New Books April 2023

We’ve got lots of lovely new books (and DVDs!) at the EFL, ready to welcome everyone back for Trinity Term. If you’re worried you might have missed out on some of the new arrivals while away from Oxford for the vacation, don’t worry – catch up on all of them over on LibraryThing, or keep reading to see a few selections that caught our eye in April …


Cover image for The Wife of Willesden by Zadie SmithZadie Smith, The Wife of Willesden (2021)

Chaucer’s Alison, the Wife of Bath, has a long history of being interpreted and reinterpreted – she is Chaucer’s ‘most enduring and appealing character‘. In Smith’s retelling, Alison is reimagined as Alvita, ‘an unashamedly sex-positive woman in her mid-50s’. Over the course of a lock-in at the local pub, Alvita tells her story of living life her way, refusing to be told what she can and cannot do by husbands, society, religion – or anyone else for that matter.

The Wife of Willesden is Smith’s debut play, written to tie in with the Borough of Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture. As much as it celebrates Alvita, it is also a love-letter to Willesden and its vibrant community – a common thread in much of Smith’s work.

There are lots of works by Smith at the EFL. Browse them on SOLO.


Cover image for Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction by Benjamin BatemanBenjamin Bateman, Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction (2023)

In this study, Bateman works to find an alternative to what might be termed ‘queer progressive narratives’ in contemporary fiction. By placing modernist classics by authors including E. M. Forster and Willa Cather in conversation with contemporary queer and environmental fiction, Bateman ‘refuses the common wisdom that queerness becomes louder and prouder over time, delineating instead a minimalist and daydreaming subjectivity wherein queerness finds escape, respite, and varied opportunities for imaginative reverie’.

Ultimately, Bateman brings together literary studies, queer theory, and the environmental humanities to offer critical alternatives to ‘coming out’ narratives, to revise theories of gender and sexual performativity, and to explore a world in which ‘queer disappearance’ might be just as important as queer presence.

This title is also available as an e-book.

Also by Bateman: The Modernist Art of Queer Survival (2017, e-book).


Cover image for Black Female Playwrights: An anthology of plays before 1950, edited by Kathy A. PerkinsKathy A. Perkins (ed.), Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays before 1950 (1990)

This anthology brings together nineteen plays from seven African American women, written between roughly 1910 and 1940. While this selection cannot be comprehensive, it is nonetheless representative of the works African American women were producing in the early twentieth century and the importance of these playwrights in the development of African American drama more generally. Perkins presents the plays alongside biographies of the seven playwrights which outline ‘each writer’s education, dramatic interests, and achievements‘, in addition to an Introduction to the collection which outlines the historical background of these playwrights’ work. The result is an anthology which forms a valuable starting point for explorations of ‘a neglected segment of black theatre‘.

Also by Perkins: Contemporary Plays by Women of Color: An Anthology (1996).


Cover image for The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.Robert Jones Jr., The Prophets (2021)

The Prophets, Jones’s debut novel, explores queer love between two enslaved men in the antebellum south. With lyricism and a ‘rich, distinctive‘ style lending itself to comparisons with Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Jones delivers ‘an outstanding novel […] but also a great sweep of history‘, all while compensating for that history’s elision of the human. The nucleus of the story is the love between Isaiah and Samuel, but their world is also populated by a plethora of characters, each ‘richly evoked, rendering the complexity of their desires and depravations‘.

This is far from an easy read. But what Jones has created, amid the horror and cruelty, is a testimony to the fact ‘that humans do still love, even when the most terrifying threats hang over them’.


Cover image for Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830, edited by Cecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard WingardCecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard Wingard (eds.), Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830 (2022)

This collection of essays brings together literary scholars and art historians to trace developments in satire from the seventeenth through to the early nineteenth centuries. Over this period, satire became less genre-driven and increasingly visual, flourishing in various formats. The contributions to this collection consider works of satire by well-known figures like Swift and Milton, as well as lesser-known manuscript sources and prints from the period. While there is a general focus on England, the collected essays also consider satire across Europe, in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The result is a fascinating study which maps the development of satire, revealing it ultimately to be a key vehicle for the transgression of boundaries.

This title is also available as an e-book


Cover image for The Farwell, directed by Lulu WangThe Farewell, dir. Lulu Wang (2020)

The Farewell is a ‘beautifully bittersweet‘ comedy starring Awkwafina as Billi. Born in China but raised in the USA, these two aspects of Billi’s identity start to clash when she and her extended family return to China to say goodbye to their matriarch, Nai Nai – but no-one has told Nai Nai that she is terminally ill. The result is a witty, funny, and ultimately endearing exploration of identity, culture and family.

Many DVDs arrived at the library this month – you can browse the latest arrivals on LibraryThing. Portable DVD players can be borrowed from the enquiry desk. Alternatively, you can view films in the computer room; just ask at the desk if you’d like help getting set up.

Shakespeare Resources

To kick off Trinity Term, we’ve put together a rundown of the different types of resources about and by Shakespeare which you can find at the EFL, either in the library or online.

Because there are so many Shakespeare resources to choose from, this selection is far from comprehensive. Instead, it’s intended to give you an idea of the types of resource you could look for – from primary texts and critical material to performances and films.

If you’d like to find out more about the library’s Shakespeare resources, the Shakespeare LibGuide would be a good place to start. There are tabs covering the resources we’ll talk about in this blog post, like eTexts and eBooks, as well as resources we don’t have space to cover here like journals, newspapers and ephemera.

While this post will give a few examples of specific titles you can find online or in the library, it’s not a reading list. But if that’s what you’re after, help is at hand! The English Faculty have put together an ORLO list of titles intended as an entry point into different ways of approaching and thinking about Shakespeare and his works.

An engraving of Shakespeare, coloured pink. There are two quotes on his collar: on the left, "You must translate; Tis fit we understand them."; and on the right, "Bless thee Bottome, bless thee; thou art translated."

©️ Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford 2023

 

Finally, if you’re interested in discovering more about Shakespeare at the wider Bodleian, head over to the Weston Library to see the Thou Art Translated display. The display celebrates 400 years since the publication of the First Folio and is open until Sunday 14 May.

 


Primary Texts

Where better to start this list of Shakespeare resources than with the plays themselves? There are a few different options available if you’re looking for texts of the plays, including digital and physical versions. Keep reading to find out more about some of these options, or for a fuller list have a look at the eTexts tab of the LibGuide.

Arden Shakespeare (via Drama Online)

Cover images, left to right: Macbeth edited by S. Clark and P. Mason; Measure for Measure edited by A.R. Braunmuller and R.N. Watson; and Othello (revised edition) edited by E.A.J. Honigmann

Examples of Arden Shakespeare titles available via Drama Online

Drama Online provides access to the searchable full-text of approximately 1,500 plays, forming a collection of the most studied, performed and critically acclaimed plays from Aeschylus to the present day. Those texts include the Arden Shakespeare series, offering annotated, scholarly editions of Shakespeare’s plays with modernised texts and comprehensive commentary notes.

Use the search function from the Drama Online homepage to find a specific text, or search for Arden Shakespeare Third Series to browse what’s on offer. Many texts in the Arden series are also available as physical books in the library – you can search for them by title on SOLO.

