My Student experience in London

Hello

So I’ve realised that this blog has become horrifically impersonal, so I thought I would do a post to help you guys get to know the person behind the keyboard.

You may have noticed in my little profile section that there is a slight snippet about myself being an English Literature and History student in London. I thought I could expand upon this, and tell you a little about my experience studying in the big city (Especially as I have spent the majority of my life in the quiet security of the countryside).

I would be lying if I said the prospect of living in the capital, and being able to brand myself a “Londoner” , didn’t excite me.  However trading the trees and fields of the Shire for the concrete buildings and interminable sirens of the city wasn’t quite what I expected.

The first pre-conception I had was that Londoners were innately and unnecessarily rude. Well this notion hasn’t necessarily been shattered, overtime I have almost learned to sympathise with the behaviour of those “rude” Londoners. If you’ve ever visited London, you might have found yourself shoved to one side of the tube, or pushed past in the street by a herd of businessmen clad in suits. Well I can agree that this is annoying, their behaviour is not entirely unjustified. The truth is, naturally the people in London are just far busier, or at least there’s a higher concentration of the busy people in comparison to most areas. Given the environment, it’s rare that you’re going to walk past people that are out for just an aimless stroll. Almost everyone has somewhere to be. Countless times I have been halted by a blockade of naïve tourists gawping at our architecture. We do have some impressive landmarks, but come on…stand to one side. Of course it would be unfair to generalise this to everyone in London, but let’s be honest, you would be pretty annoyed as well if your daily routine was continuously slowed down by people who are simply ignorant to the regular customs. It can be frustrating living in a tourist destination to have to wade through unpredictable traffic to go about your daily business. But hey, I suppose it’s what you sign up for. I should also add that many tourists are actually very mindful of our customs, but all it takes is the odd few to have Londoners cursing through their teeth. Must be something in the water.

So I suppose other than a gradual growing impatience towards visitors to the city, another huge impact London has had on me as been the draining of my bank account. As I am entering my third and final year of study, you would think naturally that the drinking and partying would slow down as my maturity developed an appropriate level of seriousness for my work. You would be wrong…partly. My sensible work ethic has been forced by my economic struggles. In the majority of central clubs in London, you are extorted for the equivalent of your weekly food shop every time you want to quench your thirst. Accompany this with the mammoth monthly rent, and you have a whole city of students leaching off their overdrafts to survive. The student loan just doesn’t stretch.

My final comment on life in London is perhaps one of the main ones on the minds of the majority of parents. Crime. This was something I was never too worried about. Again, living in the countryside I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the criminal grasp of gang violence. However I suppose I did underestimate just how easy it is in the city for “trouble” to find you. I mean, it’s a fairly regular occurrence on my regular route to campus to be approached by youths trying to sell me drugs. I must admit, the majority are fairly polite in the way they go about pushing their product. But I would be lying if I said that they all took rejection with grace. Furthermore, I have unfortunately been involved in a few situations that I fear were pushed right to the precipice of problems occurring.  But it’s a city, there’s going to be some nutters. The best advice I could give you is to keep your head down. If trouble comes looking for you, just walk the other way. I have since changed my route to Uni.

So those were a few of the things I found had the most impact on me when I first moved to London. I thought it would change the tone of my blog a little and make it that slight bit more personal.

Thanks for reading!

J J

Feminism in Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway”

 

Many of Virginia Woolf’s works have been attributed with the promotion of feminism, and as such, the topic of feminism in her novels is broad and rich with content. To try and keep this relatively interesting, I’ve been very selective with what I’ve included, and picked just a small selection of points that I found to be the most interesting when I first read Mrs Dalloway.

