From Wollstonecraft to Evaristo: A Young Man’s Journey into the Influence of Social Rebellion featured in British Feminist Literature

images¬agbabi_patiencesuffragette-votes-for-womenindeximages1         Since Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women was first published, feminism has played a major role in British Literature.  Although Wollstonecraft was not the first feminist writer, she was definitely the most influential. Her works transcended the definitions of equality and liberation. She criticized ideas in Great Britain that were part of the society of the time.  Such ideas that were discussed in her work focus on: the degradation and subservience of women within the domestic spheres (i.e., the household); a confining values system towards women within the patriarchal society that was based on thousands of years of tradition of said values (such values that condemned the sexual, marital, and consensual rights of women); a male-dominated educational system; the stereotypes that have dominated the portrayals of womankind throughout history; The physically and emotionally abusive treatment that women endure in both their private and public spheres; and lastly inequality, in terms of women’s suffrage.  She took a stand against the British and as well the French patriarchy that was growing more powerful than ever.  Wollstonecraft’s works would become highly influential for her contemporaries who would follow a couple of centuries later.

However, as much as she was ahead of her time, it was her contemporaries, the writers I had the opportunity to study throughout my experience in England, who took these issues that brought about by Mary Wollstonecraft, to a whole other level.  Throughout this piece, I will be sharing my thoughts, but at the same time analyzing the relevance on six major works and archives that represent the more modern ideas that helped shape feminism.  I will also show how each of these works relate to the six key issues that were first brought up by the legendary feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft.  These works showed how feminism was viewed then as well as how it is viewed today.  As well they all give us different perspectives but at the same time make the same point clear and that is women’s rights and equality and realizing the struggles that these women went through in order to express and convey these messages.  Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels, Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe, Virginia Woolf’s Professions for Women, Carol Ann Duffy’s Feminine Gospels, Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome, and the Suffragettes’ exhibit at the Museum of London.  These works and archives do a great job at exemplifying the different socio-cultural aspects that define feminism.

The first work that I would like to discuss is Carol Ann Duffy’s selected collection of prose and poetry, “Feminine Gospels.” I feel out of all the poems in this work, it is the 20-page narrative, The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High that conveys my first topic; women in education.  It does an excellent job at exploiting the problems with the masculine society that dominated every aspect of the British education system during this time period the poem is set (the early 1960s).  Throughout this poem, we can see that women in the education system at this time weren’t really taught how to read as much or write as much but a lot of their education was centered on “lady-like” etiquette.  In other words, what a young lady should be, how a young lady should act and how a young shouldn’t act.  In that sense all they were learning was how to be a house-wife instead of being a doctor; or a lawyer; or a college professor; no all they were taught was how to be a homemaker. And don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are women who work hard to take care of everything around their home and choose to be with and care for their families and I do not mean any disrespect towards them. The difference in our day and age (at least in the western world) is that women have more of a choice. During the time this poem takes place in, this was definitely not the case.  It was sickening to know that these young ladies were not really students in the sense of future scholars but in the sense of future homemakers.

However, the poem also presents a great deal of hope for women in education through two of its most vital characters, Geraldine and Miss Dunn.  Geraldine is portrayed as this free-spirited yet somewhat rebellious student who protests the educational system she is under by encouraging this infectious laughter that is tearing this school apart.  And then there is Miss Dunn who, like the rest of the teachers in this piece, was trying to assimilate her students to this life under what I call the “homemaker-label” (i.e., the molding of a young lady into the assimilated stereotype of a house-wife of that time period and/or prior).  In actuality, Miss Dunn is shamed by the society around her for not being married due to “the moral standard” that a woman must follow.  But, towards the end of this poem, Miss Dunn comes to this self-realization that there is more to womanhood than just staying the home and pleasing and caring for one’s man, but exploring the world outside of the socio-domestic constructs that make up this atmosphere. This piece represents the need to break free from this oppressive sphere of education.

My next topic, the degradation and subservience of women within the domestic spheres, will focus on Virginia Woolf’s essay “Professions for Women.”  This was part of Woolf’s Seven Essay article in Vanity Fair in which she criticizes Coventry Patmore’s The Angel in the House and his portrayal of the “perfect woman.”  The essay goes in depth on how when women write they provide themselves a great opportunity to “killing the angel in the house” (metaphorically speaking).  This refers to women stripping the bonds of their subservient homemaker duties but to go out and make a name for their own livelihoods.  I felt Woolf goes into a great deal with this by using her own profession as an established scholarly writer as a way of showing that women can break these foundations.

In this essay, Woolf discusses the topic of opportunities outside of the household for women.  She argues that:

“Even when the path is nominally open–when there is nothing to prevent a woman from being a doctor, a lawyer, a civil servant–there are many phantoms and obstacles, as I believe, looming in her way.” (Professions for Women)

According to Woolf, these “obstacles” are not only represented by the male dominated system that these domestic spheres were ruled under, but also by the women who were brainwashed into this form of patriarchal imprisonment.  Her message was to free women out of this spectral livelihood of the stereotypical homemaker and become something greater without the pressures from this society ruled by men crashing down on them.  The obstacles that stand in the way of opportunities for women haunt the words written in this legendary piece.  By preaching to “kill the angel in the house,” she implies this need to break free within women and this need to do more.  Its messages like this essay brings that made promote feminism and the individuality of women to their fullest potential.

The third topic that will be discussed covers the confining values system towards women within the patriarchal society that was based on thousands of years of tradition of said values (such values that condemned the sexual, marital, and consensual rights of women).  Bernardine Evaristo’s “The Emperor’s Babe” is the best example of these concerning issues.  The prose is centered on the Roman-Londinium era in England and shows a more modern, feminist portrayal of the women living in this society during the time.  As most know or should know the treatment of women was extremely unjust and oppressive.  The women of Londinium, in 211 A.D., lacked education, opportunities of true political power, and self-empowerment.  However, the main character in this prose, Zuleika, provides us as readers this “what if” scenario of this empowered, intelligent and rebellious woman.  Zuleika moves her way up after her tragic trade-off from her father into her forced marriage with Emperor Septimus Severus. However, she learns and moves her way up to power and becomes the true definition of a “queen bee.”  The unique personality that she develops in her experience in the presence of royalty makes her more than just some pretty face but a force to be reckoned with.  But as well we see the influence of African roots and the customs and values that they showed towards the women in their culture.  Being the daughter of Sudanese immigrants in Londinium at the time we can see how nonchalant her father was about selling her to Emperor Severus.

However, her wit does get her far.  Another aspect of the self that gets her far is her rebellious opinions against the traditional yet absurd etiquette that women were forcibly assimilated to.  An example of this is shown when Zuleika narrates:

“A lady uses powdered horn to enamel her teeth dontcha know, and powdered mouse brains to keep her breath sweet. I am pampered by maids, an ornatrix is weaving Indian hair into my own, six pads- Vestal- style. They are painting me white with chalk, my lips and cheeks with the lees of red wine, don’t talk! Black ash is dabbed onto my eyes.”  (27)

This implies two different feelings that Zuleika has at this time; feelings of happiness at the fact that she is living the life of royalty, yet at the same time feelings of defiant discontent towards the lifestyle she leads while her people are suffering.   Her sassy, lively attitudes are I feel what drive us to her character and how she took the inhumane action of being sold into a marital relationship by her own father and turned it around into her own move into power.

The fourth topic I will talk about will be on the physically and emotionally abusive treatment that women endured in both their private and public spheres.  The work that I felt represents this topic the best is Tracy Chevalier’s “Falling Angels” as the source for this topic.  To be honest, I could talk about the fact that the novel takes place and is focused on the early years of the Suffragettes’ Movement in England at the turn of the century, but there were other feminist issues that were focused in this novel.  When I read it I felt that this topic on this form of abuse made its presence heavily felt in this novel.  To be honest, I thought that the situations and the characters involved in them, conveyed just as much of the verbal and physical abuse towards the women during the time period of this novel, as the issues concerning the Suffragettes’ Movement.

For example, on pages 71-72, when Lavinia’s younger sister Ivy May, an innocent young lady, is raped by Mr. Jackson, to many of us (at least in a western society) we find these actions to be disgusting and psychotic but in the early 20th century, it was acceptable to do such despicable actions in this patriarchal mad house.  Even though this was not the most detailed literary depiction out of everything we have read, this was definitely one of the most graphic in my opinion, because just the slightest hint of rape; the subservience that Ivy May shows afterwards; and the acceptance we see towards Mr. Jackson’s actions is highly disturbing.