Oxford Scholarly Editions

Oxford Scholarly Editions makes Shakespeare’s work available in both original- and modern-spelling editions. It includes all of Shakespeare’s plays as well as his sonnets, in addition to critical material. The texts are all available online, and you can browse a list of available titles on the Oxford Scholarly Editions website. You can also find physical copies in the library; search for them by title on SOLO.

The Bodleian First Folio

Webpage capture of The Bodleian First Folio: https://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/book.html

Page-turn view of The Bodleian First Folio

Diplomatic editions of the plays of the Bodleian First Folio (Bodleian Arch. G c.7) are available online. There are different ways to view the digital edition, depending on what you need and what you prefer.

You can view an image of each page with the digital text alongside, look at just the page images using the page-turner, or view the XML version of the text. There are multiple ways to navigate the text too, including by part, play, act, scene, and signature. And if you’d prefer to view it offline, you can download images, digital text, and XML.

If you’d like to see a physical copy of the First Folio, head over to the Weston to catch the Thou Art Translated display, which runs until Sunday 14 May.


Critical material

In addition to the plays themselves, there’s a broad array of critical material available, including both series and standalone titles.

Shakespeare: The Critical Tradition

Book covers, from left to right: King Henry V, edited by Joseph Candido; Coriolanus, edited by David George; and The Tempest, edited by Brinda Charry

Examples of titles in the Shakespeare: The Critical Tradition series

The aim of the Critical Tradition series is to increase our knowledge of how Shakespeare’s plays were received and understood by critics, editors, and general readers. Each volume traces the course of Shakespeare criticism, play-by-play, from the earliest items of recorded criticism to the beginning of the modern period.

In February, four more titles in this series arrived at the EFL. They are:

You can use an advanced search on SOLO to browse all the books in this series which are available at the EFL.

Cambridge Collections Online

Book covers, clockwise from top left: The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare; Shakespeare and Contemporary Dramatists; Shakespeare on Film; and Shakespeare's First Folio

These are some of the titles in the Cambridge Companions series

The Cambridge Companions series offers a huge range of material on an enormous variety of subjects. Fully searchable digital editions of the series in Literature, Classics, Philosophy, Religion and Culture are available. The Companions can be searched by title or keyword, and you can read chapters online or download them as PDFs.

There’s lots to choose from – here are a few examples from the collection:

Many of the Cambridge Companions are also available as physical books in the library. You could search for a specific titles on SOLO, or use an advanced search to see what’s available.

Standalone books

Alongside these series, there are lots of standalone critical texts relating to Shakespeare and his works. Quite a few new ones arrived at the library at the end of Michaelmas term and through the Easter vacation – have a look at the Shakespeare or Shakespeare Studies tags on LibraryThing to browse the latest arrivals.

As you might expect, there are too many standalone books available to go through them all here! But having so much choice can be overwhelming, and that’s why the English Faculty have put together an ORLO reading list offering some initial guidance and reading suggestions about possible topics and approaches to the English BA FHS Paper: Shakespeare. It’s not intended to be prescriptive, nor as a canon of approaches or texts, but it can be a good place to start when you’re looking to discover texts, critics and areas of interest for yourself.


Audio-visual Resources

If you’d like a break from books, there are still lots of resources to choose from at the EFL and online, from recordings of performances to film and TV dramas, and more besides.

A photo of wooden shelves in the library - the top two shelves contain the new journals display, and the lower three shelves contain the Shakespeare Film Collection

The Shakespeare Film Collection in the library

You can find lots of DVDs in the library, including a whole section of Shakespeare plays on film (and some VHS cassettes!). The Shakespeare films can be found in a different place to the main Film Collection – they’re under the New Journals display, by the quick search PCs.

If you’d like to watch one of the DVDs, you can borrow a portable DVD player from the enquiry desk. You can also watch DVDs or VHS cassettes in the computer room – just ask a member of staff if you’d like help getting set up.

And of course, there’s plenty of audio-visual material online too …


Plays and Performances

We’ve already talked about the play texts you can access through Drama Online, but alongside those texts you can find a huge range of recordings of Shakespeare plays, including performances from the RSC, National Theatre, and Shakespeare’s Globe.

Webpage capture of Drama Online: https://www.dramaonlinelibrary.com/home

Homepage of Drama Online [© Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2022]

The resources are organised into different collections, some of which feature content about Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s Globe on Screen

This collection features 30 productions recorded live on the Globe stage. It includes performances from Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night, and Roger Allam’s Olivier Award-winning Falstaff in Henry IV. The latest collection of productions, all staged between 2016 and 2018, includes plays performed at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse, the Globe’s indoor Jacobean theatre.

RSC Live Collection

The RSC Live Collection offers recordings of 32 RSC productions, with two more due to be added later this year. Each recording is accompanied by fully searchable transcripts with real-time tracking of lines spoken. The available plays including The Tempest starring Simon Russell Beale and featuring live motion capture, and Hamlet with award-winning Paapa Essiedu in the title role.

So far this year, five plays have been added. These are:

Richard III and All’s Well That Ends Well are coming later this year.

National Theatre Collection

Drawing on 10 years of NT Live broadcasts alongside high-quality archive recordings never previously seen outside of the NT’s Archive, the National Theatre Collection offers a total of 50 filmed performances. There are 9 Shakespeare productions available in Collection 1, including Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston and Twelfth Night with Tamsin Grieg as a transformed Malvolia in a new twist on Shakespeare’s classic comedy.

You can access Collection 1 now with your Oxford SSO. We will soon have access to Collection 2 as well, featuring two further Shakespeare plays: Macbeth with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, and Romeo and Juliet (2020) which was filmed using the backstage spaces of the National Theatre during the Coronavirus pandemic.


TV and Film

Drama Online has a wealth of resources, but it’s not the only way to access audio-visual material relating to Shakespeare. Box of Broadcasts, or BoB, gives you access to over 2.2 million broadcasts from UK TV and radio. Once you’ve registered or signed in using your Oxford SSO, you can view recordings, save and organise programmes into playlists, and create clips of programmes.

Webpage capture of Box of Broadcasts homepage: https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand

Box of Broadcasts (BoB) homepage [Copyright © 2023 · Learning on Screen – the British Universities and Colleges Film and Video Council]

Searching for a broad term like ‘Shakespeare’ can bring up lots of results, so we’ve put together playlists to help you find programmes and get started. The Film & TV Dramas playlist includes films such as David Tennant’s RSC Hamlet performance, and series like the BBC’s Hollow Crown and the BBC Shakespeare Performances. There’s also a Documentaries playlist of both TV and radio broadcasts, including the Shakespeare Uncovered series. These playlists give an indication of the programmes available, but there’s lots more to be found on BoB!


Too much screen time?

Recordings of performances, films and TV are great, but sometimes you might want to give your eyes a rest and listen to some interesting Shakespeare resources. That’s where the English Faculty’s podcast series can help!

