an age of general affluence.  But as he notes: “…the view of the mid-Victorian era as an age of equipoise needs to be balanced by a recognition of the existence of widespread anxiety over Britain’s place in the world.  Arrogance and pride co-existed with apprehension and frustration” (7). H'es right: it's reductive and irresponsible to look at 19th century Britain as a clearcut colonial bully.  It was suffering through its own growing pains and uncertainties regarding its global conquests which confused it’s very understanding of itself—what I’m pointing out in Thackeray’s writings.

Finally, Julia Wright is another sharp cookie and I’m still in the process of typing up my notes for her.  She has a fascinating approach, examining the nuances of colonialism in Irish fictions which explore English imperialism in India! Furthermore, she pays special attention to the unusual position of Ireland, a colony of Christian, caucasian, English speakers often treated as a different species, much less race. But more on my friend Julia tomorrow.  Night world!

**Oh, and happy 5th birthday to my boy Blue!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sojourn in St. Louis...

I’ve been very naughty with both my posting and my progress.  As I believe I left off with, on Tuesday I began the cross-country trek from Erie to St. Louis.  I can’t explain the sense of peace and satisfaction I felt (after 7 coffees and eleven listens to the Mumford & Sons album) when I saw the Arch peaking over the horizon! I think Blue was equally relieved as he finally stopped groaning bitterly at his plight of being trapped in the passenger seat for 2 days straight.

 Ga (aka Grandma) had lunch and a soft bed waiting. I slept for 14 hours straight and anxiously awaited Craig’s arrival—after hugging him a dozen times or so I finally stopped fixating on the robbery the week before and my list of ‘what ifs.’  During his days here we watched old movies with Ga, checked out St. Louis from the top of the arch (riding up to the top in crammed ancient, roller-coaster like pods was my least favorite part), had an adventure trying to bathe the dog in glass-walled shower, lunched with the Roses, and planned out next month’s visit when Craig will be on spring break.  Going back to a long-distance relationship reminds me of the beginning of our courtship and of falling in love all over again, which I realize is cheesy, but pretty wonderful nonetheless.  To pursue this course of gushiness, I’ll add that the past few weeks have truly shown me how lucky I am—I come from such an affectionate, hysterical, and supportive family.  It’s been delightful spending extended time with my parents and grandmother as an adult, really get to know them all them in a new way. 

But I haven’t neglected my studies entirely! Craig brought me a handful of books he was able to score from U-Penn via interlibrary loan.  Several on contemporary criticism look especially promising, for as my brilliant friend Eve pointed out the evening I crashed with her Bloomington, postcolonial theory has become reductive, and many critics use it to draw whatever conclusions they like: aka, Laura Berol’s assumption that Barry (of Barry Lyndon) represents a wronged Ireland and Lady Lyndon, England, suffering the brunt of past wrongdoings.  We’re in such a hurry to categorize and label that we forget to explore the truths present in the hazy spots in between.  More on this tomorrow; I’ll express myself more eloquently after my morning clip on the treadmill and some caffeine.  Much more from me in the coming weeks…..

Monday, February 7, 2011

No-go a go-go...and a Palin rant...

So today was a no-go work wise.  Yesterday my mom and I drove to State College (4 hrs away) and back to visit my grandfather at his retirement home.  Today I began packing for tomorrow's trek to St. Louis.  I went through all my book and articles and decided what could remain and what should come with me.  I then moved to the bedroom and did the same with all of my clothing, toiletries, etc.

But what's pressing firmly on the back of my mind is the early morning phone call I received from Craig.  While he slept last night, people picked his lock, climbed the stairs to his second floor apartment and took the plasma TV, X-Box, video games, etc.  I'm guessing the poor cat hit under the couch through it all.  Craig was in his room with the door closed (because the cat is a maniac at night) and the fan running by his head (because the perpetual ringing in his ears, a consequence of an explosion in Iraq, keeps him awake without it).   These people were either professionals or had major balls breaking into a home where an armed veteran lives... And I've been plagued by all the what-ifs... what if he'd woken up? Did they have guns? What would have happened? What would have happened if I was there? Or Blue (the dog) lived with him instead of me right now? I'm trying to get my head around it, but simply can't wait until he flies into St. Louis and I can hug him and see that he's safe...

