Jane Austen – Germaine de Staël Anniversary Keynote

Benjamin Colbert, Co-Director of CTTR, delivered the opening keynote address at the Chawton House Library conference, Reputations, Legacies, Futures: Jane Austen, Germaine de Staël and their Contemporaries, on Thursday, 13 July 2017.  Celebrating the bicentenary of the deaths of Austen and Staël – the one who would become one of the most famous novelists in England and the other who enjoyed celebrity status throughout Europe in her own day – the conference took as its theme the cross-channel literary and cultural relationships that flourished in their era and which form a principal context for appreciating their works.

Prof. Catriona Seth, Oxford University, introduces keynote speaker Benjamin Colbert, 13 July 2017

Colbert’s keynote, ‘Lady Morgan’s France en France, 1817-1830: “The book, which one must run to read”‘, took up another landmark work, also 200 years old, namely the controversial best-selling travel book of Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan, whose earlier novels had earned her celebrity status in Britain and France. Morgan was sometimes identified as ‘the Irish de Staël’ and referred to Staël herself in France as ‘the most distinguished woman of the age’, but, unlike Staël, Morgan drew fire from critics and reviewers on both sides of the channel for her defence of revolutionary and Napoleonic reforms and for, as a woman, writing on politics at all. Even her own translator cut out ‘objectionable’ passages and carried on a critical dialogue with her through his translator’s notes, following all of this with a book-length refutation and a concerted campaign against her influence in France. Colbert’s keynote considered the larger shape of this cultural reception as well as Morgan’s development of a counter-history in which her travel writings broach ‘truths which history trembles to narrate’.

A second keynote address was delivered  by Professor Alison Finch, University of Cambridge, on ‘Staël, Austen and the Politics of the Bildungsroman’, and Deirdre Lynch, Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University, concluded the conference with ‘The Unwritten History of the Woman of Genius’.

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TransLive, 30 June 2017

When? 30 June 2017, 2pm

Where? Student Union. University of Wolverhampton

‘TransLive’ aspires to raise awareness and highlight the importance of  literary translation as a creative practice that can enhance intercultural awareness in the UK’s and the region’s linguistically diverse society, while  simultaneously highlighting literary translation’s key place in the economy of cultural production.

The event will begin with readings from prize-winning entries to the prestigious John Dryden Translation Competition (https://bcla.org/prizes-and-competitions/john-dryden-translation-competition/), after which a live translation ‘slam’ will give you the chance to see literary translators in action. Then, over refreshments, you will have a chance to meet the translators themselves and, if the fancy takes you, even engage with literary translation yourself through TRANSFORM (Wolverhampton TRANSlation FORuM).

‘Translive’ will appeal to all members of our linguistically diverse regional and national communities and generally to all who appreciate and aspire to enhance linguistic and intercultural awareness – and, indeed, to anyone who loves reading and literature. The event will be of particular interest to established as well as aspiring literary translators and other creative writers, students and teachers of modern languages and English, representatives of arts and media organisations, and publishers.

‘Translive’ has been organised by Dr Glyn Hambrook, Reader in Comparative and European Literature in Wolverhampton University’s Faculty of Arts and Co-Editor of Comparative Critical Studies, the journal of the British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA, https://bcla.org/); and Dr Karen Seago, Programme Director of Translation Studies at City University, London, and  Convenor of the John Dryden Translation Competition. Both sit on the Executive Committee of the BCLA and are judges for the John Dryden Prize. They will be your comperes for the event.

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Research Seminar: 16 May 2017, Dr Yarmilla Daskalova on Poe and Baudelaire

Dr Yarmila Daskalova, University of Sts Cyril and Methodius, Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria, will be speaking on ‘New Dimensions in Conceptualizing Beauty and the Principle of Originality in the Works of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire’, Tuesday, 16 May 2017, 14.00 – 15.30, MH110. All are welcome.

About the Speaker: Dr Yarmilla Daskalova is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Sts Cyril and Methodius, Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria. Her research areas include British, Irish, and American Studies; romanticism and post-romanticism; and comparative literature. Her publications include studies of Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, and W. B. Yeats, often alongside Bulgarian novelists and poets, such as  Emil Andreev, Svetlozar Igov, Marina Tsvetaeva, and P. K. Yavarov.