I must confess that modernist literature, although refreshing, has never really been my thing. Furthermore, the plot of Mrs Dalloway at a first glance, wouldn’t be something that on paper would interest me. However when I started actually reading it, one character in particular that stood out for me, was Sally Seaton. Sally Seaton is perhaps the most obvious advert for feminism in the novel. She enters the narrative as the embodiment of 20th century feminism, personifying independence and instinctively arguing over women’s rights with the patriarchal Hugh Whitbread. Peter Walsh reminisces “One of the things he remembered best was an argument on Sunday morning at Bourton about women’s rights (that antediluvian topic), when Sally suddenly lost her temper, flared up” (page 62). The narration in this passage aligns with the traditional and widely accepted consensus that women should be shackled by their gender. Describing the topic as “antediluvian” and suggesting that Sally was unreasonable in the way she “flared up”. During the early 20th century women’s rights were still very limited, and Mrs. Dalloway takes place in the recent aftermath of women achieving the right to vote in 1918. That being said, the controversial argument of women’s rights would very much have been a large topic of debate, especially post factum of women’s suffrage.

Sally also adopts an open and liberalist ideology. She lives life in the moment, and appears not to be governed by politics nor politeness. She is a rare example of a woman showing independence.  However, in many ways the somewhat anti climatic subduing of Sally’s once free spirit is very much reflective of the tight patriarchal grip that was ever closing around women of the period. Sally portrays a very different image to the one Clarissa paints when she arrives at the party. Once idolized and admired for her outrageous and shocking nature, now seems to be tamed by the patriarchal society she once detested. Once sally referred to marriage as a “catastrophe” for women, now she has adopted her husband’s name, referred to as “Lady Rosseter”, a mother of five. Even Peter Walsh struggles to align with Sally’s new found maternal role, “he really could not call her ‘lady Rosseter’” (page 158) being shocked that Sally has surrendered to the male governed society. This is indicative of the way in which the culture of the early 20th century overturned and consumed the spirit of feminism. Sally’s personality seems far more dry and dull now that she has been tamed under the thumb of her male companion, in comparison to her once exciting and engaging traits.

What is perhaps most noteworthy about the relationship between Sally and Clarissa, Is the way in which Woolf brings into question the pairs sexuality. Woolf writes “Sally stopped: picked a flower; kissed her on the lips” (page 30). During the period of publication there were still legal restraints on homosexuality, making this act shocking, for both the reader and Clarissa. What makes this moment so powerful is how Clarissa reflects on the kiss “Then came the most exquisite moment of her whole life” suggesting that this was much more than just a passing moment of folly. Upon reflection she even says “had not that, after all, been love?” Woolf writes “it had a quality which could only exist between women, between women just grown up” (page 29). Here the relationship appears very matriarchal, having a bond that cannot be as strong nor as special with men, but one that can only exist between women. The focus between the relationship of Sally and Clarissa is representative of this concept. Woolf essentially uses her two characters attraction a form of feminist protest, rejecting the need for male involvement in a loving relationship.

One of the less obvious ways that Woolf promotes feminism, is not through her promotion of the female characters, but her criticism of the male ones. In particular, the physicians. Being a predominantly male profession, their arrogance and ignorance is almost comical.

Woolf herself suffered a history of mental illness, and there is no doubt that her own experiences with the ignorance of male physicians had inspired her writings. She has been described by Stephen Trombley as being a “victim of male medicine”. Her own failure to have her depression successfully treated is arguably what lead to her suicide in 1941. This male dominated profession is an ill image representative of a particular sex and class. Through Doctor Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw, Virginia Woolf promotes her own feminist views, by presenting these characters in an unfavourable light. It is the hounding from the male Doctors that drives Septimus to suicide, as the narrator says moments before his death “he didn’t want to die”. There is almost a predatory aspect to the encounter that the Doctors want to devour his soul. Behaviours that are inherent of a primitive desire to peak their masculinity. Woolf describes Bradshaw as “the brute with the red nostrils” and uses aggressive verbs such as “he swooped, he devoured, he shut people up”, giving him connotations to a predatory eagle. Sir William is a powerful representative of the masculine aspect of human nature. When the two strands of story intersect at Clarissa’s party, she too instinctively knows that Bradshaw has caused Septimus’ death. “Suppose he had the passion, and had gone to Sir William Bradshaw, a great doctor yet to her extremely evil”, and continues “If this young man had gone to him, and Sir William impressed him, like that, with his power, might he not then have said (indeed she felt it now), Life is made intolerable; they make intolerable, men like that” (page 157). Here Woolf presents very plainly that male ignorance and arrogance has caused the suffering of the otherwise innocent.

