The Little Professor
Sunday, August 31, 2003
  It's hard to believe that my MS will be off to the publisher next week. After all, I came up with the concept for the original doctoral dissertation back in '95; finished the dissertation in '97; and have been plugging away at the revisions off and on since '98. (Still, the final "push" to finish didn't happen until 2001.) This weekend has been all about last-minute house-cleaning: catching typos in the bibliography, all 24 pages of it; trying to shorten some of my trademark overstuffed footnotes; switching passive voice into active... Between bouts at the computer, I've been filing photocopies. When I work, I wind up with photocopies spilling out over my home office floor in graceless profusion--rather like a paper swamp. But now that I've filed most of the book-related paperwork, the floor has come into view for the first time in about a year or so. There's something vaguely melancholy about that.  
Saturday, August 30, 2003
  For one of the short pieces I'm working on, I've had to read up a bit on medieval hagiography. There a number of online hagiography sites, including the saints' lives page at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook; the Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database (Byzantine); and David Woods' Military Martyrs. Thomas Heads' page, hosted at ORB, features a number of important bibliographies and text links. For All the Saints lists saints in alphabetical order, but unfortunately, it hasn't been updated since 1999; here's another list from the Catholic Information Network. To find secondary sources on women and hagiography, try Feminae. The Bollandists, a Jesuit order, have been pursuing the critical study of hagiography since the seventeenth century; since their criticism extends to determining which saints are real and which spurious, they haven't always been popular.  
Friday, August 29, 2003
  Two short articles to finish + paperwork + new school year = blog, what blog?

Anyway. This week's acquisitions:

Monday, August 25, 2003
  I was surprised at how closely Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock followed Joan Lindsay's original novel (1967): not only does Weir hew to Lindsay's plot, but he also appropriates almost all of the imagery and symbolism. Weir pares down some of the peripheral details--the death of Miss Lumley, the afterlife of Minnie and Tom--but without affecting the plot in any significant fashion. Other things are a bit clearer in the novel than they are in the film, like Mrs. Appleyard's probable background (rather dubious) and Edith's "red cloud" (a, well, red herring; pay close attention in the novel and you'll realize what it is). Weir's most significant alteration comes at the end, when he decides not to represent Mrs. Appleyard's death on Hanging Rock.

This weekend's other adventure in film was Seabiscuit. I quite enjoyed Laura Hillenbrand's book--and, as I mentioned in the previous incarnation of this blog, as a child I loved horse racing. (Is there a horse out there cooler than John Henry? OK, there probably isn't a horse out there who's nastier, either, but that's part of the, er, charm.) In any event, this is one of those films that raises questions about the relationship between fiction and history--less because of the content than because of the plot structure. For obvious reasons, the film has to eliminate much of the book's detail: we don't see Charles Howard's other son, his other star horse, Red Pollard's wife, George Woolf's death, and so forth. The politics were a little too schematic for my taste. It's scruffy West Coast migrant "new blood" vs. elitist East Coast bluebloods, with the former representing the American future (Howard's favorite word) and the latter representing the faux European old guard. Still, it probably isn't possible to do that sort of thing subtly when you only have 2 1/2 hours or so. Qua film, it takes too long to get going, with all the action coming in the second half; the racing scenes are done very well indeed, and real-life champion jockey Gary Stevens performs nicely as "the Iceman," Woolf. Oddly enough, the only character here to emerge without much personality is the horse. (Oddly, because--like John Henry--Seabiscuit could be a handful.)

What struck me was the decision to end the film with Seabiscuit's comeback victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. The filmmakers very much want to emphasize the "victory of the common man" theme: hence the rags-to-riches businessman, the scrappy half-blind jockey, the displaced cowboy, and, of course, the crooked-legged horse. In the concluding voiceover, Pollard muses on how "we fixed each other." Yet the book's reading of their "plot" yields something far more ambivalent. After that final race, Seabiscuit was retired and proved unsuccessful at stud (his foals had his rotten conformation but little of his talent); Howard, who genuinely loved this horse, kept Seabiscuit on as a cow pony (!) until he suddenly died of a heart attack at age 14. Pollard was a successful jockey only when riding Seabiscuit, and slipped back into poverty after a series of riding accidents. And while the trainer, Tom Smith, did enjoy a respectable career for some years afterwards, he went downhill after a doping accusation and eventually ended up back where he started. In other words, it's accurate up to a point to say that this story embodies all the key elements of the American dream, but what the film omits is just how fragile that dream can be. So did the filmmakers tell "the truth" by ending at the Santa Anita Handicap--the point just before the dream fell apart--or not?  
Friday, August 22, 2003
  This week's acquisitions:

Thursday, August 21, 2003
  The new school year begins on Monday. Yikes! Presumably now would be a good time to finish posting my syllabi to the campus server.

