Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Russell's A Thread of Grace

Last night I finished reading Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace.  I had originally thought I might use this for my LA101, but I obviously took too long to finish it!   It's a beautifully written example of creative non-fiction -- she is bringing to light events in north west Italy in 1943-45 when the Italians managed to hide and protect 43,000 Jews from the Nazis.  I loved Russell's two science fiction books (The Sparrow and Children of God) mainly because of her writing. Characterization is her forte.  The reason it took so long for me to finish this one, though, has something to do with all that characterization.  There are MANY characters in A Thread of Grace and thus many plot lines.  I'm such a sucker for plot, that I have trouble getting drawn into a story that follows too many plots. Plus the Germans keep killing off all the best characters. This is really my problem, not hers, though. And it's such a grim piece of history that it's hard to imagine a plot that coherently follows a single individual in the midst of everything.

Keeping up with scholarship - Tabbloid

I decided my method of reading journals in the field needs updating. It's a pain to keep checking to see what's coming out, and the result is that I feel as though I have fallen behind a little bit in the field. The good news is that quite a few journals have RSS feeds, which makes it easy to subscribe. The bad news is that I'm starting to get too many RSS feeds in my mailbox. I remembered a NYTimes article on this, though, and through it discovered Tabbloid, an RSS aggregator that basically takes a bunch of RSS feeds, turns them into a PDF Newsletter, and emails it out as frequently as you like. The results look something like this (a selection of Renaissance studies feeds here). I think it's a great solution for journals, especially for someone who doesn't want to mess around with RSS readers, etc. Obviously for breaking news I'll still have to use RSS directly.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Whew. Finally an abstract

Here's the text of my abstract for Appositions so far:

“Some Gothicq barbarous hand”: poetry and public policy in Samuel Daniel’s epistle to Prince Henry

In the first decade of the seventeenth century, England’s overseas adventure in the Virginia colony was the subject of a variety of literary attention. Much of this amounted to little more than shameless propaganda, marked by buoyant optimism and a resolute invocation of imperial destiny, the dominant historical metanarrative. Not all literature associated with the Viriginia expedition is part of these well-known public propaganda efforts, however.  There were significant minority opinions such as those expressed by Samuel Daniel in his verse epistle addressed to the heir to the throne, Prince Henry Frederick, a young man just beginning to assume important responsibilities.  Daniel’s poem is unusual for several reasons. First, as a verse epistle addressed to a public figure, it is far closer to dialogue than to panegyric. Second, unlike so many of his peers, Daniel writes a carefully constructed argument against discovery and plantation. And Daniel’s argument works not by refuting the claims of the propagandists but by playing on the implicit fear behind the metanarrative of imperial destiny itself.  The very ease and wealth that were the advertised results of plantation would, Daniel feared, introduce an “asiatique” weakness to an English character already marred by “immoderate humours.” Eventually England’s new empire would fall prey to some savage “Gothicq” race, and America would prove to England as “Asia to Rome.”  Finally, unlike other literary texts in the period, Daniel’s epistle may have had practical results in Prince Henry’s choice of the rigorous Thomas Dale as the next governor of the Virginia colony. Drawing on sources ranging from early modern historians to medical texts, I argue that poems like Daniel’s show the extent to which historical metanarratives, the traditional province of poetic expression, were at the center of literary contributions to public policy.  When early modern English poetry engaged most directly with matters of public policy, it did so at the fault lines of the dominant metanarrative.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A lost day... :(

Today we're hosting a Star Wars marathon party, complete with Bantha Bolognese, trash compactor stew, Miticlorian martininis, and a glorious Death Star cake.  Needless to say, preparations have consumed most of the day.  It's amazing how well the first movies (not the ones with Jar Jar Binks) stand up to repeated viewing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tidying up

A frustrating day, starting with some minor, if astonishing wind damage (photo here). I spent the morning revising our assessment exam for British literature, a painstaking and unrewarding venture, the last real work for the department left (except for interim letters). I did manage to submit the following photo to the Adirondack review for their contest. It's a harvester. I think it looks like a dragon :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thinking about abstract for _Appositions_

The journal Appositions: Studies in Renaissance / Early modern literature and culture has a call for papers on a topic they're calling "Dialogues and Exchanges."  It includes works that answer questions such as,
"how and why do literary works celebrate or challenge cultural narratives?...  what other factors (e.g. audience, gender, identity, occasion, politics) also contribute to the dialogues & exchanges that literary texts invite and receive?"
I didn't hear about this until recently, and the deadline is next week for abstracts, but I'm thinking of perhaps submitting an abstract on a cool manuscript poem by Samuel Daniel.  It's a verse epistle to prince Henry (the one who would have been king instead of Charles I if he (Henry) hadn't died of typhus when he was about 18.  The poem is unique because it challenges the dominant colonialist propaganda that contributed to the Virginia colony. Daniel is telling Henry not to engage in colonial ventures.  It's not really an enlightened position, though, because he's basically afraid that American colonies will breed a dangerous ease of life in the English and kind of ruin their national character.  It actually doesn't depart from the dominant discussions of the issue which always hovered around (sometimes gendered) discussions of ease/hardihood and overcivility/savagery.  But I think it's interesting that Daniel would consider advising the heir to the throne via a verse epistle on a subject like this.  If Henry had lived to be king, and if he had listened to Daniel, history could have been very different.

The manuscript itself is part of the Brotherton MS at Leeds, but fortunately there's a good facsimile and discussion in this book (that I'm getting via Melcat!):

Pitcher, John. Samuel Daniel: The Brotherton Manuscript: A Study in Authorship. Leeds: U of Leeds, 1981. 

Stay tuned for more on this. I need to be done by Tuesday!

Friday, December 26, 2008


Besides setting up this blog, I spent a little time with Shapiro's book on Shakespeare in 1599.  I was struck by how narrow the margin of creativity can be. Shapiro reckons there were 15 active playwrights in London at the time. It seems like a lot for a city of 200K, but on the other hand, it doesn't seem like much between all of Elizabethan drama and nothing at all. I notice that legislation could certainly count as one of the uncertainties about the future, and I suspect that this is an increasingly prominent part of calculations in the period, especially as the succession loomed larger in everyone's minds.   That and the plague!