Webpage capture of English Faculty podcasts: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/units/faculty-english-language-and-literature?page=0

Podcasts from the English Faculty [© 2011-2022 The University of Oxford]

One of the podcasts you could listen to is Approaching Shakespeare, a series of lectures by Professor Emma Smith. Each lecture focuses on one play and employs a range of different approaches to try and understand a critical question about it. The series aims to show the variety of different ways we might understand Shakespeare, the kinds of evidence that might be used to strengthen our cultural analysis, and above all the enjoyable and unavoidable fact that Shakespeare’s plays tend to generate our questions rather than answer them. You can listen online, or find it on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Another Shakespeare (or at least Shakespeare-adjacent!) podcast from the English Faculty is Not Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean Popular Theatre. In this series, Professor Emma Smith introduces 12 once popular but now little-known plays from Shakespeare’s Elizabethan and Jacobean contemporaries. These plays can tell us a lot about what their first audiences enjoyed, aspired to and worried about, as well as broadening our understanding of the theatre Shakespeare wrote for, all while recreating some of the excitement and dramatic possibilities of the new, popular technology of Renaissance theatre. You can listen online, or find it on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.


And there you have it – a quick rundown of some of the types of Shakespeare resources available to you. Don’t forget to check out the Shakespeare LibGuide and the Shakespeare ORLO list for even more!

Service Update: Trinity Term 2023

Introduction

Now we’re coming to the end of 0th Week, it’s time to wish all our readers the best for the term ahead! To help you meet that term with your best self forward, this post’ll let you know all about recent and upcoming changes to services and opening times. We’ve kept it short – you have enough on your plates!

Vacation Loans

Vacation loans are nearly due! All vacation loans need to be either returned or renewed during the first week of Trinity Term – the week starting from the 23rd April.

Opening Hours

From Saturday 22nd April*, the library will move to term time opening hours. These are:

Monday to Friday: 9:00-19:00

Saturday: 10:00-13:00

Sunday: Closed

*For avoidance of doubt, we will be open Saturday 22nd April as usual in term-time, 10am-1pm.

Contact Us

If you have any questions or need help with anything, our library staff will always be available during opening hours to speak with you.

You can also contact us via telephone, email, or twitter. All our details can be found on the English Faculty Library webpage.

Final Words

From all of us here at the EFL – welcome back!


Stay up to date with developments at the English Faculty Library by following us on Twitter. Updates affecting the Bodleian Libraries as a whole will be published on the Service updates webpage. Any questions about library service updates can be addressed to efl-enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

More Than Just Books – Accessibility

Hello, readers! Welcome to the fourth instalment in our More Than Just Books series. This series was created to draw attention to the wonderful things that the library offers beyond just the books on our shelves. You can check out the other posts in the series here.

Today we’re going to be talking about the accessibility provisions offered in the English Faculty Library. Topics include:

Building Access

The English Faculty Library is located across 2 floors in the St Cross Building. The building itself has level access through a lift in the main foyer, and all parts of the library have level access through a lift located in the library office. You can read more about navigating the building here.

Photograph of the exterior of the English Faculty Library

The English Faculty Library is in the St Cross Building at the corner of St Cross Road and Manor Road. Source: Access Guide (linked above)

Parking outside the building is limited and often in high demand, so we usually recommend using the Park and Ride service where possible. However, a parking space for Blue Badge holders is available.

Guide dogs and hearing dogs are welcome.

Specialist Services

We offer some specialist services to readers who are registered with the Disability Advisory Service or by individual arrangement, at the discretion of the library staff. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Hearing Loops
  • Extended loan periods and unlimited renewals
  • Large print or Braille copies of our informational leaflets
  • Permitting the consumption of food and drink in the library (only where medically necessary)
  • Pre-booking of socially distanced desk space
  • Proxy borrowing
  • Book fetching and reserving
  • One-to-one inductions
A photograph of a single-occupant table by the window.

Socially-distanced seating is available upstairs in the library.

You can find out more information about the specialist services we offer here.

Accessibility Station

We’ve talked to you about our Accessibility Station before, but it seems worth reiterating here. We keep a variety of accessibility equipment in the library for any readers to use as necessary. All we ask is that you put it back where you found it when you’re finished. The station includes:

  • Footstools
  • Bookrests
  • Coloured acetate sheets
  • Reading rulers
  • Earplugs
  • Daylight lamp (stored on the height adjustable desk upstairs)
  • Magnifying glass
  • Laptop stands
A photograph of our Accessibility Hub

The equipment in our Accessibility Hub can be used by any library users.

We also have some height-adjustable desks and ergonomic chairs. You can read more about our height-adjustable furniture here.

The Bodleian Libraries

Beyond just the English Faculty Library, the wider Bodleian Libraries offers a range of services to assist disabled readers with accessing and using resources. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • ARACU (The Accessible Resources Acquisition and Creation Unit): a team who can help you with accessing printed resources in alternative formats.
  • RNIB Bookshare: a database of accessible books and resources.
  • SensusAccess: a service that reformats inaccessible files into accessible ones, including ebooks, audio books, and digital Braille.
  • Self-Help Reading Lists: curated by the University Counselling service

You can see the full offering of services for disabled readers here.

Contacts

If you’d like any more information on anything we’ve talked about today, you can contact:

New Books March 2023

The end of another month brings another blog post highlighting just a few of the books which arrived at the library in March. From short fiction to memoirs, historical studies to explorations of the power of narrative and storytelling, there’s lots of variety in this month’s new book selection.

As ever, this is only a snapshot of the new books that have arrived at the library. Check out the whole selection on LibraryThing!


Cover image for 'Treacle Walker' by Alan GarnerAlan Garner, Treacle Walker (2022).

Treacle Walker is a ‘short but profound‘ novel, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. Garner’s work is often divided by publishers and booksellers into children’s literature and adult’s literature, though Garner has said he doesn’t see such a distinction – and Treacle Walker undoubtedly blends the two.

While the story is about a child, ‘its philosophical meditations and terrifying climax mean it is definitely for adults’. It is ‘a flinty fable about a convalescent boy visited by a rag-and-bone man’, exploring themes of time, our relationship to the present and its roots in an older mythic and folkloric past.

There are many works by Garner at the EFL – you can find them on SOLO.


Cover image for Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace, edited by James Buzard, Joseph W. Childers, and Eileen GilloolyJames Buzard et al. (eds.), Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace (2007).

The Great Exhibition of 1851 is synonymous with the Crystal Palace, the great glass-and-iron cathedral to science which housed it. This collection of essays takes an interdisciplinary approach to the Exhibition’s significance, legacy, and impact around the world.

Reviewers generally agree this is an interesting collection. Some criticisms include a lack of thematic coherence, with the loose concept of ‘modernity’ doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Others note an uncritical use of sources in parts and an assumption that the reader will already know ‘the basic story‘. That said, it offers interesting and valuable interdisciplinary perspectives on the Crystal Palace’s significance and legacy.


Cover image for Black Vodka by Deborah Levy.Deborah Levy, Black Vodka (2017).

Black Vodka is a collection of ten short stories, set across a handful of European cities. No matter which city Levy’s characters find themselves in, they are complex, flawed and surprising people, disconcerting to each other and to us.

These are ‘fragmentary, elliptical’ stories which ‘refuse to settle down into something immediately recognisable’. The stories and characters are layered and elusive, seeming to reveal something yet leaving the sense that much more has been concealed. With her ‘incantatory, gorgeous writing’ and ‘coiled, polished sentences’, Levy has created a powerful exploration of what drives us together, and what keeps us apart.

