Thursday, September 27, 2007

Grasmere: people

One of the best things about the Wordsworth Conference is that you get to spend a lot of time with the other attendees. It's a small conference, and they schedule only one session at a time, so there's never a question of which session to go to - you either go to the one that's available, or you don't. After nine days of hearing all the same papers with everyone, and eating with everyone, and going on excursions with everyone, and going down the pub or hanging out in the hotel lounge with everyone at the end of the day, if you haven't made some friends it's probably your own fault. And all the established scholars make a point of being friendly and encouraging to the students; it's a very congenial atmosphere.

It's also a very multinational, multicultural, and multiethnic atmosphere. I got to talk to people from the US, Canada, England, Ireland, Wales, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Taiwan, China, Japan, Syria, and India, and almost all of them were delightful*. Here are a few of my favorites:


Of course I already knew Sara from school. It was wonderful to see her again, and because she had been to the conference the year before, she already knew her way around - which was really helpful when I got lost on my way into town.




Natsuko is from Japan. She speaks excellent British English, and studied Jane Austen for her MA; her conference paper was on Mary Shelley. She is beautiful, but dislikes having her picture taken.



Thomas has no interest in Wordsworth, and prides himself on the fact that he did not attend a single lecture while he was at the conference. He only came because his Mum is the conference administrator. He is seventeen years old, bright, well-informed, and hysterically funny.




That's Ayah on the right, in the headscarf. She is from Syria, but is currently studying in the UK. She was rather quiet, but very nice to talk to.




Prateeti is from India. She seemed to be about my age, although I didn't like to ask. Obviously we come from very different cultures, but it felt to me as if we had something intangible in common ... maybe something about our personalities. That's John Ruskin's gravestone that she's standing next to, by the way.



Shelly and Dave are the proprietors of the Forest Side Hotel, and they went out of their way to be accommodating and helpful to Sara and Natsuko and me, even though we weren't staying at the hotel. Shelly is very polite, while Dave tends to communicate with people almost exclusively through the medium of mild insults. I found this very funny, and enjoyed chatting with him when he and Shelly were at the desk.




There were many other graduate students there, most of whom stayed at the youth hostel in the village. From left to right, Peter, Chris, and Thomas embrace Long Meg, while Frank looks on, bemused. Frank goes to school in New York, so he's way too cool for stuff like that. :)



More students, at the pub. Chris, Peter (hidden behind Chris; not a student), Jacob, Katie, Rebecca, another Peter, and Emily.


And just for fun, here's a random international group shot from the hotel lounge. Pictured, left to right: Nick Roe (St. Andrews), Sara Nyffenegger (now at University of Zurich), Kaz Oishi (University of the Air, Japan), Nick Groom (Exeter), me (US), and Natsuko Hirakura (Toho Gakuen).


*The slightly less delightful were as follows:

- An angry woman who told one of the presenters that her paper was "unacceptable," although it was clear to everyone else in the room that Angry Woman had misunderstood the point of said paper. In her continuing quest to make everyone as uncomfortable as possible, she threw a twenty-minute hissy fit when the hotel staff threw away an empty plastic bottle she had left lying around, and demanded that they replace it. She also believes in dragons. Really.

- A man who seemed mildly but perpetually angry at everyone and everything, which made me wonder why he insisted on coming to the first half of the conference and hanging around with everyone. Maybe it was so he could ask angry questions at the lectures (which he did), respond angrily to questions people asked about his paper (which he did), and have angry conversations with people over a pint afterwards (which he also did).

- A man who kept trying to engage me in an essentialist debate about Jane Austen. He wanted to argue that there is something irreducibly feminine about her writing, and also that she was not able to write complex male characters convincingly because she was a woman. The only Austen novel he had ever read was Pride and Prejudice, and he didn't read that one very well - he described Mr. Bennet as having "faith" that "Lydia's marriage to Wickham will turn out just fine."

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the conference mish-mash... And always the ones who want to prove that they know WAY more than anyone else. And usually fail miserably. Hee. Too bad there wasn't more of a smack-down. Did you notice any difference in the attitude or atmosphere when the grad students were presenting? I've found that "real" faculty and academics tend to be much nicer to us fledglings than they are amongst themselves... :) I mean as far as commenting and questioning on papers. And there tends to be a very high level of disapproval for people who try to destroy the students. But maybe that's amongst medievalists...

Octavia said...

There was some showing off, and it was usually when the non-students were presenting; people's questions sometimes were designed to show how much they knew instead of to elicit information. I think they asked the students tough questions about their papers, but they did ask the questions less aggressively when the presenter was a student.

Nicole said...

looks like an eclectic bunch. i kindof want to meet the insult guy.

Heidi said...

How did I end up being anonymous... those 'fill in the word here' things always throw me. Sorry!
yes. The showing off happens too. You often can turn it back on their heads by making them (professionally,of course) look the fool by saying, 'What do you think?' and then everyone discovers they don't actually know anything. :-D

Octavia said...

One of the presenters actually had a really good comeback when somebody asked him a complicated, pretentious question - I'll tell you what it was when I write about the papers. :)

Victory said...

You are so beautiful! I wish we saw you more in pictures...

Octavia said...

@ victory: Thanks! The thing is, I'm usually the one taking the pictures. :)

heidi said...

the people are all dead the people are all dead!

Octavia said...

@heidi: Um, are you ok?

heidi said...

yes. i just got bored checking back and seeing no more comments so i made one up. :-D