The fifth topic, the stereotypes that have dominated the portrayals of womankind throughout history, is greatly demonstrated in Patience Agbabi’s “Bloodshot Monochrome.”  Due to how important the theme of cultural awareness is in this work by Agbabi, a feminist outlook is conveyed in some of these poems within this work.  This feminist outlook in some of these poems could be Agbabi’s way of showing her appreciation for the male and female poets who paved the way her.  However, she expresses this assertive language as a form of retaliation and rejection towards the patriarchal oppression that kept the women writers that influenced her confined in both their greater capabilities as writers and as equal individuals in their societies.

In Agbabi’s work we don’t see the stereotypical “damsel in distress;” an evil witch; a woman who is looking to seduce her next male victim; an uneducated ditz; nor a homemaker (or as W.M. Thackeray called it, as I already went over, “the angel in the house”).  Instead we are exposed to an incredibly different view of women within this work.  There are a few examples that I could point out that can be found in this work.  However, the example that I thought best fits this breaking of stereotypes the best, is found in the poem “Josephine Baker Finds Herself.”  The poem mainly points out something that has become fairly new to British literature.  And that is the perspective of homosexuality; specifically this poem focuses on a lesbian couple and how they use their sense of togetherness to get them through whatever struggles they may be going through.  This outlook on a woman’s sexual orientation is definitely an example of Agbabi breaking the boundaries of the patriarchal stereotypes of women. However, there was another poem in this work which contradicts this different viewpoint of womankind.

This was when I began reading the sonnet “Vicious Circle.” In this piece, it went back to this stereotypical portrayal of a woman in England.  And at first we see a man who is truly in love with this woman, who not only does not feel the same but by more modern terms, could be assumed as a “gold-digger” (i.e., a woman who uses guys for their money by promising love and faithfulness).   However, one can start to see a change in him when his love turns into an obsession.  The result of this obsessive behavior left me, the reader with these last lines courtesy of this woman:

“He’s walking towards me. I can hear her crying. I struggle to wake up but can’t quite. The last thing I see before I die, the vicious gaze of his gun’s eye in a basement bar. Black. And white.” (72)

To me it seemed like this woman was scared for her life and we can see this clearly in the narrative, something one would not expect Agbabi to write about. So not only do we see a woman portrayed as this person of wicked intentions but we also see it lead to her demise.  This portrayal goes back with the traditions of the patriarchy.

My final topic that will be discussed was inequality, in terms of Women’s suffrage. I specifically turn to the archives of the Suffragettes’ Movement which I had the honor to view in person as they were exhibited at the Museum of London.  And that is when I found out about the Women’s Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U.), one of the most important feminist coalitions formed during the time of the Suffragettes’ movement (the early 1900s).  Even though Women’s suffrage was not achieved until 1920, the W.S.P.U. still managed to gain a wide amount of support and hold rallies and demonstrations with techniques way ahead of their time.  For example, thanks to one of the curators I have the privilege to meet I was able to receive an exclusive look at photos that were not feature in the exhibit.  One of the photos that I thought really symbolized that feminist spirit was a photo of one of a controversial suffragette rally that was done in London.  It is a photo of these women in what were at the time, very “risky” outfits.  They were dressed in nearly skin tight clothing resembling that of Peter Pan. Other information I received from this exhibit was vital to know for the topic of feminism.  Such as the infamous leaders of the W.S.P.U. Emmeline Pankhurst who withstood arrests on more than several occasions for the good of her cause and suffered the inhuman acts of forced-feeding during her imprisonments.  These women were courageous and revolutionary, especially for the time period they were in. The archives that I witnessed at this museum really opened my mind to a struggle that I was just being introduced to for the first time but it was definitely gave me a greater appreciation for their struggle and greater appreciation for the feminism and its rich history.

In conclusion, this whole experience that I had the privilege and honor to be part of was something will be forever imprinted in my mind.  The reason I chose feminism as a topic for my learning analysis was because out of all the different aspects of history that I learned during this trip, the one I took to heart the most was a greater appreciation for the pioneers of feminism, not only within the literary community but as mentioned prior with the suffragettes’ exhibit, in the socio-cultural community too.  And even though Mary Wollstonecraft was not covered during the education I received during this experience, her Twentieth Century contemporaries, truly “keep calm and carry on…” the spirit of feminism. Furthermore, it’s these qualities of what me and my fellow students read that really not just for my sake but brought all of us to a greater understanding of feminism.

Works Cited

Agbabi, Patience. Bloodshot Monochrome. London: Canongate, 2008. Print.

Chevalier, Tracy. Falling Angels.  London: Penguin, 2001. Print.

Duffy, Carol Ann. Feminine Gospels. London: Faber & Faber, 2002. Print.

Evaristo, Bernardine. The Emperor’s Babe. London: Penguin, 2001. Print.

Suffragettes’ Exhibit.” Museum of London. 2013. Archive.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Ed. Deidre Shauna Lynch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women.” S.Spachman.Tripod.com. Web. 14. Oct. 2013.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

London Is Calling!

Julia’s Final Project – Learning Analysis Blog Post

Day 1 and Day 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first and second day on our international adventure were, as I expected, awesome… and rather overwhelming. Having just arrived in a brand new place I took it all in hungrily. It was information and sensory overload. The first two days forced a hurried adjustment to the constant walking and constant barrage of information and altogether these days were a blurred whirlwind. This was a city unlike anything I had seen before. It was massive, old, and beautiful. I had never seen so many people in my life, neither had I seen a place that presented such a long and rich history. In our time spent exploring the city in these first two days, we met up to see the collection of historical manuscripts at the British Library. Seeing the actual Magna Carta laid out in front of me, to see something so old and so familiar from history class just right there was really quite profound. It was one of those times when I could actually see history and be in the presence of it instead of just imagining it and seeing secondhand pictures. The British Museum was astounding as well. The sheer magnitude of the building, how packed it was with people, the thousands of displays thankfully unencumbered by too many distracting “DO NOT TOUCH” signs, and the fact that I got lost about three times made it difficult to appreciate everything I saw but I felt like because of those factors, the museum was almost daring me to learn as much as I could – because it is actually somewhat challenging.

Day 3 “Our lives were in the hands of the gods, / though we could tinker with them, if lucky.”

The first book, The Emperor’s Babe, was one that I read toward the end of the booklist before the trip and I wish that I had read it first. This book is the perfect historical base for our study of Englishness. Before reading this I had absolutely no idea that London was created by the Romans. The term ‘Londinium’ was completely new to me and I honestly wondered when I first started this book if the author took great creative liberties in regards to history. This caused me to do some research which was very helpful to know in understanding Englishness. I found this novel challenging because I had never read a verse novel before. In keeping with the verse format, Evaristo had to find creative ways to write the story that weren’t perhaps as straightforward or explicit as prose would be so sometimes I found it a challenge to interpret what was really going on or what the author is alluding to.

That afternoon found us at the Museum of London, a place I greatly enjoyed. The Roman gallery gave proof of the incredible presence of Roman influence in London which, I now knew, dates back to the inception of London itself. I really loved the museum’s blending of modern elements with the historical setups. It perfectly reflected the architectural space of London, in which so many structures look nearly the same as when they were built decades or centuries ago, but now they mingle with modern structures. The following is a video created by the Museum of London. Though the video is specifically about Londinium’s Roman Fort, the beginning offers some interesting background on Londinium itself.

Londinium’s Roman Fort

Day 4 “I have spent my life waiting for something to happen, and I have come to understand that nothing ever will. Or it already has, and I blinked during that moment and it’s gone. I don’t know which is worse – to have missed it or to know there is nothing to miss.”

Our reading of Falling Angels and our perusal of the Suffragette Gallery in the Museum of London the day before gave me a pretty good understanding of Victorian England. This was one of the few tastes of Empire that I got from our readings and Empire is something I have found very useful in my study of Englishness. Earlier I had wondered why the author made the cemetery the primary focal point of the novel and when we went to Highgate Cemetery that afternoon, I got my answer. It is so easy to take the cemetery for granted. The very fact it is taken for granted should be reason enough to think about it again and consider the spatial practices of a cemetery. The novel showed class divide, gender inequality, and radical ideas versus deeply-rooted tradition and in our time at Highgate, I realized that the cemetery is a unifying place, it is the place of total equality, where everyone is faced with mortality and no one has the answers. The stone representations people leave of themselves still reflect class and status but regardless, the spatial practice of the cemetery levels the playing field.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 6.32.41 PM

Day 5 “Before, she’d been easily led, / one of the crowd… Not anymore. Now / she could roar.”

