Sunday, 30 November 2014

PD James (1920-2014)

PD James, one of Britain’s most prominent and respected crime writers, passed away on November 27 aged 94. Her novels have deservedly enjoyed much success and critical recognition. Bridging the gap between genre fiction and literary fiction, PD James' work illustrates the nuance and complexity of crime fiction at its best.

Referring to PD James as the ‘Queen of Crime’ Marilyn Stasio wrote in her obituary for The New York Times that: ‘Many critics and many of her peers have said that by virtue of the complexity of her plots, the psychological density of her characters and the moral context in which she viewed criminal violence, Ms. James even surpassed her classic models and elevated the literary status of the modern detective novel.’  Fellow crime writer Val McDermid remembers her long-standing friendship with PD James in her recent tribute in the newspaper The Guardian. McDermid lists PD James among a group of writers which transformed crime fiction in Britain in the contemporary era. She states that, ‘Four writers of her generation reshaped the way we experience the English crime novel – PD James, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill and Colin Dexter.’

One book which gave me invaluable insight into PD James’ writing and personal story is her Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography. I contributed a chapter to a critical volume, edited by Dr Christiana Gregoriou, called Constructing Crime: Discourse and Cultural Representations of Crime and 'Deviance' (Palgrave, 2012). In my chapter I explore three crime authors’ intellectual, political, and aesthetic engagement with discourses of gender and crime through the prism of life writing. My chapter is called: ‘A Life of Crime: Feminist Crime/Life Writing in Sara Paretsky, Writing in an Age of Silence, P.D. James, Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography, and Val McDermid, A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes’.  Researching this essay gave me fresh insight into the complex interrelationship between crime writers’ personal experience and their fiction. 

Students on my second-year Crime Fiction module have not been slow to realise the importance and impact of genre fiction and PD James’ place within it.  Nor has the literary merit and worth of her oeuvre escaped their notice. On my Crime Fiction module, we have studied PD James’ iconic novel from 1972 featuring a female detective character, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. This year, to mark PD James’ passing, we shall be studying another of her novels. This will provide a welcome opportunity for a new cohort of students and avid crime fiction readers to explore her oeuvre.

Having written about PD James in the past, I am still discovering treasures in her extensive body of work which I would like to examine and unpack in the future. Her books will continue to fascinate new generations of readers and capture their imaginations.

© Dr Charlotte Beyer

Friday, 28 November 2014

English Literature at the movies

The Roses Theatre Tewkesbury has for many years run a varied film programme, and is one of Gloucestershire's top venues for independent, art house and world cinema. This winter, supported by funding from the British Film Institute, a series of guest presenters, including University of Gloucestershire academics, will accompany film screenings and lead Q & A sessions with audiences afterwards.

Dr Hilary Weeks will be speaking at the screening of of Effie Gray (2014, dir. Richard Laxton, certificate 12A) on Monday 1 December at 7:30pm. Dr Debby Thacker will introduce Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete (1946, certificate PG) on Sunday 7 December at 7:00pm and that seasonal favourite It's a Wonderful Life (1946, dir. Frank Capra, certificate U) on Friday 19 December at 2:00pm.  Do please join us for movies and conversation this December.

More details at the Roses Theatre page.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Luke Williams, third year English Literature student, whose dissertation explores revenge tragedy, reviews 'The White Devil'.

The current RSC production of John Webster’s The White Devil is something to behold. Maria Aberg’s dramatic reimagining of this classic revenge tragedy really brings the text to life.

By modernising the setting and costume of the play, the decadence of a seventeenth-century Jacobean court was wonderfully captured through its night club atmosphere. Furthermore, the metatheatrical feel of the production brought certain aspects of the play to the fore. The fact that Vittoria’s costume changes were often performed in front of the audience gave the events that followed a certain sense of inevitability, particularly in the last act. Alongside this, the almost Brechtian projections and glass enclosed space to perform plays within the play added a gloriously modern feel to Webster’s classic.

Flaminio, RSC Stratford

Other innovations however I was more sceptical of. Vittoria’s brother Flaminio was made into her sister, played by the wonderful Laura Elphinstone (pictured above). Whilst the part was played well, I did feel that often I was being forced to think of the gender issues in the play at the mercy of other equally important themes such as the role of justice in a corrupt society.

Although, having said that, when Flaminio uttered such misogynies as ‘Women are like cursed dogs, civility keeps them tied all daytime, but they are let loose at midnight; then they do most good or most mischief’, which would be awful enough if spoken by a male, seemed even more intentionally abhorrent coming from a female mouth.
Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable production and well worth seeing. I look forward to comparing this with John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore when I see it in December at the Sam Wannamaker theatre in London.

Luke Williams at RSC, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Dr Rebecca Bailey reflects on a memorable performance of John Webster's 'The White Devil' at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Nicola, Sam, Beth and Jemma at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, November 2014.

English Literature Students and staff from across the Humanities enjoyed a gripping performance of John Webster's 'The White Devil' at the RSC Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon Avon this week. Webster's revenge tragedy swirls with multiple plots of betrayal and revenge to brilliantly interrogate the corruption of power, the tyranny of church and state, and the perilous position of women within early modern society.

