Saturday, March 28, 2009

so I have years of this to look forward to?

I had an anxiety dream last night. Details aren't really important; it had to do with packing up a ridiculous amount of stuff in time to catch a plane, a task that was clearly impossible to complete in the available time. Dreams like that were not uncommon when I was in school, for obvious reasons, but I woke up from this one feeling a little irritated because I already met all the deadlines for graduation. There is nothing else school-related for me to do. Note to my subconscious: I'm finished. There is no need for me to keep having these dreams, OK?

Apparently my experience is not unusual:Original version complete with swears at

Friday, March 27, 2009

letting go

It occurs to me that I do not want to have to haul all 43 of my library books back to campus at once, so I decided to start taking a few of them back at a time. This was harder than I expected, psychologically. It's not that I have such a deep emotional attachment to most of the books; it's more that even though I am really, truly, officially done with school, I can't shake the nagging feeling that I might need one of those books later.

I understand that I cannot logically have a legitimate scholarly need to keep these books any longer. Even if I wanted to add something or make changes to my thesis, it's too late. It's been filed with ETD. The paper copies have gone to the printer for binding. The ship has sailed, the bridges have burned, the Assistant Dean has signed the paperwork. But at some deep, visceral, almost wordless emotional level, I fear that if I take back Brissenden's Virtue in Distress or Trumpener's Bardic Nationalism or, heaven forbid, Butler's Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography, I will somehow discover within a week or two that I need to look up a page number or verify some obscure fact or reference, and the book I need will be gone.

So, baby steps. Tonight I took a deep breath and started by returning the easy ones: the critical editions of Edgeworth's novels and Practical Education, all of which have searchable full versions available online anyway, and Kowaleski-Wallace's Their Fathers' Daughters, which turned out to be less relevant to my project than I had hoped, in spite of the fact that she is one of the few modern critics who have anything at all to say about Helen.

Baby steps.

Monday, March 23, 2009

expensive but useful friends

I've expressed my feelings about my university's library resources on previous occasions, but this bears repeating: I love my university library with a deep and abiding passion. Granted, I'm still a little bitter about the changes they've made to the periodicals database user interface, but the library is still one of my favorite things ever. Critical editions and other academic works can be really expensive, so having access to the library allows me to do research that I could never afford to do on my own, simply because I couldn't afford the research materials.

At some point while I was working on my thesis and my coffee table was covered with stacks of library books, I wondered just how much money I actually had sitting there in my living room. So one night when I was up late and couldn't sleep but was too tired to make sense of my thesis any more, I decided to find out. Here's what I have:
  • number of books currently checked out: 43, or 86% of my limit as a grad student
  • total number of pages, not including prefaces, tables of contents, indices, bibliographies, or other front or back matter: 12, 835
  • total value: $3,670.61*
  • shortest book: Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Novel, by Ann Jessie Van Sant, 125 pages
  • longest book: Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, ed. Nicholas Roe, 717 pages
  • oldest: Rosamond, by Maria Edgeworth, 1856 edition
  • newest: (tie) Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750-1850, by Devoney Looser, and The Cambridge Companion to Fiction in the Romantic Period, eds. Richard Maxwell and Katie Trumpener, 2008
  • most expensive: Byron's Poetical Works, Volume 1, published in 1980 by Oxford UP: $290.00
  • least expensive: Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, Volume 1, published in 1907 by Oxford UP: $9.98

* This is an approximate value based on what it would cost to replace each of the books with the exact same edition. When possible, I based the replacement cost on a new or like-new edition; otherwise I used the lowest price listed for the highest-quality used copy available. Two of the books I have were not available at all, either new or used, on Amazon, ABE, or Labyrinth, so I was unable to determine a replacement price for them. Surprisingly, most of the older books are still available; the ones that I couldn't find for sale are Marilyn Butler's 1972 literary biography of Maria Edgeworth, and Chris Jones' Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas in the 1790s, published in 1993.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

do androids dream of technical difficulties?

Trying to submit my thesis electronically was one of the more exasperating technological experiences I have had in the course of my college career. I am not so ignorant as to expect that all technology should function correctly all the time, but I feel it is not unreasonable to expect a system used by so many students to work correctly at a time when students are most likely to be using it (i.e., when they are trying to meet deadlines for graduation).