On a lighter note, my dad and I have been emailing back and forth (which I know seems odd as we're under the same roof, but that's just the Ray-way) about why Sarah Palin makes me cringe.  It's no secret my dad is rather conservative while I'm moderate to liberal.  I truly can't stand the woman and below are my reasons why... For next post, when I arrive in St. Louis on Wednesday,  I will include some pages from the rehashed chapter One.  But for now, here the Palin rant I wrote after listening to her interview on the situation in Egypt...

Palin says: " And what would give me great joy is if what would become irrelevant is just the untruthful the misreporting out there.  I want the mainstream media, and I’ve said this for a couple of years now, I want to help ‘em. I have a journalism degree, that is what I studied.  I understand that this cornerstone of our democracy is a free press, is sound journalism. I want to help them build back their reputation and allow Americans to be able to trust what it is that they are reporting. We’re so far from being able to trust what so many of  the mainstream media personalities, characters, feed the American public that it scares me for our country. What would give me great joy is what would become irrelevant is the misreporting that comes out of the mainstream media."

 I would tear apart a freshman paper (or speech) for such spiraling, empty verbiage.  

 "Regan" and "America" and "God/Bible/Jesus" seem to be here go to phrases throughout...

She doesn't speak like an intelligent woman; she speaks like a hick who believed everything her rural "folks' told her without question: immigrants bad, Jesus is everything, pick yourself up by your boot heels...  This might sound shallow, but I'll give it to her, I really respect her for her appearance: she takes care of herself, is fit, attractive without trying to appear sexy.  But when she speaks, I cringe: instead of "them" she says 'em.'  and "I have a BA in Journalism" as her qualifier for understanding the media situation in Egypt. If the BA (or accrediting institution) was any good she could speak properly.  

Plus, Obama has degrees from Ivy league schools, as does Bush, I believe, but you sound like a moron when you drop that as your qualifier for solving problems.  Also, I thought FOX news was the conservative holy grail? It's #1 in the ratings in covering Egypt!

And I fully acknowledge that I know so little about what's going on over there, but when I listened to all of her comments I felt that I'm more well-informed that she is, which scares me to death.  Also, I can't believe she did a reality show, that her daughter (only famous for getting knocked up), was on Dancing with the Stars (as if teen pregnancy is something to glorify) and her younger daughter goes on Facebook calling people "faggots."  They're classless. Briston is going on tours preaching "abstinence," hauling in $200K a speech, and it's like Roseanne Barr visiting high schools to tell kids how to "eat right," it's absurd!  In short, if she is going to be the first female VP or President of this nation, I think I'll talk to Craig  about moving to Canada... 

**My dad could make a plethora of points supporting Palin, thus I welcome him to start his own blog! ;-)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winding tunnels of research...

So all that I'll accomplish today is typing up the aforementioned notes from the aforementioned Apes and Angels. It makes me think of how hard it was for doctoral students 30-40yrs ago who had to plunk ALL of their work out on a typewriter and a mistake could lead to a complete overhaul! Still, it's daunting typing up hundreds of pages of notes (which you do when you're neurotic like me) and I long for future days when my kids will think typing notes out of book is primitive.  They'll simply read passages aloud or scan them and they'll magically appear properly formatted in their document!

