Friday, November 19, 2010

Midway Through 0th Week

The following is another letter sent home during my early days here, before classes began and the sheer volume of reading began to overwhelm my urge to write.

Hello, all!

I guess I now have a sort of Oxford Update Mailing List, as you are all people who have expressed interest in what I am doing here. If you would like to Unsubscribe at any time, please let me know! ;-)

I am sitting here nibbling a small bowl of "Raisin, Nut, and Honey Crunchy Oat Cereal" (because they don't seem to have the word "granola" here!) and reading various texts (Pip Gaskell's "A New Introduction to Bibliography," which is as thrilling as it sounds, John Dryden's "An Essay of Dramatick Poesie," and either Hamlet or A Midsummer Night's Dream from my shiny new Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works). I have had a busy day today, going real food shopping this morning for about two and a half hours (I was out of almost everything I had hastily bought in my first-two-days' stock-up, so I made this great list...and then promptly impulse-bought half the store), then going to the Graduate Mentor Lunch at the English Faculty Library--which was a bit of a bust for me, as I don't think my student mentor was even present, nor had she emailed me, but at least I got free sandwiches and fruit, and got to take home a tray of strawberries and grapes at the end! I did talk to some other people's mentors, too, and they were quite pleasant. One in particular told me not to shy away from doing a popular author (like Donne or Shakespeare), because there is always a need for new scholarship, and perhaps I can look at it from a new angle. I found that encouraging. After the lunch I had intended to go find a sunny spot to read, the rain having given way to a gloriously warm and bright day, but I got caught up at the end in a conversation with Mino, my partner for a presentation I am doing next Thursday, and he sort of scared me into scurrying home to read.

See, I stupidly (or wisely, we'll see) volunteered to do the first presentation of the A course at the meeting we had with David Womersley last night. My thought process was that I would be able to get it out of the way and not have it hanging over my head at a later point in the term when I might be overwhelmed with other work. Also, the topic was half Sydney's "Defense of Poesie," which I have studied before, and half Dryden's "Essay," mentioned above, which I have never read, but did not think would be too challenging. Finally, I hoped that by being brave and going first I might not be judged too harshly by the professors running the course if I did it all wrong, and I would set the standard for everyone else if I did it right. So, lots of pressure all at once, but then it is over with. I didn't count on being paired up with a Balliol boy who appears to have some sort of vague social disorder, though I can't tell exactly what it is. He seems quite intelligent, but he is difficult to communicate with. The only thing he said to me at the meeting was, "you do Dryden, I'll do Sydney," before walking away. I didn't like that, of course, because I prefer Sydney. I talked to him about it today at the lunch, and he said we would work it out. He also wants to email me some kind of satire he wrote for undergrad, or something like that. Yikes. At least we each write a separate paper (due to be circulated to the rest of the class by this Monday), and only have to lead the class together for two hours.

Pausing to check my Oxford email, I discovered a letter from the C course professor, Emma Smith, detailing what she expects of us for next week. We are to read Hamlet and MND, plus some associated critical texts, and prepare two discussion questions. We also have to search the Quarto and Folio texts of each play for discrepancies, and assess the significance of editorial changes to the modern editions. This is what sent me scurrying out to purchase the Complete Works, which I had seen in an OxFam for £10 the day before, but someone had snatched it up, so I had to pay the full Blackwells price of £16.99. On my way out of the shop I noticed the sign on the Museum of the History of Science that advertised an exhibit going on right now called "The Secret Life of the Museum," and as it was already twenty to five (closing time), I thought I'd pop in to scope it out without risking too much distraction from my work. Most museums in London and Oxford (probably in all of Britain) are free, though there is always a suggested-donation box, so I just walked right in. The description (which I have copied from the website) was " a selection of the finds made beneath the floorboards of the Top Gallery during the Museum’s re-development in 1999," so I was not surprised to see things like cherry stones, coins, and pencil shavings, but there were also interesting bits of paper, letters, drawings, and small toys and other objects that had fallen from the hands of people working in or visiting the museum in the 1700s. It was fascinating! Though the collection was, I must say, disappointingly small. There were only two cases, though the librarian promised me there would be a little more downstairs. I will have to come back to see the rest of it one of these days--before Nov. 14, as the exhibition ends then! (If anyone wants to read a leaflet and see a few photos of objects, go here: One of the best is a tiny scrap of paper with the initials "R.P.," probably for Richard Parker, a museum assistant from 1761-1763, followed by another hand having scribbled "You son of a whore." )