In order to submit electronically, I had to convert my thesis document to a pdf. I don't own a copy of Acrobat, so I was instructed to use the library's multimedia lab to do the conversion. After converting my document, I went to the ETD website to submit it, but was unable to log in to the system - it refused to recognize my username/password combination. (Incidentally, I had the same problem on February 2nd, when I took the class on how to convert Word documents to pdfs. At the time I assumed it was a temporary hangup somewhere in the system.) Tech support told me to call Grad Studies. Grad Studies told me that many students were having this problem, and some of them had been able to work around it by changing their password and trying again. This didn't work for me, so I called back to Grad Studies and asked them whether I would still be graduating in April if the problem didn't get cleared up and I was unable to submit. They said someone would call me back and let me know.

On a whim, I tried to log in again when I got home. This time it worked. Great! I submitted the pdf with no problems. Shortly thereafter I got a call from Grad Studies. They were very interested in the details of what did and didn't work for me, which led me to believe they were still trying to figure out what was causing the problem. It's good that they're trying, but if they've been working on it for over a month and still haven't even figured out exactly what the problem is, maybe it's time to seek outside help.

After several days of constantly checking and re-checking the status of my submission, I found that it had been disapproved by my department. However, the status page gave no indication of why it had been disapproved, or how I could find out. I wasted several hours vainly searching the ETD page and the university website for information. Finally I ended up on the phone with Grad Studies again. They patiently explained that the email I had received included the details of why the submission was disapproved. Funny, I never got that email. Grad Studies apparently got a copy of it, but I didn't. Would I like them to forward their copy to me? Yes, yes I would.

Back to the lab at the library to correct the pdf. This time I was able to log in to the system, but when I tried to submit my information, I kept getting an error page. I didn't even bother to call anyone for help. I dumped the pdf onto my jump drive, went home, and was able to resubmit without any more glitches.

My electronic submission was eventually approved, and I met all the deadlines - barely - for April graduation. At some point in the process, one of the Grad Studies people gave me a little lecture on "leaving ourselves extra time to meet our deadlines." This did not make me happy. Yes, it's wise to plan extra time into one's schedule in case unexpected difficulties should arise, but all the difficulties that arose in this instance were caused by a system that she and/or her office were responsible for maintaining. I felt like I had showed up late for an appointment because the buses were running behind schedule, only to have the bus driver lecture me for not planning ahead better.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

what the henge?

I currently live in the American southwest. This area of the world has many fascinating natural and cultural features, such as

the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado
photo: National Park Service

Arches National Park, Utah
photo: Flicka

Chaco Canyon ruins, New Mexico
photo: Dr. Tyler Nordgren

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
NPS photo by Peter Jones

But you know what we just don't have a lot of in the southwestern United States? Henges. We are significantly lacking in stone henges, stone circles, stone rings, and the like. So if I were going to build, say, a nursing/rehab facility in this area, "henge" is probably not a theme I would consider. It just seems like it would look out of place, not to mention being a difficult concept to design around. What kind of building looks like it belongs with a henge, anyway? Hint: not this one.This building does not say "Salisbury Plain" to me, or even "nursing facility," necessarily. If anything, it says "ski lodge," or, I don't know, "Best Western." Compare, for example, these condos in Park City, Utah (l) and the "Yellowstone Lodge" (r):

See? Would either of those buildings be aesthetically improved if someone plonked a wee little fake Stonehenge down in front of them? No, they would not. And neither is the other one.

Friday, March 13, 2009

what do you want from me?

Someone at the university is very, very picky about thesis formats. This person has terribly strict ideas about what needs to be included with a thesis, and in what order, and how the pages should be numbered, and even what weight of paper it should be printed on. Unfortunately, The Picky One has not done a good job documenting these requirements, and no one else at the university seems to know whose requirements these are. The library says they are departmental requirements; the department says they are university requirements; graduate studies says they are the library's requirements ... and no one seems able to answer questions about the requirements. Fun!

