Undergraduate English

The Flâneuse Herself

You might be asking yourself, what or who is a flâneuse? First, we must explain what exactly a flâneur is. From the French noun, flâneur means “stroller” or “loafer.” The term carries rich associations, such as the man of leisure, of fashion, the idler, the connoisseur of the streets. Flânerie is the act of strolling through an urban setting—an essential component of the flâneur. Now that we’ve established what a flâneur is, we can address the flâneuse, and who better to answer that question than Dr. Lauren Elkin, a Lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool and author of Flâneuse: Women Walk the City.

Dr. Lauren Elkin

Originally from New York, Elkin graduated from Barnard College with a PhD in phenomenology and British women’s writing in the 1930s (focusing on the work of Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys, and Rosamond Lehmann), as well as an M.Phil. in French literature from Sorbonne. Ever since her undergraduate days, Elkin has been fascinated with the concept of the flâneur, wondering why the term wasn’t (and/or couldn’t be) appropriated to include women. Because the flâneur is a strictly masculine identity throughout history, Elkin set about creating her own term for a female flâneur—the flâneuse: “Flâneuse [flanne-euhze], noun, from the French. Feminine form of flâneur [flanne-euhr], an idler, a dawdling observer, usually found in cities.”[1] This is, of course, Elkin’s own imaginary definition of the flâneuse. In her book, Elkin identifies her own flâneuses, throughout history, from nineteenth-century novelist George Sand to artist Sophie Callie, war correspondent Martha Gellhorn to filmmaker Agnes Varda.

I first became introduced to Elkin and her work through my English 481 capstone course entitled “The Metropolitan Mind” taught by Dr. Emily James. The class focuses on the twentieth-century city and its effect on the modern citizen. We kicked off our course readings with Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and climbed our way through the twentieth century to more contemporary works like Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (2009). Our class recently had the pleasure of receiving Dr. Elkin via Skype to discuss her experience in the world of academia, her fascination with the flâneur, and her life as a flâneuse.

My classmate posed an interesting question for Elkin: Do you think technology has made it more difficult to be a flâneur or flâneuse? Both the flâneur and flâneuse are known for wandering the city, typically without a specific agenda or destination in mind. With our easy access to GPS, getting lost is now just as difficult as it was to find your way using only a paper, trifold map. My classmate drew attention to the fact that, in our day and age, we’re never truly lost—unless our phone dies, in which case, we’re on our own. In contrast, Elkin claimed technology has not damaged our ability to pursue flânerie (or flâneuserie—the flâneuse version of flânerie). Rather, she shared how she can just as easily leave her phone in her pocket, get lost exploring a new city (Copenhagen is her next destination), and then, at the end of the day, pull out her phone and know exactly how to find her way home again. If anything, technology has just made it safer to be a flâneuse.

Elkin pressed on, addressing social media platforms and their ability to connect our lives. While social media is frequently criticized for creating a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), Elkin chooses to focus on the positive. She pointed out that apps like Instagram have made her more aware of the beauty in the everyday, whether it’s a photo of a potted plant or an interesting building shadow. Instagram has added the element of photography to her flâneuserie, and it allows her to share her flâneuse lifestyle with the world.

While chatting with Elkin, our class covered topics ranging from the character of Doris Kilman as the anti-flâneuse of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to what shoes are most fashionable and comfortable for a summer of flâneuserie. Dr. Elkin is a wealth of information, opinions, and fabulous fashion, and after a discussion that lasted the better part of an hour, I think I speak for most of the class when I say I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.

Check out some of Elkin’s work, as well as a few of her interviews in which she discusses her book and her life of flâneuserie:

[1] As read on BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week

Halle is a senior English major with a Renaissance Program minor who is currently working as a research assistant for a professor at UST. Her ardent admiration for nineteenth-century British novelists, specifically Jane Austen, led her to found the blog Looking for Mr. Darcy, in which she utilizes Austen’s characters to discuss and critically analyze norms of twenty-first-century dating.

Graduate English, Student Careers, The Value of English

Early Graduate Lessons for a Digital Writer

Graduate Student Jordan Osterman is the Newsroom Editor at the University of St. Thomas. Jordan graduated from St. Thomas in 2011 with a B.A. in Communication Journalism and a minor in English.

Studio Portrait of Graduate English student Jordan Osterman and writer for the Newsroom and magazines at the University of St. Thomas.

As a Tommie English-minor-turned-St. Thomas-employee, returning to class for my master’s was a fascinating opportunity. When I was hired in late 2014 my thoughts on heading back to school fell into the category of, “Why not?” Two courses in it has quickly shifted to, “How did I not realize how much I would get out of this?”

