Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A pre-Christmas field trip to Wightwick Manor and Gardens

In preparation for our level 5 Scholarly Research Project module on the Gothic, the Pre-Raphaelites and visual culture, a group of Humanities students travelled north to beautiful Wightwick Manor and Gardens (National Trust) near Wolverhampton, shortly before the end of term. The house wore its Christmas decorations and was enchanting.

Photo courtesy of the National Trust

The Mander family bought the old manor house in 1887 and refurbished and extended it in the 'Old English' architectural style.  The Great Parlour with its wooden minstrels gallery restored medieval domestic aesthetics, and the stained glass windows, tiled inglenook fireplaces and Jacobean-style wooden carved furnishings add rich darkness to the interiors. Yet Wightwick Manor was from the first a high-tech house, lit and heated by electricity, and with all modern comforts. The house was also 'modern' in that it drew on William Morris's Arts and Crafts notion that houses should be useful and beautiful, and is a glorious example of Morris & Co.'s design as it was meant to be used.  Morris's textiles, wallpapers and carpets, William de Morgan tiles, and Leonard Shuffrey's plasterwork, such as the friezes in the Great Parlour and the Billiard Room, combine to create what Oscar Wilde called 'the House Beautiful', a total design environment. The house is also a gallery of nineteenth-century art, with paintings and drawings by Rossetti, G.F. Watts, Elizabeth Siddal, Ford Maddox Brown and, of course Edward C. Burne-Jones, whose Love Among the Ruins hangs like an altarpiece at the end of the Parlour.

Photo: Harriet Heathman.

Wightwick is a wonderful place to visit all year round, but it's especially magical during these quiet Advent weeks. We had the place largely to ourselves and were free to wander around the house and gardens. The superb docents and volunteers know absolutely everything about the house and family history, and we learned so much. But the visit was more than just a study trip; we spent a magical day among art, remembering the pleasures of escape. The low winter sunlight added to the intense beauty of the house and gardens.

Photos: Harriet Heathman

You can see more pictures at our Flickr gallery. Thanks to Harriet Heathman for most of these fantastic photos; and thanks to all the students who came on the trip and made it the success it was.  Merry Christmas.

Photo: H Weeks

Monday, 21 December 2015

Sabrina Siu is this year's first prize winner in our English Literature Essay Competition

The English Literature Essay Competition for students of sixth-form or FE schools and colleges attracted some very strong entries. However, we decided that Ms Sabrina Siu of Headington School, Oxford, should be awarded first prize for her essay on how fiction is more 'truthful' than history. Sabrina's thoughtful and elegantly-expressed essay draws on literary texts and historical events to argue that fiction explores the interstices of history, or rather, what history leaves out. Congratulations, Sabrina! We hope that your iPad will inspire you to composition and creativity in the coming year.

Here is the complete list of winners. The winning essay follows.

'I'm not interested in things that aren't true' (Philip Larkin). Is fiction more 'truthful' than history?

Sabrina Siu
Headington School, Oxon

To those who agree with Larkin and take more of an interest in history, in things that are ‘true’, that begs the question – what makes them so? Truth, as defined by Merriam-Webster, can be either ‘the state of being the case; fact’, or ‘a judgement, proposition or idea that is true or accepted as true’. When considering historical truth and validity, the latter definition seems more appropriate. Historians compile evidence – archaeological, written, oral – to recreate the historical event as closely as possible.   However, the evidence tends to become distorted because each historian has a different interpretation of said event, and other times there are gaps in our knowledge of the event that transpired due to lack of evidence, until it gets to the point where we have to ask ourselves – is historical evidence an accurate depiction of human history? Conversely, it can be argued that fiction’s portrayal of mankind has a much larger basis in truth than, indeed, the evidence collated by historians ever could. To demonstrate this, I will explore the fusion of fiction and history in Homer’s Iliad, the societal truths reflected in An Inspector Calls and Pride and Prejudice, and finally, the allegories in Harry Potter pertaining to humanity’s mistakes during the 20th century.

