Wednesday, February 28, 2007

more good news

My university is not known as a place shrouded in mystery. I mean, yes, it gets smoggy here in winter, but that's not mystery; it's just an inversion. However, I am pleased to announce that I am now officially part of a small mystery belonging to the English Department: an anonymous donor has given me some money to help finance my trip to England. Seriously!

The actual deal is that someone established an award, available twice a year, to help "students with an interest in British Romanticism" go to the Wordsworth conference at Grasmere. The award is named after Richard Wordsworth, who founded the conference, but the donor has chosen to remain anonymous (which makes it awkward when you want to send a thank-you note). It will indeed be a big help to this particular student of British Romanticism.

*UPDATE* If it wasn't clear from the original post, I did have to apply for the award - it didn't just fall out of the sky.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rosina + Edward = trouble

So I've looked at several biographies of Rosina, Edward, and Rosina & Edward, and I still have nothing but the most basic of timelines. Here's what happened (probably):

Rosina and Edward met in 1826, when both were about twenty-three years old. They were married in August 1827, over the objections of his mother. Their first child, Emily, was born in June of 1828; their second, Edward Robert, in November 1831. In 1833 they went to Italy. In 1836 they were legally separated, and she was given an allowance of £400 per year for his lifetime, plus £50 per year for each of the children for as long as he allowed them to stay with her. Two years later he took custody of the children. In 1848, their daughter Emily died of typhoid fever. In 1858, Rosina denounced Edward publicly at "the hustings," a political event at which he was speaking*. As a result, he had her committed as insane, but she was released three weeks later. He died in 1873; she died nine years later in 1882.

So far so good. The problem is that none of the biographies seem to be able to agree on anything else. The trip to Italy provides a perfect example: Edward's biography claims that the trip to Italy was taken on account of his health, while Rosina's biography states that he went in order to convince her that he had ended his affair with Mrs. Robert Stanhope, when in fact (according to Rosina) it was all a trick – Mrs. Stanhope and her husband were traveling on the same boat with them, and he continued his affair in full view of both his wife and Mr. Stanhope. Not only that, but most of the biographies I've looked at list the same sources as the ones I'm using, which means that they don't know any more about it than I do. They're just speculating.

*What is a "husting"? Glad you asked. Wikipedia has a nice definition and etymology, which you can read here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

oh noes!

A horrible fate has befallen me! My abstract has been accepted by the Grasmere conference! Now I’m going to have to write a paper. And go to England, and present the paper … in front of a bunch of people who actually know what I’m talking about. Casting my eye over the list of keynote speakers, I’m dismayed to find names that tend to appear in my bibliographies when I write research papers. These people literally wrote the book(s) on Romanticism. Or, in the case of Nicholas Roe, edited the books. This is not good.

apparently, I'm acceptable

Today I received an email from the convenor of the Grasmere conference, beginning thusly: "Dear Octavia, I am glad to say that your paper has been accepted for the 2007 Wordsworth Conference." I’ve been accepted. Yay! I’m acceptable!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Edward's story

Edward Bulwer Lytton "left his papers to his son, with instructions that by him and no one else his Life was to be written." His command echoes oddly his wife's instruction to her own biographer that "on no pretext, 'however plausible and apparently truthful,' should [her papers] be permitted to pass into the hands of the Lytton family." (Note to self: where are they now?) In the event, Edward's biography was written by his grandson, Victor.

Victor Bulwer Lytton, who never met either of his grandparents, says in his preface that the story of their "domestic tragedy" was too painful for either his father or his grandfather to tell, and admits that "the experiences of both in connection with it had been too painful to admit of a calm and dispassionate statement of the facts by either of them." He, of course, will be a truthful and disinterested narrator: "I decided to tell the whole story as truthfully and accurately as possible, in the firm belief that the truth can damage neither the dead nor the living." Hmm.

His description of Rosina begins sympathetically, remarking on her striking beauty, her wit and lively disposition, and noting her "entirely unhappy childhood." However, his description of her character is far less flattering. She is painted as a shallow flirt, who was eminently capable of attracting men's admiration, but had not "the qualities necessary to hold and utilise what she captured." He seems to attempt some sort of even-handedness by implying that it was not her fault that she was shallow and vulgar. The words "child" or "childish" are frequently used in connection with Rosina, and Victor laments the lack of guidance from either parents or husband which could have molded her into a woman truly worthy of admiration.

