Books I've read

Sandra's book montage

The Catcher in the Rye
The Great Gatsby
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Romeo and Juliet
Lord of the Flies
Little Women
A Tale of Two Cities
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Lovely Bones
The Secret Life of Bees
Under the Tuscan Sun
The Da Vinci Code
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The Hobbit
The Golden Compass
Pride and Prejudice
The Time Traveler's Wife
Jane Eyre
The Notebook

Sandra's favorite books »

Monday, 31 October 2011

Let's All Go Down The Strand*

* Today's title is from a Music Hall song and the picture above shows where The Strand and Fleet Street met, just opposite The Royal Courts of Justice.

I was without the internet for 5 days last week and felt like I had lost a limb.  I had a major panic on Monday when I discovered that my router had given up the ghost because I needed to download the reading for my seminars.  Thank goodness Surrey Libraries give you the opportunity to book an hour session on the internet for free.  I was able to download all of the reading and then print off and study at home.  This was the third technological incident we had in a couple of weeks (Sky box stopped working & my laptop is refusing to work properly were the others) so I hope it is the last for now.

It was very busy at King's last week.  Extremely interesting lecture on 'The Trials of Oscar Wilde' and the West End on Tuesday afternoon. Then on Wednesday we had our first workshop to help with writing our dissertations.  The MA dissertation for English should be approx. 15,000 words and we have from April to September to write it which at the moment seems ages (ask me again in mid-July!).  I've written a MSc (master of science) dissertation before so was feeling relatively relaxed about this but that was more of an investigation/project (the benefits of mentoring).  By the time we finished our two hour session I was feeling a lot more nervous about writing this one but, I hope, in a good way.  After that I spent an hour in the cafe checking e-mails (I was able to use my i-Pad and the King's wifi) and then my Oscar Wilde seminar; very interesting.

On Thursday I started with my Modernity & the City seminar.  Our tutor is amazing, he ranges so widely across subjects.  This week we were talking about the poor in 19th C London and how the writers of reports and stories tried to persuade their readers that something needed to be done!  One of the things that amuses me is we were reading Charles Booth's report about the London poor and there is a lot about families living in abject poverty in one room in buildings around Covent Garden.  Anyone familiar with the London property market will know that flats round there now cost hundreds of thousands of pounds - a huge difference in 160 years.  I wonder what would happen if those people could see the streets they used to live in now?

Back to the City then for lunch with a friend, who is looking absolutely beautiful in her pregnancy!  Then dash back to King's for presenations about applying for a PhD and applying for funding.  I really want to do a PhD and I could do it without funding BUT I think it would look much better to say that a funding body thought my research was worth supporting.  The chances are tough - I think there is about a 1 in 4 chance of being accepted to a PhD at King's but the chance of a funded PhD drops to1 in 30.   We got good advice however, including not starting an application to King's by saying 'I have always wanted to study at Oxford'!

I also met my personal tutor for the first time on Thursday afternoon & she was great.  She gave me some ideas about books to read for my MA dissertation and was encouraging about the PhD subject.  I was exhausted when I left her and set off down The Strand for Charing Cross station.

This week we are moving on to World War I and tanks (yes, it is an English Lit course) and Our Mutual Friend which is probably my favourite Charles Dickens novel ever.  Oh yes, and my first essay is looming on the horizon.  I love it tho'!!

Thanks for reading & I'll hopefully update more quickly next time.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tired but happy in Paris & St Petersburg*

* 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!! 

In 'Modernity And The City' we studied St Petersburg.  The photograph to the left is of 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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Monday, 3 October 2011

Only Connect

A few years ago I started to research my family tree.  I am very lucky as my mother's mother had an unusual maiden name and her family have tended to be in the right place at the right time (for censuses) and are easy to find in the records.  I was amazed at how many of my ancestors seemed to have some kind of connection to my life or interests (granted I was wanting to make those connections).   My Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather (I think) for example lived in the street where my sister and I worked two centuries later.  He ran a circulating library (the earliest forms of library) which is absolutely appropriate for a descendant studying for an MA in English.  Imagine the fun I could have discussing the latest of Jane Austen's publications with him.  I wonder if she was popular with his readers?  Those of you who know me know my love for Boston - imagine my amazement to find out my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather died there!  He was a merchant seaman (not surprising for a Liverpool family) but I think there is something rather poignant about the fact that I love visiting the city for holidays and he ended his days there.

My grandfather's (my Mum's Dad) side seemed to be much tougher to research as his surname is more common and, whilst the maternal line was very settled in Liverpool, his father's family came from the Lake District and were there as recently as the mid-19th century.  As the family made their way down, however, they do seem to have become involved in the industrial revolution - we have an engraver at a calico printers in the family and this involvement in the Lancashire Cotton Industry makes me feel proud.  My ancestors were there as the modern age was being born and having spent the afternoon looking at modernity as part of my background reading it really creates an interesting link for me.

Yesterday I found out something really exciting.  It seems (I'm 90% sure but need to do a little more research) that through my Great-Grandmother, on my Grandfather's side, we are descended from the family that tenanted the amazing building pictured on the left during the 18th Century.  This is Speke Hall which is a fantastic National Trust property just outside Liverpool.  Now I don't think it looked quite this good when my ancestors were there, in fact the next family to own the Hall considered that the tenant farmer families had ruined it!  I just feel amazed that I could be connected to history like this.  Other people have done work on this family and they seem to be relatively easy to trace as they are all christened or associated with a church in South Liverpool which has done a great job of preserving its records.  The really exciting thing is that people have traced this family back to the 1540s - how brilliant is that!!  I started my family history research after my Grandparents had died (in their 90s) and how I wish I had started when they were still alive.  My Grandad particularly would have been thrilled with this information, he was a really proud Scouser!   I think I wanted to feel rooted,or connected, but I never expected to find out just how rooted to that part of the country my family is.

The title of this entry is Only Connect, which is the epigram from Howards End by E.M. Forster.  It's a great book about three families, the poorer Blasts, the bohemian Schlegels and the capitalist Wilcoxes.  Forster looks at the interactions between the families in the context of places and culture.  This afternoon I was reading about the difference between place and space.  I won't bore you with the details but it was very interesting and the book that I read suggested that Forster isn't quite so against the city as first reading may suggest.  Perhaps he just found London at that period difficult to capture as it was changing so constantly?

I finally start the MA tomorrow - huge, huge hurrah!  A lecture and then seminars on Wednesday and Thursday. I'm sure I'll be nervous when I actually have to advance some ideas but perhaps the idea of how much change all of those ancestors saw can help me cope with a new beginning!

Thanks for reading ...