Also by Levy at the EFL: Hot Milk (2017); The Man who Saw Everything (2019).


Cover for Metamorphosis: A life in pieces, by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Metamorphosis: A Life in Pieces (2023).

In 2017, Douglas-Fairhurst was diagnosed with MS. In Metamorphosis, he recounts his response to this diagnosis, and how turning to literature helped him.

With writing full of ‘elegance, wit and insight‘, Douglas-Fairhurst explores the power of stories. As a professor of English at Oxford, turning to books was an instinctive response. He ‘read furiously‘, finding ‘no shortage of authors and characters as beleaguered as him‘. Through this bibliotherapy, Douglas-Fairhurst has created not just a record of illness, but a funny and raw exploration of the relationship between literature and life.

Also by Douglas-Fairhurst at the EFL: Victorian Afterlives: The shaping of influence in nineteenth-century literature (2002); Becoming Dickens: The invention of a novelist (2011); The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the secret history of Wonderland (2015); The Turning Point: A year that changed Dickens and the world (2021).


Cover image for 'Romantic Women's Life Writing: Reputation and afterlife', by Susan Civale.Susan Civale, Romantic Women’s Life Writing: Reputation and Afterlife (2019).

Civale presents case studies of the life writing by and about four Romantic women: Frances Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson, and Mary Hays. She fully contextualises each woman’s life writing, exploring their other work, their biographies, and their social, cultural and intellectual contexts.

Crucially, Civale considers not only the women’s writing but how their readers responded to it, from the texts’ publication right through the long nineteenth century. She notes that this is a key departure from the existing historiography. It is this which makes Civale’s work such a fascinating study of women’s life writing in the Romantic period and beyond.

This book is also available as an e-book.


Cover image: 'Seduced by the Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative', by Peter BrooksPeter Brooks, Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative (2022).

Brooks laments what he calls the ‘storification of reality‘ – the omnipresence of narrative which turns us into uncritical consumers of information. But instead of attacking narrative, he offers ‘a potent defence of attentive reading and its real-world applications‘.

Some critics have pointed to the preponderance of old, white, male authors in Brooks’s examples of novels; others have wondered why he doesn’t consider other media – especially narrative creation and consumption on the internet. These criticisms notwithstanding, this remains a powerful demonstration of the power of narrative and the dangers of our over-reliance on it.

There are many works by Brooks at the EFL – you can find them on SOLO. These other works include Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (1985), Brooks’s first study of the significance of narrative.

Women’s History Month 2023: A Brief History of Women’s Writing

For Women’s History Month, we’ve put together two displays in the library exploring the history of women writing from the seventh century BCE (Before Common Era) to the twentieth century, as well as an exploration of some of the women who’ve studied at the University of Oxford in the last hundred-odd years. The displays highlight examples of writing by women and try to place those texts within the context of broader change.

If you’ve not caught the display in the library, or if you’ve already left Oxford for the vacation, don’t worry! We’ve put together an overview of the display here. Read to the end for a list of all the texts featured in the display, as well as some other resources you can find at the library.


A Brief History of Women Writing

Glass display case in the library, titled 'A Brief History of Women Writing'. There are six texts on display. From left to right: If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho. The Book of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pizan. Oroonoko, by Aphra Behn. The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox. A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf

The First Women Writing: 7th Century BCE to 14th Century CE

The first ‘writing women’ featured in this display are Sappho and Christine de Pizan. Sappho ‘flourished’ – that is, ‘either lived or was born or was known to be living’ – roughly 2,000 years ago, in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. Very little is known about her life. She was from the island of Lesbos, and at some point was exiled to Sicily – though we don’t know when or why. But despite this dearth of knowledge about her ‘real person’, her poetry remains as fascinating today as it was popular in antiquity. Today, only one poem survives in its entirety (you can have a look at the original Greek alongside a translation into modern English in If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson, which features in the display); the rest are fragments.

Two book covers. Left: If not, winter: Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson. Right: The Book of the city of Ladies, by Christine de PizanWe know more about the other early woman writer in the display – Christine de Pizan. In 1390, de Pizan was widowed, left with no inheritance or income and three small children to support. Out of necessity, she turned to her pen, becoming the first woman to earn a living through her writing.

De Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies – which is the book included in the display – represents nothing less than the first work written by a woman in praise of women. De Pizan argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but that they lack the opportunities – and most importantly, education – afforded to men at that time. To a modern reader, her ideas are strikingly feminist; to her contemporaries, they were revolutionary and unprecedented.

(Later in this post, we’ll discuss Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in which she makes a similar argument roughly 400 years after de Pizan was writing. Depressingly, it was considered just as revolutionary then.)


Writing Fiction in English: 17th to 18th Centuries

From fifteenth-century France, we jump to seventeenth-century England, where Aphra Behn is writing both plays and prose. Behn has often been cited as the first professional female writer, including by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own (we’ll return later to Woolf and A Room of One’s Own!). There are striking similarities between Behn and her predecessors: Christine de Pizan was earning a living through her writing in the fourteenth century, and we know very little of Behn’s early life – though admittedly more than we know about Sappho.

Christine de Pizan notwithstanding, Behn was the first known Englishwoman to make a living through her writing, and – as Woolf argued – paved the way for the women who would write after her. But later audiences and readers turned away from her work, put off by her open treatment of sexuality and other ‘unfeminine’ topics. While she was a trailblazer, eighteenth-century women’s writing was markedly different. Enter: Charlotte Lennox.

Two cover images. Left: Oroonoko by Aphra Behn. Right: The Female Quixote: or, The Adventures of Arabella by Charlotte Lennox.

Lennox wrote novels, plays and poetry; her most popular work was and remains the novel, The Female Quixote. It recounts the adventures and misadventures of Arabella, a socially isolated young woman who believes that the romance stories she reads accurately reflect real life.

One reason given for the growing number of female writers in the 1700s was women’s ability to commercially exploit ideas of femininity. They explored the ambiguities of innocence as both integral to femininity and a potential source of danger which could leave young women open to corruption. The Female Quixote encompasses these themes, as Lennox shows how Arabella’s innocence and naivety get her into trouble. It is a marked departure from the more open sexuality in Behn’s writing.


For Women, Of Women, By Women: 18th to 20th Centuries

It wasn’t only fiction that women were writing in the eighteenth century. Mary Wollstonecraft, for example, is best remembered for her political writing. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she argues that women are not weak and superficial by nature. Instead, their supposed inferiority stems from their lack of education. Society taught women to be pretty and to please men, not to be rational, independent moral people.

Cover image: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and A Vindication of the Rights of Men, by Mary WollstonecraftHer arguments are similar to those made by Christine de Pizan in the fourteenth century: just because so many learned (male) writers say women are inferior to men, does not mean that it’s the natural order. But there are key departures in Wollstonecraft’s work, not least the anger that shines through her writing and her witty ripostes to her (predominantly though not exclusively) male critics. After 400 years where so little seemed to have changed, perhaps her anger and frustration aren’t surprising.