 

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Launch Event – Friday 25 November: UK Sikh Survey Report 2016

Sikh Survey 2016 Launch EventCTTR hosts the Launch of the Findings of the UK Sikh Survey, the first ever comprehensive analysis of issues that matter to the British Sikh Community. The event takes place on Friday 25 November 2016, 2-4pm, MA 221 (The Council Room, Wulfruna Building, City Campus, University of Wolverhampton).

The UK Sikh Survey maps out a much needed analysis of the views, as well as challenges, faced by the Sikh Community in contemporary British Society. The Survey is based on extensive outreach to gather the opinions of Sikhs across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and will generate new empirical knowledge to current debates on what it means to be a British Sikh. Specifically, this knowledge will provide the British Sikh community with the tools to effectively communicate its values and aspirations with government and public institutions. This is only made possible because of the Survey’s aim to conduct the largest poll of the Sikh community in the UK.

This is an opportunity for staff and students, Sikh and non-Sikh to engage with politicians, Councillors, and the Sikh Network over matters of concern to the British Sikh community.

Although this is a free event, registration is encouraged via this Eventbrite link.

For more information, please contact Dr Opinderjit Kaur Takhar, Department of Religion, Philosophy and Cultural Heritage (School of Humanities).

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Public Lecture: 24 Nov. 2016, Jay Griffiths in Conversation (Tristimania)

jay-griffithsAcclaimed novelist and writer Jay Griffiths reads from and discusses her latest book, Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression, in conversation with CTTR novelist Professor Niall Griffiths. The event will take place on Thursday, 24 November 2016, from 6:00 p.m. in the Lecture Theatre, MX004, at City Campus North, University of Wolverhampton. This event is free and open to the public.

Tristimania tells the story of a devastating year-long episode of manic depression, showing how the condition is at once terrifying and also profoundly creative, both tricking and treating the psyche. Griffiths explores its literary influence, including Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and also examines the Trickster role, tracing the mercuriality of manic depression through the character of Mercury.

About the Speaker:

Jay Griffiths was born in Manchester and studied English Literature at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time, for which she won the Discover award for the best new non-fiction writer to be published in the USA; Wild: An Elemental Journey, an evocation of the songlines of the earth, which won the inaugural Orion Book Award; Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape; and most recently Tristimania: A Diary of Manic Depression. Her fiction includes A Love Letter from a Stray Moon, about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, and Anarchipelago, about the road protests. She has written for the comment and feature pages of The Guardian and has contributed to other publications including The Observer, the London Review of Books and Radiohead’s newspaper the Universal Sigh.

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Communities of Authorship Update: The Marchioness Solari and the Royal Literary Fund

This post is the second of a series of profiles in which Dr Benjamin Colbert will feature an author and her work from Women’s Travel Writing, 1780-1840, as well as an update on the research underway for the British Academy project, Women’s Travel Writing: Communities of Authorship.

No. 2: Catherine Hyde (or Hyams), Marchioness Govion Broglio Solari, c. 1755-1844.

solari-1From the 39 items making up the Royal Literary Fund’s record (Loan RLF 1/435) of its dealings with the travel writer and memoirist Catherine Hyde, Marchioness Govion Broglio Solari (c1755-1844), emerges a portrait of the artist that is at once consistent with Solari’s self-representations in her published works, yet also details her day-to-day struggle for solvency over the twenty-one-year period covered by the archive (1821-1842). Her first letter to the RLF of 18 May 1821 is dated from the ‘king’s bench prison’ where she had been confined four months unable to pay her printer (Howlett & Brimmer) for a pamphlet on Wellington, the national hero of Waterloo. Hardly eight years later, in November 1829, she writes on a dirty scrap of paper in blotted ink from Palace Court Prison – the old Marshalsea – this time in arrears with rent. There is no evidence that either letter moved the committee although stipends were apportioned from time to time in what became almost an annual appeal for help from Solari to her occasional benefactors.

The letters from both sides tell us a good deal about Solari’s publications and plans for publication, her supporters among the bookselling and medical community, her sense of grievance at being a titled member of the aristocracy down on her luck and forced to plead for subsistence. The story she rehearses to the committee seems fantastical (and, as we shall see, may very well be so). The daughter of a scion of the Clarendon family and a mother related to the Polish royal family, she was sent to France at 11 to receive her education, her musical talents attracting the attention of Marie Antoinette and her confidante, the Princess Lamballe, for whom she became a Maid of Honour. Entrusted with the Princess’s journals, Solari was bundled off to Italy when the French Revolution erupted, learning of her patrons’ executions second hand. In Italy she met a Venetian nobleman, the Marquis Solari, who became her husband, but who lost his fortune after the French invasion of Italy and Napoleon’s subsequent abolition of entailed estates. Separated from her husband by Napoleon’s persecutions and forced to flee Venice by boat, she was shipwrecked and returned to England penniless, supporting herself by her literary talents. Her just deserts (she continued to claim that the Austrian government owed her compensation of above £100,000 for her husband’s confiscated estates), her English patriotism (instanced by her pamphlet on Wellington), her infirmities and failing eyesight, became the refrains of her frequent appeals to the committee.

