10am-12:30pm: “Enduring Stories”
“Myth-making in the Muddy Fens: Charles Kingsley’s Hereward the Wake“
Justin T. Noetzel, PhD
The churchman and professor Charles Kingsley was a close friend to Charles Darwin and a contemporary of leading nineteenth-century figures like Charles Dickens and Alfred Lord Tennyson, but he is perhaps best known as a popular historical novelist. One of his most well known novels is 1866’s Hereward the Wake: Last of the English, which tells the story of the last Anglo-Saxon holdout against the Norman invasion of Britain in the eleventh century. Most scholars believe Kingsley’s novel to be a simple engrossment of the early twelfth-century Anglo-Latin Gesta Herewardi, The Deeds of Hereward, but the popularity of the novel at the height of Victorian medievalism ensured that it would become the definitive account of this folk hero. While Kingsley’s novel certainly played an enormous role in the romanticizing impulse that elevated Hereward from man to mythical hero of English identity, critics overlook the foundational role that the landscape plays in Hereward the Wake. The outlaw tropes and mythical exploits that populate the novel all occur in the real English landscape of the Fens, a small corner of the eastern coast that was mostly swampy wasteland until it was systematically drained beginning in the seventeenth century. This paper argues that the historical landscape of the Fens was of supreme importance for Kingsley, and it also details the ways that the land and water shape the narrative and even act as characters themselves. In this investigation I also assess the influential source material on Kingsley, including the medieval texts on Hereward and the Scotsman Charles Macfarlane’s all-but-forgotten 1844 novel The Camp of Refuge. My analysis of the novel and its place in nineteenth-century medievalism makes use of ecocriticism and landscape studies, and I hope to bring new illumination to this narrative 150 years after Kingsley’s novel and 950 years after Hereward lived and died in the Fens.
“Alternate Endings and Inscriptions: The Body and Legacy in Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid“
Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid works, ostensibly, as a continuation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. This work considers the way in which Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid draws from its source material – both Chaucer and Boccaccio – in its representation of Cresseid. Henryson’s innovation of Cresseid’s affliction with leprosy is the most marked deviation from his source material. The Testament of Cresseid provides a new ending to the tale, one which creates a more durable cultural inscription on the character of Cresseid and on the body of the female through Henryson’s innovation. Considering
Cresseid’s leprosy in the terms of Susan Bordo’s Foucauldian discussion of feminine disorders in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body allows this work to elaborate how the affliction of leprosy functions as a means of social control within the text, one which is specifically gendered. This work posits Cresseid’s leprosy as a disease which functions socially like the “distinctly feminine disorders” Bordo illustrates in Unbearable Weight – agoraphobia, bulimia and anorexia nervosa. In so doing, this work creates a continuum of social inscription on the female body that extends beyond the temporal limit demarcated in Bordo’s text, connecting the medieval to the modern in their production of disordered female bodies. Ultimately, this work illustrates how Cresseid, through praxis, colludes with the mechanisms of social control, elucidating this control as a means to dislocate it.
“From Pliny to the Crystal Palace: Reimagining the Last Days of Pompeii”
“Nearly seventeen centuries had rolled away when the city of Pompeii was disinterred from its silent tomb, all vivid with undimmed hues,” writes Edward Bulwer-Lytton near the end of The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Indeed, after seventeen centuries of silence, the civilization of Pompeii has spoken volumes and inspired countless narratives since its initial rediscovery in 1599 and more extensive discovery and excavation from the eighteenth century onward. The only surviving written accounts of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD appear in two letters from Pliny the Younger, valuable historical documents which Bulwer-Lytton does utilize in his novel. However, it is the material remains of Pompeii, perfectly preserved “all vivid with undimmed hues,” which reveal countless narratives of life in this historical city. It is the buildings, streets, artwork, and heartbreaking human shapes disinterred from centuries of silence that have been the inspiration for, and subject of, countless narratives in recent centuries.
Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii—part historical romance, part travel guide, part didactic warning, and all adventure—has figured as one of the most prominent narratives inspired by the material remains of Pompeii, and one to which Victorians turned for entertainment and even historical truth. Bulwer-Lytton’s romance would eventually overshadow Pliny’s first-hand account; The Pompeian Court in the Crystal Palace (1854), a guidebook to the exhibition, anthologizes both Pliny and Bulwer-Lytton, pointing to the intricate intertextuality of Pompeii’s narrative reconstructions. Examining Pliny’s letters to Tacitus, The Last Days of Pompeii, and written and visual representations of the Pompeian Court in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, this paper will examine why and how the Victorians adapted and reconstructed their source material to re-imagine Pompeian life in its final days. In doing so, this paper asks key questions about the problems and pleasures of adapting complex source material. Much like early excavators filled the empty ash molds of human shapes with plaster, Victorian writers and researchers filled the gaps of historical and personal narrative, creating stories and characters based on material objects and human remains.
In the concluding chapter of The Last Days of Pompeii, Bulwer-Lytton walks the nineteenth-century reader through the city’s streets, claiming “the traveler may yet see the impression of a female neck and bosom of young and round proportions.” The author then reveals that this “impression” is in fact “the trace of the fated Julia!” one of the novel’s secondary characters (not an honorable one, have no fear). Throughout the novel, as the narrator recounts the activities of characters in the baths or the Forum, Bulwer-Lytton’s consistent and overt reminders that his meticulous spatial and material descriptions derive from both first-hand tourism experience and historical/archaeological fact, force the reader into a trans-temporal encounter. Both fiction and fact, both then and now, the places and faces of Pompeii confuse linear history, and toy with the boundary between reconstructing the past and reliving it.
12:30-1:30pm: Lunch at Diablitos
1:30-3pm: “Enduring Form”
“Guthlac and Dracula: An Anglo-Saxon Saint’s Life in the Nineteenth-Century”
The accounts of Saint Guthlac in Guthlac A from The Exeter Book and in Felix’s earlier Latin Life of Saint Guthlac are filled with frightening spirits and paranormal encounters who serve as a spiritual test of Guthlac’s faith as he seeks a hermitage in the fens. Though the Latin version of Guthlac dates over 1,000 years before the rise of the Gothic, and the Old English version about 800 years before, Guthlac’s experiences in the liminal space of Crowland parallel certain Gothic elements associated with nineteenth-century literature. In this study, I will trace these Gothic elements, as it were, in the Guthlac legend, looking particularly at the setting, villains, victim, and supernatural rescuing agents at work. I will also include a special focus on scenes from “The
Guthlac Roll” in the British Library and examine the possible influences of early medieval Saints’ lives texts on Gothic literature.
“The Squire’s Consolation: Adaptation of Arthurian Romance and Boethian Philosophy in George MacDonald’s Phantases“
George MacDonald’s Phantastes has long been recognized as an enthusiastically adaptive text, both of medieval literature and Victorian medievalism. Colin Manlove speculated that William Morris was the source of MacDonald’s tendency towards adaptive medievalism, and critics such as Giorgio Spina and
John Dorchety have discussed MacDonald’s most celebrated adult fairy tale, Phantastes, and its use of medieval Arthurian romance, especially Thomas Malory and the Renaissance medievalist, Edmund Spenser. However, scholars of George MacDonald have not engaged the philosophical tradition common to Malory and Spenser and its synergistic impact upon MacDonald, namely that stemming from Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. As Maureen Fries, Russell Peck and others have noted, Arthurian romance had both direct and indirect influence from Boethian philosophy, and this relationship is one which I propose that George MacDonald has made explicit in Phantastes.