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 6.35.20 PM

I didn’t find Feminine Gospels to be very useful in understanding Englishness mostly because Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry and the themes therein are so universal. The little snippets of poetry paint a picture that is very honest, self-critical, and outwardly critical of sexism and inequality that we can see throughout all human society. This collection challenged my mindset because though I am an ardent feminist, throughout my life I couldn’t help but pick up on the many stereotypes (i.e. using ‘girly’ or ‘you’re such a girl’ as a derogatory term, etc…). I don’t say things like this very often but when reading this book it was the first time I realized that my use of this at all is perpetuating sexist stereotypes at the same time as I’m trying to demand equality. Also, some of these poems are challenging to get through, not because of content, but because they are so dense. I love the poem “The Map-Woman” but I still don’t quite know what to think of it.

Day 6 “London is immigrant city… [it] was created by migration”.

The Mara Crossing. The simpler question might be: What DIDN’T I learn from this book? In this class and McVicker’s class we had spent so much time talking about the little details, especially because Englishness is defined by little cultural nuances, but this book expanded my thoughts on spatial practice to an international scope. Having such a small magnifying glass up to Englishness through the other books was enlightening but pulling back to get the wider perspective was just as much so, maybe even more. Spatial practices were a difficult concept to grasp but this book provided the perfect concrete illustration of the -at first- abstract concept: the illustration of bird migration. Bird migration is a set pattern that slowly evolves over time due to necessity. These patterns are spatial practices that help define a place. Furthermore, The Mara Crossing showed how elements combine to influence and evolve each other and that “everyone, given time, / changes everyone else”.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 7.10.42 PM

The Natural History Museum was really incredible and helped to solidify the science content of The Mara Crossing but I enjoyed the Victoria and Albert Museum even more. I had thought that the British Museum and the Museum of London were massive but the Victoria and Albert Museum was simply astonishing. Throughout London I could see no greater tribute to the power of the British Empire than this museum. It held objects from every corner of the world and these were no mere trinkets. Most museums I had been to had little artifacts of everyday life and then a few select prominent pieces but rare was the small, seemingly ordinary artifact in the V&A Museum, instead it housed the finest of the fine, at least in my mind. I spent a considerable amount of time specifically in the gallery devoted to Victorian England and finally I could really see it. In class we had spent time talking about the Victorian Era but we discussed social constructs, burial practices, class divides, but we never talked about what it looked like. The gallery of course showed mostly the luxuries of the upper classes and aristocracy so we only really get to see a small portion of what Victorian England was like. I thought about this and realized that poverty tends to look very much the same throughout history whereas the look of privileged life was constantly changing with the fashions and trends. I found this museum to be very enlightening to my sense of Englishness because it provided more history and showed international influences through the ages.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 7.17.06 PM

Day 7 “He thinks of all these conjunctions of knowledge and experience, these collisions of what is known and what is felt which flame within the head to create a private vision, but a vision which is coloured by the many visions of other people, by fact and error and received opinion and things remembered and things invented.”

I have to say that City of the Mind is the only novel that I read for this class that I can only vaguely remember the plot to. The way this book is written presents the plot but allows it to be a blurred background to the star of the show: the City of London itself. The novel captured the feel of London perfectly. “If the city were to recount its experience, the ensuing babble would be the talk of everytime and everywhere…” When you travel to a new place it’s easy to take things at face value but this book taught me to look deeper and to see not only a structure but also its history simultaneously. Having those added dimensions in seeing the city made the experience more dynamic and it got me to learn more about Englishness than I think I would have done before.

The Museum of the Docklands was one of my favorite museums that we explored. Just being in the docklands was a shocking sight because my assumptions of what it looked like stemmed from Virginia Woolf’s essay, which did not paint a very pretty picture. When we stepped out of the tube station at Canary Wharf I just stared and finally realized just how well Matthew Halland was doing to be designing a site in the docklands. The Museum of the Docklands showed the history of London through its main entry and exit point: the docks. Before this I hadn’t appreciated the immense importance of the docks in the creation of what we see as London today.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 7.21.05 PM

Day 8 and Day 9

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our weekend excursion to Stonehenge, Avebury, Bath, and Glastonbury was an incredible experience. The time we spent at Stonehenge and what we learned there reminded me of the Victorian era and the obsession with death. This took me right to Highgate Cemetery and what we read in Falling Angels. In someone else’s blog on our excursion to Highgate Cemetery, they described Victorian burial practices in which the deceased person would be removed from the family home feet first to make sure the spirit couldn’t convince someone to follow him to the grave and also so that he couldn’t reenter the home of the living. The Druids would take their dead to Stonehenge by way of the river Avon so that the spirits of the dead would be disoriented by the winding river and wouldn’t be able to find their way back to the land of the living. It’s a fascinating parallel.

Day 10 “Through my gold-tinted Gucci sunglasses, / the sightseers. Big Ben’s quarter chime / strikes the convoy of number 12 buses / that bleeds into the city’s monochrome.”

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 7.26.19 PM

Bloodshot Monochrome was an awesome collection of poetry to read and study for class. I think that, more than anything, these poems taught me about human nature and the human condition. The poems are like little windows into a scene of reality, complete with movement, emotion, racism, sexism, and others. The challenge I had with this book was figuring out how to relate it to the theme of the trip: Mapping Englishness. Agbabi’s book is about people, not places – not London specifically. I realized though that having a better understanding of human nature and the people how inhabit a place gives me a better understanding of the place itself.

Day 11

Punting on the Cherwell in Oxford

Punting on the Cherwell in Oxford

Oxford, England. The city dominated by Oxford University’s many Colleges. It was while  on the tour through Magdalen College that I realized how cool a place this is. This city has been a place of scholarship and research for nearly a millennia! It’s original spatial practice remains constant. The ancient higher system of education presented by Oxbridge is iconic of Great Britain, and it seems to me to be one of the few places with an unchanging spatial practice in the entire country (besides the spatiality of aristocratic structures). The structures are created or rebuilt, the way that education works has progressed over time, the people allowed to participate expanded over time, and what is being taught is constantly changing and developing but the scholastic, utilitarian practice of the space remains constant. How many other similarly expansive places can claim the same thing?

Day 12 “Ladies, here’s the shit:”

I enjoyed reading Formerly but admittedly I found it a challenge to relate to our class. Obviously Formerly is specifically about London and a few select places within it but the lack of context about the original places that were written about I found to be a bit frustrating. Formerly gave us a picture and a poetic assumption of what this place was like but after doing some research on the places I discovered that some of her poems didn’t really match the original place. The example that I wrote about in my blog response is probably the one that has the oddest juxtaposition: Quickie Heel Bar, which was a shoe repair place for which Yoseloff wrote a grungy, raunchy poem. Other poems of hers were spot on but when I originally read this collection before the trip I assumed these were slices of reality in the history of these little places in London, albeit with a few creative liberties of what was ‘formerly’ there. It wasn’t until we were in London and I was reviewing for class that I thought to do some research on the places. Perhaps that was Yoseloff’s intention: to encourage people to look past a picture and what is told to us about a place and make our own conclusions. I know that for me, this way I ended up learning more than I might have done before.

Day 13 and Day 14 “I was there. There I was.”

