This is an upper-division course.

It fulfills an English-major requirement in Literature Before 1500.

All the students in the class are English majors.

Assigned reading has included information about Chaucer’s life.

I have been speaking of “The fourteenth-century this” and “The medieval that” for weeks.

Yet a paper from this class informs me that Chaucer “was from the 1800s.”

Sucking less

And a tip of the hat to What Now for that motivational phrase!

I’ve been sleeping very badly lately (worse than usual), I think because of my schedule this term, which requires one day with a late night and another with an early start. These days are 3-4 days apart, so I’m always trying to adjust one way or the other, and that sucks quite a lot. So I’ve been dragging this weekend, and feeling very unmotivated, and with a headache to boot.

But two hours ago I decided I really had to suck less, and so in that time I have graded 5 short papers and written 458 new words that I realized the latest draft of the Current Project requires. The words suck, too; I will have to revise them and supply references and figure out Who Said That. They are, however, written, so that is a step in the right direction. In a perfect world I would have graded all of the papers in the last three days, or at least one section’s worth; but in a perfect world, I would sleep like a baby* and not have headaches. So I think my next task is to get to the gym.

*Oh, wait. I think I do that already. I sleep for a few hours, and then I wake up hot, thirsty, and often hungry as well; or at least in need of a snack so I can take more ibuprofen without ruining my stomach. I only don’t cry because I can get up and take care of myself. But it would be great if I could sleep through the night like a big person.

An update

The shoes are on their way.

I have not yet started grading.

But I have finished working through the Current Printout of the Current Project! Its pages are now full of re-written bits and interleaved pages with more extensively re-written passages, arrows indicating pieces that need to move elsewhere, and only a handful of things to look up and fill in. I can start a new computer document for this revised draft. Who cares what number it is . . . I stopped numbering drafts awhile ago, and now save them by date rather than by number.

I have spent too long reading blogs and CHE fora threads. I need to stop looking at a screen and go do something IRL.


So, wouldn’t it make sense to order now the pair of shoes I want, so that when they show up it will be in the guise of a reward for grading the letters (coming in tomorrow) that start “hey” and “yo”?

They will also be wordy, have comma splices, not cite the MED when they ought to, and say things like “don’t make a producing out of it,” based on the sample paragraphs that have come in so far.

Have I been doing this gig for too long?

Or do I just not have enough shoes yet?

Not dead yet

I have not fallen off the face of the earth; I’m not even all that overwhelmed with the beginning of classes and trying to finish a draft of the Current Project before getting on with that pesky R&R (countdown in the sidebar). I just haven’t had anything I wanted to blog about. Classes look okay so far, though I’m still struggling to retain some sense of denial that they have started. I’m working my way through the print-out of the CurPro, revising and expanding as I go, and finding considerable satisfaction in this work.

And I recently read a book I loved, and that I want to tell you about, although of course my musings probably won’t make much sense until you read it. I found Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s through a reference in a biography of Barbara Pym, which seemed to me an excellent recommendation. The Amazon summary is all right, but the comments there and some other online reviews seem to me to miss the point in various ways (the book was published in 1931, okay, so it’s not describing 1930s London. Or maybe it’s just that I am sufficiently steeped in 1920s British culture (thanks to my near-obsession with the Mitfords, Dorothy Sayers, and other high spots of the era, and my mother’s obsession with the Brontes) that I don’t read altogether as a twenty-first century reader. Or maybe being an English professor is good for something, even though professionally I deal with rather older texts.

Or maybe being a sci-fi/fantasy fan helps. The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s reminded me very strongly of Diana Wynne Jones’s The Time of the Ghost, another book I’m very fond of (and where I would quibble with the School Library Journal‘s review of it, quoted on the Amazon site). Why do people seem to think books should start with a clear expository statement of what is going on? Have they never heard of the principle in medias res? Part of the fun of reading is figuring out what’s happening. “Cryptic communication” (SLJ about TotG)? Huh. If you divide your time between reading Middle English and reading Cherryh’s Er-Series (as I call it: you know, ForeignER, DefendER, etc), with a dose of Mitfordiana somewhere along the line, the in-jokes of either book are no trouble at all. So, okay, that does rule out a lot of middle-schoolers, but I don’t think I have any of them reading along here. And even if I do: learn to figure out what’s going on from the context! Imagine that you’re over-listening to a conversation you ought not to be hearing: how would you figure it out IRL?

Anyway, what strikes me most strongly about Ferguson’s book is how much a product of its time it is, even as in many ways it anticipates current YA interests. In a world gone mad for vampires and other such critters, The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s seems remarkably wholesome. I kept expecting it to be more menacing, to slide over into real spookiness, but instead its point (or one of them) seems to be to domesticate the uncanny, to say, “Look, whatever you call up with your imagination you can also tame, using your imagination.” Despite my protests above, I do not read wholly as a 1930s reader: more recent fantasy literature, especially, has conditioned me to expect certain conventions being put into play. But those conventions were not in place for Ferguson. She’s working with the conventions of her time, in which séances were a popular party game (see Unnatural Death), pierrots were glamorous figures (see Murder Must Advertise; and I must point that the pierrot figure is not the same as the lower-class comedian), and the music-hall was still a viable form of entertainment. The music-hall atmosphere is one of the elements that keeps this novel comic. As is the domesticity: the setting is definitely this-world, not other-world, mostly indoors or in the garden; and the girls’ mother is a significant figure, in contrast to many similar stories where parents are dead, ill, or hopelessly distracted.

Byatt’s The Game, to which she alludes in the introduction to the Virago re-issue of The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s, is far more frightening in its treatment of where the imagination can take you, even though (or because?) it is a wholly realistic novel. Her short story about the little girls in war-time England who encounter Malory’s Questing Beast (sorry, I can’t remember its title) is a good example of how literature, reality, and imagination can intersect in the sort of chilling way I expected of Ferguson’s book.

As for its classism, well, duh—what would you expect? Read as an anthropologist: this is how people of this time, class, and education thought. Byatt says when she first read Brontes . . . Woolworth’s, she was hoping Love Would Conquer All, so Katrine would marry Freddie. I get a bit tired of that narrative. I thought the sisters had a good point about the lower-class in-laws Katrine would have had to cope with all her life (read the Mothers-In-Law thread over at the Chronicle if you don’t think you marry a family as well as a spouse). Some people wouldn’t mind that, but if you do, then you do, and better to think about it beforehand than to regret it afterward.

Basically, everything the reviews I’ve linked to criticize is IMO a point in the book’s favor, and if you like Diana Wynne Jones and Dorothy Sayers, then you would probably like Ferguson. Or at least this book. I need to order myself some more Ferguson to find out if her other books are similarly delightful.