Despite obtaining the vote in 1918, women’s rights were far from equal. In the wake of the suffragette movement, feminist literature was becoming more and more integral in the promotion of equality. Woolf draws from her own experiences of male oppression, be it from the male physicians she suffered in her own life, to living through and seeing the horrors of the First World War, and the destruction that men caused. Since its publication in 1925 by Hogarth Press, Mrs Dalloway has remained an important and inspiring piece of feminist literature.

 

Some writing on Woolf that I found useful when writing this:

Barrett, Eileen, Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, NYU Press, 1997

Montashery, Iraj, A feminist reading of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Univeristy Putra Malaysia, 2012

Trombley Stephen, All that summer she was mad Virginia Woolf and her Doctor, 1981

 

The Cold War in The War of the Worlds

Although written before the Cold War, HG Well’s The War of the Worlds is almost clairvoyant in the way it echoes the foundations of the tense conflict that took the earth to the brink of nuclear annihilation. The Cold War brought with it the same suspense that the Brits endured in War of the Worlds, only the world was threatened to be destroyed at the hands of men wielding nuclear power as oppose to a Martian invasion. One of the most interesting comparisons between the factual and fictional conflicts is the importance of information, and misinformation.

Partly what made the Cold War such a terrifying experience for the majority of civilians, was the harrowing silence. On both sides, the USA and the USSR, a silence descended as the iron curtain was drawn closed. In retaliation to this silence, both sides prepared for the worst. War. In The War of the Worlds, a similar silence creates an equally frightening experience. The intensity that is created while the inhabitants of Woking wait for their extra-terrestrial cylinder to open is nail-biting.  At the moment the cylinder opens, “The little group of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence” (page 27). Marking the swift incineration of peaceful civilians. It was a similar real fear for the people living through the political instability of the cold war. The fear that out of the silence would emerge a nuclear heat that would to sweep them from existence.

Sight plays an important part in the narrative, with the harrowing opening “this world was being watched” (page 1).  Wells writes, “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us”. Although written about the Martians, you can almost imagine both the Russian and the American governments of the time secretly drawing up their own schemes for ideological domination. Both the USA and USSR employed espionage tactics by using spies to uncover secrets and information, silently observing their enemy. The idea of being watched continues throughout the narrative when the Martians are concealed in their pit “the Martians did not show an inch of themselves…apparently they were busy getting ready for a struggle” (page 40). This continues the idea of not being able to see your opponent, but being aware that they are plotting against you.

Furthermore, newspapers are a fundamental part of the novel, representing the importance of communication and information in a modern society. As the novel moves forward, the mention of newspapers shrinks drastically. You can measure this using the Voyant tool. This is the result of the Martians invading British information, and sabotaging their main forms of communication. By limiting what information the humans could convey to one another, the Martians were able to come so close to global domination. This highlight the importance of information in fighting modern day wars. They are more effectively won through collapsing the others infrastructure than storming the gates.

The similarities are numerous, despite Well’s novel pre-existing the cold war. Perhaps this is due to humans sharing with the Martians an innate desire to conquer other civilizations. After all, Wells highlights at the beginning of the novel the dark history that shrouds British imperialism. I don’t know what is scarier, heat rays wielded by Martians, or nuclear weapons in the hands of men.

 

My Experience at Penguin Random House

Being a History and English Literature student at University, I decided it was time to dedicate some thought into my future. I had by this point whittled down my desires to focus on a career that was primarily literature or writing based.

Fortunately, in October 2016, I was given the opportunity to spend some time on a work placement with Penguin Random House based in London. Having not the slightest knowledge beforehand of what the demands of a publisher would entail, I was a completely blank slate.

Eager for experience, I didn’t specify a particular area of interest, and so I ended up in the Children’s Marketing and Publicity division. My first false preconception, it that everyone would be middle aged, wearing suits and matching pompous sneers as they carelessly threw hopeful manuscripts into bins. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The dress code is casual, so casual that I felt overdressed playing it safe in a shirt and jeans. Furthermore, 90% of the people I got talking to where in their mid-twenties (and I was networking all over the office), and super friendly. So friendly, that I still stay in contact with the majority of the people I worked with to this day.