Perhaps understandably, the committee showed signs of charity fatigue, and refusals of assistance became more common than the small sums at times voted for her. Then on 1 November 1832 came a renewed campaign from an unexpected quarter. The RLF received a letter on Solari’s behalf from Barbara Hofland (1770-1844), the prolific children’s writer and poet who also features in the Women’s Travel Writing database for her storybook travelogues for children. Hofland informed the RLF that Solari’s nephew, a Mr. Hyde, had offered her asylum in New Orleans, and that she required funding for the passage which Hofland and her friends could not supply. Having prepared the ground, Hofland then submitted the appeal itself on 12 November, again in her hand, but dictated and signed by Solari. Perhaps breathing a collective sigh of relief that the American scheme would put an end to her  annual appeals, the committee voted the sums, and received an effusive letter of thanks, this time in Solari’s own hand, dated 20 February 1833, from Liverpool on the eve of her departure.

If the RLF thought this was an end to it, they were disappointed. Whatever happened Continue reading

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Stories in the Sand

This is the last of four blog posts by CTTR’s Candi Miller recounting her experiences with the San people in Northeastern Namibia over the summer, and the development of her latest research project.  

For previous installments see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3; and continue to follow Candi’s adventures on her own Research Blog.

sand

Trrrrr-trrrrr-trrrr’ is the sound an agitated porcupine makes by bristling its quills. My informants were the children of Duin Pos village school who live alongside porcupines, pangolins and much larger wildlife in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Namibia.

As you’ll know from my latest Research blogs, one of my objectives of my recent trip was to do some creative writing with school children. The principal of the Village Schools is the wonderfully named Cwisa Cwi, or |Ui’sa |Ui – linguists keep fiddling with the spelling of Ju|’hoan, which, ancient as it probably is, has only had a written form for about 50 years.

[This orthographic evolution is going to cause me a headache when it comes to writing the next novel in my Koba series – I have a character named Twi, which is how Cwi used to be spelled. Sorry, writer’s digression, but I feel I’m among friends.] 

Cwisa invited me to give a few classes in the more accessible Village Schools. These are tented schools in remote, but nevertheless 2WD-reachable settlements, where children aged 6 –10 are given a basic primary education in their mother-tongue.Many children board at the schools as they live too far away to do a daily walk. (Plus they could encounter elephant and lion, the aforementioned wildlife.) This means they are dependent upon the government’s school feeding scheme, well-intentioned, but in practice, unreliable. The food (chiefly maize meal) is often not delivered in time for the term start, or an insufficient amount is sent so it runs out before the end of the term. When this happens the children have no choice but to leave for their home villages, often sitting at the side of the road for many hours hoping for a lift. Once home, food is likely to be scarce too, given the long-standing drought in the region and consequently the scarcity of bush foods.

It was no surprise at Duin Pos to see the school ‘canteen’, a lone three-legged pot on an unlit fire, deserted.  But the tented classroom was full, pupils ranging from 5 to 16. (I’m assuming that the older boys and girls were ‘drop outs’ from Tsumkwe Secondary school who experienced one or more the issues I’ve described in my blog post: The School Problem.)

I designed a “Story Starter”, an adapted origami fortune-teller that offers Character, Setting and Feeling choices (culturally relevant ones, e.g. Hyena, Bush camp and Feeling hungry) as a hands-on writing prompt.  More about this in the !’o !oahn !’o ||hai  post – suffice to say it helped the group to produce a collaborative story, very short, but original – a first for them, their teacher said.  I called their story  ‘Trrrr Trrrr Trrrr’ as the class came alive when I asked them what sound the main character they’d chosen for the story, viz. a porcupine, makes. (Oral learners, see. )

I’ll upload this story (in English) onto the website called African Storybook. This site is a great resource for teachers, writers and early learners. It features Afro-centric stories in more than 200 African languages. In due course I hope to have ‘Trrr-trrrr-trrr’ translated into Ju|’hoan. Frustratingly, there is little chance of any of the writers seeing their story on the internet: the nearest connection is at the public library in Tsumkwe, where, even if the kids could reach it, the bandwidth is so narrow and in such demand, it’s a major struggle accessing it.