Our main source of information regarding the Mycenaean Period and the Trojan War comes from Homer. While it is true that certain elements in the Iliad, such as the involvement of the Olympian gods, are myth instead of reality, there is extensive archaeological evidence to support the historical accuracy of at least some things pertaining to the Mycenaean age. An example of this is the detailed description Homer gives about armour, such as in Book 9 when Achilles puts on the ‘beautiful greaves, fitted with silver anklets’ and slings the ‘sword of bronze with silver scabbard’ The excavations of Heinrich Schliemann at Troy and Mycenae in the 1870s-80s prove that these were indeed important cities during the Bronze Age, thus lending credence to the events of the Iliad. Indeed, Homer’s epic was recorded in a time when the vast majority of the population was illiterate, and histories were passed down through the generations orally, and so it comes as no surprise that the resulting product is most likely a mixture of fiction and fact, a poem meant to record Mycenaean history, but also to glorify heroes and convey Greek morals to the masses. For the historical truth of such ancient civilizations, then, fiction in the form of Homer’s Iliad is perhaps a more truthful representation of the Trojan War than what scattered evidence historians have struggled to piece together.
In fact, it is interesting to note just how much of fiction is derived from real events, and we see this reflection of truth clearly in J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. Set in 1912, just before the outbreak of World War One, Mr. Birling scoffs at the idea of there being a war at the start of the play, stating his view that ‘The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war’. To the 1945 audience the play was first performed to, the words would have been incredibly ironic and brought the truth of the matter home, because by that point the world had been through two world wars and destruction on a global scale, and Mr. Birling’s ignorance would have stirred up bitterness and grief for the loved ones they had lost. Mr. Birling’s firmly capitalist views are J.B. Priestley’s criticism of the unjust social hierarchy in the society he lived in, and this is reflected in Birling saying ‘we can’t let these Bernard Shaws and H.G. Wellses do all the talking’. Shaw and Wells were both socialists, and saw the need for social change even before the outbreak of World War One. Writing in 1945, Priestley uses Birling’s words to satirize the ruling elite whose refusal to share power in part led to the Great War back in 1914, and afterwards the conservative middle-classes whose inability to govern effectively led to Adolf Hitler’s dictatorial rise to power and hence, the start of the Second World War in 1939. When considering the satiric portrayal of Birling and the historical context the play is set in, An Inspector Calls provides us with arguably much more insight into class distinctions in the 20th century than historians can.

Not all fiction, however, provides insight into historical truth, and it is easy to see why Larkin was so dismissive of anything less than concrete evidence. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a prime example of historical negligence. Although it is set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, the novel is surprisingly bare of any mention of the war effort, revolving instead around the social lives of middle to upper-class women in Regency England, with the militia hovering in the periphery, a barely-felt presence at such a time of conflict between the two countries. Indeed, the military officers in the novel – such as Wickham – are always seen engaging in social situations, and their primary narrative function is to be objects of desire for characters like Lydia and Kitty Bennet, without any mention as to why the regiment is stationed in Meryton for so much of the story, as such undermining the historical context of the novel. However, it would be unfair to say Pride and Prejudice doesn’t provide an accurate representation of Regency England, since Austen does convey her distaste of the class prejudice inherent in society through her satiric portrayal of the characters of Darcy, Collins, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Darcy’s pride in his aristocratic lineage, and prejudice towards the middle-classes, is made apparent in his first proposal to Elizabeth, when he lingers on the “inferiority” of her connections, and of how they are a “degradation” to him. Lady Catherine’s snobbish disdain of the lower classes is shown when she bemoans that “the shades of Pemberley” will be “polluted” if Elizabeth does end up marrying Darcy. Through her characterization of these arrogant characters, Austen satirizes the class-consciousness that permeated Regency England, thus proving how fiction reveals the truth even in a novel so lacking in historical fact.

The same can be said for contemporary literature, most notably, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Voldemort is the power-hungry dictator who will stop at nothing in his pursuit of power and ruthless purging of Muggleborns from the wizarding world, and through his character, Rowling allegorizes Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror in Nazi Germany during the 1930s-40s. Much like Voldemort, Hitler sought racial purification, and to accomplish this he spearheaded the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany by blaming their defeat in the Great War on the Jews. The Death Eaters who help Voldemort capture and torture Muggles, then, are allegories to the Nazi Party’s Gestapo, or secret police. Both groups assist their respective autocrats in what they see as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the state, indoctrinating the public and instilling in them, as Arthur Weasley puts it, “everyone’s worse fear … the very worst”. Similarly, the Second Wizarding War of 1995-98 offers a parallel to the Second World War, which occurred as a result of Hitler’s relentless persecution of the Jews, and other countries’ concern over Hitler’s indiscriminate conquering of territories such as Czechoslovakia. In the final three novels of the series, Rowling uses the purebloods’ discrimination of Muggleborns, and the deaths of beloved characters, to draw attention to the injustice and futility of both Hitler’s anti-Semitic movement and the Second World War, proving once again how historical truth is revealed through fiction.

To conclude, fiction reveals more of the truth than history ever could, because the unreliability of historical evidence after accounting for bias, and the fact that history was not properly documented for the first few millennia of human civilisation, deeply undermine the utility of historical fact in providing a truthful narrative of mankind’s history. Furthermore, the discrepancy between two sources pertaining to the same event often leaves modern contemporaries at a loss as to which version better depicts the truth. In this sense, therefore, it is only logical for us to turn to fiction to pick out the truth of our history, a truth which Homer, Priestley, Austen and Rowling have so beautifully woven into the fabric of their works.