Naturally, as free labour you are toward the bottom of the pile, and are responsible for the more mundane tasks, such as dispensing people’s mail and running out to purchase stationary. However out of you 8 hour day, these mind numbing processes take up about an hour, maybe two tops. The rest of the responsibilities I was issued were fairly un-standardized and interesting. Like I said earlier, you are essentially team bitch of the department, which means every person in that department emails you every time they want something done. This means you’ve got people from marketing, sales, publicity, and editing sending you emails from all corners of the office begging for your help. Prioritizing these is possibly the hardest task of all, because naturally you don’t want to let anyone down. Regretfully, I couldn’t please everyone, despite staying late where possible. But hey, that’s life I suppose.

The jobs ranged greatly, from checking Jacqueline Wilson’s fan mail (people send her weird stuff), to setting up online competitions, and attending book signings. I managed to spend a lot of time with one of the editors at Penguin Random house, and even aided him with judging a short story contest that was run for charity. Although the role I was given was broad, it’s very easy to streamline yourself into a particular area to better familiarize yourself with a specific role. For example if you are interested in editing, it’s very easy to get chatting to one of the many editors who are floating round the office and offer them your help. I even went for a few drinks with one of them at the end of the day to pick his brain.

I couldn’t recommend the experience enough, especially if you are on the cusp of dedicating your future to publishing. It’s super easy to apply,  You can find the applications clicking here.

If you guys have any questions feel free to drop me an email, as I am aware I have kept this very short and sweet. Also I still stay in regular contact with the people I worked with, so anything I can’t answer I can for sure try and pass on.

Thanks for reading!

The Great War and the War for Middle-earth

I have always been fascinated by the effect that an author’s own personal experiences can have on their literature. In most cases there is evidence of the author’s life seeping into the narrative, having most works being inspired by the changing world around them. Tolkien (shown here on the right in his military uniform) is no exception to this. In many ways, the fantasy world populated by dwarfs and elves is not far from our own history. Or at least the history that Tolkien himself experienced.

“One of the greatest influences on the epic battle for Middle Earth is what Tolkien saw during the Great War. In 1916, instead of bravely facing down a horde of Orcs clad head to toe in the black armour of Mordor, himself wielding a legendary elvish weapon, Tolkien sat in a mud-filled trench on the River Somme, clutching at his Webley service revolver, preparing to face the onslaught of German guns. It was his

experiences in this bloody conflict that inspired many of the heroic battles that take place in The Lord of The Rings. 

The filthy conditions that Tolkien endured lead him develop “trench fever”, and in turn earned him a ticket home from the front to recover. It was during his time in hospitals that he embarked on his fantasy adventure and began writing The Lost Tales.

During his time in hospital, the horrors of the frontline haunted him, and in turn began to plague his writings that would form the foundations of the Lord of the Rings. The threat from the demonic overlord

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Sauron has many similarities with Kaiser Wilhelm the II’s desire for the dominion of Europe. One of which, is the vivid imagery used to describe the wastelands of Mordor which echoes the blood soaked terrain of the western front. “It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume” (page 261). No doubt the latter part of his quotation is a reference to the use of chemical weapons during the Great War.

Tolkien based many of his characters on his experiences on the front line. From the charming hobbits who dwell in the shire, to the demonic nazgul depicted to the left. Tolkien said “My ‘Sam Gamgee’ is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war”. This serves as a harrowing reminder that the trials and tribulations of characters such as Samwise Gamgee, and the brave men of Rohan and Gondor, may seem far away in distant fiction to the majority of us; but for Tolkien, his writings are based upon the hardships of real soldiers.

Tolkien may have lifted a lot of his fiction from his own experience of the Great War. However, although his writing resonates from real life, Tolkien has made the conflict in his novels far more comforting than the war that he himself experienced. This relates to the idea of Romance, where an author makes the fantasy vaguer which allows readers to insert their own thoughts and anxieties into the text. After all, to envision yourself cutting the head of an orc is far more inviting than Tolkien’s reality of taking the life of another human being.

I found the following biography most helpful in identifying key inspirations from the Great War: Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth. For personal reference it can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Tolkien-Great-War-Threshold-Middle-earth/0007119534

 

 

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