Literature and Theatre

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Pulp fictions of medieval England

Essays in popular romance

Edited by: Nicola McDonald

This collection and the romances it investigates are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives emerge.

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Jonathan Atkin

In summing up one of the main themes of humanistic and aesthetic opposition to the Great War – the friction which existed between the structure of the war-state with its resultant ‘herd instinct’ and notions of the sacredness of the individual – there is perhaps no more apposite personal example than that of Gilbert Cannan, an individual who, like Bertrand Russell, specifically projected his concerns into the public sphere. Cannan, a friend of D. H. Lawrence (who, together with his wife, had moved to Buckinghamshire in August 1914 to be near Cannan and his wife Mary), saw himself as a defender of that which he described as ‘a man's most precious possession’: human dignity. Cannan's description of military service as a test of morality was later echoed by the poet and dramatist Robert Nichols, who wrote that the very essence of war was compulsion by violence or threat of violence, and that such compulsion entailed ‘moral suffering’. This chapter examines the views of Arthur Waugh, Lascelles Abercrombie and Paul Nash about the Great War.

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Nicola McDonald

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that popular romance not only merits and rewards serious critical attention, but that we ignore it to the detriment of our understanding of the complex and conflicted world of medieval England. As an introduction, this chapter offers a short polemical essay that confronts head-on the paradox that informs and ultimately circumscribes all of our thinking about Middle English popular romance. It is divided into two sections that tackle in turn what is at stake in our appreciation and enjoyment of these inescapably popular narratives: romance's status as a socially and aesthetically degenerate form of fiction and its capacity to generate textual pleasure.

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Christopher Morgan

This chapter explores the idea of poetry as autobiography using R. S. Thomas's poem 'This To Do'. 'This To Do' is a good place to start because it falls 'on the cusp', as it were, of Thomas's geographical move and a corresponding intensification of the autobiographical instinct. It is a good start of place also because it says something about what poetry as autobiography is for Thomas. The chapter relies upon Michel de Montaigne's writings in his Essays and on much of the prose work of Seamus Heaney. It suggests specific parallels in the theoretical work of Charles Olson and Wallace Stevens, and in the poetry of Derek Walcott. In addition to these parallels, the author wants also to suggest that Thomas's 'project' in autobiography has much in common with Carl Jung's theories of the subconscious and unconscious as Jung writes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

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Poet of comrades

Walt Whitman and the Bolton Whitman Fellowship

Carolyn Masel

The usual harsh verdict passed on Walt Whitman's later poetry tends to dismiss the bravery involved in the decision, reiterated many times, to go on writing in the face of ever-diminishing returns. The story of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship begins in the 1880s and therefore concerns some of Whitman's earliest avid readers. Paul Salveson himself gave an account of the history of the Bolton Whitmanites that was later published as a pamphlet entitled Loving Comrades. The high point of the discipleship of the two foremost Whitmanites in the Bolton group was undoubtedly their pilgrimage to see the good grey poet in Camden, Dr John Johnston travelling there in 1890 and James William Wallace in 1891. Wentworth Dixon claimed Wallace as Whitman's spiritual superior, since Whitman was, one could hardly help noticing, self-promoting, whereas Wallace was utterly selfless.

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Persuasions to science

Baconian rhetoric and the New Atlantis


Sarah Hutton

The New Atlantis is hardly a hieroglyph of the new learning, but it can be described as 'parabolical wisdom' that gives us a glimpse of the Baconian scientific method in action. This chapter argues that the New Atlantis is less an epitome of Francis Bacon's ideas than a means of persuading others to support his projected reform of scientific endeavour. The rhetoric of the New Atlantis bespeaks the political circumstances of its creation. In The Advancement of Learning Bacon himself notes the importance of amassing 'stuff and variety', or 'that which Cicero calleth sylva and supellex', which logic and rhetoric will 'set forth and dispose'. It was William Rawley who set the mould for regarding the New Atlantis as a blueprint for his scientific programme. In contrast to the haphazard 'unmethodzed' appearance of Sylva Sylvarum, the New Atlantis gives the impression of being a highly controlled piece of writing.

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Sara Haslam

This chapter analyses fragmentation in Ford Madox Ford's Edwardian novel, A Call: The Tale of Two Passions (1910), in what is essentially an exploration of the changing nature of sexual behaviour and sex roles. Sexual radicalism pre-dated the war. The new twentieth century had been named the ‘vaginal century’ before war began. The relationship between the sexes is cited by Samuel Hynes, Peter Gay and George Dangerfield, amongst others, as one of the extreme indicators of cultural upheaval in the Edwardian era. A Call investigates the repression of instincts, mental breakdown and the new threat of the ‘New Woman’. The codes of behaviour and the personal perspectives (of sex and society) which Ford takes as his subject matter in this novel were further and more conclusively fragmented by the sustained bombardment that was World War I.

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Paper margins

The ‘outside’ in poetry in the 1980s and 1990s

Linden Peach

Poetry emanating from what a few decades ago would have been deemed 'the margins' has become the major focus of publishing houses, journals and criticism. This chapter discusses the trends in poetry and poetry criticism in the 1980s and 1990s. The poetry scene has changed since the publication of British Poetry Since 1970, in which Blake Morrison stereotyped the published poet as writing from a 'nostalgic liberal humanism' with 'strong respect for "traditional" forms, even strict metre and rhyme'. The most overlooked feature of the Scottish poet Robert Crawford's work is that he is not simply investigating Scottish history from a variety of perspectives but exploring how modern forms of power produce discourses and knowledge. The importance of resisting received notions of nationality, as well as unified concepts of gender, have become increasingly recognised in poetry criticism.

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Our Nig

Fetters of an American farmgirl

R.J. Ellis

Harriet Wilson's Our Nig was identified as a double first, the first African-American novel published by a woman and the first African-American novel published in the USA. The words 'fruitful' and 'embellished' are the ones in the whole of Wilson's apastoral novel that might be held to acknowledge the pastoral tradition. The novel articulates a young female farm servant's class position and lack of agency. Our Nig offers up a similar arrangement: the Bellmont family, particularly Mrs Bellmont and Mary, 'direct' Frado's farm labours. Our Nig's grim economics, whilst rooted in the particular racist constructions of American life, forcefully exposes the labour intensive side to farm life, otherwise so perfidiously omitted from pastoral discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. Wilson's text, like Jefferson's or Crèvecoeur's, represents farmers as 'free' to supervise, aligning all their writings with Harriet Martineau's portrait of Brooke's Sir Harry, 'going rounds amongst the labourers'.

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Jerry Weinberger

Francis Bacon's New Atlantis depicts the world to be produced by his famous project for modern science and technology and the consequent mastery of nature and 'relief of man's estate'. As depicted in the New Atlantis, the modern project is crucially dependent on two fundamental miracles: the miracle of creation and the miracle of divine revelation. Divine providence assumes that the good for man is a selfish good and that even self-sacrifice is ultimately selfish. In Bensalem, what could well be a noble lie told by scientists lends scientific credence to a miracle that could have been fabricated by the scientists themselves. As Bacon says, 'God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it.' In The Advancement of Learning, Bacon says that natural theology is the 'knowledge of God that can be had by contemplating God's creatures'.