Cover image: A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas, by Virginia WoolfIn the early twentieth century, Virginia Woolf was equally concerned with women’s rights. In A Room of One’s Own, she offers a history of women’s writing and of female authors – or, more accurately, a history of the reasons why women have not been able to write. Her argument builds on what Wollstonecraft had said, in that a lack of education held women back. But Woolf went further, arguing women need not only an education, but also the opportunity to use it: women historically lacked an income and privacy, epitomised by having a room of their own. A Room of One’s Own explores themes which form the undercurrent of all Woolf’s writing, namely the question of woman’s nature and what she can contribute to civilisation.


So there you have it – a brief overview of women’s writing, in the smallest of nutshells! You can find links to the SOLO records for all the books at the end of this post, as well as links to some other resources.

At this point, you may be thinking: the history of women’s writing is all very well, but what were women closer to home writing? Well, wonder no longer! Our second display case for Women’s History Month explores writing by women who were students at Oxford in the twentieth century.


A Brief History of Oxford Women Writing

Close-up of the display case, titled 'Women at the English Faculty'. There are three books in this image. From left to right, they are: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers; The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch; and Orangers are not the only fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.

It was only 103 years ago that women first received degrees from the University. Women had been able to study at Oxford before then – Vera Brittain, for example, first came up to Oxford in 1914, though her studies were interrupted by the First World War – but it wasn’t until 1920 that women were able to receive their degrees.

Early Twentieth Century: Vera Brittain and Dorothy L. Sayers

Brittain attended Somerville College in 1914, reading English Literature. At that point, she wouldn’t have been able to use the English Faculty Library, which only allowed women in from 1916. After one year of studying, Brittain decided to delay her studies so she could support the war effort, working as a nurse. Testament of Youth (1933) is based on diaries she kept of her experiences during the First World War. In 1919, Brittain returned to Oxford to read History.

Left: Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain. Right: Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. SayersBrittain wasn’t the first woman to study at Oxford by any stretch. Dorothy L. Sayers, for example, received the Gilchrist Scholarship for Modern Languages to Somerville College in 1912, graduating with first-class honours in 1915. Although she couldn’t receive her degree at the time, Sayers came back in 1920 and was among the first women to receive an Oxford degree. Gaudy Night (1935) is a mystery novel set at the fictional Shrewsbury College, Oxford, and draws on Sayers’s own university experiences.


Mid- to Late-Twentieth Century: Iris Murdoch, Jeanette Winterson, and Wendy Cope

By the mid-twentieth century, the pace of change was picking up. In 1948, Agnes Headlam-Morley was appointed Professor of International Relations at St Hugh’s College, the first woman to be awarded a full professorship at the University. That same year, Iris Murdoch started teaching philosophy as a fellow of St Anne’s College.

Murdoch had been a student at Sommerville College from 1938 to 1942. While she had initially intended to study English Literature, she ended up switching to ‘Greats’ (a combination of classics, ancient history, and philosophy). The Sea, The Sea (1978) – which features in the display – was her nineteenth novel.

In 1974, male colleges at Oxford started to admit women (it wouldn’t be until 1979 that women’s colleges would begin to admit men). One of the first male colleges to admit women was St Catherine’s College; four years later, Jeanette Winterson went up to St Catherine’s to read English Literature. Her 1985 novel, Oranges are not the only fruit, is a semi-autobiographical work inspired by her experience of coming out as a lesbian.

Top left: The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch. Bottom left: Two Cures for Love, by Wendy Cope. Right: Oranges are not the only fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.

To give another example of Oxford students’ writing: Wendy Cope read History at St Hilda’s College, training as a teacher and teaching in primary schools before becoming a freelance writer in 1986. Her poetry collection, Two Cures for Love, features poems she wrote between 1979 and 2006. In 2010, Cope was awarded an OBE – nearly a decade before Oxford would achieve gender equality in undergraduate admissions, in 2019.


Women’s writing has certainly come a long way. From Sappho to Virginia Woolf, and from Vera Brittain and Dorothy L. Sayers neither able to use the English Faculty Library nor collect their degrees in the early twentieth century, to the University of Oxford being awarded the silver Athena Swan award for progress towards gender equality in 2023, the pace of change has picked up considerably over the last 100 years.

Interested in finding out more? Have a look at some of the other resources you can access, either in the library or online using your Oxford SSO.


Featured texts (in chronological order as they appear in the display)

Carson, Anne, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (2003).

De Pizan, Christine, The Book of the City of Ladies (1983). First published 1405.

Behn, Aphra, Oroonoko (2020). First published 1688.

Lennox, Charlotte, The Female Quixote: or, The Adventures of Arabella (1986). First published 1752.

Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Men: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, [and] An historical and moral view of the French Revolution (2008). First published 1792.

Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own; Three Guineas (2000). First published 1929.

Brittain, Vera, Testament of Youth: An autobiographical study of the years 1900-1925 (2014). First published 1933.

Sayers, Dorothy L., Gaudy Night (2016). First published 1935.

Murdoch, Iris, The Sea, The Sea (2001). First published 1978.

Winterson, Jeanette, Oranges are not the only fruit (1985). First published 1985.

Cope, Wendy, Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems 1979-2006 (2008).

 

Other sources and resources

Amory, Hugh, ‘Lennox [nee Ramsay], (Barbara) Charlotte’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 21 May 2009. [accessed 8 March 2023]

Anderson, Emily Hodgson, ‘Novelty in Novels: A Look at What’s New in Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko”’, in Studies in the Novel, 39:1 (2007), pp.1-16.

British Library, ‘Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, 1688’. [accessed 8 March 2023]

DuBois, Page, Sappho (2015).

Gallagher, Catherine, Nobody’s Story: The vanishing acts of women writers in the marketplace, 1670-1820 (1995).

Goldberg, Jonathan, Sappho: Fragments (2018).

Gordon, Lyndall, ‘Woolf [nee Stephen], (Adeline) Virginia’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004. [accessed 8 March 2023]

Taylor, Barbara, ‘Wollstonecraft [married name Godwin], Mary’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 1 September 2017. [accessed 8 March 2023]

Todd, Janet, ‘Behn, Aphra [Aphara]’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004. [accessed 8 March 2023]

Turner, Cheryl, Living By the Pen: Women writers in the eighteenth century (1992).

Podcast: The Great Forgetting: Women Writers Before Austen (2016). ‘A free podcast series addressing the lives and works of eighteenth-century women writers, devised and produced by one journalist and three academics.’ 

Timeline: 100 years of women’s history at Oxford. [accessed 6 March 2023]

Service Update: Easter Vacation 2023

Introduction

We’re creeping slowly closer to spring (though I know it might not feel like that just yet, what with the hints of snow). Well done everyone for making it to the end of Hilary Term! Make sure to take some well deserved respite over the vacation. We’ll be open for (most of) the vacation if you need anything at all from us. In the meantime, our latest updates and information can be found below.

We’re keeping it short and sweet this time – we know you’re all busy.

Vacation Opening Hours

The library will move to vacation opening hours from Monday 13th March. From this point, our opening hours will be Monday to Friday: 9:00-17:00. We will not be open on Saturdays.

Easter Closure

Please note: We will be closed for the Easter bank holidays: Friday 7th April – Monday 10th April.

