...you can always turn them into art. Exhibit A: Tom Phillips' "treated" Victorian novel, A Humument. The author getting the treatment was W. H. Mallock, whose The New Republic is online. More on A Humumenthere; an arts-and-crafts store offers a brief explanation of altered books.
There are interesting discussions going on at Leiter Reports about if, when, and where graduate students should publish and, on a related note, which philosophy journals are "responsible." (There's more on the latter issue here.) In English studies, at least, there are all sorts of fantasies about what the "typical" aspiring junior faculty member's CV looks like. Thirty articles! A book contract with Yale University Press! Her very own fan following, complete with newsletter! (Er, you're confusing AJFM with Judith Butler.--Ed.) From both my own experience on search committees and what I've gathered from friends at other schools, these fantasies (or more moderate versions thereof) have little to do with what actually shows up in the search pool. Book contracts? Almost never, unless AJFM has been holding down a visiting professorship somewhere. Book reviews? Perhaps a couple, more if--once again--AJFM is not fresh out of the graduate school oven. Conference presentations? Often plentiful, but I'll go out on a limb and suggest that they're often too plentiful, especially if they haven't been revised into something more substantial. (A former professor of mine once suggested that it's a good idea to keep a ratio of one article for every three or four conference papers; otherwise, it looks like you're just scattering ideas around like rice at a wedding.) Encyclopedia or other reference entries? Usually one or so. Articles? At least one, maybe two, rarely three--again, more for someone who has been teaching for a bit.
That being said, the ugly truth of the matter is that there is no agreed-on standard for "how much is enough." People can get hired at Research I campuses with no publications whatsoever, but get tossed out of a "lesser" school's search pool for precisely that reason. A campus with a 5-5 teaching load may look askance at someone who has already knocked out four articles, while one with a 3-3 may be pleased. Publishing a seminar paper that's out of your field may earn your brownie points over here, but eliminate you over there. Nevertheless, most search committees don't expect or even want a graduate student who has already been responsible for the death of several trees, especially if said graduate student has published in journals with poor or non-existent reputations.
Now, "should graduate students be publishing?" is an entirely different question altogether. In an ideal world, my answer, in fact, would be "not until they're near the end of their dissertation research." (Before you ask: no, I didn't publish anything as a graduate student, although I did attend a couple of conferences.) This isn't an ideal world, unfortunately, and efforts to alter the current state of affairs don't seem to be catching fire.
Survivors of C 18-L's loooong thread on the Marquis de Sade will no doubt be champing at the bit to see this script get the green light from a major Hollywood studio. While you're there, do read through the entire site--it's a scream. (A tip of the poisoned hat to Metafilter.)
And, while you're at it, could you do us all a favor and spare us from yet another onslaught of bad adaptations of A Christmas Carol?
Yes, yes, I know: clearly, I'm Scrooge. Bah humbug, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. (Wrong musical.--Ed.) Dickens has often been credited with inventing Christmas as we know it, and so I suppose that, at this time of year, there's no escaping the Ghost of Novelists Past. Still, I do wish people would at least go back and read the original, which, while often sentimental as charged, is also genuinely bleak. The terrifyingly wizened children hidden under the Ghost of Christmas Present's cloak; Jacob Marley's falling jaw; Scrooge's death--these things are all truly spooky. It's a ghost story, after all; it's OK to be scared. (We tend to forget that the Victorians associated ghost stories with Christmas instead of Halloween.)
As I'm sure my gentle readers have gathered by now, I spent part of the evening avoiding rough drafts by watching the most recent A Christmas Carol (adapted from the annual Madison Square Garden production). On the bright side, most of the adult performers had musical theatre backgrounds, which meant that viewers didn't have to cover their ears--or, at least, not very often. "Want" and "Ignorance" were actually pretty unnerving to look at. (That's a "bright side"?--Ed.) Everybody projected Christmas cheer. And...and...and that about exhausts the bright side. On the dark side, those were truly uninteresting musical comedy numbers, in every respect. The poor Ghost of Christmas Present (Jesse Martin) was especially ill-served by both his awkwardly-staged number and his costume, although Marley (Jason Alexander) wasn't much better off. Besides being too clean (literally), the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence packed no punch at all; unless you're Sondheim, perhaps it would be a good idea to refrain from doing song-and-dance numbers about graveyards. And the Cratchits made little impression. I somehow don't think this film will replace either the Alastair Sim or Albert Finney versions.
I went looking for Victorians in the list's top 100 spots. In terms of rank, pride of place goes to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland at #9. Charles Dickens occupies the #25 spot with A Christmas Carol, with Robert Louis Stevenson and Treasure Island following closely on his heels in #26. Dickens next pops up on the list with A Tale of Two Cities at #42, followed by Great Expectations at #53, Oliver Twist at #67, and David Copperfield at #71; Stevenson, meanwhile, reappears with Kidnapped (#83). Just behind them: Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (#29) and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (#30). Rudyard Kipling finally pops up with the Jungle Book (#72), no doubt running frantically from Bram Stoker's Dracula (#78). And Anna Sewell sits in #82 with Black Beauty.
Six of these thirteen novels/short story collections could be comfortably classed as children's stories. Except for David Copperfield, they are all relatively short--relative, that is, to the Victorian triple-decker, although a number of them are just short, period. With five novels in the top 100, Dickens clearly runs the Victorian roost.
