Thursday, 4 May 2017

Post MA-Ness - Pre PhD-Ness, Fan-Girlness, Walking and Future Plans

Diary (still old school paper one) and various notes I've since I last wrote this way back in January) 

Disperse Ink Prints - made on coffin lining material and mounted in embroidery hoops.

It's been a while since I've written, I'm afraid my post MA resolution to write at least monthly somewhat faded away over the last few months. However it's a habit I'm going to have to get myself back into as all being well I'll be going back into full on official academia as from September when I'm due to officially start PhD studies at Huddersfield University. I'm a mix of tremendously excited about this and a little bit nervous too.  I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted to achieve from formally furthering my studies after xmas and looked at various institutions and options, made enquiries, applied, got nowhere with some institutions and some way with others and then BINGO :-)

So it's not that I've not had stuff to write about but that I've been busy doing other sorts of stuff. Sitting at the computer writing up what I've been up to has always been on my to do list but it hasn't especially appealed. But it's appealing now as I am trying to get back into the habit plus it seems a good way of rounding up what I have been doing these past few weeks and getting my head round what I want to be doing next.

I've been doing lots of reading - am taking part in a Braddon read along on twitter. We're reading her novel Aurora Floyd in monthly installments of three chapters. The same as it would have been when it was originally published in installments in Temple Bar Magazine in 1862. It is a rattling good yarn with all manner of goings on - deceit, blackmail, romance, feverish illnesses and faintings just for starters. Read along with us if you want - you'll find it all at #MEBAread.

I've found it incredibly difficult to put it down at the end of the alloted three chapters and on Monday night I read just a little bit into the next installment. It's such gripping stuff. Plus it's really interesting for me to read something that isn't just about life in the Victorian era but was written then too, though admittedly I am reading it with 21st century eyes. I can't imagine just how shocking the hat falling off and the hair falling down scene must have been then. I wish I could find the diary of someone reading it then to see what they said about it - there are contemporaneous critics responses but I'd love to read an ordinary readers response.

I have taken to writing my own notes/key plot points on it though as I go along and a little precis of what has happened over the three chapters - as I got a bit confused at one point as to what had happened. Not because Braddon's writing is sloppy but because my memory can be poor at times.  Am guessing they'll have been printed in the Magazine with a brief catch up before each installment though - that reminds me I must ask Leeds Library if they have any original copies as it'd be amazing to see them in situ as it were and see what they were next to and what the main adverts around them were for.

Along with with my Braddon addiction - my Gaskell addiction continues apace and I was *so* excited to see some of her quill pens and ink bottles at the The Life of Objects Exhibition at the John Rylands LIbrary - along with a tin helmet used by Delia Derbyshire's father during the last war, and a glove worn by Queen Victoria. Sadly I wasn't in Manchesterford when her (Gaskell's) former house on Plymouth Grove was open but I did see it from the outside and it is definitely top of the list of places I want to go to. I read a potted history of her life by A Shelston and was amazed to learn that she was close friends with Florence Nightingale's sister who was called Parthenope. A name I had never come across before and am keen to get back into circulation as it's so marvellously old fashioned and unwieldly. As I don't and won't be having a child I could call it -  best I can do for the moment is tell everyone about it and my beloved cat Mapp now has it as her middle name. Much to her continued non plussedness about it. Unless it involves biscuits or catnip she's not fussed about much really.

Elizabeth Gaskell was also friends with Harriet Martineau who I'm going to have to do some more research into and read some of her works. She was a pioneering feminist sociologist so am definitely going to have to read some of her works too.

My Wilkie Collins addiction also shows no sign of abating and I finished No Name a couple of weeks ago - again a rattling good yarn (a serialisation is on R4Extra at the moment if you can't face reading 700 pages plus it features the delightfully voiced and much missed Jack May as Captain Wragge) with fascinating and thought provoking insights into the Victorian era's attitude towards women and their place and status in society along with that of 'illegitimate' children.