Vacation Loans

Vacation loans are now in session! Anything that you borrow from now and over the vacation will be due for return in the first week of Trinity Term (which starts on the 23rd April). This means that you can crack on with your reading at home, without worrying about needing to return your books unexpectedly.

Contact Us

If you have any questions or need help with anything, our library staff will always be available during opening hours to speak with you.

You can also contact us via telephone, email, or twitter. All our details can be found on the English Faculty Library webpage.

Final Words

From all of us here at the EFL, we wish you a peaceful vacation.


Stay up to date with developments at the English Faculty Library by following us on Twitter. Updates affecting the Bodleian Libraries as a whole will be published on the Service updates webpage. Any questions about library service updates can be addressed to efl-enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

New Books February 2023

February may be the shortest month, but there has been no shortage of books arriving at the library! With a number of anthologies as well as fiction, poetry, and literary studies all making their EFL debut, there’s plenty to choose from. Keep reading to find out more about a few select highlights, or browse all our new books on LibraryThing.


Cover for Forbidden Journeys, edited by Nina Auerbach and U. C. Knoepflmacher.Nina Auerbach & U. C. Knoepflmacher, Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers (1993).

This anthology brings together eleven stories by Victorian women writers, all of which were previously inaccessible to readers in modern published forms. They are presented here with their original illustrations, along with critical introductions and biographical notes which illuminate their historical and social context.

Auerbach and Knoepflmacher group the stories into four sections. The unifying theme is subversion, both of the tropes of traditional children’s literature and of the gendered expectations placed upon Victorian women.

Some reviewers have questioned Auerbach and Knoepflmacher’s commentaries. They’ve queried how subversive women’s association with fairy tales could be, given the genre’s association with domesticity and childcare, as well as a general contemporary acceptance of children’s literature as appropriate for women writers. Others have wondered whether the concerns of late twentieth-century feminism drive the editor’s commentaries, rather than the texts or the authors themselves. Forbidden Journeys is nonetheless a fascinating collection, though it perhaps reveals as much about late twentieth-century reappraisals of fairy tales as it does about the Victorian women who wrote them.

There are numerous works by Auerbach and by Knoepflmacher at the EFL – click the links to browse them on SOLO.


Cover image for The Oxford Book of The Sea, by Jonathan Raban.Jonathan Raban, The Oxford Book of the Sea (2001).

When the subject of your anthology covers seven-tenths of the earth’s surface, no-one is going to be entirely satisfied with your selections – making it all the more impressive that reviewers almost unanimously agree that this remains an excellent anthology.

Raban organises his selections chronologically, ‘from bitter Anglo-Saxon to wry Updike, without the breakwaters of chapter divisions’. But that structural continuity doesn’t mean there’s been no change in literature about the sea. In fact, underpinning Raban’s selections is a growing attention to and curiosity about the sea, especially after the Enlightenment.

With such a large topic, one anthology is never going to cover everything. There is a geographical focus on British, with the addition of some American, writing – while this makes the subject infinitely more manageable, Raban notes that ‘the French sea, the German sea, the Japanese sea are importantly different places’ and an equally rich anthology could be compiled on each (p.xvii). All the same, ‘although the ideal Book of the Sea, the whole sea and nothing but the sea, has yet to be written, this foretaste of it makes a very agreeable companion’.

There are numerous works by Raban at the EFL – you can browse them on SOLO.


Cover image for Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver.Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead (2022).

Demon Copperhead – winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023 – takes Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield as its inspiration. Those familiar with Dickens’s work will recognise not only many characters but many of the events in the titular Demon’s life, as Kingsolver transposes the Victorian poverty, suffering and injustices that Dickens exposed to her own home territory of Appalachia, and a community in the grip of the opioid crisis.

Kingsolver paints a grim picture of ‘a society so ailing, the word bleak is a cheerful way to describe it’. The novel is rescued from becoming merely a grim melodrama by the wry humour and weary cynicism of its narrator, Demon. Many have praised Kingsolver’s characterisation of Demon and her use of ‘the natural poetry of the American vernacular’, a key element of Demon’s charm.

Comparisons will always be drawn between Demon Copperhead and David Copperfield – though not always favourably. Like Dickens, Kingsolver has produced a damning critique of society’s marginalisation of the most vulnerable. It is a striking and compelling examination of poverty and addiction ‘tucked away in the richest country on earth’.

Other work by Kingsolver at the EFL: Flight Behaviour (2013); Unsheltered (2019).


Cover image for Was It for This, by Hannah Sullivan.Hannah Sullivan, Was It for This (2023).

Was It for This is Sullivan’s second collection – her first, Three Poems, won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2018. Encompassing themes of home, tragedy, and the passage of time, this collection is just as stunning as her debut.

The collection contains three poems. The first focuses on the Grenfell fire in 2017, blending the personal with the collective and political as Sullivan, who lived nearby at the time, is wrenched from the ‘cocoon’ of new motherhood and confronts the tragedy. The second explores home: the places Sullivan has lived, the generational chasm synonymous with home ownership, and the memories our homes hold. The third and final poem, Happy Birthday, is preoccupied with ageing and the passage of time.

Sullivan’s poems are powerful and emotional, so compelling that ‘the masterful architecture of her writing is almost invisible’. Her poetry often shifts into prose, as she ‘moves instinctively between forms as if stepping from one room into another’ – fitting, in a collection to which homes are so central. All these elements come together beautifully, as they ‘combine to consecrate the orindary among the exceptional’.

Other work by Sullivan at the EFL: The Work of Revision (2013); Three Poems (2018).


Cover image for The Decameron Projected, edited by the New York Times Magazine.New York Times Magazine (ed.), The Decameron Project: 29 New Stories from the Pandemic (2020).

In the fourteenth century, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote The Decameron. The story takes place during the Black Death which ravaged Europe at that time, following a group of young people who flee Florence, hole up in a country retreat, and share stories to entertain one another – and to process the enormity of the plague.

In 2020, the New York Times Magazine revived the idea and structure of The Decameron in response to COVID-19. They gathered an international group of authors, each of whom crafted their response to the pandemic in the form of a short story. The stories were first published in the New York Times Magazine in July 2020, and are now brought together in this edition.

The stories all have fascinating premises, though the quality of their execution varies; these are after all rapid-fire responses to immediate crisis. The definitive COVID novel is yet to be written – and we almost certainly need more distance from the pandemic before it can become reality. But while we wait, these stories show the power of fiction, and its ability to help both storyteller and listener process anxiety and the isolation which the pandemic brought.


Cover image for The Wife of Bath: A Biography, by Marion Turner.Marion Turner, The Wife of Bath: A Biography (2023).

Following her biography of Chaucer in 2019 (available at the EFL and online), Turner has written another biography. This time, she focuses not on the poet but on one of his creations: Alison, the Wife of Bath.

It may seem strange to write a biography of a fictional character, but what Turner has achieved is a compelling account of both the ordinary medieval women Alison represents and her literary legacy in the 600 years since Chaucer wrote her. Turner argues that Alison is the first fully-rounded character, male or female, in English literature, presented in all her complexity. This complexity has been celebrated, demonised and censured, according to the values of her various interpreters, but ‘at no point has she been a neutral figure’.