The Iliad – Homer (Robert Fitzgerald translation, Oxford University Press 1998)
An Inspector Calls – J.B. Priestley (Heinemann Plays, Pearson United 1993)
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (Penguin Classics 2003)
The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury 1997)

Copyright Sabrina Siu 2015

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Join our field trip to beautiful Wightwick Manor and Gardens this Friday 11 December

We still have some spaces left on the coach to the beautiful Wightwick Manor and Gardens on Friday 11 December. Wightwick (National Trust) is a late-Victorian fantasy house full of pre-Raphaelite paintings and William Morris furnishings and textiles. The house will be decorated for Christmas (the minstrels' gallery decked with holly and mistletoe...) and it will look magical. This trip is a must for students working on nineteenth-century art, literature, history and culture; and for anyone interested in Pre-Raphaelite arts, William Morris's work, Arts and Crafts design, domestic architecture, English garden design, and neo-medievalism. Everyone is welcome. Start the Christmas season by treating yourself to a day away from Cheltenham. At £5, it’s a steal. Please book your place now through the Online Store:

Illustration: Edward Burne-Jones, Love Among the Ruins (1890s), Wightwick Manor; 'Bird' textile, Wm Morris, in the Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Announcing the winners of the English Literature Essay Competition

We are proud to announce the winners of the English Literature Essay Competition for A level, AS level and Sixth-form students:

First Prize (an iPad):

Ms Sabrina Siu (Headington School)

Four runners up (a £20 Book Token):

Mr Matthew King (St Olaves Grammar School)
Ms Kimberly Kong (St Olaves Grammar School)
Ms Shakira Morar (Headington School)
Ms Megan Waites (Bourne Grammar School)

Congratulations to all our winners! And special thanks to everyone who composed and submitted an essay for the competition. We had some strong entries this year, and it was difficult to make the final decisions.

The winners will be notified by email, and the winning essay will be published here shortly.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Humanities field trips to Wightwick, Worcester, London and Bristol

We have received some extra funding for Humanities field trips, and we're delighted to announce that four are planned in December and January. On 2 December, a day in Worcester (part of the 'Showcasing History' programme) includes visits to the Civil War Commandery, Worcester's great Cathedral and the King's Head, one of the oldest pubs in the Midlands. After Christmas, there'll be a day trip to London on 13 January to visit the Crime Museum's special exhibition, plus ‘No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action, 1960 – 1990’ at the Guildhall; and on 8 January death fans can spend a day in Bristol and see the acclaimed Death Exhibition at the Bristol Museum. 

Edward Burne-Jones, 'Love among the Ruins' (1894) at Wightwick.

English Literature students will love our pre-Christmas visit to Wightwick Manor and Gardens (National Trust) on Friday 11 December. Wightwick is a gorgeous example of late nineteenth-century Aestheticism in art and architecture. William Morris's manifesto for beauty in everyday life accorded with Oscar Wilde's celebration of 'the House Beautiful' and self-conscious cultivation of the senses. Houses were treated as palaces of art. Wightwick is in fact a domestic art gallery, with many paintings (some by Burne-Jones, above), and its furnishings, textiles, stained glass and tiles designed by Morris and Co.

This trip will appeal to anyone interested in the Pre-Raphaelite poets and artists and Arts and Crafts designers. Students taking the HM5000 English Literature option in semester two will have priority, but the trip's open to all.

Full details and booking instructions for all these wonderful trips are available on the Online Store (Infonet access required). Most trips require a small charge to cover costs.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Open Day on Saturday 21 November: come and meet us

If you're thinking of studying English Literature at the University of Gloucestershire, come and meet us on Saturday 21 November at the Francis Close Hall campus.  It's a great chance to find out more about the English Literature BA Hons course, the School of Humanities, the staff and student life, and why we love living and working at the heart of Cheltenham.  You can opt for a degree in English Literature alone, or combine your study of literature with Creative Writing, History, or English Language Language. Take a tour around our campus and Library, talk to Student Ambassadors, and get a sense of our academic community. Teams from Student Finance and Accommodation will be there to answer your questions.

We wish we could guarantee sunshine, but we can guarantee a very warm welcome. You'll meet with lecturers and current students who can tell you all about the courses and campus life. You may even meet the campus cat (depending on how much food is around).

You can book your place here. More useful links:

Open Day Timetable for 21 November

Checklist of questions to ask

Student life

We're looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Guest post: Waes Hael: a living folk tradition in Gloucestershire

Robin Burton of the Glos Trad Project has written a special guest post on the history of wassailing in Gloucestershire, and its rich repository of folk songs and practices. Robin is a singer, a folkorist and a co-ordinator of the annual Stroud Wassail, and has recently run a workshop for Media students enrolled on the MD4303 Songwriting module. Students of mythology (especially those taking HM4301 Fundamentals: Myth and Drama) will be fascinated to learn about these local traditions and may even plan a visit this January. We're tremendously grateful to Robin for taking the time to contribute this history, and the great photos, to our blog.

