- This is the second time in a week that I've innocently entered my campus office, only to be faced with a wasp buzzing around. I object to wasps as a general rule, and object even more strongly to them when I'm trying to use my office. It isn't clear if I've got wasps because there's a wasp nest located in close proximity to a vent somewhere (my windows are closed), or if I've got wasps because they are the reincarnated spirits of long-gone students, returning to complain further about their grades.
- I've sometimes noticed that my students think of the research-and-writing process as safely linear: you find a topic (hooray!), you read a lot of books (hooray?), and then you write the paper (exhausted hooray, trailing off into muttered discontent). Of course, it never works that way, and so students sometimes think that any deviation from that path amounts to a grave spiritual crisis. This summer has certainly offered some useful reminders that one's research can twist-and-turn out from under you in the most devious ways, whether it's in the discovery that topic X resists your proposed argument (the difficulties of writing about "developments" in Victorian anti-Catholic sermons) or that topic Y suddenly throws up a problem requiring yet more books (the sudden realization that I needed to read a now-obscure, once-popular biograpy of Anne Boleyn in order to substantiate a claim).
- Apparently, there's yet another TV adaptation of Jane Eyre in the works, as if the world needed yet another adaptation of Jane Eyre. (Incidentally, isn't Francesca Annis a little over-qualified for a two-bit character like Lady Ingram?) Even more so than many Victorian novels told in the first person--or, for that matter, many Victorian novels with strong narrative voices--JE is not at all suited to cinematic realism. It's not just that the novel's literary effects depend on JE's very distinctive, complex POV, but also that its events themselves often seem bizarre or bathetic when rendered in "objective" form. The "Red Room," the symbolic lightning bolt (when it's included), Rochester's "telepathic" connection to Jane, and so forth frequently appear uncomfortably comical--especially when, as is usually the case, the filmmaker strips the narrative of its theological underpinnings and turns it into a straightforward twentieth- or twenty-first century romance. That being said, I think that in JE's case an overtly stylized or even surreal aesthetic might work in an adaptation's favor.
- Yesterday, I finished Brian Hall's I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, a fine historical novel in the realist tradition. (By "in the realist tradition," I should add, I don't mean "not difficult": the chapters told from Sacagawea's and Charbonneau's POVs in particular require considerable attention, and the narrative sometimes doubles or triples back upon itself as POVs switch.) Hall's postscript includes a nice definition of what the historical novelist can do--"The novelist's privilege is to play the fool, rushing in where historians fear from treading" (413)--which came to mind while I was reading Stuart Ferguson's "The Imaginative Construction of Historical Character: What Georg Lukacs and Walter Scott Could Tell Contemporary Novelists" . Oddly enough, Ferguson's article--which, as you can probably gather from the title, argues that both Scott and Lukacs' interpretation thereof got historical characterization "right" the first time around--doesn't engage at all with the recent developments in historical fiction, but instead points fingers at novelists like the late Dorothy Dunnett and the equally late Ellis Peters (44).
- John Quiggin says of Thomas Carlyle that "while I was aware that Carlyle was (correctly) viewed by Fascists as a
precursor of their ideas, and that his works were among Hitler’s
favorite reading, I hadn’t derived the obvious corollary that his
reputation would be revived, and his work celebrated, by postmodernists
in the late 20th century." Have I missed this memo? A very limited amount of Carlyle is amenable to postmodern thought--his interest in signification, for example, or in identity--but I haven't noticed any great enthusiasm for his politics. As a grad student in the early-to-mid-90s, I was taught to regard Carlyle as basically a thug, albeit a highly influential (and therefore unavoidable) thug; my own students are usually appalled by Carlyle's definition of "liberty" in Past & Present. Then again, I could just be reading the wrong people, which has certainly been known to happen. (For previous grumping about non-Victorianists and Carlyle, see this entry from January '06; one of the first strong attempts to make a case for Carlyle as fascist was J. Salwyn Shapiro, "Thomas Carlyle, Prophet of Fascism," Journal of Modern History 17.2 [June 1945]: 97-115 [available via JSTOR]).
 Stuart Ferguson, "The Imaginative Construction of Historical Character: What Georg Lukacs and Walter Scott Could Tell Contemporary Novelists," Scottish Studies Review 6.2 (Autumn 2005): 32-47.