Sunday, November 04, 2007


Before coming back to the States, I spent a day and a half in London, including two nights in the World's Smallest Hotel Room.It was considered a bargain at the (discounted) rate of about $110 per night.

Two of my friends from school were working as TAs for a Study Abroad group in London, and they were kind enough to show me around town. We got lunch at the Borough Market, and ate on the banks of the Thames. Here are Elisabeth and Anna, with the Gherkin in the background.

I wanted to see the Tower of London, so we walked down to the river to the Tower Bridge.
We stood by the bridge for a while and talked about life, and England, and grad school, and politics ... it was like a Hemingway novel, but without the absinthe and the existential despair. We must have stood there for close to an hour. It was a beautiful day, sunny and perfectly mild. As I stood there with my friends, suddenly I thought that I had been waiting my whole life to stand under that bridge and look at that river, and I had never known it until I was there.

We crossed the bridge and walked around the Tower, but I didn't go in and take the tour ... I'll have to do it next time. Note to Sir Walter Scott: this is what a real castle looks like.

I look really cheerful here, for someone who's standing in front of a notorious dungeon.

At some point on the way from the Tower to the British Library, we passed a random stone wall left by the Romans. You can walk right up to it and touch it and everything. With all due respect to Robert Frost, I totally love this particular wall.

So it turns out you're not allowed to take pictures in the gallery at the British Library. In my defense, I would just like to say that A) I wasn't using a flash, and B) there aren't any signs saying that you can't take pictures, which I thought there would be if they didn't want you doing it. I only got a few shots before I heard one of the guards admonish someone else for taking pictures, and put my camera away. The color isn't great because I had to adjust the image to make it more visible, but here's a page from The Canterbury Tales:You can just barely make out the gold illumination at the bottom of the page on the right.

Seeing this manuscript was a very serious thrill:Of course the originals of old manuscripts and documents must exist somewhere, but I couldn't believe I was looking at the actual, physical copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

This is the only other thing I got a picture of - it's Sir Thomas More's last letter to Henry VIII.

I could have spent days and days in the gallery. They had an amazing exhibit of sacred Jewish, Christian, and Islamic texts in addition to all the "usual" stuff. You know, like the Magna Carta.

Later that night we went to a play at the National Theatre. It was in the Cottesloe, which is very small and intimate. The play we saw was The Enchantment, by 19th-century Swedish author Victoria Benedictsson. Yeah, I'd never heard of it either, but it was a good production. On the way back to Kensington I got some night shots of London, including Parliament and Big Ben

and the London Eye.

The aquarium had storm troopers on the roof. I do not know why.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Grasmere: excursions

Rydal Mount, Wordsworth's home near Ambleside:
Sara and Natsuko on the grounds at Rydal Mount:

At the Mirehouse estate, I found myself standing in the graveyard of a thousand-year-old church, in the rain. It just doesn't get much more Romantic than that.

Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott:

It's an adolescent fantasy of a castle, complete with an "armory" full of random weapons, armor, and animal skulls. Bonus: it's located in Scotland.
Remember when I had to read Scott's Heart of Midlothian? At some point, Scott came into possession of the actual lock and keys from the titular prison: That's not an Extreme Close-Up, by the way; those keys are huge.

I was quite taken with this turret-y thing on the grounds at Abbotsford. It had a spiral staircase, and gargoyles, and everything. It turned out to be the game larder.

Here we all are at Wordsworth's grammar school in Hawkshead.That's the tour guide's hand in the lower right corner of the second picture, holding a schoolmaster's cane. He seemed personally offended by the fact that the Victorians had "modernized" the Elizabethan-era schoolhouse by putting big windows in it and painting the walls white.

The wooden desks in the school had several hundred years' worth of students' names and initials carved into them. Based on his research, the tour guide reckoned that this is where Wordsworth carved his initials, although there are a couple of other spots that could have been his:

This is the waterfall at Aira Force. Wordsworth wrote a poem about it. Here's Spratley, reading it on location.

Grasmere: the papers

I was fortunate enough to present my paper about a week into the conference, so I'd had plenty of time to get to know everyone. This made the experience approximately 60% less nerve-wracking. However, I was still nervous because some of the other presenters had gotten some really picky questions, and because I wasn't sure how a paper on Austen would go over at a Wordsworth conference. As it turned out, it went fine.

No one nodded off, and people did ask questions, but they didn't ask any questions I couldn't answer. I actually felt like some of the questions I got were softballs, but Sara said she thought the questioners were taking me seriously.

Most of the other papers were about Wordsworth (surprise) and the other Lake poets, and most of them were good. My favorites were J. D. Lopez’ paper on "Wordsworth and the New Spaniard," Nick Roe's lecture on "The Lives of John Thelwall," Joanne Parker's lecture on the cultural history of stone circles, and Nick Groom's presentation, which included a performance on the hurdy-gurdy. J.D. and Nick Roe had very different topics, but their work was the kind of thing that I would like to do: it addressed the complex nature of the dialog between literature of the Romantic period and the historical and cultural context in which it was written. I knew nothing about John Thelwall before the conference, but Nick Roe's paper convinced me that I ought to. Joanne's presentation was interesting and thorough, and had the advantage of being delivered in the shadow of Long Meg, which was just plain cool.

Nick Groom's presentation had something to do with Coleridge's "damsel with a dulcimer" from "Kubla Khan," but obviously the cool part was the performance:

One thing I found very interesting/educational about the papers was the nature of the questions they engendered. When the students presented, the questions were difficult enough, but seemed fairly straightforward. Some of the students, for example, got questions about which edition of a poem they had used as their text, and why. When the professors presented, though, they got some questions that seemed really ... obscure. Sometimes the questioner would speak for a minute or more without really asking a question, and sometimes the question seemed so multi-faceted or convoluted that it was hard to understand what the point was. The best answer I heard to such a question came from J.D., who got one of the not-really-a-question questions. He did give an answer, but prefaced it by saying, "Sometimes it's hard to improve on your questions by answering them."