I knew as an undergraduate how much value I took in getting together with people to hear their thoughts, interpretations and ideas about something we had both read, and in the master’s program so far that value has only increased. First in Martin Warren’s class getting a crash course on criticism, and last semester in Alexis Easley’s course exploring Victorian literary journalism, I’ve had my eyes opened up to many new ways of looking things. Especially in today’s world where it is easier than ever to find voices to confirm your own beliefs and shut out those that don’t, hearing and interacting with different ideas that have stretched the boundaries of my own thinking has meant a lot to me. (Case in point: I was the only man in Alexis’ class, which was a fantastic opportunity to learn from being around so many different female viewpoints.)

Alongside that constantly culminating value, I’ve been extremely excited to see how actively my continuing education has informed my work as the editor of and writer for an online publication, St. Thomas’ Newsroom. In our Victorian class we explored the 19th century explosion of periodicals and other print media in England and the United States, and it was impossible not to draw parallels to our own era’s communication explosion with the advent and growth of the Internet. It was fascinating to get a sense for the excitement, anxiety and evolving understanding of what it meant to have so many different voices thrown together into and onto society’s conscious, and how that informed and reflected the ideas, values and laws that guided their people. As someone who writes nonfiction for a living, it has been fantastic to gain a greater sense of the role media plays in shaping the identity of people and their community, in the past and today.

Also, beyond simply the comfort of seeing a past society grapple and deal with (and survive) such a similar explosion in media to our own, my courses have reinforced the importance of having an informed sense of my own media consumption. I, and all of us, are constant consumers of media, and the kinds of educational exercises in critical thinking our courses offer help move us from passive to active participants in that consumption. That is not a small distinction, and, again, in a time where there is so much media to choose from, I appreciate immensely being forced to think more deeply about the choices I make and the effects they have on me.

My wife, Gina, a fellow English St. Thomas alum, is also working on her master’s degree in nursing, and after stringing together several summers and semesters was ready for a break this spring. I decided to join her, and it’s been awesome to spend time together and with our freshly-turned-1-year-old daughter. That said, I’m already looking forward to fall semester and getting back to class to build on these awesome experiences.

Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Research Grant, Student Research

Grace Under Pressure – an Essay on Letting Go

Rachel Busse, alumna of the St. Thomas English Department and current graduate student, traveled to Havana, Cuba, this January on a Graduate Research Grant. Rachel was researching Ernest Hemingway, who spent nearly 30 years in Cuba.

Rachel in front of Hemingway’s Finca Vigía just outside Havana, Cuba.

I am a planner. I am an itinerary-making, checklist-having, research-doing goody-goody. In the eighth grade, I went on a class trip to Washington, D.C. and filled an entire binder with background research as though we didn’t already have an extensive schedule. Before I went to my first coffee shop (2007, Caribou, Rosemount, MN) I studied the menu online to ensure I’d be able to order a campfire cooler with grace and gravitas. I still get disappointed when a restaurant doesn’t put their menu online and I relish Yelp posts that include photographic clues to the layout of a place. This is a form of sleuthing, and if I had another life to live I’d likely join the ranks of Philip Marlowe or Nancy Drew.

This is not to say I am always organized (for I am often far from it) but rather that I like to be prepared. Information is power, and I rarely find good reason to concede control or clout. So I hoard facts and plans like knickknacks that might come in handy one day—my mind can best be likened to my grandmother’s cluttered basement.

Hemingway’s bedroom at Finca Vigía.

This is all well and good until it isn’t. That is, until planning becomes unreasonable, irresponsible, or even impossible. This worked, I mean to say, until I traveled to Cuba. I went to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigía, which is just outside of Havana. He lived there for nearly a third of his life, and I wanted to find out why. I was able to make this trip thanks to a generous grant from the University of St. Thomas English department, but it was a quick turnaround. I submitted a proposal at the end of November, found out I’d been awarded the grant in early December, and a month later I was in Havana for a week, accompanied by my friend Margaret. This was the first trip I’d taken where I had next to no concept for what to expect. I knew about as much as to expect cigars, classic cars, and maybe a beach—but the idea of hitting a country’s highlights and retiring to a resort at night is way too voyeuristic for my tastes. I wanted to do this responsibly, and for that, I needed details, or so I thought.

For starters, American travel to Cuba was only recently made accessible; President Obama was the first sitting president to visit Cuba in over 90 years when he and his family went last year, and there wasn’t even a US embassy in Cuba until 2015. Restrictions on travel to Cuba were loosened under the Obama administration, but before that, American travel in Cuba had been banned since 1963. This restriction was older than my parents.

The internet wasn’t much help. There was plenty of advice out there from intrepid Americans who had visited illegally by traveling through Mexico or Canada, but like I said, I’m not much of a rule-breaker. Because the restrictions on legal travel were loosened so recently, there was a fair amount of conflicting information even from official sources. We were essentially watching these changes be implemented in real time, which meant that questions about how to get a visa, what kind we needed, and whether we were required to prove the nature of our travel were all hard to answer. As it turns out, you self-certify; this is frustratingly vague, but it means you pick one of the 12 approved reasons for travel, you create an itinerary (which not a single person asked us for), and you buy a tourist visa in the airport before your flight. That’s it. And if you’re me, you also spend hours checking and double checking that it’s really that easy.

