Monday, 4 February 2013

Feminist Turning Points

Earlier today, Robert McCrum published 'a provisional, partisan list' (his description) of key moments in English literature. Distressingly, for me, only seven of these 'moments' involved women writers. Has feminism all been in vain?

In reply, @neurotaylor and I have devised an alternative, all-female list, which I append. (The women/texts in red are those also mentioned by McCrum.) Not all the women included on the list are English and Julian of Norwich, our first inclusion, predates McCrum's first 'moment' (the death of Christopher Marlowe) by 200 years. Our list is not intended to be like-for-like. Nonetheless, it makes a point.

Update: 12 February. Robert McCrum has now published a new list, consisting entirely of women writers. It's generated some comment, which is great to see. No list is ever going to please everyone, and there have been many more than 50 important books by women over the centuries. Further suggestions very gratefully received!

1.      Julian of Norwich: Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love (c. 1393; thought to be the first book written in English by a woman)
2.      Christine de Pizan: The Book of the City of Ladies (1405; this courtly French poet wrote about women’s roles and emphasized their positive contributions to society)
3.      Margery Kempe: The Book of Margery Kempe (1436; women can do autobiography)
4.      Mary Sidney: Psalms (c. 1599; her paraphrases of the Psalms were as good as or better than her brother Philip’s)
5.      Margaret Cavendish: The Blazing World (1666; women can do science-fiction, long before that term was invented)
6.      Lucy Hutchinson: The Life of Colonel Hutchinson (c. 1673; women can do biography)
7.      Anne Bradstreet: Severall Poems (1678; Bradstreet is often called ‘the first American poet’)
8.      Aphra Behn: Oroonoko (1688; pioneering playwright and poet who showed that women can make a living from writing)
9.      Mary Astell: A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694; Astell advocated a university for women)
10.  Anne Finch: The Spleen (1701; a pioneer woman writer on mental illness)
11.  Charlotte Lennox: The Female Quixote (1752; women can do satire)
12.  Elizabeth Carter: All the Works of Epictetus (1758; women can translate the classics)
13.  Mary Wortley-Montagu: The Turkish Embassy Letters (c. 1761; women can do travel writing)
14.  Catherine Macaulay: The History of England (1763-1783; women can do history)
15.  Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)
16.  Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794; women can do Gothic fiction)
17.  Maria Edgeworth: Castle Rackrent (1800; invents the regional novel in English)
18.  Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (1813)
19.  Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818; women can do enduring horror stories)
20.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Cry of the Children (1842; this poem helped bring about reforms to child labour in England)
21.  Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (1847)
22.  Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre (1847; set the pattern for many a romantic novel)
23.  Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
24.  Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South (1855)
25.  Florence Nightingale: Notes on Nursing (1859; women can do medicine)
26.  Mrs Beeton: The Book of Household Management (1861; women can do really popular cookery books)
27.  Julia Ward Howe: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (1861; women can do political propaganda)
28.  George Eliot: Middlemarch (1871)
29.  Edith Sitwell: Façade (1922-3; women can do surrealism)
30.  Emily Dickinson: Complete Poems (1924; women can do poetry)
31.  Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own (1929; women can be revolutionaries)
32.  Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth (1933; women can do war memoirs)
33.  Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express (1934; women can do detective fiction, and how)
34.  Rebecca West: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941; women can do travel writing)
35.  Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (1949; women can do philosophy)
36.  Iris Murdoch: Under the Net (1954; this prolific philosopher-novelist showed how varied a woman’s writing can be)
37.  Rachel Carson: Silent Spring (1962; pioneering and vastly influential work of environmentalism)
38.  Doris Lessing: The Golden Notebook (1962; women can chronicle political and social change)
39.  Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar (1963; women can write starkly about mental illness)
40.  Germaine Greer: The Female Eunuch (1970; feminist bestseller)
41.  Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber (1979; women can do dark things with fairy tales)
42.  Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985; women can do dystopian fiction)
43.  Jeanette Winterson: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (1985; lesbian fiction goes mainstream)
44.  Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987; women can reshape American fiction)
45.  Pat Barker: Regeneration (1991; women can do war fiction)
46.  Kay Redfield Jamison: An Unquiet Mind (1995; women can do psychiatry)
47.  JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
48.  Catherine Millet: The Sexual Life of Catherine M. (2002; women can write explicitly about sex)
49.  EL James: 50 Shades of Grey (2012; women can do soft as well as hard porn)
50.  Hilary Mantel: Bring up the Bodies (2012; women can win prizes. Even the Booker. Twice.)

Friday, 19 November 2010

A plagiarist speaks

Monday, 25 October 2010

What am I Doing This Week?