For example, the library web page says I need a table of contents in my print copy. However, it says the ToC should come after all the front matter (title page, abstract, acknowledgements). Since my thesis doesn't have chapters, I wonder whether I still need a Toc, since all it would do is list the front matter that the reader would have had to page through anyway to get to the ToC, then list the page number where the thesis starts, which the reader would already be looking at if the ToC weren't there. I posed this question to the person in the library administration office, and she said she didn't know, because that was a departmental requirement, not a library requirement. Funny, since I got that information from the library's web page that lists the requirements for binding. The good news is, I have a week to get my questions about the print copy sorted out. The bad news is, the electronic submission process is more difficult and more poorly documented than the print submission process, by about an order of magnitude, and that has to be done today.


I ended up submitting it without a Table of Contents. No one seemed to care.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

the paperwork that wouldn't die

I had naïvely thought that once I passed my defense, I would quickly make whatever edits my committee wanted, and all I would then have left to do was show up to Convocation in my funny hat. Ha. Two days after my defense, I received the following email from the graduate secretary:

"Congratulations! If you get a chance on Friday, please stop by my office and pick up a few forms needed for completing the process."

I went to her office on Friday. She had a bewildering array of forms on her desk, but it turned out most of them were really her responsibility. I left with some instructions for submitting my thesis electronically, and another copy of the abbreviated MLA style guide.

The following Wednesday (yesterday) I got another email. "I have your signed signature pages for your thesis in my office. You can pick them up when you get a chance."

I went to her office again. She had two signature pages for me, printed by a lousy printer but on very nice paper. They were signed by each member of my committee*, the Graduate Advisor, the Graduate Coordinator, the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, and the Associate Dean of the College of Humanities. Hooray, all my paperwork was signed.

Oh, by the way, did I have my completed Form 8d? I would need that by Friday if I wanted to submit my thesis electronically.

At that point I honestly had no idea whether I had it or not. She showed me someone else's Form 8d. It did not look familiar. "It should look like this, and it should have your committee's signatures on it ..." I thought I might have something at home with some signatures on it. "... and then it needs signatures from the department saying they're going to waive the print copy." Oh.

It turned out I did have the form at home. My committee had signed it, but it appeared that I needed additional signatures from the Graduate Coordinator and the Associate Dean. I had a prenatal appointment this morning (everything looks fine, come back next week) after which I headed back to campus with Peach in tow and Form 8d in hand. The Associate Dean was not in his office, but a very nice student employee at the front desk of the Humanities office took my form and promised to have him sign it when he came back. She said she would call me when it was signed if I would leave my cell phone number with her. I most certainly would.

I had about an hour before the Graduate Coordinator would be in his office, so I decided to go out to lunch with Peach. We ran into Blackwood near the elevator, and I explained that I was still collecting signatures on Form 8d. "Ah, the all-important Form 8d," he commiserated. "But you have all the signatures you need from me, right?" I was pretty sure I did, and told him so. That last sentence is what your literature teacher would call "foreshadowing."

When Peach and I came back to campus, a different but equally nice student employee was working the front desk in the Humanities office. I explained that even if my form was not signed, I needed to borrow it for a few minutes so the Graduate Coordinator could sign it. He looked around the desk but didn't see the form. The Associate Dean was in a meeting, which the secretary was understandably reluctant to interrupt, but he looked in the AD's office to see if the form was there. It wasn't. He looked around on the front desk again. I looked around on the front desk again. He looked in the AD's office again, while I peered nervously through the door. Form 8d had apparently vanished into the ether.

Finally the secretary decided there was nothing else for it, went into the meeting, and fetched forth the Associate Dean of the College of Humanities. The AD went into his office, looked around on his desk, and came back out empty-handed. Even he looked a little puzzled at that point. As I began to contemplate the awful possibility that my form was truly lost, the AD suddenly had a thought. "This was for your thesis?" Yes. "Are you an English person?" Yes. "Oh - I signed it. I sent it back to the English Graduate Secretary."

I apologized profusely to the Associate Dean for having bothered him. He smiled benevolently and went back to his meeting. I thanked the secretary profusely for his help, and he smiled kindly and went back to his desk. Peach and I went to the grad secretary's office. By that time I fully expected to find that she had left for the day, or sent Form 8d to Geneva via carrier pigeon, or accidentally burned it. But lo, she was in her office and she had the form. She showed me the line where the GC needed to sign, saying that the department waived the print copy requirement. It was right next to the conspicuously blank line where I needed Blackwood to sign, saying that he waived his print copy. Funny, that.