Waes Hael: The Story of the Stroud Wassail

‘He is wit’s peddler, and retails his ware
At wakes and wassels, meetings, markets, fairs.’  Love’s Labours Lost (1595)

Stories from the Edge of Memory

On November the 19th, 1979, Gwilym Davies, a local folk song collector met an unidentified 75 year old man in a pub.  This man sang him a snatch of song:

Waysail, waysail all over the town,
Our bread it is white our ale it is brown.
Our bowl it is made from some maplin tree,
With my waysailing bowl we will waysail unto thee

He went on to describe how groups went around with a wassail bowl collecting money and singing that song around 1914 when the man himself would have been about ten years of age.

A Mrs Muriel Phelps, in a 1979 article in the Folkrite Magazine, also recounts how her ancestors had gone wassailing in Stroud armed with concertinas.   They went out on Christmas morning, calling at houses in Parliament Street and Summer Street, ending up at the Leopard pub in Parliament Street before going home to Christmas dinner.

This all seems to have stopped by the 1920s.

Revival 2015

Fig. 1. Enter the Broad

Then, 100 years or so after the last known Stroud Wassail, a group got together to resurrect the custom.  This was done in a small way in 2014 and in a much grander form in 2015. Given the paucity of information about the Stroud Wassail itself, a group of enthusiasts, including Gwilym Davies, decided to investigate local wassail customs in the Gloucestershire area.   

Originally the word, “Wassail”, is thought to come from the old greeting “Waes Hael”.  This literally means to be healthy or whole.   From the 9th Century it turns up as a greeting or toast and in the expression ‘wes thu hal, Maria’ meaning ‘Hail Mary’.

Over the years there have been many mutations of this word including notably in Gloucestershire the word “Waysail”; which is perhaps a better phonetic representation of the original “Waes Hael” than the more common “Wassail”.

Nothing to do with Apples

Fig. 2. The Lady of Misrule

When most people think of a Wassail, they think of apples and cider.   However the Gloucestershire “Waysails” have nothing to do with either. Instead it is a tradition in which neighbours go from house to house wishing each other good luck for the coming year.  It is typically performed around the Christmas and New Year period up until 12th night.

It has a number of components including:

·       The Broad:  a representation of an ox.  This usually comprises a head on a pole covered with sacking under which a dancer hides.   Often the “broad” goes inside the house to chase out anyone who is reluctant to come out to meet the wassailers.

·         A Wassail bowl:  This is usually made of wood and decorated with greenery.   Sometimes it is used a receptacle for money.

·         The “Lord of Misrule”:  A sort of master of ceremonies who is elected at the beginning of proceedings be virtue of finding the bean in a slice of cake which has been distributed to the wassail company.

·         The concept of disguise:  Often wassailers would get up to high jinks, perhaps playing tricks on those who failed to reward the wassailers with food or drink.  The disguise was to protect them against retribution…

The 2015 Wassail

The day began with a gathering of wassailers and Morris dancers outside of the Subscription Rooms in Stroud.   An “election” was then held to choose the “Lord of Misrule” by inviting the crowd to take a piece of cake.   If you had the piece with the bean in it, then you were elected.

In 2015 we had a “Lady” of Misrule.   Her first duty was to read out a declaration:  “May the locks on your hearts be broken…”

Then the assembled crowd knocked on the door of the Subscription Rooms and the Broad was sent in to chase out those inside.

 Fig. 3. Outside the Subscription Rooms in Stroud

Out came the manager with a tray of beer for the wassailers who sang the wassail songs, together with a number of other songs. Then the whole group departed on a tour of the pubs in Stroud being feted with more and more beer…
A procession was held over to the Museum in the Park where once again songs were sung and drinks consumed.   This was followed by dancing in the courtyard. The day was rounded off by “revels” in the Price Albert Pub.

Fig 4 Revels in the Albert


Everyone concerned had such a good time that the 2016 Wassail is planned to be bigger and better.  This time it will also feature a torchlight procession and mummers plays.  The international mummers’ convention will be collocated in Stroud during the Wassail weekend so there will be mummers from all over the world.  This time schools are also being invited to take part with children making raggy coats and singing songs.

Does it matter that we have added to what was known about the Stroud Wassail?   I don’t think so.  We have created a midwinter festival that is rooted in what is known of the past.  It brings the community together to wish each other health and success.
Why not join us this year in Stroud on January 9th?
Waes Hael!

All photographs are published courtesy of Robin Burton.
Copyright Robin Burton 2015.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Open Day: Come and visit us this Saturday 31 October

We're having another bumper Open Day on Saturday 31 October at Francis Close Hall. Come and meet us and find out more about the English Literature BA Hons course, the School of Humanities, the staff and student life.  You can opt for a degree in English Literature alone, or combine your study of literature with Creative Writing, History, or Language. Take a tour around our campus and Library, talk to Student Ambassadors, and get a sense of our academic community. Teams from Student Finance and Accommodation will be there to answer your questions.