Flaminio, The White Devil, RSC

The performance bristled with an electrifying energy, from the debauched dancing of the opening scene, to the pistol shots of the play's climax, and the chilling laugh of the young Duke Giovanni as he callously kicked the pile of dead bodies which quite literally littered the stage in the play’s closing moments. Kirsty Bushell offers a commanding performance as Vittoria Corombona – sensual yet defiant, witty yet vulnerable – which proves an admirable foil to the powerful Cardinal Monticelso, whose ruthless menace is consummately executed by David Rintoul.

Vittoria, the 'White Devil', RSC

Questions remain as to whether the daring transformation of Flaminio (played brilliantly by Laura Elphinstone) from Vittoria's brother to her sister works - it certainly has fascinating implications for the text as a whole. No doubt we will be discussing this on HM5302: Renaissance, Revolution, Restoration when we explore the text in seminar next semester.

Laura, Abigail and Natalie at RSC.

Personally, I thought this was a fantastic evening, reminding me of the compelling power of theatre to seize the imagination and probe the darker side of society with a ferocious intensity. It was a delight to hear the energetic student conversations about the performance on the coach home. And I'm already thinking about organising a return trip to Stratford in the spring -although, next time, perhaps a comedy! Watch this space ...

For more pictures, go to our Flickr gallery.

Chloe, Hannah, and Luke at the RSC.

Watching The White Devil at the Swan Theatre: Cheri, Josie, Kris, and Niall.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Come to our Open Day at FCH on Saturday 22 November

If you are thinking about studying for a degree in English Literature, please visit us at the Francis Hall Close campus this Saturday 22 November. You'll meet tutors and students from English Literature and other Humanities courses and learn what it's like to study with us. We can also guide you through those very important questions about accommodation, funding, and support.  To find out more, please click here.  Take a look at our English Literature Course map to see the modules we offer currently.

We can't promise sunshine, but who cares?  We look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination at the British Library

Last week the British Library launched a major exhibition of British Gothic literature and art. Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination traces the literary cult from the first Gothic novel written in English, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) to the present. The Gothic mode accompanied antiquarian interest in medieval culture and architecture, and Walpole built a fantasy house at Strawberry Hill in which to contemplate a romantic past. The mode also created a fascination with dark and supernatural forces, or at least the pleasure of being safely scared. Jane Austen satirised these immature fantasies in Northanger Abbey by listing the trashy novels that Isabella Thorne plans to read: ‘Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries’ (chapter 6). It is great fun to see all these books on display in the exhibition.

 Strawberry Hill

In the nineteenth century, Romantic writers understood Gothic’s power to disturb and, drawing on Burke’s theory of the sublime, to represent the unrepresentable. The Gothic moved towards horror and shifted location from baronial castles to the streets of London. Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stephenson and Bram Stoker blended older Gothic elements of psychological states with the grotesque and the morbid. Newspaper reports of the Whitechapel murders in 1888 exploited Gothic discourses to create an atmosphere of sensational fear. In the twentieth century, films such as The Wicker Man revisited Gothic tropes of isolation, racial fear, and atavism.


John Tenniel, 'The Nemesis of Neglect', Punch (1888)

Varney the Vampire' published in a 'penny dreadful' paper (1845)

Why has Gothic persisted? Fred Botting has remarked that Gothic subverts authority and pushes the marginal and occult to the fore. ‘In Gothic times’ he writes, ‘margins may become the norm and occupy a more central cultural place.’* This is certainly true of literature and culture. But the Gothic also offers an expressive space, and it was nice to see that the exhibition chose to explore Goth subculture. Music, dress, and specially commissioned photos from this year’s Whitby Goth Weekend revealed the mixture of playfulness and seriousness that has characterised Gothic since Walpole’s novel appeared. My favourite photo showed a top-hatted ghoul eating fish and chips on the seafront.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs until 20 January 2015 at the British Library.

*Reference: Fred Botting, ‘Aftergothic: consumption, machines and black holes’ in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold Hogle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 277-300.




Monday, 3 November 2014

Writing and Walking in Ledbury

English Literature and Creative Writing students at the University of Gloucestershire were invited to an event on the theme of writing and walking that took place in Ledbury on the 25th October. Anna Stenning (PhD candidate at the University of Worcester) began by introducing some perspectives on the theme from the work of Robert Macfarlane, Linda Cracknell and Richard Mabey. Anna also brought in the poetry of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, arguing that the enjambment and phrasing of Thomas’s ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ reflected the act of walking that the poem describes. After some delicious tea and cake, poet Ruth Stacey read from her work. She described how walking is an integral part of her creative process, and discussed some of the ways in which this has affected her poetry. Jenny Hope then read poems from her collection Petrolhead, as well as some new work. Her poetry brought myth and metaphor to bear on subjects that ranged from the wind to a local rook cull. Anna concluded the event by leading a walk out through the cobbled streets of Ledbury and into the nearby Frith Wood.