Literature and Theatre

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Christopher Morgan

This chapter begins with an examination of the philosophical grounding for R. S. Thomas's 'religious poetry' as found in his 1966 article 'A Frame for Poetry' and in his 1963 'Introduction' to The Penguin Book of Religious Verse. It then examines Thomas's 'mythic' poems by focusing on the 1972 collection H'm. The H'm begins with its opening poem, 'Once', which features all of Thomas's mythic elements. Having examined 'Once', the chapter discusses some of these poems in order to underscore their alternating emphases and conclusions and to encourage a view of Thomas's mythic poems not as static or repetitive but as creating. A sequential comparison of these poems indicates a pattern with regard to Thomas's depiction of deity which goes on to alternate between divine violence and divine compassion. The poem finally ends in a curious synthesis of all of these characteristics.

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Textual mirrors and uncertain reflections

Gender and narrative in L’Hiver de beauté, Les Ports du silence and La Rage au bois dormant by Christiane Baroche

Gill Rye

Christiane Baroche was acclaimed in France first as a short-story writer, although, her œuvre as a whole now comprises not only short stories but also poetry, novels and essays. Baroche's first novel Plaisirs amers was published in 1984, but it was her second L'Hiver de beauté, first published in 1987, that really marked a new departure in her writing career. In the two later novels Les Ports du silence and La Rage au bois dormant, the literal Venetian mirror of L'Hiver de beauté has completely given way to complex systems of textual mirroring. As in L'Hiver de beauté, narrative uncertainty is a prime player and it impacts on the portrayal of gender in similar ways. Deeply implicated in the construction of identity, the effects of the mirror motif are multiple, operating, in all these novels, in particularly creative ways on the representation of gender.

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Temporary virginity and the everyday body

Le Bone Florence of Rome and bourgeois self-making

Felicity Riddy

The earliest surviving representation of an English bourgeois family at prayer appears in a fifteenth-century book of hours, now known as the Bolton Hours, made for members of a York mercantile family. The family's whole prayer, cast as it is in that form of the future that imperatives bring into being opens up a space for narrative. The family is represented around the issue of sexual conduct and good name of its female members. There was more than one late-medieval discourse of virginity. On the one hand, virginity was represented as a sacred vocation that was placed highest in the triad virginity-widowhood-marriage. This way of categorizing female sexuality had been a commonplace of Christian thought since the fourth century.

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The subversion of the gaze

Shérazade and other women in the work of Leïla Sebbar

Margaret A. Majumdar

Of mixed Franco-Algerian parentage, Leïla Sebbar spans a variety of genres in her writing, including short stories, journalism, essays, children's writing and contributions to collaborative works, including collections of visual material. Images constitute a rich thematic seam running through all of Sebbar's books, where they feature in different ways. They may be official markers, for identification purposes, as with the hostages in Le Fou de Shérazade. Sebbar often uses the unmediated gaze to convey something about a particular moment in a personal relationship. Her recent work, such as Soldats, is marked by a preoccupation with war and the images are used to represent conflicts, wherever they may be. The subversion of the gaze is just one stage in the process of self-determination, but none the less a crucial part of Sebbar's complicated textual universe.

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‘Strange things so probably told’

Gender, sexual difference and knowledge in Bacon’s New Atlantis


Kate Aughterson

This chapter raises few theoretical issues about the New Atlantis, Francis Bacon's epistemology and its link to gender and sexual difference. It aims to re-historicise the marshalling of gender in the New Atlantis. The chapter argues that the structural placing of gender issues crucially determines our interpretations. It then assesses Bacon's literal and symbolic use of gender difference in the light of his utopian discourse. Bacon uses a consistent rhetorical technique for the inversions: travelogue narrative conventions, followed by a shift of perspective through purportive new eye-witness evidence. By masculinising what is usually female, Bacon continues to displace the Euro-centric construction of the relationship of man to land, and additionally asserts the island's impenetrable status. The Baconian parallel between children and technology offers an additional symbolic frame for sexual reproduction in Bensalem.