Victor's writing, while potentially unreliable and certainly biased, is less annoying stylistically than that in the Rosina/Devey bio. Unfortunately, the sources of his information are unclear, which makes it difficult to judge their veracity. He states in the preface that his information came at various times from Edward's autobiographical writings, papers, and correspondence; Robert's unfinished biography of Edward; and research that he himself did in order to ensure historical accuracy regarding dates and other verifiable facts. However, most of the time he doesn't bother to indicate any sources for his assertions.

Two biographies, five narrators, and so far no answers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

conference submission

I don’t spend a lot of time on professional development, because I figure that’s something I’ll have time for once I've finished my degree. It will be at least five years from the time I graduate until the time that I can start applying to PhD programs, so in the interim I plan to do some adjunct work (assuming it’s available), try to get something published, maybe submit to a couple of conferences. At this point, I usually can’t be bothered to submit even to local conferences, because I feel like I don’t have time to write a convincing abstract, let alone a conference-length paper.


So why am I submitting an abstract to Grasmere? I don’t know. I couldn’t help it. I’ve never been to England, and I want to go. I told them I want to write about hypochondria in Jane Austen’s novels. I’m not sure how well that would go over at a conference that’s heavily weighted toward poetry, but hey – it doesn’t cost anything to submit.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Rosina's story

Without much to go on, I chose to start my research on the Lyttons with the biography of Rosina Lytton, which was written after her death by her literary executrix, Louisa Devey. (Interesting side note: Devey had previously tried to publish some of Edward Bulwer Lytton's letters to his wife, in response to a partial biography published by his son. She had been thwarted in that attempt by the son, Robert, who was able to obtain a court injunction against their publication). Devey's sources include Rosina's "manuscript autobiography" and "other original documents."

In the biography, Rosina's childhood is described in almost ridiculous detail, but her adolescence is quickly glossed over. The narrative then progresses rapidly through her courtship, marriage, and practically immediate disillusionment with her husband. He is described as being physically as well as emotionally abusive to her. After about nine years of marriage, Edward and Rosina separated, and two years later he took custody of their two children against her will. A long and nasty litany of court cases and libel actions then ensued, during the course of which Rosina was – by her account – physically kidnapped and held at a posh insane asylum in the country for about two weeks, after which time "public outrage" forced her husband to release her. She was reduced to living on a very small income, more or less alone, while her husband became a wealthy and respected author and public servant.

Stylistically, I have some misgivings about this source, because the narration is at times very dramatic - so much so that I think it must have been embellished. The autobiographical portion was obviously written later in Rosina's life, and partly with the agenda of refuting the claims made about her by her husband and his mother. She takes a lot of trouble to show that he was the one pursuing her, and claims that initially she was not at all interested in him. Devey's writing is less heavy-handed than Rosina's, but over all the thing reads like a badly-written novel, which really doesn't help its credibility.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

the Bulwer Lyttons and their fictions

While browsing through the online catalog of the Victorian collection, I noticed several items by or about Edward Bulwer Lytton and his wife, Rosina. In an effort to learn more about the Bulwer Lyttons, I looked them up in the Dictionary of Literary Biography and found that although she was the author of at least three published novels, Rosina Bulwer Lytton has no entry in the DLB. A cursory online search for information about Rosina led me to three extremely different accounts of her, describing her respectively as a neglected and possibly abused wife; a scheming, vengeful social climber intent on ruining Edward's career; and an unimportant footnote to Edward’s biography. I'm hoping that the materials in Special Collections will allow me to do something like a literary biography of Rosina for my term paper in the Victorian Lit. class.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

joke's on me

So, the 200-300 pages of reading for the Victorian Lit. class, which I blithely planned to read a little at a time over the whole week? Ha ha. That’s 300 pages of reading from Special Collections. This reading, therefore, must be done at the library, during the time that Special Collections is open, i.e, before 9 p.m. Let’s see, Glen gets home around 5:30, so by the time I get to the library, that leaves me … OK, so apparently I’ll be spending four nights of each week in the library. And Tuesday I have class from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. And did I mention that the 300 pages does not include the assigned critical reading for the class? Ha ha.

Monday, February 05, 2007

out of the mouths of babes

This is a picture of someone named Rachel McAdams on the red carpet at the 2007 SAG Awards. As I was observing this specimen of Life on Planet Celebrity, Peach strolled over and wanted to see what I was doing. She took one look at the picture and remarked, "She needs pants!"

Well said, Peach. Well said.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Super Bowl

Before class today, my students were talking about the Super Bowl. I listened while I was taking my coat off, then put on my best innocent face and said, “Is there a football game or something?” I wish I’d had a camera to capture their collective look of horror. It was really classic.

That’s all the comment I’m going to have about the Super Bowl.