Rachel with Hemingway’s Pilar (fishing boat)

And that’s just getting there. When it comes to how you’ll spend your time once you’re past customs, all the research has to come before you leave the US. While websites like TripAdvisor do have a fair amount of information, there’s no guarantee of their accuracy, as most places in Cuba do not keep an active web presence. Within Cuba, internet access is extremely limited and pricey as all get out; once you’re there, navigating Havana can feel a bit like learning to swim while you’re already in the pool. Sink or swim, sink or swim.

When we hopped off the plane, our first concern was finding our homestay, or casa particular. Our casa, owned by a woman named Mónica with her mother Aida, was in a neighborhood called Vedado, just west of Habana Viejo, or Old Havana. This meant our actual first priority was exchanging money in order to pay for a cab—another snag of the recently relaxed regulations is that American cards don’t work in ATMs (or anywhere, for that matter). You have to come holding all that money you might need in cash and exchange it there. This is stressful. Plus, we were tired—we’d gotten to our hotel in Miami after a long drive back from Key West at 1:30 am and left for the airport at 6:00 am. We spent a while after landing wandering wide-eyed through this airport until we got up the courage to ask for a taxi. We requested the driver take us to one of the few places we could remember that was near our neighborhood: Plaza de la Revolución.

Rachel’s friend Margaret standing in Plaza de la Revolución.

As it turns out, Plaza de la Revolución is an odd place to be dropped off coming from the airport. We imagined something highly-walkable, but what we got was essentially a big parking lot in between two government buildings (adorned with Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos), a huge monument to José Martí, and four lanes of traffic. Suffice to say, we looked naive bringing our luggage there.

Havana was not the sort of place I fell in love with fast. The city is loud and sputtering with rumbling old engines all peppered with honking horns. The hot, wet air is laced thick with exhaust and the alternating smells of trash and traffic. Our first venture out of the casa was both confusing and unsettling, which is funny considering we went for ice cream from the famous Coppelia. This visit involved being ushered by a security guard into a dingy upper-room specifically for convertible-peso carrying turistas, where we were served icy ice cream by a man with a coke nail.

But if there is one trait I have that’s stronger than my propensity to panic, it’s stubbornness. I hate admitting defeat, so even if it means white-knuckling, I hold on. This persistence—to which Margaret is also a subscriber—payed off. After Coppelia, we ended up wandering the idyllic University of Havana campus and enjoying a long lunch of dados a la piña and cervezas nacionales. After climbing a steep spiral staircase, we sat out on the restaurant’s bright blue balcony and looked out at the busy street. On this block, and so many others we walked that week, some buildings crumbled while others received fresh, pastel paint jobs. Savvy stray dogs ran loose, narrowly avoiding the steady stream of cars. We watched for tourists, placing bets on where each group was from. My fondness for this place was earned and learned, a slow and sustained burn I didn’t anticipate. That afternoon was one of starting sparks.

I went to Cuba primarily to see Hemingway’s home, which I took to mean not only his house, but the city too. I’d heard it claimed that Havana is “frozen in time,” and though I wasn’t naïve enough to really expect that, there is something alluring about the idea of a paused history. So much of what we do as readers and researchers is to try to understand the past, especially when it surrounds our favorite writers. There were parts of Havana that did feel out of a time capsule where it was easy to imagine Hemingway wandering on a steamy Havana afternoon, like the National Museum of Fine Arts or in in one of the many European-style squares. And of course Hemingway’s ghost lingers still in his favorite bars—La Bodeguita del Medio and La Foridita—where his favorite drinks—the mojito and the daiquiri, respectively—are still served as they would have been in the 1950s.

But these are places that exist specifically to preserve that time period, and to suggest Havana has remained unchanged erases the long and hugely significant history of Revolution in Cuba, which happened just around the time Hemingway left the city for the last time. The glamour of 1940s and 50s Havana still exists, but is rarely left untouched by evidence of revolution. One of the few grocery stores we found (with a queueing system left over from the days of rationing) had tiles at the entryway announcing it was once a Woolworths. An evening walk through Havana’s Chinatown (which has noticeably few Chinese people, as most left around the time of the revolution) featured a peek into the now-decrepit but once-elegant five-story Fin de Siglo department store. The Habana Libre hotel is perhaps one of the best examples of the faded glitz of the past—this huge hotel was opened as a modern, chic Hilton in 1958 and was the largest and tallest hotel in Latin America at the time. After the revolution in ’59, the Cuban government took control of the hotel, and the entire top floor was converted into Fidel Castro’s headquarters. The physical history of revolution in Cuba is also visible on the walls of the Museum of the Revolution. Housed in what was once the presidential palace, this lavish building is now scarred with bullet holes from the ousting of Batista. The place is full of propaganda, and it’s fascinating to see how the Cuban government tells its own story.