Meanwhile, I'm still working on my article. I've now dispatched two books by Alison Plowden, with a few more by various other women writers waiting in the wings. Speaking as a Victorianist, this is perhaps a bit more time than I expected to spend reading up on Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, or Anne Boleyn--but then again, you can never read too many books, can you?
Monday, August 18, 2003
  The purpose of a printer is, one presumes, to print. However, the makers of the printer which came with my computer--the name of said company shall remain anonymous--apparently believe that the printer is a purely aesthetic object. Four months ago, I exhausted my black ink cartridge and went online to buy replacements. One does, after all, operate on the logical presumption that such things exist. I, however, was rapidly disabused of my presumption: no cartridges were available from the company's site or, indeed, anywhere else. Hmm. Next stop: the village's printer store, where the owner confirmed that not only were there no cartridges available, but also that there were no generics available either. The store's owner then called the supplier every day for the next two months or so. Still no cartridges. Meanwhile, I began to feel, shall we say, a certain frustration. At present, the scholarly community expects that articles and suchlike will be printed in black ink. Now, I suppose that there may be a case for articles printed in magenta, say, or maybe cyan. I'm sure that somewhere out there lurks an editor who would be thrilled to see someone engaging in such transgressive behavior; one could always frame it as a strike against current hegemonic models of professional self-construction. Or something. Nevertheless, the time for such revolutionary behavior is probably not yet at hand. Being equipped with limited reserves of patience (and also desiring to print out my book), I finally gave up on the cartridges and the printer, and am now the very proud possessor of a reconditioned laser printer. And I must say that its output is much prettier than that of the "new" inkjet--even if the printer itself is less aesthetically pleasing.

Meanwhile, my university's servers appear to be fried--web access was out from Friday until late this afternoon, and we still can't get our e-mail. (The techs have been upgrading the servers, but the upgrade seems to have taken a wrong turn.) And my office computer has been shrieking every time I turn it on, which can't possibly be optimal behavior. At least I don't have a Blaster worm. Yet. (I did download the patch.)

Retreating to the safer world of hard copy, I'm now juggling the reading for three different things: the "companion" essay I'm writing; the new school year (which begins next week; I've revised all my courses, so there's some rereading to do); and a book review for Choice. So I read Carolly Erickson's Mistress Anne (Anne Boleyn) yesterday and Alison Plowden's Young Elizabeth today, with interspersed dives into the book I'm reviewing. I did lighten things up a bit by reading through Gardner Dozois' newest annual, which among other things had a rather nice update of the Frankenstein legend by Greg Egan.  
Saturday, August 16, 2003
  I was reading Elizabeth Benger's Memoirs of the Life of Anne Boleyn, Queen of Henry VIII for the "companion" article I'm currently writing. Benger is one of those murky yet potentially interesting figures who lurk in the margins of nineteenth-century literary history. An early nineteenth-century Methodist, Benger practices the kind of affective historiography outlined by Greg Kucich: her work promotes sentimental identification with the subject while it emphasizes loss and decay. Benger's life of Elizabeth Hamilton is in print (but, as is usual for Thoemmes, is priced well out of the reach of all but libraries or the exceedingly well-heeled academic).

On a train of thought tangential to Anne Boleyn, I came across an interesting article in the Guardian on Hans Holbein, inspired by this exhibition. There's a good collection of Holbein images here--my favorite being the portrait of Christina of Denmark; see also the Hans Holbein Dance of Death
Friday, August 15, 2003
  This week's acquisitions (most of the acquiring in question took place in London, but the books only arrived this week):

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
  Straying even further from "things Victorian," although not academic, I've been looking at a number of sites devoted to Dante's Inferno--a poem for which I developed quite a passion when I was in high school. Probably the most important site right now is Digital Dante at Columbia University, which includes e-texts, secondary sources, images, and links. Renaissance Dante in Print chronicles nearly two centuries of Dante editions, and includes several illustrations of Hell. For those fluent in Italian, The World of Dante includes a complete electronic transcription, illustrations, and a textual "map" of Hell. If you're interested more specifically in illustrations of Hell, this site includes works by Blake, Botticelli, and Dore; more images are linked via ORB. And if you're wondering where you belong in Hell, you can always take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test.  
Sunday, August 10, 2003
  Among the many items in Sir John Soane's collection: complete sets of William Hogarth's The Election and A Rake's Progress. While best known today as a satirist, Hogarth was also an influential figure in the history of British aesthetic philosophy; see his Analysis of Beauty (1753). Although we now remember Hogarth mainly for the engravings, he was also a prolific painter in oils; see here for a fairly large collection of images, including such famous paintings as The Roast Beef of Old England. There's an enormous set of Hogarth prints (with critical commentary) at Haley and Steele. Northwestern University hosts a good website on William Hogarth and 18th-Century Print Culture, which features a number of brief practical guides to the interpretation of Hogarth's work. William Hogarth's Realm offers criticism, biographical information, images, and the author's M.A. thesis. For bibliography and additional links, try Hogarth: The Site for Research on William Hogarth.

On a non-academic note, I picked up three of Stephen Booth's novels about DC Ben Cooper and DS Diane Fry while in England. They're very much British Grim, with detectives suffering from deep psychological problems of one sort or another, but still well-written and well-plotted. The running conflict between the two detectives is a bit forced, in Fanny Burney-esque style; like Burney's novels, the books would get a lot shorter if the main characters would just say what's actually on their minds. Nevertheless, enjoyable (or is that the right adjective?) summer reading.  
Saturday, August 09, 2003
  Back again; now I've got work to do. In any event, the conference went well, despite the experience of a heat wave without air conditioning (I thought people were going to scream "She's melting! she's melting!" while I presented my paper). Among previously unchronicled activities, I visited some of the galleries at Tate Britain and the wonderfully cluttered (albeit designedly so) Sir John Soane's Museum. Another outing took me to the Victoria and Albert Museum, then across the street to the Natural History Museum. (The latter was a bit of a nostalgia trip: I wanted to see if the human biology exhibit had changed since I first saw it as a child in 1976--around the time it was first installed. It's mostly still the same, although in parts a bit more high tech.) For my 32nd birthday--woo hoo!--I saw Chicago, but only after purchasing a first edition of Reginald Hill's Ruling Passion (1973).

Things Victorian and academic.

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