I finished part 3 of the Knight’s Tale this morning, with Palamon’s prayers to Venus, and Emily’s devotions to Diana, and Arcite’s pleas to Mars, ending with Saturn’s intervention. Are the descriptions of the three shrines intended to be over-elaborate? The problem with reading 14th century poetry is that I know little about the period or its literature, although I gather Chaucer’s masterpiece makes no mention of several political events of note, such as the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. Could one write a novel about British people in 2017 without bringing up the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Perhaps.
Chapter 2 of Bennett & Royle deals with reader-response theory, which it discusses using Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias (1818). During my initial reading of the first seven chapters of Bennett & Royle, I made detailed notes from this chapter, and necessarily so. This is foundational stuff and I must become familiar with the names and concepts associated with this school of criticism. The ideas surrounding reader-response theory are particularly pertinent to my theoretical preference, postcolonialism.
In yesterday’s journal, I forgot to make mention that I’m also reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929). I recall Woolf’s essay being mentioned in a few literary textbooks I’ve read this year, but only in passing, mentioning her opinions rather dogmatically, as I recall, on single matters and without much context. That’s the trouble with reductive and passing analyses – they inevitably misrepresent. The first chapter, for example, compares the difficulty of financing a women’s college at Oxbridge with the long-established male ones, and includes the oft-mentioned incident of Woolf being refused entry to a library. But did this event she describes actually take place? Woolf’s essay “makes use of all the liberties and license of a novelist”, and although there is no doubt that women were refused entry to college libraries in the manner stated, the two days that Woolf describes in her essay are literary illustration of general facts rather the undisputed autobiographical truth. Of course, the incident may well be factual, but without consulting a biography, I can’t be sure. Autodidactic study can be frustrating, sometimes: there’s no lecturer walking down the corridor to consult in passing.
Chapter 1 of Lila Abu-Lughod’s Do Muslim Women Need Saving? (Harvard University Press, 2015) explores how the burka was used to justify the US invasion of Afghanistan post 9/11 in a way which resembled the colonial feminism of European imperialism (see especially Lord Cromer), and deconstructs the condescending rhetoric that claims Afghan women (and Muslim women generally) need to be ‘saved’. Rather, there is a need for solidarity and alliances between women of different nations based on mutual understanding. Such understandings can only take place when people are aware of the history, politics and culture surrounding the status of women in non-European nations, and the contribution of Western foreign and economic policy to their oppression.
Last of all, I began the first chapter of Susan Aberth’s Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art (Lund Humphries, 2010), up to the point where she started school. Her childhood home – Crookhey Hall – looks enchanting. Reading about her Irish Mother and Nanny and the stories of the Sidhe she heard as a child makes me wish I was more familiar with Irish folklore: Shall I put Jeffrey Gantz’s Early Irish Myths and Sagas (Penguin, 2000) on my reading list? I grew up in a faceless three-bedroomed terrace house deep in suburban Essex. The only mythology I knew was Star Trek. No wonder I always associate the best of my childhood with the woods I played in.
Five books is too many to read at one time. Even four. There is not enough time to write my journal and make notes. Sadly, I need to put aside two of the above titles for now.