Hemingway’s connection with Castro is often wondered about, but was by most accounts relatively unsubstantial—the famous picture of the two together, taken at a fishing tournament held in Hemingway’s honor, depicts what was likely their most extensive interaction. Hemingway was against the Batista regime, and is believed to have been sympathetic to Castro’s calls for change. But Hemingway died before his allegiances were ever really clarified.

Regardless of his opinions on Castro or any of the other revolutionaries, Hemingway loved Cuba—he spent more time there than anywhere else in his short but well-traveled life. He considered Cuba his home, and even kept a bust of José Martí, the “apostle of Cuban independence” in his writing studio at Finca Vigía. For the record, I looked for one of my own, but instead found only a myriad of Che t-shirts, which I declined to buy.

Hemingway’s writing studio at Finca Vigía

The aforementioned writing studio is one of the few places at Hemingway’s home where you can see all the way to the city, as the home is about 15 km outside of Central Havana. It takes about 20 minutes to drive out by car; we took the bus back which took a while longer but allowed us to see the route more slowly. Both there and back, we snaked our way out through a more industrial cityscape than we’d previously seen and into busy suburbs. But Finca Vigía, which means lookout farm, is set up in the hills and away from the sounds and smog of the city. It is easy to imagine this as a place for a writer to come after spending time ambling around the comparatively chaotic Havana.

You can’t actually go into the house, but all the doors and windows are open to peer through, and in a way, that feels right. The house is stately but not excessively large, and seems like the sort of place you’d want to keep the windows open, at least through the cooler winter months. Every room had a window, even the closet where Hemingway’s war correspondent uniform was hanging. The ceilings are high and open, leaving plenty of room for the tall bookshelves that line almost every room, including the bathroom. This monstrous collection has simply been sitting there since Hemingway left in 1960, and aside from some digital cataloging done by researchers from Boston, they are untouched. There are also magazine, newspapers, literary journals like The Dial, and an impressive collection of records. All this media seems like a natural accumulation for someone so steeped in the arts, and it feels, for lack of a better word, homey. Down to the daily weight records Hemingway kept on the bathroom wall, this feels like a very personal place designed for those who lived there. This is not to say it isn’t stylish, but rather that there is a lived-in elegance to the place. The more public rooms—the dining room and the living room, for example—are a bit heavier on the taxidermy-reliant design that shows up throughout the house.  But the furnishings are generally less flashy that you might expect, given that Hemingway was a celebrity with many famous friends. This understated beauty is not at all unlike the prose Hemingway is so famous for.

Hemingway’s library at Finca Vigía

We spent several hours wandering the grounds, seeing every nook and cranny of the house we could while being sure not to miss the large pool (where Ava Gardner reportedly swam nude), Hemingway’s famous Pilar (his beloved fishing boat) and the cemetery for his dogs (Black, Negrita, Neron, and Linda). This pastoral setting is such a stark contrast to the heart of Havana, where there is little nature to be found unless you’re walking along the Malecón, the wall that separates Havana from the sea—it’s a local favorite, and a good place to drink rum with friends at night.

But Hemingway loved the city, too. He lived in the Hotel Ambos Mundos, in Habana Vieja, for about a year before moving to Finca Vigía. The hotel features one of the best views of the city from its rooftop and is in walking distance from both of his favorite bars. Though we enjoyed Hemingway’s haunts, we found our own favorites, too—our most frequented destination was the Museo Del Chocolate, which sells simultaneously rich and refreshing chocolate milk for the low low price of one dollar. I think we went four times. It made up for Coppelia.

Rachel (right) and Margaret at the ballet

Little things began to flower up and bloom for us. We got to go to the ballet, which is Cuba’s most renowned arts organization. It was The Nutcracker—or Cascanueces, if you prefer—and we sat next to the proud father of a little girl performing in the children’s choir (I cried). We spent a pleasantly humid evening on the terrace of our casa, leafing through outdated guidebooks we found on the bookshelf and sipping pineapple soda. But more broadly, we surprised ourselves with adaptability, and I am proud of our ability to walk the city with a confidence we didn’t bring with us. For the record, Havana is the type of place you walk almost everywhere to avoid paying for cabs—we walked 15 miles on our last day there. And when it did come time to pay for taxis, we got pretty good at negotiating fares in Spanish, which is something I’m not even comfortable doing in English.

Hemingway famously said that “courage is grace under pressure.” For a long time, I liked how that sounded but didn’t feel I’d really had an opportunity to test it out—I’ve almost always got a safety net, and it’s usually pretty sturdy. Cuba is a safe place, so we were never really too worried, but there were always more questions than there were answers. We had to learn to do things a lo Cubano, to handle the unexpected with grace and patience. And at the end of the day, there was something kind of magical about going in with very few expectations and letting the city click for us. This can come in finally feeling like you don’t need to bury your face in a map, successfully chatting with some local people in the museum, or even over the best glass of chocolate milk you’ve ever had. This click lets you sink in and feel your surroundings with confidence and courage, if only for a moment or two. I’d never advocate skipping your due diligence—basic research is important and responsible—but going in to fulfill all the expectations you came with seems irresponsible in its own right. No one likes a box-checker. At the end of the day, we saw Havana through pseudo-journalistic eyes, hungry to learn and keeping our cool along the way—a bit, we hope, like Hemingway.

Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

The Spirit of Competition


Often, travel is seen as an escape. People take their allotted vacation time and run off to some place, near or far, where they can forget their troubles and responsibilities for a few days. While I can personally attest that a sun-filled week of spring break in a beautiful location like St. Pete’s Beach, Florida makes for a nice getaway, this is not my preferred style of travel. Not anymore, at least. I was lucky enough to be able to spend the last three weeks exploring Greece, and my experiences there completely changed my outlook on travel.

Walking a trail in Greece

My trip to Greece was not a vacation. A vacation generally consists of free, unscheduled time spent relaxing in a nice location. Relaxation was rare in Greece, with more sights to see than I had time or energy for. I took a class on sports literature, and spent most of my time taking part in activities that were organized by my professors, Liz Wilkinson and Amy Muse. This would have made for a terrible vacation, but it wasn’t a vacation. I wasn’t taking a trip to escape the stress of life at home. I wasn’t trying to lose myself in a faraway place. In fact, as clichéd an idea as this may be, I found a new part of myself through my hurried exploration of Greece.

As we studied the Olympic Games, both ancient and modern, I started to focus my journal entries on examining the competitive drive that is a core part of human nature. This drive to achieve and to prove ourselves better than our peers is prevalent throughout nearly every facet of life. I have always felt the spark of competition within myself, but the more I examined my competitive drive, the more the spark grew. When our class had the opportunity of listening to a speaker who was a marathon runner, I listened closely to her motivations for running, and found that she shared the same drive I did. The main difference between us was that she had acted on her drive, and I had let mine begin to fade. As she spoke of her desire to prove to herself that she could run a marathon, I felt that little spark of drive in me flare up wildly.

Nafplio, Greece

In a moment of pure inspiration, I declared to my friends next to me –and more importantly, to myself– that I would run a marathon by the end of 2017. Now, it’s important to note that, before this decision, I did not run consistently. I was (and still am) not in prime shape. This didn’t seem like a reasonable goal. It still doesn’t. Yet, I know I can do it. In making my decision, I drew inspiration not only from the speaker, but from the Olympic athletes, both ancient and modern, and from the very land of Greece. I’m convinced there’s some sort of magic at work in Greece, magic that erased my doubts and fears, and magic that fueled the growing drive within me.

The Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

Three weeks was not enough time for me to get tired of Greece. Not even close. I still think of it every day, wishing that I could wake up to see the sun rise in Nafplio each morning, and longing to watch it set over the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. As Dr. Muse had warned me would happen, I left a piece of my heart in Greece. But the experience was worth it. And you can bet I’ll be going back in search of it.

 


Henry Koller is sophomore majoring in English with a Writing Emphasis, with minors in Philosophy and the Renaissance Program. Aside from writing, he likes to spend his time reading, swing dancing, and baking bread, and he hopes to study abroad again before he graduates.

Faculty Teaching, Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

The Grand Tour: Cultural Disparities

The famous Shakespeare and Company store in Paris.

Inside the clock tower at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

I walked down the cobblestone streets of Paris and stopped. To my left was a row of antique buildings. Every building held its own share of history and was now filled with chic boutiques blooming with French fashion and bookstores containing the works of authors that used to find their muse in the exact surroundings I was currently experiencing. To my right was the Musée d’Orsay with only the Seine river separating me from its’ hundreds of years of art and sculptures held inside. A quick stroll down the street would land me at the famous Notre Dame and deliciously unmatched gelato. For the month of January, twenty-four other students, two professors, and I experienced sights like these in each of the cities we visited.

The Coliseum in Rome, Italy

Led by Professors Kelli Larson and Cecilia Farr, we were lucky enough to experience various more-than-just-picturesque cities in order to learn about the Grand Tour. The course, titled “Americans Abroad: The Grand Tour,” took us on a detailed exploration of 5 cities: Paris, Nice, Venice, Rome, Siena, and Florence. Each day, in every city visited, we were able to see and experience first-hand some of the exact same places as various nineteenth-century Americans did. Typically, they did so to polish themselves artistically or socially, but they also did so to complete their education or to find inspiration. Our texts for the course consisted of works by Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and included various excerpts from other exceptionally talented authors who completed the Grand Tour.

Group picture in Nice, France.

The texts were all unique with their own plot and purpose, but comparatively they all revolved around a common theme: the cultural differences between the Old World and New World. In some way, the protagonists in each of the texts encountered foreign customs and cultures and had a difficult time adjusting.