The biggest single item in my diary this week is an assessment workshop in London. I’ve been booked on to this event by virtue of my new role as Head of Education for EDACS, and will be joining four other participants from the Colleges of Arts and Law and Social Sciences. The workshop is a good opportunity for us to find out about innovative and productive assessment methods in the humanities: e.g. non-essay-based forms of assessment. In practical terms, however, the workshop with take a day and a half (including travelling time) out of my normal working week, adding extra pressure to the days when I’m still in Birmingham. (I’m really grateful for the understanding of my Voicing Women student, who agreed to move our seminar to Monday morning in order to avoid a clash.)

I’m hoping to use the travelling time efficiently by doing at least some of the following:

· Preparing notes for my first-year lecture on early modern rationales for writing

· Writing a review of The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing and the Orlando Project website for the journal Renaissance Quarterly. Renaissance Quarterly is one of the leading international journals on early modern studies, and it was an honour for me to be asked to contribute to it. Reading The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing has helped me to keep up to date with recent developments in my research field, and the comparison with the online Orlando resource has given me food for thought about the future of paper- and web-based academic scholarship.

· Reading Virtue Rewarded, or The Irish Princess (1693). This little-known novel (did Richardson know if it, I wonder, when he subtitled Pamela?) is set in Ireland during the Williamite wars of the late 1680s and early 90s. It’s of interest to me as it’s relevant to a chapter I’m currently writing on the Anglo-Irish poet and translator, Mary Monck. This new paperback edition has only just been published, but will be much easier to read than EEBO pdf images, which is what I’ve had to work from up to now. (Though with the clue – ‘Virtue Rewarded’ – in the title, I won’t exactly be kept in suspense about what happens to the Irish princess!)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Reviving This Blog

I've felt rather conscience-stricken over the past few months -- actually, ever since I finished Bill's course last year -- about how little I've been doing with this blog. I haven't quite known what I could usefully be doing with it, especially since so many of our number now meet and chat on Twitter. But now I've had an idea.

I've been thinking hard over the past few weeks about what we can do in response to the student satisfaction agenda. This is clearly an issue which is going to become even more pressing over the next few years, as fees increase and humanities departments such as our own come under more and more pressure. It's also clearly not the kind of problem which is amenable to being 'solved' in any straightforward way. But there are things we can do.

One thing I plan to experiment with over the next few weeks is using my office notice board a bit more imaginatively. Colour. Pictures. Chat. Something very like blogging, in fact.

I haven't quite worked out all the details, and one thing I'm especially concerned about is how long this activity is going to take. So it may prove to be a rather shortlived experiment. But I'm planning to start this week, and will hope to merge the hard-copy blog with this online version. So you may soon start seeing more activity on this site. Well, maybe.

Monday, 18 October 2010


Just a few weeks ago a colleague (whom I won't name) made the case that as university teachers we shouldn't be taking plagiarism so seriously. 'Plagiarism is a useful life skill,' went the argument. 'We aren't actually doing our students any favours by taking such a draconian attitude towards it.'

Here's an interesting articulation of a very different point of view:

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Staging Post

A colleague and I went out to dinner last night to celebrate the end of one more batch of marking. This is the picture she took of our marvellous Italian puddings! The torta della nonna (at the back) was mine, and every spoonful was delicious.

This doesn't mean that the marking is over, at least for me, but the end is in sight. And with such generous-spirited and convivial colleagues, the whole process is rendered considerably easier.

I am now, however, back in my office, and am about to get busy with the next marking task. It's the hardest one of all, but in a week's time -- I tell myself! -- it really will be over.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Research and Exams

As some of you already know, I spent 10 days earlier this month at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. The Folger is a familiar name to anyone working in early modern studies, especially literary studies, and perhaps the real surprise is that this was my first visit. But, oddly, this year is the first time I've needed to work directly on Folger manuscripts, and thus have been able to make a cogent case for research funding. A successful application to the British Academy was critical in making this visit possible.

One of the hardest things in organising this visit was choosing the right time for it. The money all had to be spent between July 2009 and June 2010, and because of other commitments the two most obvious times for the journey -- last September and the Easter vacation -- weren't possible. As a result, it was very difficult to find a 10-day period when I could reasonably be away from the department. The time I identified fell between the start of the summer term, when I had to hold a revision lecture and several seminars, and the start of the exams. I was concerned in advance about whether it was really a good idea to be away from the university during this rather tense period.

My view now -- having come and gone, survived the volcano and coped with all those anxious student questions -- is that I could hardly have been away at a better time. Being so far away, and on a funded trip, meant that time which otherwise might have been spent inefficiently on email and admin had to be stewarded for research. I also don't underestimate the beneficial effects of Washington sunshine just before the stressful exam period. I'd recommend it (or the equivalent) to anyone.