I’m working on a plan to return to Duin Pos to show children their creations on a screen.  It’s a small step, but could be important in igniting a spark in a child who is going to become a writer for her/his people.

sand2

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The School Problem

This is the third of four blog posts by CTTR’s Candi Miller recounting her experiences with the San people in Northeastern Namibia over the summer, and the development of her latest research project. [See Part 1, Part 2]

school-problemImagine you are the Ju|’hoan parent of a school-age child. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the six settlements that has a Village School, your child will have been receiving a basic education in literacy and numeracy in your mother-tongue, until Grade 4 (aged 11, ideally.) While the (usually) lone teacher works largely to the national Namibian curriculum, the teaching is culturally appropriate, so your child is never singled out for punishment or praise (there are no tall poppies in a San field) and work is done collaboratively wherever possible. (The San are renowned peer-educators.)   The teacher understands that part of your child’s education must, of necessity, involve learning bush survival skills, so when you all take off in Mangetti season to harvest this sustaining fruit from a faraway dune area, or on rare occasions, to skin and butcher a donated carcass at a distant trophy hunting camp, there is no retribution.

More often than you would like, the teacher is absent from school – he has to collect his salary from the nearest big town, Grootfontein, more than 400 km away; he has no transport so must sit beside the ‘Great White Way’ until he can get a lift.  This can take days, but apparently, there’s no other payment method. Consequently your child misses out on many teaching days so her progress is slower than expected by the education authorities. But eventually, she is ready for high school.

The only high school is in Tsumkwe, so your child will have to board in the hostel. You will miss curling your body around hers in the family hut on cold nights, but she will have a nice new blanket from the government to keep her warm. And a regular supply of maize meal, thanks to the government’s Food Allocation Programme*. That’s more than you can provide for her at home with bush food so scarce.

Little Be worries that she won’t understand anything because the teaching medium is English, but you stress that it will get easier if she just sits quietly and does what she sees the other children doing.

You are surprised when after just two weeks your studious child turns up outside your hut one evening. She explains that she does not wish to return to the high school; her reason – she does not like being beaten.

You are shocked; why would anyone beat a child? Turns out she was found sleeping in the bed of Di||xao, her cousin. N!unkxa, another girl from the village, was sleeping under the same blanket too.

You wonder why this is punishable; Di||xao and Be have slept together, in the family hut, under the same blanket, since Di||xao’s mother died in 2011.  And N!unkxa is like family.

“What happened to your government blanket?” you ask her.
“The big boys took it when they mocked me.”

The big boys are the Herero, Ovambo or perhaps Kavango children at the high school. They are bigger people and you have heard some make sport from insulting the San.

“Did you tell your teacher?”
“Yes, but he is the one who beat me.”

The above scenario is based on current facts.

Continue reading

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Finding Koba

This is the second of four blog posts by CTTR’s Candi Miller recounting her experiences with the San people in Northeastern Namibia over the summer, and the development of her latest research project. [See Part 1]

finding-koba1

I’ve shown Tsamkxao, one of the guides at the lodge, my photos of the Ju|’hoan people I met in this area when I first visited in 1994.
“Do you know her?” I ask, pointing to a picture of a solemn young woman I’ve always thought of as Koba, namesake of the heroine in my novels, Salt and Honey and Kalahari Passage.
“Yes. She’s Koba.” Bingo! I feel breathless, almost afraid to ask the next question.
“Where does she live?”
“In Makuri.”

I knew it was too good to be true. Makuri is an outlying settlement, deep in a baobab forest. It’s 4-wheel drive territory. My little Polo won’t make it.

“But she is here now, for the Devil’s Claw harvest,” Tsamkxao adds, unaware of how his casual words make my heart soar.
“C-could you s-show me where she is staying?”
“Yes… tomorrow.”