You will see the very last of our beautiful virginia creeper (possibly without the sunshine) and you may even catch a glimpse of the campus cat. We can guarantee you'll meet with lecturers and current students who can give you a sense of what it's like to live in Cheltenham and to study with us.

You can book your place by clicking on this link. We're looking forward to meeting you.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Lisa Jardine (1944-2015), literary critic

Professor Lisa Jardine’s death was announced today. Most of the tributes paid so far describe her variously as a historian with at least one other secondary role: a broadcaster (BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, naturally), a public intellectual (The Guardian and The Independent), a biographer, a Renaissance specialist with a special focus on science; and listed her many achievements in academic and public service (honorary fellowship of the Royal Society, chairperson of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, CBE for services to education, chair of the 2002 Booker Prize jury).  Jardine wrote articles for newspapers and radio programmes, contributing regularly to the BBC’s A Point of View. She appeared on Question Time and other TV debates.  Everyone agrees that she was a polymath. Her academic title was Professor of Renaissance Studies at University College, London, and as the Daily Telegraph noted, the title was perfectly apt; she seems to have excelled at everything she attempted.

While we await the formal obituaries, we may remark that, oddly, none of Monday's tributes mention the fact that she was also a literary critic, although the Telegraph notes her engagement with feminist theory.  Jardine wrote several studies of Shakespeare, most notably Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983), ‘the first book-length study to take a historicist approach to gender on Elizabethan stage’*,  and Reading Shakespeare Historically (London: Routledge, 1996). With Professor Graham Rees, she was a founding editor of the Oxford Francis Bacon Project. Many of her articles combined literary criticism with cultural observation, sometimes contentiously, such as her critique of Philip Larkin (Guardian, 8 December 1992). Why has her role as critic been edited out of the sum of Jardine’s life and work? To be sure, history and historiography were her first commitments. But let us also remember her commitment to literature, and insist that others remember it in their encomiums.

*Review by Coppélia Kahn, Shakespeare Quarterly 34: 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 489-49.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Student discount for two special shows at Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre until 31 October

Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre is offering discount tickets for two great productions this October. You can see Brave New World and A Winter's Tale for only £10 per ticket. Check your University email for details and the special booking code you'll need to use when you book online. We're very grateful to our friends at the Everyman for this offer. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Our Essay Competition is still open

Our Essay competition for students in sixth-form and FE is open until 29 October. Now that you've returned to your studies, get your writing muscles working by entering our competition. You could win an iPad or a runner-up prize of an Amazon token.

For the topics, rules and conditions, click here, or try

We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Come and meet us at our Open Day on Saturday 3 October

Are you thinking of studying with us? Come and meet us this Saturday at our Open Day at Francis Close Hall and find out more about the English Literature BA Hons course, the School of Humanities, the staff and student life.  You can opt for a degree in English Literature alone, or combine your literary study with Creative Writing, History, or Language. Take a tour around our campus and Library, talk to Student Ambassadors, and get a sense of our academic community. Teams from Student Finance and Accommodation will be there to answer your questions.

Francis Close Hall is a five-minute walk from Cheltenham town centre, and on Saturday, the international Cheltenham Literature Festival will be underway - one of the highlights of the autumn term.  Plan on a visit to town and see how many writers, broadcasters and journalists you can spot on the walk between Imperial Gardens and Montpellier Promenade.

You can book your place by clicking on this link. We're looking forward to meeting you.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Cheltenham Literature Festival: free tickets to two special events

The Cheltenham Literature Festival are offering University of Gloucestershire students a limited number of free tickets to the following events:

L261: Write Honourable Members
What makes a politician put pen to paper and produce a novel? Academics Nicola Allen and Aidan Byrne delve into this unusual but distinctive genre and reveal the truth about our honourable friends’ secret fantasies. They are joined by bestselling author Michael Dobbs (House of Cards), The Times Literary Editor Robbie Millen and broadcaster and journalist Anne McElvoy.

L169: Freedom is Therapeutic
Italy, 1978: the Basaglia Law sanctions the closure of psychiatric hospitals in an attempt to revolutionise mental health care. Drawing on the anti-psychiatry movement’s legacy, UCL head of psychology Peter Fonagy, historian John Foot (The Man Who Closed the Asylums) and former psychiatrist Linda Gask (The Other Side of Silence) discuss tackling mental health care today. Chaired by David Freeman.

The University of Gloucestershire - Interview brief (3)_Page_1

See your student email for details of how to claim tickets.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

'Tis the Season: Cheltenham Literature Festival, 2 - 11 October

October in Cheltenham means the international Festival of Literature, and we're going to be there. On Friday of Induction week we kick off Festival season with a very special event at Francis Close Hall. Festival Organizers Sophie Hoult and Lyndsey Fineran will talk about this year's line-up, give us a behind-the-scenes look at Britain's longest-running literary festival, and explain how you can get involved.  Everyone is welcome and we'd love to see you there. Please join us.