I've also been to see A Quiet Passion (2017) Terence Davies exquisite biopic of Emily Dickinson. Twice, As I enjoyed it so much the first time I went to see it again. It's made me want to read more of Dickinson's poetry and find out more about her as I know very little indeed. She is played beautifully by Cynthia Nixon in the film, the dialogue is captivating as is the period detail and the music used so sparingly is wonderful. It was very unusual to see a film that didn't have musical clues signposting what was about to happen. It's v funny in places too. I did have a couple of quibbles though - I found the brother a little bit wooden, there are modern umbrellas used in a rainy funeral sequence but those are very minor quibbles indeed as overall it is magnificent.

I also got to see a little of the behind the scenes at Thackray Medical Museum the other week. Thackray Museum is housed in what was the workhouse (somewhat ideally situated opposite Beckett Street Cemetery) and they have all manner of medical related stuff in their archive - including hearings aids made specially to be used and worn during periods of mourning. I am still somewhat blown away by this - that mourning culture extended to personal aids in this way, talk about talking something to the nth degree. They would have been expensive though - so only really available to those with the cash. I also learnt more about gutta percha and its uses - like vulcanised rubber it also became a way for those who couldn't afford jet jewellery to have look-alike jet jewellery. Gutta percha is still used by dentists today in root canal work apparently. I must ask my dentist if he has any spare next time I see him.

I was part of the Gothic Transformations Conference at Sheffield University on 17th February 2017 and all being well will be back there for the Reimagining The Gothic Creative Showcase on May 13th but this time instead of giving a paper about my work I'll be showing some of my prints that I've made on coffin lining material. I was also one of the presenters at the Death and Disease day at Abbey House Museum in March, talking abit about the history of cemeteries in Leeds, St George's Field in particular and quite a bit about cholera outbreaks in Leeds in the 1800's. I really enjoyed both of the days I did with the Museum service and hope there are more.

I've also just found out I've had an abstract accepted for the Perspectives On The Past Conference at Huddersfield University on June 9th 2017 which is exciting as well as a little bit nervewracking. Plus I am leading a walk around St George's Field on Sunday May 7th at 1pm as part of the Jane's Festival - full details here so am still busy busy busy. But I must also remember to build in proper down time too and take advantage of my not being an official student at the moment as well.

I did have a few weeks where I didn't take any pictures at all but I have been doing a bit of picture taking and making recently too, some on film and some on my lovely old trusty point and shoot digital which is very handy for taking note type pictures in archives as well as being small and light and so easy to fit in my bag when I want to travel light like I did to Birmingham the other week.

I saw the exhibition about Frank Hurley's incredible photographic work on Shackleton's Antartic expedition of 1914-1916 at the Library (and got to go on their amazing escalators again) and also had a long mooch amidst the Victorian splendour of the Art Gallery where I gazed in delight at such paintings as A Widow's Mite by Millais from 1870, and Walter Langely's Never Morning Wore to Evening But Some Heart Did Break from 1894. The title comes from a Tennyson poem apparently (something else to add to my reading list) and is a heart rending painting which for me captures perfectly that all encompassing pole-axing feeling of grief. I also fell in love with Charles Rossiter's To Brighton and Back for 3s and 6d from 1859. As you can probably tell I am a bit of a sucker for Victorian narrative paintings and would happily gaze at them all day.

There were also some fantastic modern photographs and paintings of people from Birmingham, but the art gallery and the museum are so big you really need to decide what you want to see before you go so you can make the most out of it. I made quite a bit out of the Edwardian Tea Rooms in the gallery as i had lunch there and a post narrative painting hot chocolate and that's where I read most of the potted history of Elizabeth Gaskell before making my way back to Leeds.

My plans for the next few days are get head round getting back into a proper habit of reading and writing - as although formal study doesn't start til September it'll be best to start making good habits now plus I do have a couple of papers to prepare over the next couple of weeks...I'm also going to have to think about things like methodology (I'm quite magpie-like in terms of inspirations and following leads from unlikely places) and read quite a bit more Barthes....



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