The Greenwich Royal Observatory was very interesting to explore and it’s claim to the Prime Meridian embodies Great Britain’s history of Empire and certainly symbolizes its power and the bragging point that the British Empire was the largest in history. The view made me feel like I was on top of the world (as cliché as that might sound) and it was really wonderful, after being right in the heart of London for nearly two weeks, to be able to step back and see it from a distance. Seeing London from that windy hilltop helped me put some of the pieces together because you can’t build a puzzle if you can only see one piece at a time.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 7.35.35 PM

There But For The. Definitely the oddest novel that I have ever read. Probably one of the first things I learned from this novel has nothing to do with London, spatiality, or Englishness. I learned that apparently it is possible to write a 60+ page dinner party conversation that doesn’t noticeably further the arguably-existent plot without alienating all of your readers. I had a number of challenges with this text; the first being just getting through it. There is so much discourse between the characters; so much banter. There were plenty of parts of this novel that I enjoyed but plenty of parts also frustrated me. After I finished reading it I had absolutely no idea what to say about it so my second challenge was trying to relate it to our class. Throughout our days in London I would occasionally ponder why this book was chosen for the class and as I reviewed notes and flipped through the novel’s pages I began to appreciate There But For The. This story could easily have been set anywhere, so what is important is the social critiques that the author has imbedded into her prose: the consumer-driven culture, the overpowering presence of technology in our lives and the effect it has on human interaction, the complacency, and the oppression of imagination and divergent thinking (such as that which Brooke experiences with her teacher). Reflecting on the book I realized the expanse of the commentary that the author is giving us and the main point, which is constantly driven at throughout the book -especially in the dialogue- is that we need to question something, anything, everything. After realizing this I was able to, for the last few days of our adventure at least, question things more and contemplate them thoroughly. I questioned and contemplated things from my own mindset to the rippling effect of human and commodity migration, from the burial practices of Victorian England to the purely symbolic existence of the royal family today, from Londinium to the massive city before me. Honestly I think this book has helped me, at least a little, to live in the moment and to fight the lazy desire to be complacent and take things at face value.

The Final Days and Conclusions “For this is the city, in which everything is simultaneous. There is no yesterday, nor tomorrow, merely weather, and decay, and construction.” -City of the Mind

Being in London was an unforgettable experience but so was the class. Reading the books was so much more dynamic because we saw London, and London was so much more dynamic because we read the books. I know that all of us students at some point wanted be out exploring more of the city while we were sitting in class or we cursed having to get up early in the morning because we stayed out too late at the pub, but in retrospect I truly believe that the scholarly work we did made the experience more meaningful. We were traveling around the city with a purpose, instead of just randomly sightseeing. I don’t think I would ever have come up with a sense of Englishness without having been in England. About half of my preconceptions of Englishness that I garnered before the trip were obliterated during the trip, and the other half validated by what I experienced.

The Literary London gang and friends at Lord John Russell's

The Literary London gang and friends at Lord John Russell’s (:

The final days in London were hectic and bittersweet as we tried to cram in all the things we had wanted to do and found our ever-growing list far to long to finish. I feel like while I did so much while we were in London and I loved every minute of it, there are thousands of more possibilities, and I can’t wait to go back.

-Julia

P.S. Thank you so much Dr. McCormick, I learned a lot in your class and I had so much fun on this trip!

 

Writing London

I never would have thought that 16 days could have changed my overall outlook, but London changed a lot for me. From the texts to the excursions, I was able to put everything together in a way that still has me thinking about discussions and seeing things around my hometown in a different way. I have talked about how much London has influenced me in several different blog posts and journal entries, but here I’m going to tie it all together. This was an amazing experience for me and something I will not forget for the rest of my life.

Day One started with our first try at navigating the city by ourselves. I immediately fell in love with trying to find my way around and was able to do it fairly efficiently. I felt as though I had a good handle on getting myself to where I needed to go. I think it was incredibly important for us to individually learn how to navigate by ourselves. Being from Webster, New York and not used to getting myself around a big city, I found it exhilarating to have to find my way around. So we walked ourselves from Tottenham Court Rd. back to the dorms and then to the British Library, our first historical stop. What intrigued me about the British Library was the ginormous poster of Uncle Sam on the wall as we walked in. While it was for an exhibit on propaganda and power and wasn’t one of the exhibits we visited, I still thought it was interesting that the first British place we went to had a ginormous Uncle Sam on the wall… the Sir John Ritblat Gallery was where we spent the majority of our time in the library and it was really fascinating to see excerpts and pages from notebooks of The Beatles, historical documents, the Magna Carta, and many other things on display. This kind of collection makes it amazing to see actual documents and the handwriting of famous people and/or people who have been dead for a long time- they are immortalized on paper for unmeasurable amounts of people to look at and experience. This is just the tip of the iceberg on heterotopic spaces for me (more on that later) and this was only the first day!

IMG_0319 IMG_0322

Day Two gave some of us the opportunity to explore some of the tourist stops that London has to offer. It also gave us our first experience on the Tube. I instantly grew attached to the Tube and it became one of my favorite things about London because it can take you anywhere in the city and the idea that it runs miles below the surface and for miles underneath the city is incredible. I’d been on the New York City subway, but it just wasn’t the same as the Tube. The Tube is a really important part of London because it encompasses the majority of public transportation and is 150 years old. This underground train has been taking passengers around the city for an incredible amount of time, this means something to the city and its history. After we got off the tube, we saw Buckingham Palace, which provided us the opportunity to witness the beginning of the Changing of the Guard. Changing of the Guard is the process of the old guards being changed with new guards. It happens every day at 11:30 am from May-July and alternate days for the rest of the year. There’s more information on what the different ranks are and what exactly the process entails on the British Monarchy website and this video about the purpose, history, and significance of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

From there, we went and saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I’ve seen these buildings in pictures and movies for as long as I can remember, but they are absolutely incredible to see in person. It’s a huge, iconic building cluster that is significantly important to the history of London’s political system. It only makes it more astonishing that Westminster Abbey is right across the street, one of the significantly important buildings to the history of London’s religious existence. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. (Westminster Abbey website) Seeing these kind of iconic places is an inspiring experience and was definitely a great start to the entire experience and knowledge of the trip.

IMG_0373 IMG_0381Continuing on that day, we then went to the British Museum, which houses some of the world’s most prized possessions including the Rosetta Stone. What fascinated me most about the British Museum was the incredible architecture of the building itself. The glass roof is one of the most beautiful things I have seen and only further contributes to the Michel Foucault “Space, Knowledge, Power” interview that raises the argument that architecture is space and that it defines places and their histories. The architecture is purely beautiful and I bought a postcard so that I could remember how beautiful this building was. On the inside, I was most intrigued by the sheer number of countries represented throughout it. There are artifacts from so many countries, something that has become kind of a scandal because countries think their artifacts should belong in their own countries. However, there are so many exhibits to look at and so many cultural things that those artifacts represent. I was interested most in the Egyptian mummies and the artifacts from Turkey. It was the perfect first museum to visit as it set the history end of London in our minds.

IMG_0407 IMG_0408 IMG_0427

Day Three brought us to our first day of classes. Our first class was on The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo. What I found most interesting about this book, besides the fact that it is written in verse, is the idea of our national identity. Through the discussion, we we talked about how national identity places a role in spatiality, thus linking both courses and the work we had done so far. From page 148 in the text, Septimus says to Zuleika, “‘If I should die, think only this of me, Zuleika,/ there’s a corner deep/ in Caledonia that is for ever Libya.'” This is a reference to “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke and it means that you take where you’re from with you forever. So while we were living in London for two weeks, there was a bit of the United States in the shape of 14 American people existing in the space with multiple other countries. What has shaped you is brought with you and this defines your spatiality throughout your life.

The next book we discussed was A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. What struck me about this was the idea that it’s fatal to be a poet in a woman’s body in this time period (something that is echoed by Evaristo). Woolf goes on to expand this idea through the metaphor of Judith Shakespeare, an imaginary sister of William. Judith wouldn’t survive as a successful poet in her time period because women were confined by what was expected of them. Another really fascinating point that Woolf makes is the necessity for the androgynous mind. “But the sight of the two people getting into the taxi and the satisfaction it gave me made me also ask whether there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness?… Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine…” And the most significant quote of the entire work, “It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their own sex.” It is important for anyone, but especially writers, to have this creative blending of both sexes in their minds.

Our excursion on that day took us to the Museum of London. This museum was much different from the British Museum in that it has a more modern feel to it. We were fortunate enough to get a private lecture and viewing of actual materials from the Suffragette Movement. It was eye opening and inspiring to see these women fighting for something they believed in, especially in this Victorian time period. This trip was necessary because being able to talk to Beverly Cook was incredible and seeing the actual materials was amazing and helped connect our minds and images to Tracy Chevalier’s book Falling Angels, which we were going to discuss the next day. It is always mind-blowing when we can look at materials from hundreds of years back. But this was more meaningful because this course is about women writers and, being one of the females on the trip, it was meaningful to see these women sometimes physically fighting for rights we have now. In a different exhibit, being able to see Londinium helped us draw images in our minds to The Emperor’s Babe and what the city was like for Zuleika to live in.

