All posts by thowe

Major Women Writers: London, Chawton, Bath

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Next week my upper-division writing intensive literature class on women writers before Austen is going to the UK for an extended Spring Break field trip. We’ll be spending the first few days in London, with a day trip to Strawberry Hill (I know, I know… I just couldn’t help myself!); then we’re off to Chawton; and last but by no means least, two days in Bath. Among the many fun things we’re doing are a letterpress and early printing workshop at the St. Bride Foundation, and a visit to the Chawton House Library, both of which I’m particularly eager about. This is a group of non-majors, for the most part, finishing their core requirements, and that is in many ways a boon–we are more beholden to finding interesting ways to engage the material, and one of the things I’ve tried to do is incorporate more elements of material culture, which is perfect for a study abroad opportunity.

By this point in the term, students have discussed coterie manuscript writing (and we’ve learned how to letterlock!), amatory fiction, and the domestic novel, and they’ve also had the chance to see a few 18th century conduct books. Our special collections just received a grant to purchase some more books, and we added Nivelon’s Rudiments of Genteel Behavior and Allestree’s The Lady’s Calling, in addition to a few other wonderful materials. Everyone should have read a few poems, in addition to Behn’s “History of the Nun” and two works by Haywood, “Fantomina” and Love in Excess. We also read excerpts from Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter in conjunction with (substantial!) excerpts from Burney’s Evelina. This week, we’ll be reading Austen’s Lady Susan during our travels! After our return, we’ll have some drama by Burney and Behn as well as some more poetry and a bit of Wollstonecraft and Astell on marriage to round out the term.

@AustenSays twitter bot

With the help of Zach Whalen’s extraordinarily clear instructions, I set up my first twitter bot, @austensays, which tweets out a single sentence (provided it’s 140 or fewer characters) from Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. I was teaching the novel last term, and while this started out as a form of procrastination, it actually turned out to offer some interesting insights about tone, style, and voice.

I procured a copy of Mansfield Park from Project Gutenberg, and then ran some regular expressions to separate it out into individual sentences–I looked for the ends of sentences, as indicated by periods, and then added a line break after each. This I could then copy directly into a google spreadsheet, which was much simpler than I’d anticipated, as each paragraph became its own row in the spreadsheet. The data preparation I did does not register exclamation points or question marks as line breaks–more robust regular expression searches would help me do this, and look for capital letters after such punctuation, but for the time being I chose to simplify this way. If you’re curious about the data, here is the spreadsheet.

What I was surprised by the way that genre of “the twitter post,” with all its restrictions, proved perfect to capture the sense of distance, even isolation, in much of the novel. It also offers an opportunity for readers to see, in a microcosmic way, how Austen’s irony works. For instance:

Many of these tweets, for instance, exemplify the use of passive voice, and the fraught simplicity of the verb “to be.” The broad sparseness of the sentence structure employed injects an element of loneliness in the language, which is embodied in Fanny’s experience. Other patterns we might notice include the use of the comma to balance, in a strangely imbalanced way, sentences like these:

It is as though you can hear the pause of a sigh in each comma. With more refined data, I wonder what else this kind of algorithmic reading can reveal? Ultimately, then, this was not quite as much about procrastination as I might have initially thought. 🙂

Mary Toft Lives

Our final show just wrapped! This summer, I’ve been working with the amazingly talented Jon Gann to produce a Capital Fringe 2016 show on the famous “Rabbit Woman of Godalming,” who gave birth to a series of rabbits–in parts–over the course of a few months in 1726. It was a song cycle, each song in which was composed by a DC-area composer/songwriter, and then as a whole orchestrated by a brilliant friend of mine, Stephen Lilly, and the band he plays in–These Quiet Colours–lent their talents as the house band, The Bloody Bunnies. Craig Houk directed our four performers: Rachel Jones, Colin Brown, Christopher E. Robin, and Grant Collins. We rehearsed at Marymount University, where I’m sure we more than turned a few heads in the library!

Rachel was spectacular as Mary–here she is feeling very uncomfortable with her husband, Joshua Toft’s plans:

Here is Nathaniel St. Andre working it, as he sells his story:

We were extraordinarily lucky to receive two stand-out reviews, one by DC Theatre Scene and one by DC Metro Theater Arts, who described it as

a tale that is not only compelling in its own right, but, as we are reminded in the program notes, resonates forcefully today with its emphasis on “spin, celebrity, and agenda.”

You can read more about the performance at the website, and watch a mini- music video below), created by Pete Duvall and Tim Tate, featuring These Quiet Colours performing The Mauls’ song, “Media Madness.” The video was edited together for sound by the talented Steve Wanna.

