So, back in August 2019, I presented a paper at Tolkien 2019 in Birmingham, UK. Before that, I had practiced it on the folks at my work and there is an audio file of it. I wanted to share it, even though it’s taken me a year to do so.
Throwback Thursday meets fandom and academia. I was cleaning out a bunch of old files on my computer and found a paper I wrote when I was a little baby undergrad many moons ago. I am amused. LOL. And yes, it was still the 20th century when I wrote it. I am an old.
Is it possible for two men who lived 400 years apart to have similar premonitions of the possibilities human society could achieve? Although there is no way to tell for sure, seems that Thomas More, author of Utopia, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, both had such visions. The society of the 24th century that Roddenberry so vividly brought to life and the society of the Utopians are both ideal cultures and are similar to each other in many ways. They also have some contrasts as well. Despite the few differences between the two works, Star Trek and Utopia both paint very realistic descriptions of an idyllic society that humanity may one day attain.Read More »
The Virgin Queen. Good Queen Bess. Gloriana. By whatever name one called her, Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, granddaughter of the indomitable Elizabeth of York, was no woman to be trifled with. On September 7, we mark the 484th anniversary of her birth and the beginning of a long, tumultuous, vibrant life. Her reign is known as the Golden Age of England, during which time writers such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Spenser crafted their literary masterpieces; artists like Hilliard, Gower, and Segar painted portraits still recognized the world over; and the music of Tallis, Dowland, and Campion echoed in cathedrals and town squares alike. Elizabeth was quite possibly the apex of the British monarchy, but there are several things not commonly known about this Renaissance powerhouse.
Elizabeth may have been more traumatized by her mother’s execution than she could risk admitting to. She grew up hearing her mother called “The Great Whore,” who was beheaded by her father, Henry VIII, on false accusations of treason and adultery, before Elizabeth was three. However, there are signs that Elizabeth was secretly devoted to her lost mother in ways she couldn’t express openly. A locket ring was removed from her hand after her death which held a miniature of Anne. In a family portrait, she also wore a necklace with her mother’s “A” at her throat, an act which would have landed her in quite a lot of trouble had her father noticed it. At various times of her youth, she was a princess, declared a bastard and removed from the line of succession, reinstated, a political prisoner held in the Tower, and survived sexual scandal that led, in part, to the execution of Sir Thomas Seymour. All without a mother to comfort her.
Her difficult childhood tempered her, though, and her humanist education honed her already keen intelligence. Elizabeth was a polyglot, fluent in six languages by the time she was 11 years old – French, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Welsh and of course English. She also studied others and had a functional understanding of Flemish, Italian, and Gaelic. She learned Gaelic as part of her diplomatic attempts to subdue an Irish rebellion in the 1590s. Diplomacy and oration were great strengths for Elizabeth. She often used flirtation and flattery in her diplomacy to goad her male contemporaries into granting her political wishes. England was in dire straits when she came to the throne and she was pressured on many fronts to marry to secure various alliances and produce an heir, yet Elizabeth remained steadfastly unwed while still maintaining good relations with the majority of Europe throughout her reign. In a 1559 speech to Parliament, she said,
…I am already bound unto an husband, which is the kingdom of England, and that may suffice you. And this… makes me wonder that you forget, yourselves, the pledge of this alliance which I have made with my kingdom. … And reproach me so no more … that I have no children: for every one of you, and as many as are English, are my children and kinsfolks…. (Elizabeth I, 2000, p. 59)
Remaining unwed and fully in control of her government during a time in which women were most often used as bargaining chips, means to getting heirs, securing alliances, and bettering one’s social standing was a testament to Elizabeth’s strength of will and shrewd political acumen.
Another pressing issue of her reign was poverty. Elizabeth created the Act for the Relief of the Poor in 1597, which was the first fully comprehensive bill for poverty relief. It was later amended by the Elizabethan Poor Act of 1601, which remained unchanged until the mid-1800s. The Elizabethan Poor Act essentially taxed the wealthier citizens of the country to provide food, shelter, and clothing to the poor, generally within their own communities. People who were unable to work, such as the very young, the elderly, or the mentally or physically disabled, were cared for in an almshouse or poorhouse. People who could work were sent to “houses of industry.” These were the precursors to the infamous Victorian workhouses, but in Elizabeth’s time, they were a vast improvement over being labeled a vagrant, a hanging offence. Children who were old enough to work were made apprentices in various trades. People who were too lazy to work, though, were on their own and would either have to decide to work or would eventually wind up in prison or be hanged as a persistent beggar, as the term was known under the Vagrancy Act of 1547 (Rathbone, 2017). Elizabeth instituted what were, for the time, sweeping reforms for the care of the poor.