IMG_0440 IMG_0448

Day Four had us in class for Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. This was one of my favorite books that we read for this course because it was told from different perspectives and I just found the entire plot incredibly entertaining. I have already made a point to read more of her books. I also loved that a lot of the book took place in Highgate Cemetery. It’s an interesting look at how women occupied this space in this era. For example, the girls, Maude and Lavinia, have the freedom to roam throughout parts of London pretty much by themselves. They are able to roam through the cemetery and areas around their houses. Women were expected to have a certain amount of decorum and etiquette throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, but that all changed a little when Edward VII became king was responsible for modernizations in several different respects. Things changed and women weren’t expected to be the prim and proper representations of themselves that they were when Edward’s mother was queen. This is exemplified in Kitty’s character throughout the entire novel. Kitty felt trapped in her life and was dying for an escape. “I have spent my life waiting for something to happen.. And I have come to understand that nothing will. Or already has, and I blinked during that moment and it’s gone. I don’t know which is worse- to have missed it or to know there is nothing to miss.” (Kindle page 186) This spark wasn’t ignited until she met Caroline Black and joined the Suffragette Movement. She died fighting for this cause and that is something highly respectable. She felt trapped in her role as a mother, a wife, a human. Her skirts were a form of this entrapment and so she liked the short skirt of the Peter Pan costume and the removal of the tights. It was liberating and she liked this change, in both herself and in the world. “What I did feel sharply was the sun and air on my legs. After a lifetime of heavy dresses, with their swathes of cloth wrapping my legs like bandages, it was an incredible sensation.” (Kindle page 301) Reading this kind of novel was empowering as a woman and we were able to envision it more clearly with the talk with Beverly Cook behind us.

Our excursion for that day was to Highgate Cemetery, which was another eye-opening and beautiful experience. I stated earlier, and in several other mediums, that heterotopic spaces really opened my eyes and were the ones that I most enjoyed and this was another stepping stone on my final understanding of those spaces. Highgate Cemetery was unlike anything I had seen. I’m used to the flat cemeteries of the United States and this was on a hill and totally overgrown with beautiful greens. I love ghost stories and I feel like this cemetery was just like walking through a million different ghost stories. This was one of my favorite excursions because of the beauty of the nature mixed with the hardness of the stone and the marriage of the living and dead worlds. It was definitely an important stop because it made Falling Angels real and gave us a better picture of where the girls would play. It also is important to the history of London because in the Victorian era, it was expected that you give your dead the highest and most regal of funerals. This is what people spent the majority of their money on and having the showiest funeral and tomb made you somebody. Burial rituals were greatly important and mourning guidelines were strictly followed. It is here that we can physically see that decline and appreciate the beauty of both past and present.

IMG_0508 IMG_0525 IMG_0522 IMG_0520

When we returned from the cemetery, we talked about Romanticism with McVicker and touched on the works of Keats, Shelley, Browne, and Foucault. Throughout this entire class discussion, it was made clear to me that existence and spatiality was a big deal to these particular men, as their works all touch upon the idea of existing. Browne’s “Hydriotaphia, or Urn‐Burialle” was questioning how to put a mark on human existence if there is no afterlife, no returning to God? Keats’ significance of the urn in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is that it freezes a moment in time and becomes immortal in that respect. Shelley’s “Mutibility” says that only change survives and so staying the same throughout your existence is not practical. We thrive on change. And finally Foucault’s thoughts in “Of Other Spaces, or Heterotopias”, he brings up the idea of two worlds, two levels of spatiality, existing in one space‐ such as cemeteries and museums. It was especially important in understanding Highgate Cemetery and what that space means as a “gateway” for both the living and the dead worlds. This particular conversation stuck with me throughout the rest of the trip and was considerably eye‐opening when we got to Stonehenge.

Day Five had us discussing Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy in class, particularly the poem “The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High”. The main principle of this poem was that the laughter disrupts everything in this school and the traditional modes of study and learning outcomes. These girls are in this school not necessarily to learn, but to prepare to become “daughters, mothers, and wives”‐ a 20th century version of “The Angel in the House”. All of the teachers also have other dreams and ambitions that they are currently not achieving by being teachers at this school and the laughter changes all of that. The teachers realize their dreams and set out to achieve them. This is an important piece of literature because, even today, when equality is stronger, there are still women being trained to just be mothers and wives, not to achieve their own ambitions. Times may progress, but there are still injustices occurring. It’s an important book to this course because of its writer being an important female poet, but also for the content. Women, and people in general, should never be content with what they’re expected to be, it’s a continuation of A Room of One’s Own. However, there is an ending point with the last words of the poem being: “Higher again, a teacher fell through the clouds with a girl in her arms.” (page 54) They all achieved what they set out to do, but there is a limit to their progress. So this poem is hopeful and realistic.

The next book we talked about was The London Scene. Obviously there isn’t a lot that has to be said on why this is an important book in relation to this course and to our learning. The London Scene was the perfect first step into looking at London how it was at the time of Woolf and how that compares to the London we just visited. It’s always an interesting comparison between the two because so much has changed, but at the same time, so much is the same and that is the beauty of London, a connection of the old and the new. London captures the brilliance of old architecture and new glass building and brings those together in a seamless harmony. It was incredible to envision what Woolf saw compared to what we were seeing.

This brings me right into our excursion for that day. Taking a walk through London and seeing the things that Woolf made sure to talk about in her essays was incredible. The churches: St. Paul’s, St. Mary‐le‐Bow, and St. Clement Danes still had the charms that Virginia Woolf talked about, but also were full of modern people. Her words were so spot‐on, even to this day that it’s hard to believe she wrote it starting in 1931. Sitting at St. Clement Danes today has what I can imagine to be the same feel that Woolf felt when she wrote it: a church on an island in the middle of two busy streets. I felt most connected there because it was a small church island surrounded by bustling people and traffic. This excursion is where I learned about the combination of old and new that London celebrates in its architecture. From The London Scene: “Even St. Clement Danes‐ that venerable pile planted in the mid‐stream of the Strand‐ has been docked of all those peaceful perquisites‐ the weeping trees, the waving grass that the humblest village church enjoys by right. Omnibuses and vans have long since shorn it of these dues. It stands, like an island, with only the narrowest rim of pavement to separate it from the sea.” (page 49)

IMG_0548

IMG_0610

IMG_0593

Day Six brought us into discussion of The Mara Crossing. What I found most interesting about this book is how knowledgable Ruth Padel is and how she connects it all together in the end. She starts out talking about cells and biology and how those migrate through the body to birds and animals that risk their lives to cross the Mara River and then to immigration, both legal and illegal and the mere fact that human beings are always moving, always migrating through different places. The most important part of this book, to me, was the very end and the quote, “This modest place embodies Britain over the centuries as a place of sanctuary and new life. It tells the story of a house, a parish and a city whose walls, as we know, were built by immigrants. Very quietly, it shows how multicultural Britain‐ and every modern, multilayered society‐ was made, just as the world was made, by migration.” I’ve quoted this before in other things, but I just think it is so important in relation to mapping Englishness and to this course. London wouldn’t be what it is without migration and that migration starts from seeing a place and falling in love with it and wanting to live there or needing to leave your home. In a way, we took a short migration to London as a school trip, but with the way many of us fell in love with the city, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us made a permanent migration to London in the future. I really liked this book in that it explained the hard biological parts and then the poetry flowed with that. And it all comes back to how people move and what moves us and what shapes the places we live and that comes back to our spatiality.

The next book of the day was Tess of the d’Urbervilles. This was a heartbreaking book, but was important to this course in terms of the time period. We are able to look back to the time Tess occupied space in England and compare it to what we see in front of us in modern times- much like The London Scene. This book was also important in giving us the first inklings of what Stonehenge would be like and why Thomas Hardy chose Stonehenge as the place where Tess is taken in. Another important point that links this to Virginia Woolf is the idea expressed in this novel that if you’re not pure, you might as well be dead, there is no alternative. And this idea is why Woolf attacks the Victorian age. This was such a fragile time for women and this poor, innocent girl takes the brunt of the trauma.

Our excursion for that day was to the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both of these museums were incredibly important for us to see because they’re both another example of a heterotopic space, but also because both museums provide context to the things we’re reading and to what we were supposed to be envisioning as we explored London. The Victoria and Albert Museum holds some of the best examples of rooms that would have existed during old time periods in London. All of the museums we visited are so different that it’s interesting to see what each one brings to London as a city.