Friday 25 September 2015
Francis Close Hall
Main Lecture Theatre, TC001
11:15 - 12:15 

All welcome!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Induction week

Good morning and welcome to the University of Gloucestershire. It's Induction Week. Rain is something of a tradition on Induction Monday but it's usually gone by mid-week, or maybe we are just too busy to notice the weather.

The week is going to fly by with meetings, events, the SU dos, Fresher's Fair, field trips and treasure hunts, movie screenings, a visit from the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and all the excitement that a new term brings for new and returning students.

Today kicks off with the School meeting in TC001 at 10:00. English Literature and English Literature/Creative Writing Freshers will have their Subject talks at 11:00 and 12:00 respectively, and after a large lunch, meet with their Personal Tutors at 3:15 to sort out timetables. The schedules will be posted on the Notice Boards.

See you there.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


September: we love it. We're back, working hard, writing lectures and meeting deadlines; the campus is stirring. There is so much to do, but the excitement is growing. Soon we'll be welcoming our students, new and returning, refreshed after a summer away and ready to start learning. 

Sixth-form and A level students can stretch back into writing with our English Literature essay competition. There's still time to win an iPad. Click on the link or go to

See you soon.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Everyman at the National Theatre: a remarkable new version brings a medieval morality play to life for contemporary audiences

All earthly things is but vanity:
Beauty, Strength, and Discretion do man forsake,
Foolish friends, and kinsmen, that fair spake –

All fleeth save Good Deeds, and that am I. *

The poet Carol Ann Duffy has adapted the late-medieval morality play Everyman for the National Theatre’s summer season, and the production (choreographed by Javier de Frutos) is a stunning piece of theatre.  The cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Everyman and Kate DuchĂȘne as both God and Good Deeds, is superb. Everyman must make his way through life until he has to leave it, with Death a continually goading presence at his side.  He can take nothing to the grave with him. But through a series of bizarre and illusory encounters with all life has to give, good and bad, he learns that he has a soul. Duffy distils the existential drama from this play, refiguring Everyman as a human being in a deracinated, posthumanist world of digital knowledge, pleasure and consumption.

Everyman runs until 30 August if you are lucky enough to be in London this summer. We study this and other medieval plays on our level 4 module Fundamentals: Myth and Drama, analyzing its relationship to English theatre history and thinking about the debt Shakespeare owes to the medieval stage.  It’s rewarding to read the plays in their fifteenth-century liturgical context and consider historical staging, audiences and productions. Yet Every(wo)man also evades the historical moment from which (s)he emerges, facing the same joys and conflicts in the twenty-first century as (s)he did when print culture emerged in northern Europe.

I watched Everyman as an NT Live broadcast at the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury, which has a great cinema programme. I hope you can catch an NT screening at your local cinema this summer – and if not, book your tickets now for Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet in October.

Have a wonderful August.

*From A.C. Cawley’s modern translation, Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays, ed. A.C. Cawley (London: Everyman Dent, 1977), pp. 205-34, ll. 870-73. Images from the NT Live website, here.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Good luck to all students tomorrow

Students everywhere are waiting happily, nervously, for their A level results tomorrow. Undergraduates will be remembering how they felt on results day. Teachers and university tutors are keeping their fingers crossed. Wherever you are, at whatever stage of your education, we’re thinking of you and wishing you all good fortune for the next chapter.

Plenty of useful Clearing information at the Guardian website:

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The 2015 English Literature Essay Competition for A/S Level, A Level and FE Students

The 2015 essay competition is now closed. Thank you for your interest. We hope that you will enter the competition again in 2016.

The English Literature course at the University of Gloucestershire proudly presents the 2015 Essay Competition.

First prize: a new iPad
Four Runners-up receive a £20 Book token

The competition is open to all those currently studying for any AS or A2-level examinations (or equivalent) in the UK. The first prize is a new iPad, and there will be four runners-up prizes of £20 book tokens.

Entries must be no longer than 1500 words including footnotes but excluding references. All sources must be referenced.

The deadline for the 1500 word essay is 5pm (GMT) on Thursday 29 October 2015 and will be judged by English Literature lecturers. The winner will be announced on the English Literature Blog on Friday 4 December 2015.

To enter please choose one of the titles below and email your entry to
  (please note you may only submit one entry to the competition).

Entries must be written as a Microsoft Word document. Entries will normally be acknowledged within 5 days. In your email, please put your name, the Sixth Form or FE college you attend, and the title you have chosen to answer. The subject of your email should be 'essay competition'.

The University of Gloucestershire reserves the right to publish entries but entrants will retain copyright over their work. We intend to publish the winning essay on the English Literature Course Blog at

Choose ONE of the following titles:

1.   ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’ (Joan Didion). Make a case for the power or value of storytelling, or narrative.

2.  Do books matter in the Internet age?

3.  ‘I’m not interested in things that aren’t true’ (Philip Larkin). Is fiction more ‘truthful’ than history?