Anyway, mirabile dictu, Blackwood and the GC were both in their offices. They graced Form 8d with their signatures, and I verified with the grad secretary that those were really, truly, seriously all the signatures I needed, ever. I'm still not entirely sure what I'm supposed to do with 8d now that it's signed. To be honest, I'm a little conflicted: I don't know whether I want to save it for posterity after all we've been through together, or whether I'd rather turn it in to someone for their files and never see it again.

*Descartes gave the secretary permission to forge his signature sign on his behalf, since he won't be back from Prague and/or Harvard until after the submission deadline.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I finally got around to looking at the written comments my committee gave on my thesis.

Blackwood's comments were mostly editing marks. He noted that I overuse colons and semi-colons (true) and wanted me to take out all the Oxford commas. Easily done.

Victoria's comments were a tad more complex, and some of them I just won't have time to address before Friday, which is the deadline to turn in the ETD version to the department. She also said my over-all conclusion needs work (true) and that the conclusion to the Helen section is underdeveloped as well. I hadn't noticed it before, but she's right. OK, that I can probably fix, or at least improve, before Friday.

I have no idea what Descartes's written comments were, because a) he assured me that they were substantive rather than grammatical, which means I probably don't have time to address them before the deadline, and b) frankly, I'm just scared to look at them. As I mentioned in a previous post, he told me before my defense that there was no question about whether I would pass; however, he made it clear at the defense that while the thesis was adequate for an MA, it would need significant revision before it was ready to "see the light of day," as he put it. In other words, don't even think about submitting this thing to a journal or using it as a writing sample for a PhD application in its current form. Well. I appreciate his candor, but I'm not particularly anxious to read his comments.

One thing that both Blackwood and Victoria had issues with was my comment that in Helen, Edgeworth is "still worrying at the same themes that are found in her other tales." Blackwood suggested "worrying over," while Victoria simply circled the phrase and put a question mark over it. OK, it's a bit fanciful and perhaps not flattering to Edgeworth, but the image I meant to invoke was that of a dog gnawing an old bone. I'm not making it up -- it's in the OED: "worry, v. Definition 3.d. intr. To pull or tear at (an object) with the teeth." The example: "There was Floss, worrying at the parcel, which had only thin paper wrapped round it." Granted, the example is from 1882, which means that the usage is by now archaic if not obsolete, but I am writing about someone who died 160 years ago. I'm still debating whether to take it out.

I'm also now recalling the questions that I could have answered better at my defense. Not that it matters; I passed, without qualifications even. But still ... "Was Edgeworth aware of the Romantic movement?" I said something about her use of the word "romantic" in Helen, but a much better answer would have been "She must have been, since she was very well-read, and also acquainted with some of the key figures associated with Romanticism, like Wordsworth and Coleridge." You'd think that for once I could just be satisfied with my accomplishment, instead of nit-picking something that I can't change.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

so that's pretty much it

I passed my defense. And I'm not even scarred for life or anything. Predictably, Descartes asked the toughest questions, and there were moments when I felt like I was bluffing to some degree. I knew, for example, that some of Edgeworth's ideas were influenced by Adam Smith, because I'm pretty sure she name-drops him in Practical Education, but I couldn't have gotten any more specific than that ... so I didn't.

Victoria's comments and questions had more to do with the structure and nature of my argument. Her specialty is actually Victorian lit, so while Edgeworth technically overlaps her time period, she's not overly familiar with her work. She also brought up the paper I had written for her class about Rosina Bulwer Lytton, and asked me to compare Lytton's writing to Edgeworth's. I was really glad I had reread the paper last night.

Blackwood had already overseen several revisions of the essay, so his questions were of the "big picture" variety - how does Edgeworth fit into the development of the novel as a genre? If sentimental novels are still being published in the mid-nineteenth century, can we really say that the genre has advanced? That kind of question doesn't bother me too much; there's not really a right or wrong answer, as long as I'm able to speak knowledgeably about the answer I give.

Although the committee agreed that my project would need revision before I try to publish it - if nothing else, it's way too long for most journals - they also agreed that it would not need major revisions before they would pass it. So unless there's some sort of unthinkable clerical snafu, or the entire university burns to the ground, I will definitely graduate in April.

Monday, March 02, 2009