Day Seven had us talking about City of the Mind by Penelope Lively. This was an important book, hard to get through, but important because of Matthew’s connections of the modern London that he’s living in and the old London that he can see in the architecture. This continues to combine the ideas of both Foucault articles: architecture defining a space and a space being a heterotopia. “That particular stack of bricks occupied the same space in, maybe 1740. The same bricks, in the same place, looked at by different people.” (page 8) This book is important in looking at London because it does combine the old and the new and will continue to do so throughout the rest of time. 

The excursion of that day was to the Museum of London Docklands. The contest was a brilliant way to encourage people to use the skills they’d been garnering all week to get to the Docklands Museum and win a pint from the professors! I felt comfortable in my experience traveling the city and am honored to say that Courtney and I won. This particular museum though was important to our knowledge because it allowed us to see the history and importance of the docks and what they meant to London. We could envision what Woolf was talking about in The London Scene and what Matthew Halland was talking about in City of the Mind. This was one of the biggest ports in the world at some point and this is incredibly important to the history of London and, thus, imperative that we learn about what made London what it is today.

IMG_0689  IMG_0683

The weekend, Day Eight through Day Nine, brought us to Stonehenge‐ one of my absolute favorite places on the trip. Stonehenge is very significant in London’s history and landscape and being able to experience Stonehenge at sunrise was absolutely mind‐blowing. This is where my understanding of heterotopic spaces clicked into place. While I was standing amongst the stones and experiencing the beauty of the morning, I was able to envision the people who put these stones here and who they were trying to respect and mourn by doing so. We were standing on a plot of land that was the final resting place of these ancient people and so, we were interacting with them and existing in that moment with them. It was through this that I really fell in love and became obsessed with heterotopic spaces and that affects how I look at things now that I’m home. This weekend trip also brought us to Glastonbury where there is even more amazing heterotopic imagery and spatiality. This weekend trip was highly valuable and important to the experience I had on this trip because, like I said before, heterotopias are now something that I’ve become obsessed with thinking about.

IMG_0794 IMG_0963

Day Ten had us right back in the classroom talking about Patience Agbabi’s Bloodshot Monochrome. This particular collection of poetry was really interesting to me because it’s a very contemporary form of poetry and she likes to play with sonnets. Her “Problem Pages” section references poets and literary history and was really interesting to see her play with the combination of historical poets and their issues and advising them through her words and contemporary sonnet form. It would have been amazing to meet her and/or see her perform live because she has such an energy that you can sense in her writing. I think she’s important because she’s a British woman but also because she likes to play with the historical and the modern and that’s what London is all about.

In another chapter of diversity of the day, we talked about The Black Album next. This novel is important because we can see the different cultures that reside in London and call it their home. London is multicultural and through the migration of people from other places and the historical and modern, there is a large amount of diversity present in London and that is where some of its beauty comes from. It’s a city in England that is home to many, many different cultures. There are a lot of radical different people in this novel from Shahid to Brownlow to Deedee. This is a culturally important reminder that London is multicultural and diverse and that is truly beneficial to what the city has to offer.

The excursion of the day was the Mrs. Dalloway walking tour which took us through the mind of Clarissa Dalloway as she prepared for her party. This was a very crucial part of our trip because Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s most recognized piece of literature and it takes us through her walking trip of the city and what she sees throughout her day. We got to see London in context with Mrs. Dalloway and what she’s experiencing as she’s walking. This is important because we can, again, see the merging of old and new through us walking the streets that Virginia Woolf had to while writing this book.

IMG_1052 IMG_1065 IMG_1084

 Day Eleven had us on a trip to Oxford. As I talked about in an earlier blog post, I think Oxford is important to England in terms of garnering Englishness. This was an important trip to us so we could see what exactly education means to Englishness and how we can start to define that. It also was important because Virginia Woolf mentions this and Cambridge (as Oxbridge) in A Room of One’s Own. We can visualize what she was talking about and have a good illustration of what happened here during her time of writing. Also, the buildings of the college are just gorgeous and something that everyone should see. It was also really interesting to drink in pubs that some great minds also drank in.

Day Twelve gave us the opportunity to meet Tamar Yoseloff, the author of Formerly and experience a poet reading their work and talking about the inspiration behind her words. It was particularly interesting to me because I could pick up on a little accent in her speech because of how long she’d been living in London. Being from the United States and assimilating into the culture was amazing to hear in her voice and dialogue. It was also amazing to hear her read her own words in the way she meant them to be read. This collection of poetry was really cool because it talked about abandoned places in London and what those places used to be versus what they are now. This whole blog post is about the changing and staying the same of London and this book just epitomizes that ideology. Being able to see one of the photographs in person was also amazing because we’re seeing what they saw and trying to feel the kind of inspiration that they felt.

IMG_0587That same day we talked about Mrs. Dalloway and were able to see connections between this and other works of Woolf. Sally is the rebellious character who doesn’t want to get married, thus opening Clarissa’s eyes and being a character that Woolf refers to in A Room of One’s Own. This is an important book because Virginia Woolf lived in Bloomsbury, where we stayed, and this was her most famous piece. It was really interesting to see the words on the page and the real places they represented in London while we were on the walking tour. It’s this kind of connection between written word and real life experiences that defines this trip and made it an incredible experience to have.

Day Thirteen had us talking about Saturday by Ian McEwan. This book was interesting because it is something historical that happened in London and was the biggest coordinated day of protest (600 countries) opposing the Iraq War. It is beneficial because it took us around a different part of London through Henry Perowne, who’s trying to navigate the London streets on the day of the protest. There’s also a sense of knowledge and power working together in this novel in Perowne’s character. He knows Baxter has a medical condition and uses that knowledge to his advantage when it comes to confronting him. While this may not have been the best approach, it raises the need for a balance between knowledge and power.

Day Fourteen had me up at five o’clock in the morning and gave me a chance to explore London by myself. It truly was an amazing experience. Up to this point, we had been traveling at least pairs. This was the first moment I had to navigate myself and take everything in. I was comfortable traveling and navigating by myself so it was liberating to have that kind of freedom to see what I wanted to and go where I wanted to go. It was something I won’t forget.

 IMG_1244

That day we also talked about There But For The (and a little the day previously). This was another one of my absolute favorite novels that we read because, again, of the different perspectives and the fact that we only find out about the main character through other people and what they have to say about him. This was a really interesting books because it looks at how everybody is affected by this one man and what he does for the Lees and for the people waiting to see him outside the window. Ali Smith is an incredible writer and likes to play with the form of contemporary novel writing. There is a revelation at the end of each section that leads us to finding out more about Miles and what he means to each character. I truly loved this book and also plan to read more of her work. It was important for our class because she is a female writer, but also because of the playing of structure and the imagery of the Greenwich Royal Observatory. This kind of connection made us able to draw connections between the text and the observatory.

We also talked about Neverwhere  by Neil Gaiman. This book was unlike anything I had read before and was really interesting because it takes place in London Underground. Because I felt this huge connection to the Tube, I loved going back and looking at this book with the places we had already traveled via Tube in our minds and having a clear picture of what London Underground looks like.

Our final excursion was to the Greenwich Royal Observatory. It was really amazing to stand on the Prime Meridian line and see what Ali Smith is referring to in There But For The. It was really interesting to see the blending, again, of knowledge and power and what that kind of knowledge and education means to Englishness. Being that that was where the Royal Astronomers lived is something amazing to think about. And is another kind of heterotopic space in that it houses some of the clocks and collections of those astronomers. It was a really cool place to visit because of this kind of knowledge existing in this space and to see the Prime Meridian and to stand in the east and in the west. This was important to our trip to see more of the history of England/London and what that means to our overall learning experience.

 IMG_1252IMG_1251

This experience was one of the most amazing I have ever had and it was definitely heartbreaking to come home. I fell in love with London and everything about it. Every text, every excursion, every discussion helped me understand the different areas of London and the different meanings of each layer of London. I learned so much and have taken that home with me and so I am viewing things in a different light and asking myself the same questions I asked in London in terms of Englishness and spatiality. This was an amazing trip and I am very honored to have taken part in it.

 

My Learning In London

Flying over Ireland

 

In retrospect sixteen days does not seem that long to be away form home, however it is impressive how much can change in such a short amount of time. This experience has provided me with incredible opportunity to meet new people, and widen my worldview thanks to the texts and excursions that we went on.