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Judie Newman

Sunny Memories was written after Harriet Beecher Stowe had been made aware of the charges against the Sutherlands. The Duchess of Sutherland had entertained Stowe lavishly on her visit to Britain, presenting her with a gold bangle in the shape of a slave's shackle. Having written off the Highlanders as barbaric remnants of a past age Duchess sketches the future in an account of a visit to cottages at Dryburgh. Letter XVII is entirely devoted to a defence of the Duchess, with Stowe extolling the 'improvements' in the estate, detailing the mileage of new roads, the number of banks, and even describing the complete conversion of the inhabitants to temperance. John Prebble described Stowe as ignorant of the facts of both the Clearances and slavery, and dismissed Uncle Tom's Cabin as wholly inaccurate.

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Ad Putter

The romance of Sir Percyvell of Gales was probably composed in the north of England early in the fourteenth century but obviously enjoyed widespread popularity in medieval England. This chapter notes that the Percyvell-poet is a master of the proairetic code: he is clear about where the story is going, and makes sure that we are clear about it too. In the fourteenth century, however, Percyvell owed most of its popularity not to being read, but to being told and re-told, possibly from memory. The discussion of the poet's reshaping of his source is in two sections. The first deals with the Percyvell-poet's ‘unscrambling’ of Chretien's plot, and considers how this affects the mood of the story. The second deals with the poet's happy ending and asks what makes it, in all senses of the word, fulfilling.

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Special relationships

Anglo-American affinities and antagonisms 1854–1936

Edited by: Janet Beer and Bridget Bennett

This book addresses the special relationship from the perspective of post-Second World War British governments. It argues that Britain's foreign policy challenges the dominant idea that its power has been waning and that it sees itself as the junior partner to the hegemonic US. The book also shows how at moments of international crisis successive British governments have attempted to re-play the same foreign policy role within the special relationship. It discusses the power of a profoundly antagonistic relationship between Mark Twain and Walter Scott. The book demonstrates Stowe's mis-reading and mis-representation of the Highland Clearances. It explains how Our Nig, the work of a Northern free black, also provides a working-class portrait of New England farm life, removed from the frontier that dominates accounts of American agrarian life. Telegraphy - which transformed transatlantic relations in the middle of the century- was used by spiritualists as a metaphor for the ways in which communications from the other world could be understood. The story of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship is discussed. Beside Sarah Orne Jewett's desk was a small copy of the well-known Raeburn portrait of Sir Walter Scott. Henry James and George Eliot shared a transatlantic literary network which embodied an easy flow of mutual interest and appreciation between their two milieux. In her autobiography, Gertrude Stein assigns to her lifelong companion the repeated comment that she has met three geniuses in her life: Stein, Picasso, and Alfred North Whitehead.

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Sounding out the margins

Ethnicity and popular music in British cultural studies

Sean Campbell

This chapter considers the ways in which Britain's multi-ethnic margins have been handled in British cultural studies, and particularly that strand associated with the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. It also considers popular music as a case study to explore the field's reception of immigrant-descended cultural practitioners, focusing specifically on its treatment of second-generation Irish rock musicians. The chapter re-examines Dick Hebdige's Subculture, a formative endeavour in the field's engagement with questions of race, ethnicity and popular music. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that many second-generation African-Caribbean and South Asian musicians have expressed particular concerns about the racial connotations of Britpop. Britpop's incorporation of the descendants of post-war Irish Catholic labour migrants suggests that its principles of exclusion were determined less by the historical fact of having an immigrant background, than by a discursive conflation of race and nation.

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Sir Degrevant

What lovers want

Arlyn Diamond

According to Sir Degrevant, an early fifteenth-century romance with a lively plot and remarkable density of description, what women want is a handsome, valiant, wealthy and noble lover, triumph over fierce paternal opposition, a splendid wardrobe, and a fabulous room of their own. Degrevant is written in the sixteen-line tail-rhyme stanza often characteristic of popular romances, and, although it has no identifiable main source or close analogues, it also incorporates a number of conventional thematic and verbal formulas. It argues that the term landowning class tends to occlude women's social and cultural activities. In the getting and maintaining of wealth and power, a particularly demanding task in the political and economic upheavals of the fifteenth century, the making of marriages was a way of brokering alliances and providing for the orderly transfer of wealth.