Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Oh for shame!

A sweet and well-intending graduate student, another Victorianist four years behind me in the PhD program who aims to finish her degree sometime this year and go on the dismal market this fall, recently congratulated me on "staying current" in the field. I think she was trying to make me a compliment regarding my TT job hunt stamina, along the lines of "Your persistence inspires, impresses, and frightens the hell out of us." It's something I hear occasionally, particularly from those graduate students at my alma mater who desperately fear my fate, but still, amazingly, seek my advice about going on the market (as well as copies of my application and campus visit materials).

Then I read Novel Readings' blog post *headdesk* and felt nothing but deep shame (shame is getting to be a theme in this blog, eh?). I? Current in the field? It's about all I can do to (afford to) attend (meaning *fund*) one conference in my field per year. And I tend to cram recent journal articles only in the nights leading up to this one conference, so that I will appear up-to-date on the hottest trends in Victorian studies. And even then, I tend to skip over articles that address texts I have not read (see my "Shame List") or articles that address genres or topics in which I lack interest or articles that have the word "digital" in them. Shame on me! I am not even living up to the hopeful compliments of my junior colleagues in the field!

So following Novel Readings' suggestion, yesterday I downloaded (uploaded?) a dozen recent articles and reviews from journals in my field onto my Kindle. This is partly a new test of my Kindle's professional uses, and partly a test of my capability to live up to the ways some folks generously perceive me. I can't promise that I'll report on my reading in this forum, though. I've got too many cake pictures lined up for the next post.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gammon and Spinnage

"What a world of gammon and spinnage it is, though, ain't it!"
"What do you mean, Miss Mowcher?" said Steerforth.
"Ha! ha! ha! What a refreshing set of humbugs we are, to be sure, ain't we, my sweet child?" replied that morsel of a woman.
David Copperfield, NY: Bantam, 1981, p. 303)
Having obtained an entire team of doctors' permission to leave my confinement, I find myself back on a university campus, teaching Writing for the English major. I am hoping the conclusions of these twinned terms, pregnancy and spring quarter, will coincide neatly. And I am not going to lie: it is a relief to be back among the blooming minds of students and the gammon and spinnage of professors.

While I was on bed rest, a good friend and colleague suggested I use the time to knock off some books on my "Shame List." The "Shame List," she explained, is that list of books (in or out of one's field) that a body posing as an academic really should have read by this time in her career. Well, my list feels to me rather embarrassingly long, and so I determined to try and knock off something straight out of the traditional Victorian literary canon: David Copperfield. But the worst confession I could make in this particular blog post is not that I've never read DC. No: I hereby confess that, for the most part, while I was on bed rest, my brain went on holiday. In spite of my grand plans to revise and resubmit an article, to work on a second article, and to learn Russian (!), all I really did was cross-stitch and read Phyllis Rose's dated and gossipy old book Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages. After revealing the horrors of Ruskin's marriage to poor Effie Gray, Rose compares Marian Evans' and George Henry Lewes' relationship to the happy couples at the end of almost any Dickens novel: "They embody all the ideals and principles of that most assertive of Victorian tracts on marriage, David Copperfield, which repeatedly told its readers that 'there can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose'" (221).

I was shamed, then, into thinking I had better read this Victorian tract on marriage: how could I have produced an entire dissertation on marriage in the Victorian period and have overlooked this text? But I was also on bed rest, letting my brain melt away, so it took me a while to pick up DC. Now, I'm midway through it and over-loving it. The chapter about DC's first dissipation made me laugh so hard I think I scared the fetus!

Shame List (to be updated and revised as needed--there are always more sources of shame)
  • David Copperfield
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Little Dorrit
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • Sylvia's Lovers
  • The Life of Charlotte Bronte
  • Aurora Leigh (in entirety)
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  • Dracula
  • Pendennis
  • Henry Esmond
  • The Egoist
  • The Ordeal of Richard Feverel
  • The Heavenly Twins
  • Olive
  • John Halifax, Gentleman
  • The Way We Live Now
  • The Eustace Diamonds
  • Barchester Towers
  • New Grub Street
  • Waverley
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho
  • Deerbrook
  • On the Face of the Waters
  • The Origin of Species
  • Malthus' Essay on Population
  • J. S. Mill's Autobiography (in entirety)

So, what's on your Shame List??