* with apologies to George Orwell and, of course, I'm only there in the pages of books!
I am now two weeks into the MA. I had this fantasy that I would spend four days a week on my two modules and then be able to take Fridays to read things that I just found interesting. My weekends would be spent on whatever I fancied. Hmmm - how naive was I? I've just spent the best part of today, Sunday, reading articles for one module and Friday was spent the same way. The amount of reading is huge and whilst part of me says this is at it should be - it is an MA in English, the other part feels a bit nervous that I'm not taking enough in as I'm having to read everything so quickly.
But I have to tell you that I absolutely love it. I have vast numbers of e-mails, everyday, inviting me to research seminars being held by all the arts & humanities departments as well as the School of Advanced Study, to participate in King's medical research (not brave enough to do any of that yet) or to join in various college activities. The English department alone seems to have weekly events run by either the staff or research students & everyone is so nice that you really want to go and support them. It's only been two weeks since I started properly but last Wednesday as I was walking past the (illuminated and beautiful) chapel I realised I felt like I had been here forever!
Last week we looked at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Marx on the value of labour and Guy Debord on spectacle and commodification. Really, really interesting stuff. Basically you have all these theories about the Crystal Palace itself - it was the first pre-fabricated building in London and had the first public toilets (thank you Prince Albert). There were huge concerns about the building - would people boil to death inside when it got sunny (not in London methinks!) and how would the lower orders behave. There had been revolutions across Europe in 1848 and Britain had only just emerged from the trauma of the 'Hungry Forties' when people where actually starving so you can almost understand their concerns but, I am pleased to report, the working classes (who could afford to attend) did behave themselves and no foreign revolutionaries instigated any attempts to overthrow the government!!
St. Isaac's Cathedral and at the top The Admiralty Spire. I think St. Petersburg is absolutely beautiful. I was lucky enough to have to go on a work trip three years ago in early July. As you can see the weather was fantastic & it was during the period of the 'White Nights' when it hardly gets dark at all. I had just over a day to look around on my own and was able to visit the Hermitage, the Church on Spilled Blood, stroll down Nevsky Prospect and see the beautiful rooms inside the Strogonov Palace. I stayed just opposite St Isaac's in the Hotel Astoria - a great place to stay if you can visit.
Of course in the seminar we were looking at a far less enjoyable side of Petersburg life. We read Dosoevsky's Notes from the Underground and Gogol's Petersburg Tales. I really enjoyed both, but particularly 'The Overcoat' by Gogol. The authors are writing about St Petersburg in the 1840s and 50s so its a massively rigid society in which clerks don't matter but the gentry and military do. There is a strong need for recognition in all the stories and I think the character in 'The Overcoat' is the one who manages to achieve it- in a fairly novel way. We talked a lot about facades and prospects, St Petersburg was built to impress, all of which you can still see even if the city isn't quite in its imperial pomp today.
This week we're looking at Charles Baudelaire and the Flaneurs (apologies for the lack of accent there). We're looking particularly at his poems Les Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil which apparently deal with some subjects that were a little sensitive in the 1860s. I've read some of his prose poems and have found them quite touching. The Encyclopaedia Larousse defines a flaneur as a loiterer or fritterer away of time (isn't that lovely). They used to stroll around Paris, sometimes with a turtle, in the passages and arcades. But there is a real sense of melancholy and disaffection in Baudelaire's work - it wasn't all fun being a flaneur because you might have had to keep changing your lodgings and you probably needed a job to support yourself. Our tutor is lovely and seems to know everything so I'm really looking forward to the seminar (if I can get all the reading done).
I'm also reading Our Mutual Friend at the moment for our seminar in a few weeks time. It's 800 pages so I'm supposed to be reading 40 pages a night but I did read a bit extra today. Normally I don't particularly like Dickens. It's all of the cliffhangers he had to incorporate as the novels were serialised but are for me intensely annoying in a novel. I normally get irritated with the silly names too (needed to make them memorable) but I like the name of the Veneerings (what was that about facades and false impressions) so maybe the course is starting to have an impression on me?
Thanks for reading.