·       1500 words maximum
·       Your essay must include the title, your name, your school, and state your contact email at the top of the page
·       The essay must be an attachment to the email as a Microsoft Word document

Any essay that does not satisfy these three conditions will not be considered by the judging panel.
The panel decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.

Link to the Competition rules:

English Literature at the University of Gloucestershire main blogsite:

Monday, 13 July 2015

The English Literature Essay Competition for A and AS level students 2015 is on its way soon

We're delighted to announce that we will run our Essay Competition for A and AS level students of English Literature again in 2015. Last year the entries were very strong indeed and it was a pleasure to read such engaging work. First prize once again is a new iPad, with book tokens for some of the runners-up. Details will be posted here very shortly, so please check back.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Come and visit us on an Open Day, 27 and 30 June

Are you thinking of studying English Literature at the University of Gloucestershire? Then come and meet us on one of our Open Days:
  • Saturday, 27 June 2015 
  • Tuesday, 30 June 2015 
  • Saturday, 03 October 2015 
  • Saturday, 31 October 2015 
  • Saturday, 21 November 2015
Book your place here: Undergraduate Open Days at UGlos

Our students love their course.  They tell us that our teaching inspires them and that we support active, individual learning (97% on this year's National Student Survey).

We offer a wealth of chances for students to develop interests beyond the classroom. This year, we've enjoyed field trips to see the internationally-acclaimed William Blake exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and to Lacock Abbey, as well as a guided tour of Pre-Raphaelite paintings at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. As drama lovers, we go to the theatre as often as possible (last year we saw Webster's  The White Devil at the RSC in Stratford-upon Avon) and work closely with Cheltenham's celebrated  Everyman Theatre.  Cheltenham is home to the international  Literature Festival  and our English Literature and Creative Writing courses take centre stage, with hundreds of free tickets for students, plus workshops, talks and activities, and matchless volunteering and working opportunities. We also have close ties to the celebrated  Wychwood Festival.  

Our students are at the heart of what we do. The student - run English Literature Society arranges trips, social events, and talks. Scroll down the blog archive to read reviews and articles contributed by our undergraduate writers, and take a look at our Flickr gallery.

We're looking forward to seeing you. Don't forget to book your place: Open Days at UGlos.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Scholarly Research Project Edition

It has been a delight to edit this compilation of student essays which showcases the enthusiasm, energy and passion for research which is a hallmark of English Literature students at the University of Gloucestershire.

'HM5000: The Scholarly Research Project' ran for the first time in 2013-2014, focusing on the transformative nature of research. A key part of the research process is sharing your finding with others. Students were keen that they, too, should have the opportunity to publish their own research once the module was completed. So it was agreed that the best twelve essays would be selected for an in-house publication. In typical academic fashion this has been rather protracted, but this in itself, has given students an insight into the realities of academic research!

The essays in the bound volume (pictured) are an example of the excellent research skills of the second year English Literature cohort from 2013-2014 - now about to graduate! They display the students' interest in a remarkable range of writers and of genres, spanning Lewis Carroll to Charles Bukowski, and Fairy Tale to Absurdist Theatre. Most of all, these Scholarly Research Projects reveal the lively minds and commitment to learning of their undergraduate authors which is such a joy to witness and remains a privilege to teach.

I look forward to seeing the edited volume from HM5000 2014-2015 - the papers presented at the HM5000 conference were super. Now, your readers await!

Photo: Dr Rebecca Bailey

Monday, 15 June 2015

Edward Thomas and Gloucestershire: Heather Cobby MA reports on the May Hill celebrations

The School of Humanities has been celebrating its long-standing connections with the Dymock Poets. The University  Special Collections and Archives houses the Gloucestershire Poets, Writers and Artists Collection, and in June the School joined forces with the Edward Thomas Fellowship and Friends of Dymock Poets for a weekend conference, reported in the local press. Dr Debby Thacker (Senior Lecturer emerita, English Literature) gave a paper on how the Dymock poets allowed expression of the child's voice in their work.

Heather Cobby wrote her Master's thesis on Edward Thomas's prose work and other unpublished writings, and is also a member of the Edward Thomas Fellowship. She reports on the recent  festivities held at May Hill in Thomas's honour, exclusively for the English Literature blog. Heather's report captures the sense of place and community that inspired Thomas. The beautiful  illustration was contributed by pupils at Huntley Junior School.

May Hill village hall was the bustling centre for a day of celebration on Saturday June 13th . People from several counties joined the locals to enjoy all things `arty`,  `crafty` and poetic, which had been inspired by or produced on May Hill and its immediate surroundings.

The idea for the day was conceived by The National Trust as one of their `spirit of place` events, and sprang from the fact that Edward Thomas started to write his important poem `Words` while sitting on the slopes of the hill. Thomas was on a cycling tour from Gloucester to Coventry and had cycled to May Hill with his friend, local solicitor and botanist, John (`Jack`) Haines.   