Chaucer wrote Alison as ‘a rounded character with an interior life’, and it is this which draws readers to her. Yet adaptations of the Wife of Bath have more often than not depicted her as a monster or reduced her to fit within narrow gender stereotypes – as Turner says, ‘it is only in very recent years that new adaptations are no longer less progressive than the original’. Nevertheless, the Wife of Bath – and our fascination with her – persists; ‘her voice is now louder than ever’.

Also available as an e-book.

Turner discussed this book in a piece for The Conversation – we’ve republished it on the EFL blog.

Other work by Turner at the EFL: A handbook of Middle English studies (2013); Chaucer: A European Life (2019).

Green Action Week: Virtual Display

This week (20 to 24 February) is Green Action Week across the University, hosted by the University’s Environmental Sustainability team and featuring a host of exciting events that empower and celebrate environmental action.

Our first display this term focused on Pastoral Poetry, and if you’ve seen it in the library you may have wondered what pastoral themes look like in contemporary literature. That’s where the Green Action Week display comes in!

Modern versions of the pastoral are often associated with activism, for example around climate change or other environmental concerns. They might aim to raise awareness or inspire action, celebrate green choices and explore ethical concerns, or incorporate environmental awareness into literary and wider humanities research.

For Green Action Week, we’ve brought together some examples of literature from the EFL’s collections which show the huge range of environmental issues, discussions and activism in contemporary literature. You won’t find any dystopian sci-fi or fantasy in this selection, but if that’s something you’re interested in have a look at our blog post from last term.

Some of the choices here might seem surprising, but they all tie into the University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy, focusing on the themes of Biodiversity, Research, Travel, and Sustainable Food. Read on to find out more about the books we’ve selected, and check out the list of sources and resources at the end if you’d like to find out more.

And don’t forget to have a look at the full event programme for Oxford Green Action Week – whether you’re interested in science, research, activism, comedy, art, literature or food, there’s an event for everyone!


Biodiversity

Identify and address the University’s principal biodiversity impacts through its operations and supply chain and enhance biodiversity on the University’s estate.

‘… because she was a scientist in love with the English language, and an observer of the natural world with few peers, her ability to communicate what she saw increased exponentially.’

(L. Lear, review in Environmental History, Summer 1993, p.32)

Cover for Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. The background is green. In the centre is a photo of a leaf with the shape of a bird cut out of the middle. The title is in white text at the top, and the author's name in white text at the bottom. The subtitle is in brown text above the title, it reads: 'The classic that launched the environmental movement.'Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).

Silent Spring was Carson’s response to the death of wildlife and birds as a result of chemical pesticide use. She was an accomplished scientist who amassed a huge amount of research and evidence, bringing public attention for the first time to issues which scientific organisations, governments and the chemical industry ignored or hid. But more than her scientific knowledge, Carson was a gifted writer.

Carson’s belief that we must balance human needs and actions with nature was radical among scientists at the time. Today, no informed person would countenance the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides – but with ongoing biodiversity loss and environmental damage, have we really learnt anything?

This edition was published in 2002, to mark the 40th anniversary of the original publication.


Research

Increase research and engagement in environmental sustainability.

‘… climate change fiction builds worlds in which readers might be immersed and creates characters with whom we identify in order not merely to evoke emotional response but to provoke ethical reflection.’ (p.54)

Cover image for Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel by Adeline Johns-Putra. The top half is light green, with the title in black text and the author's name below it in black text. The bottom half is a photo of snow, featuring a lump of ice with the black silhouette of a person walking and reading inside it.Adeline Johns-Putra, Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel (2019).

It’s not just the sciences which conduct environmental research, and nor are humanities scholars limited to helping scientists communicate with the public! Ecocriticism in the humanities is an important and growing approach to research. From explorations of climate change in fiction to the terms in which we discuss environmental issues, literary studies have a lot to offer our understandings of environmental issues, and how people can be encouraged to engage with them.

In Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel, Johns-Putra interrogates and problematises the ways literature inspires environmental activism. In particular, she takes issue with appeals to posterity – the idea that we should protect the natural world for the sake of our children and grandchildren – which is a common centrepiece of calls to environmental action.

Johns-Putra makes a vital point, that we cannot limit our ethical concerns to the legacy we leave for the next generation, nor can we assume they’ll ‘fix’ the problems we create. It’s a powerful demonstration of the value of ecocriticism in literary research.

This book is also available online with your Oxford SSO.


Travel

Limit transport emissions by reducing the need to travel, encouraging walking, cycling and the use of public transport and managing the demand to travel by car.

‘Transit time is experienced so differently across modes of transport – with trains in particular, your attention is manipulated by the anticipation of particular stops and the way a timetable becomes a measure of distance between stations. Your route rolls along a set of tracks, and that can make you less alert to the present moment.’

(Helen Oyeyemi, interviewed by Sarah Neilson for Shondaland)

Cover for Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi. The cover is dark green, with a line drawing of a train track extending from the bottom of the cover into the middle distance. There is a dot of light in the middle of the cover, which the tracks run to. Around the light, the title 'Peaces' is written six times in gold text that increases in size. The author's name is in gold text at the bottom.Helen Oyeyemi, Peaces (2021).

Peaces is a surrealist fantasy novel which takes place on a train. The Lucky Day is a former tea-smuggling train, now home to its reclusive owner, Ava Kapoor, and her friends/employees Allegra and Laura. When Otto and Xavier Shin embark for their not-honeymoon honeymoon, the train and its inhabitants begin slowly revealing their secrets.

This may not be your traditional train, but Oyeyemi’s intricate and playful novel nonetheless explores the possibilities and potentialities of train travel. Aboard The Lucky Day, ‘barrelling forward toward an unknown destination of unknown import, lurching back and forth between the interiors of eccentrically decorated train cars and the playfully enigmatic interiorities of the characters’ (from New York Times review), you can’t help but think – this is so much more fun than driving!


Sustainable Food

Reduce the carbon emissions and biodiversity impact of our food.

‘Violence is part of being human, and how can I accept that I am one of those human beings? That kind of suffering always haunts me. […] Eating meat, cooking meat, all these daily activities embody a violence that has been normalised.’

(Han Kang, interview in World Literature Today, May/August 2016, p.64)

Cover image for The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The background is a close-up of a leaf in pink and purple. A large white wing is in the centre. The title is in white text in the centre, and the author's name is in pink-purple text beneath it.Han Kang, The Vegetarian: A Novel (2018).

Food can become a fraught issue when we start to consider the environmental impacts of what we eat. There are certainly implications for climate change – we can choose to eat locally grown food, avoid pesticides, and limit our consumption of meat. But there are also ethical considerations which go to the heart of our relationship with animals, nature, and indeed each other – and it’s these ethical questions which Han’s novel explores.

Following horrific dreams, Yeong-hye, a hitherto dutiful and obedient housewife, announces she will no longer be eating meat. Her decision is met with astonishment and contempt. Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism is a response to the violence she has seen perpetuated against animals, but it leads to violence against her (including force-feeding, sexual objectification and abuse), and her eventual refusal to eat anything at all.

This is a deeply disturbing read, pitting one woman’s ostensibly personal (albeit extreme) decision against the inflexibility of the patriarchal society around her. Amid the violence, it may seem the novel doesn’t have much to do with food choices. But it prompts us to ask: how can we respond to human violence against each other and our planet, and can our dietary choices make a difference?