Anyways, typing up notes is a remarkable accomplishment for my current mental state.  I think I definitely fried some braincells during the toilet cleaning escapade... I got home from Buffalo this afternoon and could barely form a sentence, plus it was all I could do from heading to bed at 4pm! Still, it was a wonderful trip, catching up with Jess and Chief & Ally and meeting baby Coraline.  It's wonderful to have those magical friendships where you don't see them for a year or more, then sit down to dinner and you haven't missed a step! Jess still remains one of the most wonderful people to talk to, conversations ranging from politics to pop culture, to teaching to old friends, and Chief & Ally are absolutely glowing in their parenthood.  I can already tell they're those loving yet cool and collected parents that every frazzled couple envies!

But back to my notes... driving back from Buffalo I realized that I keep finding an interesting idea or book, and I start following that train of thinking, which takes me to another book, another theory, another concept, and I follow that "tunnel" which is leading me further and further away from my original purpose.  One could literally follow these tunnels of knowledge forver.  It's time to sit down and write! To be continued...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Don't hand me that doctorate yet...

So yesterday was a brilliant "work" day for me.  While waiting for the car to be maintenance-d at the Toyota dealership I read for two hours, reviewing L. Perry Curtis's Apes and Angels, an incredible book on cartoon depictions of the Irish, and Edgar Harden's collection of previously unpublished Thackeray letters.  After a brief stop at the gym, where two old biddies gossiped through my elliptical time, only pausing to share their open-mouthed, phlegm-ridden coughs with the rest of the Y, I came home.

Awaiting me was a package from my adviser--a hard copy of my latest prospectus with her last round of comments.  I spend several hours revisiting and reworking the prospectus, then officially sent it to the department and my readers.  So, after an uber-productive day, I was feeling quite accomplished, the whole project seeming quite possible... but then I was schooled by a toilet! Seriously--as part of my routine here in Erie, I do a daily to chore to prevent me from feeling like a complete mooch on my parents.  And my PhD-aspiring brain was outwitted by a rust stained toilet: unable to get out the stains, I poured in a toxic combination of chemicals, and once headache and nausea hit, I finally decided to abandon my mission.  This left me to a night of overall-icky-ness, not to be subdued by hot tea and bad TV.  Feeling a bit better this morning, I'm going to take my time driving up to Buffalo to see Jess and Ally & Chief and new baby Coraline.

Last thoughts on Laura Berol's article:  I was too hasty before.  Yes, she's making insightful comments about Thackeray's representations of nineteenth century "Irish Question" in his picaresque novel set in the 18th century, but like Deborah Thomas, she pushes too far in trying to attribute political meaning to Barry's depravity.  You see, Barry is actually Irish, but his mother claims their English (and therefore superior), and thus their Irish family hates and abuses them.  When he runs away at 15 yrs old (after being tricked into believing he's shot and killed an English officer), he falls into a ring of crooks in Dublin, then experiences even more cruelty at the hand of the English and Prussian armies before forming a gambling/con-artist team with this Uncle Cornelius.  The last third of the novel details how he virtually stalks the rich English widow, Lady Lyndon, marries her, then locks her away, abuses her, and runs through her fortune.  In Thackeray & Slavery, Deborah A. Thomas suggests Thackeray is abusive to Lady Lyndon because of the abuse he himself experienced as a slave/soldier in the Prussian army.  Berol insists that Irish Barry's treatment of the English Lady Lyndon is retribution for all of the abuse he's received at the hands of the English, making the marriage a metaphor for Irish-English relations (in the model of Jonathan Swift's The Injured Lady).

But in reality, as I understand Stanley Kubrick captures in his film Barry Lyndon, Barry's an abusive, manipulative D-bag because that's all he's ever known! From his cousins, to the crooks in Dublin, various military experiences to travelling in corrupt circles of the finest courts of Europe, Barry's learned the only way to get ahead in this world is through violence and trickery! He's simply a product of his experiences, going to far as to insist to the reader: "Dare and the world will yield."  What makes this novel remarkable is the "global-ness" it represents in the 18th century.  Even though he can barely read, Barry speaks English, German, Czech, French and a bit of Spanish and Italian.  As I mentioned before, soldiers from all over Europe come together in their misery when they are forced into servitude by the Prussian army, and the novel hosts a slew of international characters (Jewish banker, Italian gambler, German countess, etc.)  It's also telling that as Barry sits and old, penniless man in a debtor's prison, what he really longs for are the rolling green fields of Ireland... so much can be done with the nuances of the novel, and that's what I'll concentrate on (when I get back from Buffalo...)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How author/celebrity worship is ruining criticism!

