Sunday, 20 October 2013

Paula Byrne speaks on Jane Austen at the Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture 2013, Cheltenham Festival of Literature

The annual Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the School of Humanities, is always a highlight of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. Last year, the scholar, traveller and Booker prize judge Robert MacFarlane was the distinguished speaker (read about it here). This year, Paula Byrne gave a fascinating talk based on her latest book The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (HarperPress, 2013).

Professor Shelley Saguaro, Head of Humanities, introduced Dr Byrne to a large audience (including English Literature students). A professional biographer as well as an Austen scholar, Dr Byrne began by discussing the biographer's task and the organising principles of a good biography, noting that chronological sequence was often the least inspiring way to explore and understand a life. For The Real Jane Austen Dr Byrne selected some of Austen's personal belongings, such as an Indian shawl, a packet of letters, a writing desk, and a gold chain with topaz crosses (pictured below), in order to open up and explore aspects of her life and work.

Topaz crosses on a gold chain, on display at the Jane Austen House.

Paula Byrne challenged the conventional image of Jane Austen as spinsterish and uninterested in matters beyond the drawing room, an image that her relatives, publishers and early biographers fostered. Austen was well aware that England's trade was supported partly by slave labour in the colonies, for example, as a careful reading of Mansfield Park reveals.  Her publisher John Murray, whose clients included Walter Scott and Byron, appreciated Austen's toughness as well as her literary gift. Austen also emerges from journals and letters as a goofy aunt beloved of her nieces and nephews, and quite capable of being rude to people's faces on social occasions. She was pretty good at getting the measure of other people's mannerisms and behaviour, working them into literary grotesques that figure in hilarious letters to her sister. Jane Austen was, then, always at work, whether her family and friends chose to recognise it or not; a dangerous person to be around.

After a question and answer session, Dr Byrne left to sign copies of her books in the Waterstone's tent, no doubt continuing the animated dialogues she developed with the audience. As our English Lit undergraduates noted, her talk was passionate and committed, and made you want to rush off and (re) read Austen. On a squally and miserable Sunday evening in October, that was quite a triumph.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Gardens in fiction

Professor Shelley Saguaro presents a research paper on Gardens in fiction at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, on Thursday 17 October. Her research interests encompass representations of gardens, the natural world, ecocriticism and green studies, and the work of Virginia Woolf (a dedicated gardener).

Part of Virginia Woolf's garden at Monk's House, Sussex (National Trust). Image:

Monday, 14 October 2013

...and what a day it was

The Open Day on October 12 went brilliantly. The sun shone (eventually). Hundreds of people visited the campus, and dozens wanted to know more about studying English Literature and related Humanities subjects with us. If you were one of them, thanks for giving up your Saturday to visit us. We'd love to have your thoughts. Please post a comment.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Open Day at Francis Close Hall, Saturday 12 October

Our Open Day for English Literature and all Humanities subjects, including Creative Writing, English Language, History, Religion Philosophy and Ethics [RPE] and Theology and Religious Studies [TRS] takes place this coming Saturday. We are based at Francis Close Hall, the Gothic bit, very close to the town centre. Take a virtual tour of the campus.

As well meeting some of the English Literature staff team, you will be able to talk to people about  accommodation at the university, finance, and admissions. You'll also have the chance to meet some of our current students, too; after all, they are best placed to talk about what it's like to study with us.

Do please look at the range of modules we offer. Click on our 'course maps' for the BA Hons degree in English Literature and English Literature and Creative Writing, . You can also combine English Literature with History or English language. Click on the course  here for maps.

Do you ever wonder what kinds of things we study? The answer is that we're interested in everything to do with the cultural and literary life. Please take a look at some of our blog posts.

Our friendly Student Ambassadors will be on hand to show you around and take you on a tour of the campus, Library, and halls of residence. They know everything one could possibly know about student life at the University of Gloucestershire (ask them).

Let's hope the nice weather holds. Whatever the day brings, we look forward very much to meeting you on Saturday. Please join us.