This was my first time ever really being in a city. I am from Hamlin New York, were there are more cows than people. In Hamlin people really don’t venture to far out from their yard, or cornfield. Before this trip the most time I had spent in a city was a couple hours in Rochester, which is not to thrilling. Except for a minus a few small hiccups, I now am able to accurately able to navigate a city, not only a city but an international one where there are people from all over the world occupying one space. I found that I loved the tall buildings and the crowded streets. I loved the sense of being anonymous, not having to wave at everyone as I drive down the street. After being in London for that amount of time it was actually heartbreaking to go back home and see the familiar scenes of tractors and corn.

Lauren at the British Library

 

Everything from the first day of arriving in London seems such a blur now, partially because it has been several weeks later and partially because of jet lag. So the first day I was pretty much dead to the world. We ended up having our first excursion, which was a trip to the British Library, this also served as a lesson in navigation. Lauren, Julia, Kate, and I had all made our way successfully to the British Library and waited everyone else to show up. Once everyone was there we did a bit of exploring for ourselves, and looked at the exhibit that housed some very impressive documents from history. This exhibit was the home of the Magna Carta This document was an attempt to limit the king’s power, this was an important first step in  the process of creating a constitutional government. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Carta). For me the best thing about the British Library was the original copies of some of The Beatle’s songs. I personally loved seeing these copies that were hand written and had doodles all over them. Seeing the handwriting of some of the people, like Leonardo di Vinci and John Lennon made these people seem much more real rather than someone we read about in textbooks.

IMG_0338DSCN1968

 

The next day was one of our free days. A small group of us spent the day doing touristy things. This consisted of us venturing off to Buckingham Palace, which we got there in time to watch the changing of the guard. Traveling around the city was the first experience we had with figuring out The Tube. To me it seemed like it was going to be this big and confusing ordeal, I was very wrong. The Tube is very user friendly, which was very good for me considering that I had never really had to worry about public transportation too much before. After the day of exploring London and the Tube we all were required to meet back at The British Museum. The museum was one of the most impressive spaces that I had ever walked into. This location housed so many artifacts it would be impossible to see them all in one day. Here is where items like the Rosetta Stone, Parthone marbles, and several mummies are kept. This museum illustrates the power of the British Empire in its obtaining these artifacts and then the power it has to educate the people.

Day two began our classes. First we discussed Bernardine Evaristo’s Emperor’s Babe. This book is written in prose about Zuleika and her life in Londinium. The novel looks toward  life in Roman Londinium and some of the issues that arise because of the times, like forced marriage and slavery. I enjoyed how much I could connect with Zuleika as a character, the way she carries herself and her wit make her very enjoyable to read. One of the things that I found difficult for me to grasp was imagining what this space would have looked like. I only know a little bit about the Romans, and if I had more time I would have looked up something for me to get a better image in my head what life would have been like when London was under Roman control. This is one of the reasons that it was wonderful to visit the London Museum. The exhibit that they had of Londinuim I found to be very helpful in imagining what the space that Zuleika would have occupied to look like. Another thing that I found extremely helpful was the comparison between modern items and what the Romans would have used. As I stated before I really did not know very much about the Romans before reading this novel, and even afterward my knowledge was still a little shaky, so I found the exhibit to be extremely helpful. It was interesting to see how much of England’s history is based in empire and conquest. It began with the Romans, and you can still see the influence that it has throughout the rest of the city of London.

The other work that we discussed on the first day in McVicker’s class was Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own. This was my first introduction to Woolf. Upon my initial reading it was easy to see that Woolf thought that being a women was a difficult fate for a writer and that women would need there own independence if they were going to have even the slightest success. Woolf stated that  to be a good writer that  individuals should write with an androgynous mind and not let sex play a huge potion into the process. After our class discussion, I noticed more of Woolf’s commentary on women in the public space.

IMG_0693

 

Day three we focused on my favorite novel of the course Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. This novel depicts the shift in times form the Victorian period to the Edwardian era. On Tracy Chevalier’s website she stated that depicting this social change between the two times is what really inspired her to write this novel. (http://www.tchevalier.com). This novel ties in with the ideas that were presented to us the day before in A Room Of Ones Own about how women are allowed to move through and occupy space. An example of this can be seen in Kitty’s morning room in which she totally transforms into a space for the suffragettes, but in the house this is her own space in which she can fully express herself. In this case there is a lot more mobility for the children to move freely through space. An example is when Maude walks alone to see the prison where her mother is kept, “I was going home the other evening through a thick fog when I saw her walking just ahead of me. I’d never seen her in Tufnell Park before. She’s got no reason to come over here- her life goes in other directions, north and west toward Highgate and Hampstead, not east toward Tufnell Park and Holloway. That’s to be expected of a family of that class.” (Chevalier, 200). Between Our two classes we had our excursion to Highgate Cemetery. This allowed for me to get an image in my mind of what Highgate actually looks like. Upon my initial reading of the novel I had imagined a space that resembled Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery with everything spaced out and the gardening to be well maintained. Here that is not the case all of the head stones are in close proximity to one another and the grounds are overgrown in some areas. I found this to be interesting because in the novel Edith Colman has a fit because one of the gravestones near her family plot has ivy growing on it. Edith observes, “As an example of lowered standards I pointed out some ivy form an adjacent grave (not the Waterhouses’) that was creeping up the side  of ours. If nothing is done soon it will cover the urn and topple it. Kitty made to pull it off, but I stopped her, saying it was for cemetery management to make sure other people’s ivy doesn’t grow onto our property.” (Chevalier, 75). This provided some interesting thoughts on space and how the children were allowed to move through it once we actually saw the space. There are several ways that you could read into the children roaming throughout the city unattended, you could read it as they are a part of a changing time and therefore less restricted, or you could read it as bad parenting on allowing the children to roam free.

Later in McVicker’s class we discussed the Romantics, specifically Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces- Heterotopia’s.” A heterotopia is a real place that exists outside of known space, heterotopias also have a function within society. This reading also related to our trip to Highgate because cemeteries are considered a heterotopia. According to Foucault the cemetery is “The cemetery is certainly a place unlike ordinary cultural spaces. It is a space that is however connected with all the sites of the city, state or society or village, etc., since each individual, each family has relatives in the cemetery.”(Foucault, 2).  A cemetery is a place that exists within several different time periods. All over you see reminders of people who have passed on, and there is us as living people observing the reminders of these past people.

IMG_0709 (1)

 

The Feminine Gospels by Carol Anne Duffy was our first look at poetry in our Women Writers course. Even though I have taken poetry courses in the past, it had been  awhile since I last had to sit down and go through a poem for a class. I found it a little difficult at first to get the message of what Carol Anne Duffy was trying to get across. I enjoyed our class discussion that day because it tackled the poem that I had the most difficulty with which was “The Laughter of Stafford Girls High.” What really helped me was breaking into the small groups and tracking the progress that was made by our assigned character. This allowed for me to focus on one thing and not get to bogged down with all of the detail. When all came back together as a group and got to share our ideas about the character is was nice to see how all of these ideas fit together, and then we were able to obtain the larger meaning from our class discussion. In this poem the laughter was initially a form of rebellion. The girls of Stafford High were being trained to become the mother’s, daughter’s, and wives of England. This laughter in the end became a liberator for the teachers who had repressed their sexuality, ambition, etc. This poem questions where is a place that these women can occupy? Some of them found a space, but it confined because of their sexuality. Others reach the limit to their space and they either fall or they continue off into the water.

For our excursion on this day we went on our London Scenes walk. This walk touched on some of the places that Virginia Woolf had mentioned in her collection of essays The London Scene. The London Scene was published in good house keeping magazine and were six essays written for someone living in London to draw attention to the public spaces and make them aware on inner working of locations that they may not have considered in their day-to-day life. Our walking tour focused on three of the locations, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Mary-le-Bow, and St. Clement Danes. Previously, on our way back from The London Museum we had stopped by St. Paul’s but we did not go inside to get an idea of the space. When we came by again for the walking tour St. Paul’s was very overwhelming, there were people everywhere to see this space, and even when we got inside it was still a mass of people and never got quieter than a dull roar. In The London Scene Woolf states, “It is a commonplace, but we cannot help repeating it, that St. Paul’s dominates London. It swells like a great grey bubble from a distance; it looms over us, huge and menacing, as we approach.” Walking through London it becomes apparent that this is a city that has experienced several years of change. All throughout the city there are buildings that are extremely old and then right next to them would be buildings that would be brand new. In London the space is a combination of the old and the new, which was never really apparent until you start walking through it and pay attention. Along this walk we noticed the DUK OF ON sign that was originally the DUK OF GTON in Tamar Yoseloff’s Formerly. 

