Literature and Theatre

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Ethnicity and popular music in British cultural studies

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.

in Across the margins

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.

in Pulp fictions of medieval England
Gender, sexual difference and knowledge in Bacon’s New Atlantis

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.

in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis
Shérazade and other women in the work of Leïla Sebbar

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.

in Women’s writing in contemporary France
Le Bone Florence of Rome and bourgeois self-making

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.

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

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.

in Women’s writing in contemporary France

The enriching and rewarding aspects of modernism (such as myth and self-discovery), as presented in Ford Madox Ford's positive fictions, were the subject of the previous two chapters. This chapter examines which aspects of modernism are manifested in Ford's faith in the act of writing itself – the regenerative or the terrible – and considers Ford's creative dynamic, his techniques and his literary rules for the writing of prose. Using a range of Ford's writing, it addresses the question of which aspects of modernism ultimately hold sway in Ford's oeuvre. The chapter also analyses Ford's theoretical, modernist stances and considers impressionism as well as Ford's position in the modernist subjectivity versus objectivity debate. Concluding with an analysis of memory and its role in the modernist quest, it also returns the book to its beginnings, and a writer who believed in pictures of the past, and the present, and sought to write them, however difficult.

in Fragmenting modernism
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For some, the effects of the Great War seemed to turn time in upon itself, thereby unwinding the clock of human development to a darker age peopled by trench-dwelling brutes who had lost comprehension of what they were fighting over. This ‘throw-back’ concept was highlighted by H. S. Innes of the 23rd Battalion (later 20th), the Middlesex Regiment, whose awareness of the ‘abomination of desolation’ at the front mirrored the bleakness of the ‘conscript country’ that he felt Britain had become. Frederic Hillersdon Keeling is not remembered to any great extent as one of the major figures of the war, but after his death on August 18, 1916, he was mourned by those that had known him as a perfect example of the ‘gentleman-soldier’ and as ‘one of the most remarkable men in the army’. Just as Keeling expressed a moral objection to the introduction of compulsion, D. H. Calcutt of the Queen's Westminster Rifles deplored the general lowering of former standards of morality by which he had fixed his life and values.

in A war of individuals

Sir Gowther is a 700-line narrative probably originating about 1400 in the North Midlands. It is conspicuous for that surface crankiness and drastic speed which are often found in medieval English verse romances. The peculiarity of Sir Gowther is that it focuses key anxieties of society's dominant group at such a pitch as to project a kind of worst-case threat to dynastic stability. The questions that loom dramatically in this narrative concern the state of society as well as the state of the soul. It begins with warnings about the power of the devil. It then introduces a society wedding between a Duke and a bride who seem to have stereotypical credentials for producing noble heirs.

in Pulp fictions of medieval England
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British masculinities, pomophobia, and the post-nation

This chapter starts with a general theoretical investigation into nationalist imageries of masculine and feminine embodiment. It offers a tentative outline of some of the most problematic shifts in the conceptualisation and literary representation of man, self and nation in Britain throughout the twentieth century. The chapter presents a close reading of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, which is to illustrate the syndromic inextricability of masculinist and nationalist discourses within a patriarchal context. It highlights the utopian potentialities of subnational emancipation; at the same time, it questions the ultimate political viability of any devolutionary attempt to move beyond masculinist notions of man, self and nation. Osborne's Jimmy Porter epitomises a crisis in self-authentication that seems endemic to post-war British culture in its entirety. Writing Men, illustrates that there are a number of contemporary British men writers who have become highly self-conscious of the gender-specificity of their writing.

in Across the margins