In the manner of a Boethian prosimetrum, the novel is written with interchanging prose and poetry, and the narrator of Phantastes, Anados, much like the narrator of the Consolation, is seen in the first pages of the work dealing with an intense experience of grief. In the Consolation, we are told that Boethius, who, “weeping, coerced, enter the grief-ridden mode,” is approached by Lady Philosophy, whose “height was of a measure hard to fix. For at one time she would keep herself within common mortal limits, but at another she would seem to strike at the heavens with the crown of the top of her head” (Boethius 1.1.1-2). Her dress is noted as having on its hem “the Greek letter pi” and “at the top a theta” (1.1.2-3). Similarly, the narrator of Phantastes, awakes with the grief of his father’s death, and meets amongst his father’s old possessions a fairy, who has “a tiny woman form, as perfect in shape as if she had been a small Greek statuette roused to life and motion. Her dress was of a kind that could never grow old-fashioned, because it was simply natural” (MacDonald 16-17). As with Lady Philosophy, the fairy woman offers Anados her help, but he asks, “How can such a very little creature as you grant or refuse anything?” Reprimanding him with the question, “Is that all the philosophy you have gained in one-and-twenty years?”, the fairy woman proceeds to grow in height: “So saying, she leapt from the desk upon the floor, where she stood a tall, gracious lady” (17). After a brief dialogue, the lady proceeds to send Anados into fairy land, where he will meet Parcival, a knight of King Arthur’s court, and become his squire. This choice amongst Arthur’s knights is no coincidence, for Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival is an allegorically informed Arthurian romance, concerned with the Boethian notion of fortune (Eschenbach 3). Boethian philosophy and Arthurian romance are adapted by MacDonald to create in the narrator an allegorical protrepsis, an experience of Boethian mental ascent, but one achieved through fairy tales and knightly adventure, rather than debate.
“A Good Man is Often a Murderer: Adaptation, Sacrifical Death and Faith in Hawthorne & O’Connor”
Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1953) is one of her most famous; it asks the reader to consider what is good and how strangers, including a family and a group of hardened criminals, recognize goodness in each other. The Misfit, a murderer escaped from prison, has had a crisis of faith because he thinks his punishments have not lined up with his crimes. He sometimes sees himself as a Jesus figure, but he believes Jesus threw the system of justice off balance by raising the dead. The Misfit, after a long conversation about his faith with the grandmother of the family, suddenly shoots the old woman after she recognizes him as one of her own children. Her death helps the Misfit realize that the pleasure he takes in “meanness” is not really pleasure at all.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” was published 121 years after Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Roger Malvin’s Burial” (1832), another short story that struggles with goodness, death, and sacrifice. In Hawthorne’s story, a young man, Reuben Bourne, leaves his father-in-law in the woods to die after they have both been wounded in battle. Reuben promises to return to bury the older man, but he is prevented by his own cowardice. Reuben eventually returns to the same woods with his wife and son, and he accidentally shoots his son while they are both hunting in nearly the same place as Malvin died. Reuben feels that he has finally made a sacrifice that expiates his own sin of abandoning the dying man; by killing his son, he has redeemed himself.
O’Connor’s adaptation of Hawthorne’s rather twisted sense of salvation illuminates some of the most difficult questions about Christianity: can someone, even a God, who would allow his son to die for the redemption of sins, be considered good? Does the relationship between parents and children have to be one of sacrifice and redemption to be good? Rene Girard’s theory of mimetic desire gives some answers to these questions by positing the possibility that, to be good, people must imitate the ultimate expression of goodness: in Christianity, God the Father’s sacrifice of Jesus the Son. Although some critical work has engaged Girard’s theory with Hawthorne and O’Connor separately, very few have brought all three writers into conversation. By examining the ways O’Connor has adapted Hawthorne’s ideas about salvific death and the ways both authors frame salvation in terms of mimetic desire, I will argue that both re-writings of the Christian sacrifice create a tragic sense of goodness that seems consistent across time.
3:30-5pm: Roundtable on “Running Research Groups”