Florence, Italy

A lack of typical American customs—like hasty meals or differences in social expectations—is unsettling to them at first. Eventually, though, after experiencing various trials and tribulations mixed with benevolent encounters, their cultural ignorance begins to fade and they soon attach a sense of value and appreciation to this differing culture. In a different scenario, like in Henry James’ Daisy Miller, the exposure to European culture only reinforces the protagonists’ sense of superiority in their familiar American customs.

Venice, Italy

After retracing some of the same steps these nineteenth-century Americans did, I can say that experiencing a culture different to my own only broadened my perspective and understanding for other cultures and their customs. It is easy to find one’s own ways of life or customs to be superior to others when you have never experienced or attempted to understand the logic or history behind them. As a Minnesota native, I definitely missed the constant smiles and “hello’s” from a random passersby, but I also came to prefer their slower, relaxed pace of life. There is no correct right way to live. Traveling, though, allows for reflection; to appreciate your own culture but also to take a step back and realize where other cultures might be getting at something deeper than you ever fathomed.


Shayla Curtis is a sophomore Accounting & Finance major with a minor in English Literature. After college, she hopes to work as a financial analyst or in another position related to her major. With a passion for animals and kids, she hopes to volunteer on the side and perhaps start her own nonprofit. 

Graduate English, Student Careers, Student Research, The Value of English

Vatnajökull

Katelyn Brunner is finishing her first semester as a graduate student. This fall she traveled to Iceland to pursue an interest that might cause you  pause when you think about English students: Geology. Because of the interest shown by her fellow classmates, Katelyn welcomed the opportunity to write about this “sweetheart infatuation” for our blog. When not in school or hiking atop glaciers, Katelyn is a copy editor for an ad agency that does work for veterinary/production animal companies.


unknownGeology is a complex, fundamental science that most people take for granted, which is a shame. The deep ocean’s thermal vents, the kaleidoscope in a granite countertop, stratification-stripes on the inside of mountains sliced to make room for highways– all of that beauty is proof that our Earth is not a given, it’s a gift.

My stupid, sweetheart infatuation with the planet is the reason I went to Iceland. It is one of the most extreme places in the world for the Earth sciences– glaciers rest on top of volcanoes and islands rise up out of the sea. Lava fields are covered with moss and the sand is charcoal-black. Everything is big and elemental and a girl in clunky hiking boots feels very small in comparison. It’s not that so many things happened during my trip there– it’s just that Iceland happened to me. But I don’t want to talk about all that.

I want to talk about a glacier.

picture1

I planned my trip around a three-day excursion that included hiking, staying in void-dark villages overnight, and clamping spikes onto our boots so we didn’t fall into an ice cave– literally. Some of the hiking and not-falling was done on top of a glacier called Vatnajökull. The day of the hike, our group of five was driven a few hours to a small, steel cabin to meet our “glacier guides,” all of whom look exactly like you’d expect. After signing my life away and being grilled about my epilepsy, I was allowed near the cramp-ons, pickaxes, and fun little harnesses whose lime-green nylon clashed horribly with my borrowed, hunter’s-orange pants.

The intimate experience that was my harness-fitting rivaled the TSA screening that I once received for committing the cardinal sin of airplane travel: forgetting my ID. Just like that uncomfortable Thanksgiving day, I was subjected to what amounted to little more than a pleasureless groping. Luckily, my fit, blonde “glacier guide” was the nicest woman in the world, if a bit intimidating. Just one of her defined muscles would probably be assigned a better high school superlative than I had.

picture3I was soon released to one of those huge, shiny buses that have impossibly large windows. The bus driver, a kind of lumberjack Santa who smelled like roast beef, pulled away from the cabin with his charges, and switched on the radio to what can only be described as the most offensive elevator music on Earth. The entire, hour-long trek across a landscape clearly not meant for buses, was filled with the sound of “improvised” jazz and clinking hiking equipment. We passed the outwash plain they filmed parts of the last Star Wars movie on and marveled at how like an earlobe the glacier looked, seeping out into its little lagoon. We saw the highest peak in Iceland and it didn’t look very tall until we were right up against it, jumping every so often at each creak and crash courtesy of the ice fall at its base.

We were briefed on how to behave ourselves on Vatnajökull. What I got from the talk was this: when stepping down, don’t point your toes straight forward, stomp so hard you’re sore tomorrow, and don’t feed the ravens; they will chase you. With those wise words, we began to climb.

It’s not enough just to describe the glacier, though it’s tempting. I could mention deep, blue crevasses that seemed very sinister, scalloped edges of melting ice, and the two ravens with gasoline-sheen feathers. But the most interesting thing about the experience was less the beauty of the place– after all, this was day six of a beautiful picture2trip– but the swelling-heart feeling I got when I stepped foot on the ice. I was finally there, finally with the thing I’d studied, presented on, and wrote about during my years in undergrad. Glaciers move and speak and, over time, slice through the landscape like wire through soft cheese. They, like minerals and the ocean’s currents, prove our Earth is alive. And my love for it proves I am, too.