DSCN1985

 

The Mara Crossing had to be the text that I had the most trouble connecting with. While I may be a little rusty when it comes to poetry, it is nothing compared to my mental block with biology. While I sometimes found the text difficult to get through, our class discussions did really help me. I liked how again we spilt up the sections so we could focus on the smaller portion individually rather than as a whole. This allows for me to focus and not get overwhelmed at the amount of information that I am receiving, because this is a very information based book. Once you get past all of the facts and information that is being thrown your way The Mara Crossing is a story of both human and animal migration and the implication that this migration has on the rest of the world. Reading The Mara Crossing tied into our excursion that day of the visiting the natural history museum. This museum looks at the history of the world in a more scientific way and presents it to the public. This allowed for us to see items like a giant blue whale and dinosaurs. This excursion also tied in with our other reading of City of the Mind by Penelope Lively. In this novel Matthew takes his daughter Jane to see the dinosaurs. Page 77 states, “And so they passed from Permian through Jurassic to Cretaceous. The dinosaurs, roped off, spotlit, frozen in eternal postures, are like objects of reverence in some church or cathedral, past which file the decorous viewers.” (Lively, 77). This museum was very interesting, but it was not my favorite of the places that we visited.  There were too many people and small children running around to properly experience the space.

IMG_0778

 

In McVicker’s class that day we discussed Tess of D’Ubbervilles and how that novel was going to relate to our trip to Stonehenge. In the novel this is the location in which Tess and Angel are finally able to be together, at least for a brief period of time before Tess is captured and then executed. Being in this space allowed for me to experience what Tess did in her final moments. Sunrise at Stonehenge was a truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/

IMG_0742IMG_0762

 

City of the Mind by Penelope Lively was a very frustrating read for me. It was not particularly difficult read, I found the lack of plot very annoying. As well as the end of the novel felt very anti- climatic and just left me feeling frustrated. Our class discussion was useful for me because I realized this was not a book that was written for plot purpose. This was a novel that looked at space and time intersections. In class we picked out these moments and shared with the rest of the class. My favorite one of these moments in the novel is one that I already discussed in the paper earlier. It is when Matthew and Jane go to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs. This is an example because has several different times all playing out in one space, the prehistoric with the dinosaur, Victorian Era with the museum itself, and modern with Matthew and Jane observing what is going on around them.

The Museum of the Docklands relates to this text because this is the area in which Matthew is helping to renovate in the novel. When I had arrived at the Docklands it was like nothing I expected to experience. Because of the novel I had known that the Docklands had changed since the time that Woolf had written about it, but part of me still expected to see the Docklands that Woolf had described, “The banks of the river are lined with dingy, decrepit-looking warehousing. They huddle on land that has become flat and slimy with mud. The same air of decrepitude and being provisionally stamps them all.” (Woolf, 7). When I arrived there that was not at all the case, instead I saw vast glass structures and men in business suits. Visiting the Docklands and the museum allowed for me to remove that image form my mind. This allowed for me to see that London has gone through quite a few changes, and probably will continue to go through these changes. The Docklands shows that London is a city of change and growth.

IMG_0808

 

Over the weekend we took a trip to Stonehenge that also included stops in Bath, Glastonbury, and Salisbury. Looking at these areas it was nice to see more to England than just London. Being in London sometimes you forget that there is the rest of the county to explore rather than just one small location. When we stopped in Bath you were able to directly see the Roman remains that were preserved in this city. This was amazing to see and to think back to The Emperor’s Babe back in the beginning of the trip. Allowing for me to actually to see the history of England and get a connection with its Roman roots. When we arrived the next day in Glastonbury we spent the day looking at England’s roots in myth. We hiked the Tor, also known as the gateway to the underworld. And also viewed the Glastonbury Abby, which is the final resting place of King Arthur. We did not spend much time in Salisbury. We briefly viewed the cathedral and then spent the rest of the time having our round table discussions. This allowed for us all to get a chance to speak and present our ideas to the rest of the class. While I found this to be a bit nerve wracking it was nice to hear what everyone had to say, and get a chance to present your own ideas to the rest of the class.

Bloodshot Monochrome by Patience Agababi was another collection of poetry that we read. I really enjoyed this collection of poetry. This allowed for us to see the diversity within the area of England in which Agababi was writing about. What I enjoyed the most about the class discussion on this day was when we each went up and read a poem. I personally enjoy hearing poetry read aloud, especially in this case when Agababi’s work has such a rhythm and musicality about it. This collection of poetry tied in with McVicker’s class on this day in our discussion of The Black Album. In Bloomsbury were we stayed there is diversity around, but not a lot. These texts that we read allowed for us to see the diversity that a city like London has. London is a place with a lot of people from all parts of the world and you should expect to see things that you are not similar with, like other cultures.

On this day we also went on our Mrs. Dalloway walk. Allowing us to explore the city by walking allows for you to notice so much more rather than taking the Tube. The walk had us experience the day that Clarissa Dalloway had in order to prepare for her party.  It is a truly great experience to explore the city and become familiar with the places that we stay. It is extremely important to at least have an idea of where you are and how to get there.

IMG_0845

 

The next day was our adventure to Oxford. While we were there we toured Magdalen College thanks to a Fredonia alum, Dr. Michael Piret who is the Dean of Divinity. One of the things that I took away form the experience of traveling to Oxford is that England is a diverse place, we have now ventured around the countryside, spent most of our time in London, it was interesting to see another city of England. The other bit that I took away from our trip to Oxford is that a pub is a great way to proof read work, and bond with your professors.

Wednesday was our discussion on Formerly. This was my favorite collection of poetry that we read. I enjoyed the concept of looking at something that was forgotten and giving it some recognition. In class we each read one of these short fourteen lined poems. It was nice to hear these read aloud. For me it allows me to slow down and actually pay attention to the poem when I read it aloud rather than just skimming it. What made this class discussion even more special was the fact that the author Tamar Yoseloff came to discuss and read some of her poems. This allowed for us to hear exactly what Yoseloff wanted us to know about the process of writing, publishing, and the inspiration behind Formerly.

IMG_0850

 

The final novel that we discussed in class was There But For The by Ali Smith. This novel focused heavily on playing on words, this provides extra depth to the novel when you are focusing on the word play. However, when I read this novel I read it originally strictly for plot. When we went through the novel in class and had the discussion on the choice of words, at lot of it was lost to me. The class discussion did point out several of the key things that I had missed, for example that part about Miles and his grandfather, “He said when he was small, Jennifer says, and his grandfather was still alive, his grandfather would have him to the tunes off the soundtrack record he had at his house of the Mary Poppins film.” (Smith, 166).  I must have read that portion of the novel when I was falling asleep or something because I definitely missed that part. Our class discussion pointed out the word play and the portions that I had missed, which helped me out so much.

The excursion to Greenwich Royal Observatory was our final excursion of the trip. There But For The focuses a lot of its attention to the observatory. When I was hiking up the hill my first thought was this was exactly how I pictured the space to be when I read the novel. Greenwich Park is described on page 57, “Mark went the long way, round and up through the woody place, to get to the Observatory, thinking it might be less steep. No, it was still notably pretty steep. He waited to get his breath back sitting on a bench opposite the place where one of the Astronomers Royal had sat down there under the surface, literally inside the hill, it looked like, watching the sky through a telescope.” (Smith, 57). There was so much going on at the observatory that it was a bi overwhelming. My favorite part of going on these excursions that often times the novels we have read take place there. I often attempt to imagine the characters from these novels in the space as it is now.

http://www1.rmg.co.uk/

It is amazing that in only sixteen days you are able to see so much, and change as a person because of it. I am now better at being outside of my comfort zone. London originally was a place that was totally unfamiliar to me, this forced me outside of my comfort zone. Even if this means navigating the tube, answering questions in class, or talking to people in a pub all of these things push me outside of what I am comfortable with. As I get ready to go back to Fredonia I hope that I am able to continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

Work Cited:

Chevalier, Tracy. Falling Angels. New York: Dutton, 2001. Print.

Foucault, Michel. “”Of Other Spaces-Heterotopias” Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias.” SUNY Fredonia Angel. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug 2013.

Lively, Penelope. City of the Mind: A Novel. New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers,    1991. Print.

Smith, Ali. There but for the. New York: Pantheon, 2011. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life. New York: Estate of     Virginia Woolf, 1975. Print.