Elizabeth may be best known for reigning during the time of Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, and the like, but her own contributions to her country and culture cannot be overlooked. She was the woman who was never meant to be Queen but who became one of the most beloved monarchs of the British monarchy. She was the woman who roused her troops with speeches worthy of the gods. Gloriana.
In this fictional collection of letters of recommendation and various other correspondences from beleaguered professor of creative writing Jason Fitger, readers are given a hilarious and rather accurate insight into traditional academia. Fitger’s acerbic wit is a delight, and is frankly necessary at times to show the ludicrousness of various aspects to academic life. The story follows, loosely, the efforts of one of Fitger’s graduate students to find and be awarded with grants, scholarships, fellowships, random jobs, and other means by which he can support himself while finishing a novel he had begun prior to his graduate work, as seen from the point of view of Fitger and his correspondence. It is by turns riotously funny, deeply introspective, and sometimes wistful or regretful.
As I listened to this, it made me simultaneously an iota relieved not to have to deal with these kinds of academic Gordian knots, and also sad that I didn’t complete a PhD and get to partake in the adventure. Maybe I am not too old yet to do so. In any case, this book made me literally howl with laughter. I’m sure my fellow commuters who might have seen me must have thought I was insane, finally having come to the end of my rope because of rush hour traffic. I’m just glad I didn’t crash my car in the process.
To anyone who loves academia or who is considering a career in higher academics, you absolutely must read this book, or listen to the audio version, which is narrated by a man with a voice like Kelsey Grammar/Frasier Crane. Robertson Dean is a perfect choice of narrator for this; he gives an excellent performance and brings to life the depths of Fitger’s disdain for a multitude of people and actions.
Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):
Belatedly, it occurs to me that some members of your HR committee, a few skeptical souls, may be clutching a double strand of worry beads and wondering aloud about the practicality or usefulness of a degree in English rather than, let’s say, computers. Be reassured: the literature student has learned to enquire, to question, to interpret, to critique, to compare, to research, to argue, to sift, to analyze, to shape, to express. His intellect can be put to broad use. The computer major, by contrast, is a technician, a plumber clutching a single, albeit shiny, box of tools.
Literature has served me faithfully, no pun intended, as an ersatz religion and I would wager that the pursuit of the ineffable via aesthetics in various forms has saved as many foundering souls as a belief in God.
Such are the communication skills of the up and coming generation. They post drunken photos of themselves at parties, they share statuses, they emit tweets, and send all sorts of intimate pronouncements into the void, but they are incapable of returning a simple phone call.
*I wrote this paper something like 15+ years ago in grad school, in one of my Middle English courses. My instructor was the amazing Dhira Mahoney, who recently passed away. I wanted to repost one of my newbie grad student papers that I wrote for her as a tribute to the mentoring she gave me and the lessons I learned, both from her and since then because of her.
Margery Kempe, a Pronoun, and her Earthly Associations
Margery Kempe is a woman of many titles. She is a wife, a mother, a mystic. Her contemporaries termed her a nuisance, a heretic, a saint. One scholar accurately calls her ‘the woman who would not go away.’1 But how does one woman fall under so many titles? Regardless of how people regard her, it is Margery’s use of language that defines her identity to various individuals. This paper will examine how Margery uses language and tone in her dialogues between earthly men and women in her Book to define her relationship with and authority to the people in her life.Read More »
I wrote this paper for a class I am taking on the history of The Hobbit. I was rather pleased that I still remember how to write academic papers…
The Hero’s Quest and Cycle of Feminine Power in The Princess and the Goblin
Faerie stories are replete with women whose underlying message is often that they must be divorced from their power to be of true worth. Traditionally, faerie story heroines depend on their ability to secure a man’s protection. One story that may be viewed through a more empowering lens is George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. Princess Irene and her Great-Grandmother each serve as two separate facets of the Triple Goddess cycle of feminine power, representing the Maiden and the Crone, respectively. Irene undertakes a Maiden’s Quest and in doing so, manifests her own feminine identity and power.Read More »