Conference Travel, Student Research, Undergraduate English

Rediscovering Constance Wilde

grandmas-story

Grandma’s Story

Last fall, I undertook an independent study on the works of Oscar Wilde with Dr. Alexis Easley. When we began to study his fairy tales, I realized for the first time that one of them, “The Selfish Giant,” was one of my favorite childhood stories that my dad used to read to me. Intrigued, I researched these fairy tales further and discovered one of his wife’s fairy tale collections, There Was Once! Grandma’s Stories, a beautifully illustrated book that included five fairy tales and four nursery rhymes. Basic research revealed that Constance Wilde was a writer, editor, and public speaker who was an important voice in late nineteenth-century Britain, and as I learned more about her, I realized her work had been buried for over one hundred years. I knew that I needed to find out more about her.

a-long-time-ago-favourite-stories-retold-by-mrs-oscar-wilde-and-others

A Long Time Ago – Favourite Stories Retold by Mrs. Oscar Wilde and Others

During this last spring semester, Dr. Easley and I began the application process for the Luann Dummer Center for Women Undergraduate Fellowship Grant opportunity. Constance Wilde’s works have been out of print since she was first published in the late nineteenth century, so part of my application requested funding to travel to London in order to research her works at the British Library. Needless to say, we were ecstatic when I was informed that, out of all the possible applicants, we were awarded the grant. This trip to London was quite possibly my favorite part of the project. In the midst of traveling through the underground train system, getting lost for hours in the British Library pouring over books, letters, and documents from the nineteenth century, I discovered her amazing work for the Rational Dress Society, where she was the lead editor for the Society’s Gazette from April of 1888 to July 1889. Her work centered on the idea of healthy and sensible dress for young girls and women without sacrificing the aesthetic appeal of fashion. As editor, Constance Wilde’s work was crucial in getting the necessary health information out to women in order to encourage them to take charge of both their own and their children’s health, especially relating to their habits of dress.

One of the exciting opportunities I have had with this project so far was a presentation of my first research paper on Constance Wilde, focusing on her journalistic career with the Rational Dress Society, at the Streamlines Undergraduate English Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. The conference was a fantastic experience! Presentations were given by students from all over the United States, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. I also loved the opportunity to share my own research and to hear what questions people had about it. The unique quality of this particular conference is the wide variety of topics students can present on, such as creative writing (fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction), presentations on films, literary theory, the classics, global issues, identity, women in literature, and even one on handwriting in our culture. It was intellectually rich with all of these topics and more!introduction

Since my paper had to do with a female writer, I was placed in a panel that focused on the subject of women in literature. The other students in my panel had fascinating and excellent papers and it was intriguing to see that all of our papers tied together without our realizing or planning it. After we had all presented our papers, one of the audience members brought that to our attention, and it sparked a fantastic discussion that went in multiple directions. It was an incredible day, as the faculty, students, and everyone listening to the panels were supportive and interested in the work we were sharing. It was truly a worthwhile experience, and I hope to attend the conference again in the future simply for the pure enjoyment of it.

jack-and-the-beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk

The next step for my research on Constance Wilde will be an article on her collections of fairy tales, which I will be submitting this upcoming May to the International English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta. In the introduction to one of her collections, There Was Once! Grandma’s Stories, Constance Wilde tells children the story about the way these fairy tales were handed down to her orally by her grandmother. Through this, she draws attention to the importance of women’s relationships in the storytelling tradition. She highlights this process of transmission, honoring her foremother and making her own contribution to the retelling of these classic tales. One of my greatest hopes in carrying out this research project is to shine light on Constance Wilde’s work, highlighting her authorial achievements with more precision and promoting greater understanding of who she truly was – a unique and important writer of the late Victorian era.

 

meaghanscott300
Meaghan Scott is a senior majoring in English. Two of her favorite literary eras are the Medieval and Victorian, and some of the authors she’s especially enjoyed studying are Dante, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Constance Wilde, just to name a few. However, she also loves fantasy literature in general, especially the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, who she will be studying in Dr. Martin Warren’s Tolkien: Middle Earth/Middle Ages class. She is currently applying to graduate English programs in Ireland and Minnesota in order to continue her studies in English Literature.

Conference Travel, Student Research, Undergraduate English

My Streamlines Conference Presentation of “Notes on Emptiness”

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to present a paper I wrote at the Streamlines Undergraduate Language and Literature Conference in Dubuque, Iowa.streamlines_program_2016 The conference took place on Saturday, November 5th, though for me it began weeks earlier with the nerve-wracking process of submitting my paper. I stand by my opinion that nothing — not even presenting — compares to the anxiety of the submission process. The whole thing consists of sending off what I truly believe to be my best work to someone I don’t know, so that it can be judged against standards I haven’t been acquainted with. That’s enough to make most people question whether or not their paper is good enough in the first place, and believe me, I am most people.