Now I am back in my room, where I ought to be studying, watching the final glimmers of sunshine fade behind the buildings opposite my window, and wondering if I can be productive for an hour before the Lincoln Links dinner tonight. Lincoln College has set us each up with another student who has been here for a while and is either in our subject or in something similar, and they are meant to just be there to advise or support or lend an ear if we need one. Mine is Anne-Claire, the MCR secretary, so I have met and spoken with her a few times before. She has been encouraging to me in my queries about the D.Phil. Honestly, the more people I ask, the more it feels as though the D.Phil is actually *easier* to get through than the one year of M.St., if only because they really load us with work and deadlines this year, and with the D.Phil it is mostly self-scheduled. If only I could find funding and work out what I will do with it afterward, I would be able to decide to do it!

One step at a time, Danielle. Anyway, we are going to Pizza Express, which is actually much better than it sounds. I thought it was like a Pizza Hut or something, but it is actually a really authentic Italian pizzeria located in a medieval building (recorded in 1182 as Mauger's Hall) that became part of what is now called the Golden Cross (a rather overdramatic name for what is basically an outdoor shopping mall in a T-shape). Apparently this was a coaching inn during the Early Modern (Renaissance) period, famed for having housed Alexander Pope in 1735. I had some pizza there with a friend on my third night here, I think, and it was quite delicious! [Emendation: there are TWO Pizza Express restaurants in Oxford, and the one we went to that night was the one in the Oxford Castle complex--also a cool venue!]

Anyway, back to the books. I hope everyone is doing well. Please feel free to send me updates on *your* doings, too! I will try to post photos on Facebook as I take them, but really I rarely remember to bring my camera places, and when I do I rarely remember to use it, so I apologise. Also, please let me know if I have been vague about anything, because I can't remember which people I have told things to and which I haven't. There is a whole new vocabulary to learn when one "comes up" to Oxford (see, you don't go to the University, you "come up," and getting expelled is called "being sent down!"), so I will try to explain things if I know they are unfamiliar to you. (Funny side story: I know someone over at Exeter College who told me he got his invitation to an exchange tea with my college and another on the Turl, Jesus College. He said, "I got the invite; it says 'Come have tea with Jesus and Lincoln.' Only here does that make sense." I giggled.)

Yes! So, I now have a half hour in which to be productive, as I've rambled on. Best get going. Please send my love and regards to everyone back home, and take care!



P.S.: I mentioned 0th Week above...The terms here are numbered in weeks, with the first week of term being 1st week, and the second being 2nd, and so on. The title of the email refers to this week, the week before term begins, commonly called "nought-th week" (not zero-th week, as we Americans might try to read it). Now you know!


  1. You make Pizza Express sound much more impressive than George did on his visit. I have to read that Dryden essay. I should be grading papers, but instead I'm reading this lovely blog!George had a story posted on The Global Post last week and I idiotically commented on the link on Facebook, but it went to the Global Post site. He didn't notice, but his girlfriend did. Pat Mesthos

  2. So, I started to get into the Dryden thing via a Wikepedia article, and I should probably stop NOW. It seems the setting is four friends on a barge at the mouth of the Thames. I'm teaching Heart of Darkness right now and that's where it starts--oh dear, here I go. Apparently there is a prominent Conradian named Linda Dryden!