Here is the program, and you can now view the whole show (and see more pictures!) at RabbitMusical.com.

Learning over Lunch: Use Microsoft Word Like a Pro

This afternoon, I’m doing a brown-bag workshop for students at Marymount about using Microsoft Word more effectively, sponsored by the First Year Experience office. I will be going over how to use spell/grammar/style check advanced features, how to use find/replace for revision, formatting details that always stump people, and differences between full/simplified Word and google docs–among a few other things.

Here are my  notes for the session: https://goo.gl/fne1ZP

Here is a sample document, unformatted, in google docs for use in the session: https://goo.gl/RPDbRP

 

Aphra Behn Society 2015: Wikipedia Workshop

I love going to (to me) new conferences–not only do I get to learn about exciting work in the field, but I also get to meet new people and, ideally, expand my collection of “regularly-attended.” What strikes me most about the Aphra Behn Society is its collegiality, its openness to and mentorship of graduate student work, and the palpable sense of feminist solidarity practically oozing from each session. Very happy-making!

Despite the fact that I am in desperate need of sleep and time to catch up on mounds of grading–and as a result not doing the friendly-joining-thing I should be doing–I am excited to be here and am most definitely planning on returning. ABS reminds me a bit of the EC-ASECS regional conference in terms of general tone, though the crowd here is rather different–I don’t see too many overlapping faces. I may have two new conferences to make a habit of!

Tomorrow, I’m co-leading a workshop with Laura Runge on using Wikipedia in the classroom. My EN340 course this term, Major Women Writers, is doing a Wikipedia project for one of the novels I’ve assigned–Charlotte Lennox’s Henrietta. It seems to have proven (surprisingly, for me!) a lot more challenging than expected–students were very confused, in general, by the way the first book is essentially Henrietta telling her story to Miss Woodby. Coupled, of course, with the fact that there is no Wikipedia entry on the novel, and my students are rather struggling!

A bit of background on the class–it’s a LT-2 Liberal Arts Core course (advanced literature), and it’s also Writing Intensive. This means I have at most one major, and this term, none–challenging, but it does free me up to do all sorts of experimental things. My goal is, at root, twofold: 1.) get at least a handful of students excited about reading something from “back in the day” that apparently has absolutely no (right?) relevance for the modern world, and 2.) hopefully instill a sense of curiosity about writing done in public. I’ve designed a project organized around Wikipedia, since I know most of my students use it as a crib-sheet of sorts–I routinely see the pages on Fantomina, “The Reformed Coquet,” and Evelina up on their laptops during discussion, and so many were frustrated by the lack of readily available information on Henrietta. What better way to instill a bit of healthy skepticism about their sources, while encouraging students to help others in their same situation, while modeling the kind of DIY practices that I believe are essential to being a well-rounded citizen of the world, while also engaging students in just the kind of real-world writing that frequently goes unnoticed as writing. Enter: Wikipedia.

I’m presenting tomorrow at 1:45. Hope you can make it! The project details–from assignment to homework to groupwork–are all available in PDF, here. But, for simplicity’s sake, I’m also posting below an overview of how I structure the project from pre-writing to submission:

Charlotte Lennox’s novel Henrietta does not have a Wikipedia page, by which I’m sure you’re all distressed! So, let’s help out future students by creating one. This is a full-class project. See the entire assignment sheet on Canvas.

Pre-project work:

  1. Homework: Complete the Wikipedia Training for Students tutorial: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Training/For_students
    1. Create your account
    2. Explore your sandbox
    3. Create your user information page / biographical sketch
    4. Submit your User Contributions URL via Canvas
  2. In-class: Team Wikipedia Quiz / Go over assignment
    1. In-class: (Activity A) How to recognize original research, point of view problems
    2. In-class: Structure/content: Look at “Fantomina” and Evelina pages–what is included?
  3. Homework: Write 1 paragraph for each part of our hypothetical page, upload to Canvas
    1. summary
    2. key characters
    3. theme
    4. style
    5. overview
  4. Homework: Canvas discussion board research post: Find 1 scholarly or biographical source (no overlaps!), download it to your computer. Read it, and post to Canvas discussion board:
    1. bibliographic entry
    2. upload the source
    3. write 1 paragraph overview/summary of the source
  5. In-class: Wikipedia Workshop/Activity B
  6. Homework: Revise in groups
  7. In-class: Lab revision time; add a source; add an image; add a template note
  8. Homework: Revise in (different) groups; sources, content, and writing
  9. In-class: Lab revision time
  10. Homework: Revise
  11. Due: Your user contributions page URL to Canvas