Where are the other heavy-hitters of Victorian fiction, then? Thomas Hardy first appears with Tess of the D'Urbervilles (#112); George Eliot with Silas Marner--which, I've got to say, is absolutely deadly if you're trying to introduce anyone to Eliot's work (#159); Oscar Wilde with The Picture of Dorian Gray (#172). Poor W. M. Thackeray finally gets his say in with Vanity Fair, which is at #373. But he's doing better than Anthony Trollope, stuck in #500 with Barchester Towers.
Is anybody reading Victorian poetry these days? Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King squeaks by (#584). Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese appears much further down (#854)--but at least she's on the list, which is more than her husband can say. No Arnold, no Swinburne, no Rossetti (either one).
I remain fascinated by the almost total refusal of those interested in academic freedom issues to discuss matters like these (CoHE, reg. req.). To quote a post of mine from a few months ago, with some relevant links:
Religious colleges seem to be the elephant in this particular room. Intellectual diversity arguments presume that students should have the option of encountering reasonably unconstrained positions in the classroom. This presumes that institutions are themselves relativist (or is that the right word?) intellectual spaces, in which the instructor's ideological or theological opinions are open to debate but not to censorious action. But religiouseducatorsdon'tnecessarilyhold this position; indeed, Richard Neuhaus has proposed that religious colleges model a completely different kind of pluralism. The religious arguments justify a moderated version of academic freedom while taking secular versions into account, whereas the intellectual diversity position asks for absolute academic freedom without taking the religious campuses into account. That is, intellectual diversity arguments presume secularity and mostly elide alternative models of higher education. Can anyone point me to (or can anyone make) an intellectual diversity argument that encompasses both secular and religious colleges? (Without, that is, resorting to "Um, they're different." If you start from the presumption that intellectual diversity in and of itself is a necessary good for college students, they you've got to explain why it isn't a necessary good for college students at all campuses. Or perhaps it's time for a different definition of intellectual diversity.)
Over the past few years, I've stumbled across more than one reviewer swooning over Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander mysteries. And so, a few weeks ago, I was pleased to discover a few Wallanders lurking in a remainders shop. One of them was the first in the series, Faceless Killers (1991; first US pub. 1997). Needing a break from Victorian Lollard novels, I picked it up this afternoon and prepared to swoon.
No swooning ensued.
There's nothing wrong with the novel's content, to be sure: Mankell's protagonist broods anxiously over rising criminal rates, inept government flunkies, and (in this novel, most importantly) the rising tide of immigrants and refugees. National decay is, I suppose, always good for the detective business. The mystery itself is moderately interesting, involving multiple unpleasant murders and a number of red herrings; moreover, Mankell refuses to tie everything up neatly at the end. In this world, some things must remain painfully inexplicable. Mankell delineates the main characters cleanly and sympathetically (although the grimly suffering Rydberg is, in some ways, more interesting than Wallander).
So far, so good. But I found it hard to resist groaning with dismay once I realized that Wallander was an overweight, divorced, and grouchy opera-lover with family issues and a pretty wretched way with the ladies. Haven't Colin Dexter and Ian Rankindone this routine already? (And a lot of other novelists, come to think of it. Mankell at least has the wry grace to acknowledge this: "Sometimes, when he read a crime novel, he discovered with a sigh that things were just as bad in fiction. Policemen were divorced. That's all there was to it" .) Groans stifled, so as not to annoy other people in the coffee shop, I then ran aground on a different problem: the prose. One has to be cautious when discussing a translation, but even so, this novel was terribly flat. Mankell appears to believe in the power of the terse sentence. Here's a typical and random example: "It had been a day of waiting. In the intensive care unit the old woman who had survived the noose was fighting for her life. Would they ever find out what she had witnessed on that appalling night in the lonely farmhouse? Or would she die before she could tell them anything?" (23) The entire novel adopts this combination of short paragraphs and simple sentences. This approach is not necessarily deadly; Joseph Hansen's moderately Hemingwayesque style, for example, crackles and bites. Reading Mankell, however, reminded me of a review of Isaac Asimov that I saw about fourteen or fifteen years ago: the reviewer dourly observed that reading Asimov was akin to the experience of eating unbuttered popcorn. Mankell's prose is...serviceable; it's not particularly memorable.
Sentence structure aside, Mankell does too much of something else on view in that excerpt: he explains everything. The rhetorical questions, intended to create suspense, simply feel clunky and obvious. And then we have this sort of thing: "There he had written her long letters, which he had later torn to pieces and strewn out over the sea in a symbolic gesture, demonstrating that in spite of everything he had begun to accept what had happened" (45). Or this: "The past week had been the most intense of his career. When he looked at his face in the rearview mirror, he thought that every scratch, every lump, every discolouration from purple to black was a memento of the week's events" (217). I may be alone in my exasperation here, but there's nothing more frustrating than an author who insistently explicates himself. Surely the reader can be trusted to get the point?
Detective fiction can't do much without a plot, and Mankell handles that well enough. The novel is a police procedural, with all the representations of general drudgery and occasional spots of high-octane activity implied by that designation. The red herrings come and go in believable fashion. The wrap-up is somewhat less satisfactory: after setting a leisurely pace for most of the novel, Mankell suddenly compresses several months into his last few pages. While he probably wants to convey the uneven pace of crime-solving, the result feels rather awkward.
I suspect that I'd be far less disappointed if the series had come without all the hosannas attached. Faceless Killers is not a bad novel--but it's not an especially inspiring one, either. At this point, I'm not interested enough in Wallander to drop everything (even Victorian Lollards, who can be dropped fairly easily) for the other two Mankells in my house.
The Rev. R. Shittler, National Religion: Or, the Voice of God, to the British Church and Nation (Francis Baisler, 1838). Sermons occasioned by the Reverend's sense of Britain's moral, religious, and political degeneracy.