Posted by: zhiv | September 5, 2011

Resuming Literary Studies: Another Summer of Silence


Maybe I should be getting used to it, and it should be expected. This blog started in January 08, and the summers of 08, 09, 10 and now 11 have all been spotty at best, and this one was a complete blank. The reasons, good and not so good, have been different every time. This year I was ramping up a project in the Spring, and I was fully engaged in it by May and diving down into deep water by June. So I was leagues and leagues under the sea of work and trying to make a movie through July and up until the last week or so, when it started breaking up. And now all of a sudden I’m at the surface, decompressing, suffering from a bad case of the creative and personal bends.

The complete engagement was nice and exciting in its own way, and it’s not even odd, I don’t think, that I read virtually nothing, just a few chapters from an old historical novel that covers the same material as the movie I was working on. I’m a little scared that I won’t be able to pick up the literary crumbs I had left behind and even remember anything at all about what I was working on and thinking about, but of course it’s all here in my notebooks and it should be easy enough. It’s just a matter of choices and what to read and where to engage. I’m back home now and I have time, and I know the reading and the blog are a good thing and they make me happy and I like what I do here and I’m proud of it. I guess it’s especially nice that it can shut down and be put aside for awhile and I can pick it up and come back when I like. It just is what it is, like everything else, and in the midst of a very tough and challenging year I seem to be learning to accept that that is true about just about everything.

So where were we? At the top of the last notebook page is a heading that says “Feminism-Modernism Summer Reading List.” I know that I wanted to take a look at the next wave of books that might be of interest in the joint studies my daughter and I have been unofficially pursuing. I remember now that I had even come up with a good blog handle for her at some point, 152y. Her spring term at Oxford ended in late June and by that time I was in the steep dive down into the deep movie waters, with lots of horrendous travel that has been a big drag throughout the project, so I wasn’t really following along. She got sick at the end of the term–isn’t that the way it always goes: it certainly used to for me, back in my days of youthful scholarship–and she punted a bit on her final paper. But it turned out okay and she’s still working on it, as she’s turning it in, for some kind of credit I suppose, as she goes back to W., the New England college where she will start her senior year in a few days. She spent her entire junior year at Oxford studying English, in case you’re not following along (or I failed to mention it), and she’s going to be doing a Joyce seminar and writing a thesis. And having fun in her last year of college, we hope.

Her program of study has been a great source of discoveries of books and writers that I don’t know, and it’s a relatively dynamic system because I get to skip over the stuff from my own studies that she’s going through. And of course I get to pick and choose and only look at what’s interesting to me, and when I find something good I can follow the path myself, as I was doing with Robert Graves earlier this year. As my own movie crumbles–though it may come back in the Spring–I wonder how the Graves-Riding project, The Laureate, is doing. I must say, it’s funny how I haven’t thought about this stuff in awhile.

I can’t say that I remember what was going to be on the Feminist-Modernist Summer Reading List. It’s worth noting that the Summer 2010 Victorian Novel Reading list that I did, which got a good number of glances, went awry for 152y as she cruised slowly through The Magic Mountain instead. She went through a lot of the books on that list in the winter term at Oxford. The new list was going to be about filling in some of the gaps to prep for the upcoming thesis, and to get a more general view of Modernism. She read Portrait of the Artist and started Proust, and I’m not sure how far she got–almost to the end of Swann’s Way I think. I wasn’t home much. There are probably a few other books besides, and I’ll have to ask her. But it was only 5 or 6 weeks and a lot has been going on. So whatever the list was going to be, it didn’t go very far.

For myself, I have a couple of books at hand to consider and another one to mention. I had a good bookshop day on Sunday the 14th, something I could have written about separately. I picked up a copy of Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, and started reading it. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that Janet Malcolm and her writing about literary biography and psychology is compelling to me, but my introduction to her work was complicated. But I love her tone and pace and topics, her grace and style. And I’ll write about my own backgrounds with Gertrude Stein when I write about the Malcolm book, but I’ll mention here that 152y was quite enamored by Stein and her work last term. I have never been a Stein fan, although her life is clearly compelling, and maybe the Malcolm book will be a good way in.

When I left off I was reading and working on May Sinclair, and I want to continue with that. I was going to read The Tree of Heaven and considered going digital in my last, untyped post. Am still leaning in that direction, but I returned home to find a copy of Sinclair’s The Creators (1910), that turned up somehow–152y and I might have ordered it at the end of June. The copy of The Divine Fire that I read was a reprint, which was upsetting and pushed me towards digital, and this book was unassuming. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a real book, published by the University of Birmingham Press in 2004, and edited by Lyn Pykett.

It gets even better. The book has the heading Late Victorian and Early Modernist Women Writers, and it is part of a series edited by Marion Thain and Kelsey Thornton. This pair writes an excellent brief series introduction, which I might even type out in full–why not?

This series of late Victorian and Early Modernist Women Writers owes its immediate inspiration to a casual grumble from Gail Cunningham. She was regretting that there are many splendid books by women at the turn of the nineteenth century which she would like to be able to teach, but that she was unable to put on her reading lists because her students would not be able to get hold of a copy. Anyone researching and teaching late Victorian and early modernist women writers will recognize this position: how difficult it can be to buy copies of prose texts which have changed the accepted view of literature of the period, and how frustrating that this revolution in the critical world cannot change the syllabuses we teach until good editions of these works are easily available. We decided to do something about it, and have designed a series which intends to bring back into print significant work by important and interesting women of the period, books which have been difficult to obtain but are nonetheless points of reference for those who study the period.

To establish a series of this sort is to make a clear statement about the changes taking place in our understanding of literary history and the place of women writers within it. It recognizes that a significant shift is being made in the way in which we must view not only the work produced in the late years of then nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth century but the critical position from which we understand it. We therefore thought it important to secure as editors critics and scholars whose work ahas figured significantly in assisting and defining this change.

Since one of the reasons for the neglect of these novels and stories is the nature of critical and social prejudices and opinions, we also thought that it was important to ask the editors to provide substantial contextualization, in introductions which should explain not only the importance of the writers for their own day but also for ours, and with substantial suggestions for further reading.

We trust that this group of books will enrich both courses in women’s writing and courses on late Victorian and early modernist texts more generally. The general reader too should find much to interest, amuse and entertain.

And to conclude, reading through Pyket’s intro, the “context” of which is a great way to refresh and resume Sinclair studies, I started thinking about Sinclair’s dates (b. 1863) and how The Divine Fire (next post?) was a hit in America, launching her career and period of success and recognition, and how she did a literary tour in America in the aftermath. And a thought popped into my head: Annie Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett, and Annie Fields’ diary. I turned the page and read “…her own fiction for these years (1908-1914) included the first of the ‘spooky’ stories (as she called them in a letter to Annie Field (sic), quoted by Raitt, 129), which she began writing in 1910…” And there it is, a wonderful overlap–of course Sinclair would have met and befriended Fields and Jewett on her Divine Fire tour. Suzanne Raitt’s biography, May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian (2000) is the place to dig in. I was hesitant to buy it before, maybe because I couldn’t find a cheap copy. Now I need it, and I’m going to check Rita Gollin’s Annie fields index. And go to the gym, working out those bends–but maybe I can get back on track, and I’m getting some time off now, and hope to do some good reading and writing.


  1. Nice to see you back! I’ll look forward to your thoughts on the Malcolm book, which I read and admired earlier this year.

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