The day`s events included two guided walks led by National Trust rangers and, at appropriate stops, poems and readings inspired by the hill were read. Some of these were written in the early twentieth century by the local group of `Dymock Poets`, but there were also more modern ones by the walkers themselves. The rangers were on hand to explain their management of the hill and to point out birds and flowers of interest as well as to answer any questions. Unfortunately nearly all the poems and readings referred to the normally wide-ranging views from the hill, which were completely obliterated by fog and drizzle. Nevertheless, the walkers were undeterred and professed to enjoy the `spiritual` atmosphere as we climbed the hill. There had also been a poetry competition for poems inspired by the hill for which first, second and third winners of National Trust vouchers were announced in the hall at lunch time.

For those not walking, there was plenty to occupy them in the village hall. Local schools were showing their pupils` amazing colourful and very professional artwork that had been inspired by the hill. Tall pines displayed themselves next to bushy hawthorns and there were imaginative views of the whole hill, even including a road at the bottom. At the entrance to the hall the side of a large awning had been used for anyone coming or going to add their artistic ideas to a huge wall painting depicting animals, birds and flowers associated with the village and the hill. Refreshments were available in the form of Fairtrade tea and coffee, a May Hill Ploughman`s lunch and a wonderful assortment of cakes made by a local catering company.

Stalls in the hall included jewellery, curtain pulls and key rings made out of local wood and snoods, hats, jumpers and other clothing made from wool from sheep farmed on May Hill. Beautiful cards and pictures of May Hill in a variety of materials abounded and one local artist was selling self-illustrated books of her own poetry inspired by the landscape and nature of the hill. Another local artist`s own illustrations decorated a book of some of Edward Thomas`s poems. To add to the celebratory atmosphere, a local folk couple were playing their own suitably rustic music.  The whole day reflected the wide variety of excellent local talent produced by our wonderful May Hill.

Edward Thomas, undated photo.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

We salute our undergraduate research students

On Monday 8 June, a group of very bright students helped to put undergraduate research under the spotlight at the Humanities Student Research Conference. This event was part of the University of Gloucestershire’s annual Celebration of Research and the Festival Fortnight.

The conference brought together the work of level 5 and level 6 scholars. Bethany Norris (English Literature) presented her work on Jane Austen and modes of Gothic and anti-Gothic. Drawing on contemporary notices of Austen’s novels, Bethany demonstrated Austen’s engagement with contemporary politics and satire.  Niall Gallen (English Literature and Creative Writing) spoke on J.G. Ballard’s interventions into ‘reality’ and representation in The Atrocity Exhibition. Niall’s presentation combined the verbal with the visual, demonstrating postmodern nightmares (or perhaps daydreams) of ‘conceptual’ reality, cut asunder from accepted norms of seeing and responding to disaster, particularly when they are mediated through TV images.

The diversity of research undertaken in the Humanities at undergraduate level was amazing. Historians Grace Cooper and Matt Saffery produced a teaching booklet of Horrible Early Modern History, and led a discussion about how the concept of ‘childhood’ is always determined historically and culturally. Alice Kerks (Theology and Religious Studies) developed a set of Christian aesthetics from her reading of the Harry Potter novels, combining theology with literary criticism. Jack Miles (History) used postcolonial formulations of the Other as a lens through which to critique how Cornwall and Cornish history and culture are experienced and represented, particularly in tourism.

Medieval children were really horrid.

Niall Gallen and Bethany Norris.

Alice Kerks.

Two Dissertation students gave fascinating presentations that also helped level 5 students to see what kind of work they would undertake next year. Jordan Spencer (History) discussed his research project on JFK’s legacy, and sparked off a conversation that could have gone on into the evening.  Evan Lewis (English Language) gave a witty and sage presentation on the dissertation journey, illustrated by pictures of vertical mountain ascents and bricked-up cul-de-sacs, but which in his case led to a rich project on the linguistics of sustainability, ‘The Dark Mountain’.

There was more: we ran a short panel on student societies, with Bethany and Niall speaking on the activities of the recently-founded English Literature Society, while Erika Mellor and Rachael Colmer spoke about the flourishing History Society. Dr Dave Webster gave a droll but typically thoughtful talk about the School’s annual field trip to Cordoba, with many incriminating photos.

Finally, we were delighted to present the fruits of last year’s research to some students whose work has been published in a special volume, edited by Dr Rebecca Bailey. Our special thanks go to Rebecca for this effort (and watch this space for a report). We’d like to make these beautiful publications an annual event – and the Conference will be back next year.

The Conference was funded by the School of Humanities. We thank Dr Debby Thacker (English Literature), whose successful bid provided the money to support student development.  Our biggest thanks go to the presenters and delegates, and we’re grateful to those who would have liked to have contributed but could not. We've signed you up for next year’s event.

The programme is here; click for more photos.