Sources and Resources

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).

Work by Carson at the EFL 

Carson, Silent Spring (2002).

Carson, Silent Spring & Other Writings on the Environment (2018). Edited by S. Steingraber.

Articles and reviews 

Atwood, Margaret, ‘Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, 50 years on’, in The Guardian, 7 Dec 2012. [accessed 31 Jan 2023]

Lear, Linda J., ‘Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”’, in Environmental History Review, 17:2 (1993), pp.23-48.

Maxwell, Lida, ‘Queer/Love/Bird Extinction: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a Work of Love’, in Political Theory, 45:5 (2017), pp.682-704.

Adeline Johns-Putra, Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel (2019).

Work by Johns-Putra at the EFL 

Johns-Putra, Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel (2019).

Johns-Putra, The History of the Epic (2006).

Articles and reviews 

Buckley, Chloe Germain, ‘Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel by Adeline Johns-Putra (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019)’, in Open Library of Humanities, 8:1 (2020).

Johns-Putra, Adeline, ‘Climate change in literature and literary studies: From cli-fi, climate change theater and ecopoetry to ecocriticism and climate change criticism’, in WIREs Climate Change, 7:2 (2016), pp.266-282.

Johns-Putra, Adeline, ‘“My Job Is To Take Care Of You”: Climate Change, Humanity, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road’, in Modern Fiction Studies, 62:3 (2016), pp.519-540.

 

Han Kang, The Vegetarian: A Novel (2016).

Work by Han at the EFL

Han, Human Acts: A Novel (2020).

Han, The Vegetarian: A Novel (2018).

Articles and reviews 

Kim, Won-Chung, ‘Eating and Suffering in Han Kang’s The Vegetarian’, in CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 21:5 (2019).

Lee, Krys, ‘Violence and Being Human: A Conversation with Han Kang’, in World Literature Today, 90:3-4 (2016), pp.61-67.

Tai, Yu-Chen, ‘Hopeful Reading: Rethinking Resistance in Han Kang’s The Vegetarian’, in College Literature, 48:4 (2021), pp.627-652.

 

Helen Oyeyemi, Peaces (2021).

Work by Oyeyemi at the EFL 

Oyeyemi, The Icarus Girl (2005).

Oyeyemi, White is for witching (2010).

Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel (2014).

Oyeyemi, What is not yours is not yours (2016).

Oyeyemi, Gingerbread (2018).

Oyeyemi, Peaces (2021).

Articles and reviews 

Bingham, Chelsea, ‘PEACES by Helen Oyeyemi’, in Harvard Review Online, 13 Aug 2021. [accessed 3 Feb 2023]

Kleeman, Alexandra, ‘Helen Oyeymi’s New Novel Is Not a Fairy Tale’, in The New York Times, 6 April 2021. [accessed 3 Feb 2023]

Silcox, Beejay, ‘Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi review – a hurtling hothouse of a novel’, in The Guardian, 3 Nov 2021. [accessed 3 Feb 2023]

More Than Just Books – Study Spaces

Hello, readers! Welcome to the third instalment in our More Than Just Books series, where we aim to share our information with you about our library provision beyond just the wonderful books on our shelves. You can check out the rest of the series here, if you’re interested.

Today, we’re going to talk about using the English Faculty Library as a study space. We’ll be showing off all the different study spaces available for you to use in the library and explaining the individual benefits of each one.

Our Study Spaces


Ground Floor Reading Room

The ground floor reading room is the first study space that you see when you walk into the library. Chairs are arranged on either side of seven long rectangular tables, with capacity for up to 76 readers. The chairs here are leather-covered and armless. This reading room is lit by ceiling windows as well as overhead light fittings, and each space has an individual study light over it. This makes it the area with the most customisable lighting in the library.

It’s worth noting that this is the space that readers have to use when consulting rare books or special collections items. It’s also the only space in the library with plug sockets available – though please keep in mind that these are only available at 36 seats.

The ground floor reading room in the English Faculty Library.

The ground floor reading room in the English Faculty Library is our largest study space.

Conveniently located for: Enquiries desk, displays, accessibility hub, film collection, Bodleian closed stack self-collect, reference collection, periodicals, English language material including prelims paper 1 materials, English literature up to the 16th century.


Gallery Reading Room

The gallery reading room can be found by going up the stairs, and crossing to the other side of the library. This space has a similar set up to the ground floor reading room, with 5 long rectangular tables and capacity for up to 57 readers. Lighting here is provided by overhead lights, and natural light coming in from large windows to one side of the room. This is an ideal space for silent group study, as readers can easily face one another over the tables.

Please note that there are no plug sockets available at the tables in the gallery reading room.

The gallery reading room in the English Faculty Library is an ideal workspace in which to spread out with lots of materials.

Conveniently located for: PCAS machines, English literature of the 16th century and beyond (including Shakespeare), Scottish and Irish literature, American literature, postcolonial literature, bibliography.


Computer Room

The computer room is located on the ground floor of the library, on the far side of the wall to the right of the entrance. It contains 28 computers, which can be used by readers, as well as some DVD/video viewing equipment. This room is lit by overhead lighting and some large windows on one wall. It is often well-regulated in terms of temperature, staying comparably cool in summer and warm in winter. These spaces also come with ergonomic chairs.

The computer room, complete with reader PCs and a presenting desk.

Please note that the computer room may occasionally be booked out for classes/training. We’ll always hang a sign on the door, if this is the case.


Single Occupant Desks

In addition to our larger study areas, the English Faculty Library also has some individual study spaces.

6 of these are located on the first floor of the library, secluded behind the bookshelves straight ahead of the stair case. They’re comprised of single-occupant desks, spaced out in front of the windows, each with a high-backed wooden chair with arms. These desks are primarily lit from natural light coming through the windows, supported by the overhead lights. They benefit from plenty of sunlight, and from being right next to the warm radiators in winter and open windows in summer.

These spaces are perfect for those looking to social distance, or who simply work best alone. Please remember that these spaces can be pre-booked by individuals registered with the disability advisory service (a sign on the desk will mark it as reserved, if this is the case).

Single occupant desks are arranged by large windows with views outside.

There are also 2 single occupant desks which are height adjustable and served by an ergonomic chair. One is on the edge of the ground floor reading room, near the enquiries desk. The other is on the first floor, between the top of the stairs and the PCAS machines.

A height adjustable desk, complete with ergonomic chair and daylight lamp – perfectly located for using the PCAS machines!


Turville-Petre Room

The English Faculty Library also has one more reading space, which may not be immediately obvious to our readers. We have a dedicated room to hold our Icelandic/Old Norse literature and language collections, known as the Turville-Petre Room. To access it (and the materials therein), readers must come to the enquiries desk and temporarily swap their Bodleian Reader’s card for a ‘TP card’. We’ll then show you down to use the Turville-Petre room.

This is a small study space. The walls are lined with caged books and one large desk fills the centre of the room, with capacity for up to 8 readers (seated on bamboo and wicker chairs). The room is lit by overhead lights and large windows on one wall.

This room provides excellent access for those referencing Icelandic and Old Norse materials.

The Turville-Petre Room is a cosy study space for those referencing the collections.