First off, two friends were kind enough to mention that they'd read this blog, so I better start using the spell-check application! I thought it was just my dad occasionally checking, but I'll humor myself into thinking I have a readership and put in a little effort henceforth.

I saved a boatload of time today--instead of retyping all of the relevant passages from Barry Lyndon, I opened the novel up on, (thank God for the 100yr copyright lapse), searched for the passages I'd marked in the book, and copied and pasted them in my 40+ page Word document of Thackeray's original writings I have lined up for my CH 1 rewrite (which should only be 40 pages itself... anyone else seeing my problem here...)  After each passage I made several observations/insights and am nearly ready to start putting this complex jigsaw puzzle together.

On another note, I read Laura Berol's interesting article, "Irish Prisoners and the Indictment of British Rule" which focuses on works by Thackeray and Trollope.  My only concern is that it seems to place the Thackeray and Trollope in the light of champions of the Irish, speaking out against English oppression.  yes, Thackeray's wife was Anglo-Irish and Trollope lived in Ireland working for the postal service and both formed many attachments in the country.  And yes, in novels like Eye for an Eye, Trollope casts the Irish-English problem in the form of two characters, an upper class Englishman and the poor Irish girl he impregnates and won't marry, clearly sympathizing with the Irish position.  But such metaphors cast the Irish as rustic, naive, helpless, etc. Similarly, in Barry Lyndon and the Irish Sketchbook, Thackeray is clearly exploring/questioning the English treatment of both the Irish and Catholics, but he's by no means their champion.

I think this has become a problem in literary criticism: sharp scholars start writing/analyzing such works while already idolizing the author they are considering; instead of reading objectively, they are reading for the purpose of seeing the author as they want to see him/her.  If you told me Mark Twain wasn't even a tiny bit racist or Hemingway wasn't the least bit sexist, I'd ask if we're reading the same books.  Thackeray was torn, and that's what's driving my study and, what I feel, makes him so interesting as an author.  He was torn about his views on Irishmen, Catholics, Jewish citizens, and was pretty much racist towards Indians and Blacks throughout his career, but all of this is an original reflection of British political and social upheaval in the mid-nineteenth century.  Food for thought.... now on to real food... I made lasagna...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Barry Lyndon's demise!

So I finished rereading Barry Lyndon; I'd restarted it dozens of time but this is only my second time finishing it in completion.  Thackeray also struggled to finish (writing) it, and considered it one of his worst novels.  He told his daughter not to read it and that she wouldn't like.  It's certainly his most racy novel and the anti-hero/narrator makes Becky Sharp look like Donna Reed! But it's really fascinating in what it says about international relations. Barry is Irish, but as his parents spent several years in England, his mom demands the Irish countryside refer to her as the "English Widow" and her son as "English Redmond."

Much later in the novel, when he deserts the English army in Germany, he's kidnapped and forced into "white slavery," aka the Prussian Army, which my dad informed me actually wasn't all that uncommon in the 18th century.  What struck a chord with me was the variety of fellow-kidnappees he met, a genius Englishman, a forlorn Italian, Germans, French, Spanish, etc., all equalized and joined together by their awful fates.  Much of the novel seems to suggest this cosmopolitan society among various scenes in Europe and I think will make for great material for CH 1 and other portions of the dissertation.

Tonight I plan to type up my notes (highlighted portions) of the novel and reread a great article on Barry Lyndon and captivity and how it comments on Irish/English relations.  Will share that wisdom tomorrow!