Overnight I think long and hard about the debt an author owes to person whose name they used for a fictional character. Beside her name, I knew nothing personal about the young woman in the woollen yellow hat I spent a few hours with all those years ago. I was the group’s first eco-tourist back in the day when they were trying to work out how to monetize the only thing they had, namely, their culture. They took me foraging, showed me how to make fire by rubbing sticks, danced and sang a traditional song. I had no language in common with Koba, and even if I’d had, she was so shy I doubt she’d have said a word. I requisitioned her name for my protagonist simply because it was, to my mind, one of the more easily pronounceable San names I heard at the time, being free of the clicks and click-consonants that Westerners find so difficult. I knew nothing about the real Koba’s life but I hoped it was nothing like the tragic one I invented for my heroine.

I tossed and turned trying to work out how to explain to a non reading- and writing-literate person what a novel is. (I didn’t know for sure, but chances were that Koba had never turned the pages of any book, having had no formal schooling. It’s estimated that even today 50% of San have never been to school and 90% of those who have, drop out long before they receive a certificate. There are understandable reasons for this. More about those in another blog post.) Given my ignorance about her, I was afraid that a gift of one of my novels, containing a heartfelt dedication, would be tactless. Anyway, how would I explain that my naïve intention to do some consciousness-raising on behalf of the beleaguered San via my novels, had not been commercially successful?

The next morning I pack sugar, maize meal, tea and milk powder into the boot of my car, along with a symbolic gift, a striking bead necklace. 22 years ago Koba sold me a necklace she’d made. It seems fitting to bring her one now.

Tsamkxao directs me to the outskirts of the town and I pull up outside a neat plot containing temporary-looking shelters made from plastic sheeting and zinc. There is also a two-man tent and in front of this a woman squats; she’s washing something in a plastic bucket. Continue reading

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Nyae Nyae Journey

This is the first of four blog posts by CTTR’s Candi Miller recounting her experiences with the San people in Northeastern Namibia over the summer, and the development of her latest research project. 

candi-blog-1Courtesy of my employer, the University of Wolverhampton, I received funding to undertake a reccie to Nyae Nyae, homeland of the Ju|’hoansi San in North-eastern Namibia. My aim was to investigate reading/writing literacy among this group of former hunter-gatherers. Personally, I was hoping to find a San writer I could mentor so s/he could write first-hand about the experiences of this, one of the world’s oldest and most marginalized indigenous people.

I was able to coincide my visit with that of Melissa Heckler, founding teacher of the Village Schools Project, which offers culturally-mediated mother–tongue education to Ju|’hoan children in remote areas, so I was keen to learn about this renowned literacy initiative. But first we had to get there.

One reaches Nyae Nyae by crossing the African continent, then travelling 670 km north from Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. We passed troupes of baboon which live in the copper-coloured hills surrounding the city, then entered a seemingly endless savannahscape: dark umbrella-shaped thorn trees protruding above an ocean of bleached grass; families of warthog on calloused knees rooting around on the verges; roan antelope and once, a rare Nyala gazing out from behind a high game fence. The road goes on and on and on and on, but I was with one of the world’s top storytellers so the kilometers flew by.

candi-blog-1bI’d barely registered the turn off to the big meteor crash site near Grootfontein before we were on the ‘Great White Way’, the gravel road that leads ultimately to the border between Namibia and Botswana.  It’s a hot and dusty 5-hour drive through thorn scrub that’s tinder-dry after a long drought.  Veld fires, set and accidental, are common, and I was relieved that the wide road acted as firebreak to the inferno we encountered on our right-hand side. The not-so-hard shoulder of this road (beware deep, sucking sand turned glassy by the intense heat) was a feeding station for the startlingly coloured lilac-breasted rollers who waited there to gobble up grasshoppers fleeing the flames. I’ve never seen so many rollers concentrated in one space. They say every bird has 27 colours in its plumage and I can vouch for the fact that the turquoise-blue wings alone are dazzling against the backdrop of charred veld.

Finally a transmission tower appeared on the horizon (Remember this tower; it looms large in my new project) and Melissa craned forward. This was her seventeenth trip to the Nyae Nyae Conservancy since she started the first Village school 25 years ago. Some of the Ju|’hoan children she taught are now adults and send their children to Village schools. On this visit Melissa planned to initiate a pre-school program for the new generation of Ju|’hoan children.

I had personal reasons for feeling excited.  It was 22 years since I‘d visited this area and I hoped to meet up with some of the people who unwittingly inspired my first novel, Salt & Honey. I figured the chances were slim; they were nomadic, the group may have disbanded, people could have died. And I wasn’t sure how close to Tsumkwe, the town where I’d be based, they had been. Still, strange things happen in the Kalahari; as Melissa says, you’ve just got to be there.

Continue reading

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