What happened when George Orwell tried to shoot an elephant? How did a Greek farming manual influence the style of Western literature? Can we ever read a novel in isolation from all the other works of literature that we have read? These were some of the questions explored by postgraduate researchers at the annual Easter Lectures Day, organised by Laura McKenzie.
Hesiod’s Works and Days. Myth, Realism and Every Man, by Nicoletta Asciuto
Hesiod’s Works and Days is exemplary of the literary genre of didactic poetry. Hesiod of Works and Days has been often compared to Biblical prophets Isaiah and Amos, and to the Biblical sections of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, in spite of its apparent references to pagan mythology. This lecture contextualizes Hesiod’s works, and offers a comparison between Homer’s prologues to the Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s to Works and Days. It investigates what has changed from the epic prologue to Hesiod’s more didactic one. Ultimately, the latter’s importance for Western literature is not only due to his mythological tales, but also to his use of realism, and of first-person narration.
The Saracen ‘Other’ in Middle English Romance, by Anum Dada
The theme that defines the majority of Middle English romances is adventure, and the need for the knight to prove himself with chivalric acts. The appearance of Saracens is a common topos of this genre. As most of these romances were written during or immediately after the long Crusade against the Muslims in the Near East, the inclusion of Saracens in the romance was therefore a manifestation of what was viewed as a threat to Christianity. While the Saracen men are demonised, however, the Saracen women are depicted as strong characters who not only help the knightly heroes, but betray their own families. The heroes of the romance are in essence transformed into Christ-knight figures for whom the Saracen women, such as Floris in Beues of Hamtoun, convert to Christianity. Anum Dada considers this two-fold depiction of Saracens and the way in which it reflects the Christian Crusading strategy: to either defeat the Muslims in combat, or convert them.
Text Within Text, by Anne-Marie Dunn
Professor Thomas C Foster states, “There is no such thing as a wholly original work of literature.” The advent and rise of the now established ‘novel’ presented what seemed to be a unique approach which challenged and flouted previous traditional formal conventions. In structure, content and style, the novel and its underpinning realistic philosophy appeared to be entirely ‘new’. But just how ‘new’ can any literary movement or individual work actually be? And what part does a writer’s use of an already existing work of fiction play in the development of realism and realistic literature? Anne-Marie Dunn considers the ways in which a writer can include another text in his work, how these texts are presented and used, and how the inclusion of textual elements impacts upon nineteenth century readers and modern readers.
Women, Science, and the Body in Mid-Victorian Literary Culture, by Siobhan Harper
Drawing on texts such as Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Siobhan Harper explores key issues relating to science, medicine, the body, and the culture surrounding literature and science in the nineteenth century.
Masculinity, Mimicry and the Crisis of Agency in the Colonial Contact-zone: A Study of George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant”, by Avishek Parui
Avishek Parui reflects upon Homi Bhabha’s concept of mimicry in the colonial contact-zone, to explore the history of twentieth-century British imperial masculinity as it was produced and perpetuated for colonial control. The literary theory corresponding to colonial and gendered experience and expectations is interrogated in relation to George Orwell’s essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’, exploring the ways in which the politics of masculinity and masculine performance meant to mimic and conform to the machinery of imperialism.
Dramatising the speaking voice: John Donne and George Herbert, by Amy Smith
Amy Smith provides an overview of the key poetic techniques used by Donne and Herbert to dramatise the speaking voice, ranging from their creation of striking opening statements to the use of direct address and dialogue. She explores this theme through a range of close readings which identify points of interest in relation to tone, diction, imagery, rhythm and form. Amy elucidates the connections between content and technique, pointing out how the sound contributes to the poem’s sense. She draws on aspects of the speakers’ emotional and psychological engagement with questions of love, faith and despair, and the poets’ desire to achieve, through art, a reciprocal relationship with God.