Nothing in that moment seems to reassure me that something I wrote could, in fact, be good enough to be presented, published, or otherwise recognized as real writing. Chalk it up to me being a young writer without many rejections to roughen me up, or to being too shy about sharing my work, or whatever else you want. I suspect that at any age or stage of writing, reassurance about the quality of one’s work isn’t what a writer needs. It’s probably more important to cultivate an air of indifference toward judgement out of genuine affection for your work. That, or to have the voices of feminist writers like Dunham, Gay, and Kaling whispering in your ear, telling you to smash that submit button with confidence (I fell back on this latter option).

nortonanthwesternlit

My paper incorporated a number of works from this anthology, including Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Rousseau’s Confessions, and inspiration from Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground.

Fast forward to November 5th. I had made it through the submission process, and my paper, “Notes on Emptiness,” had been accepted to the Streamlines Conference. I had edited, practiced, and practiced some more. The final draft was mixture of literary analysis of the book Madame Bovary, personal memoir, philosophical musings, and quotes on emptiness from literature. Because it’s such a thorough mix of styles and concepts, I would have been surprised no matter which category they put me into. I ended up on the creative non-fiction panel along with four other students from schools across the Midwest, feeling like I was going to crush it with an unconventional nonfiction paper.

The presentation itself was exhilarating. As I explained my paper and started reading, I had the thrilling feeling that my audience was hooked. They laughed when I wanted them to laugh, shifted in their chairs and chuckled uncomfortably when I expected them to feel awkward, and nodded along as I drove home my argument. It was a rare opportunity to see people react to my writing in real time. I loved every minute of it, feeling like I possessed a superpower to control people’s emotions, simply by sitting at the front of a room and speaking.

I also got to listen to the papers of the other four people on my presentation panel. Dr. Miller once said to my Writing Poetry class last spring that you should always go to readings because you’ll either leave filled with admiration and a desire to write as well as them, or with the impression that it wasn’t that great and you can do better than them, and either way you’ll want to go home and write. I don’t think I need to clarify that I experienced the former reaction upon hearing the papers of other students. Not only did I leave feeling energized and excited about writing, I felt honored to be included in a group of such excellent writers.

The question and answer session at the end of my reading rivaled the actual presentation for my favorite part of the day. Both students and professors, genuinely curious to know more about my writing, asked thoughtful questions about my themes, processes, and drives. Discussing my own work is something that I’ve had little experience with, and it was a treat to be able to talk about it and hone those skills I rarely get the opportunity to practice.

No other experience has validated my work more than this presentation. I left the conference feeling like a legitimate writer, and had the whole four and a half hour drive home from Dubuque to contemplate the experiences that will bring me to my next destination as a writer.

graffunder300Hayley Graffunder is a junior with a double major in Linguistics and English with a creative writing emphasis. She looks forward to studying abroad in Scotland this spring at the University of Edinburgh and will be writing for Arcadia University as a student blogger while she is away.

Conference Travel, Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Research Grant, Student Research

Research Grant for “Paradise Lost”

Each year the graduate program awards at least one $1,000 research grant to support student research. This summer, graduate student Mark Van Dusseldorp traveled to San Marino, California, to visit the Huntington Library to research John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Mark was gracious enough to write about his incredible experience. Mark graduated this summer with a Master’s Essay titled “The Suburbs of Eternity: Dreaming in Paradise Lost.”

Paradise LostAs the story goes, a friend and student of John Milton’s named Thomas Ellwood made a visit to the poet and read the manuscript of Paradise Lost, after which he said: “Thou hast said much of Paradise lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise found?” Some attribute Ellwood’s question as the inspiration for Milton’s brief epic Paradise Regained. Whether a factual anecdote or not, it’s a nice story, and I thought of this and Milton’s Eden as I walked around the 120 acres of garden at the Huntington library in San Marino, California, completely alone.

I arrived at the Huntington on a Tuesday, the day the grounds are closed to the public, so before I began days of research in a windowless room I took my “solitary way” through the twelve gardens, a lush oasis in a sadly parched part of the country. It was, in Milton’s words, “A happy rural seat of various view.” This turned out to be the perfect setting for Miltonic research because it felt like one could read portions of Paradise Lost at the desk, then simply walk outside to do laboratory research in Eden itself. In truth, there were only two reasons I was able to distinguish between this Southern California manmade garden and pre-fallen Paradise. (1) Alas, there was neither a Tree of Life nor Tree of Knowledge (despite my earnest searching), and (2) the roses had thorns. (According to Milton’s epic, the rose grew its thorns only after Sin made its horrific debut when Adam and Eve fell. Keep in mind that Paradise Lost was published 192 years before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.) It would be best to quote Milton at length here, who knew well how short words and artifice fell in the face of perfection:

Groves whose rich Trees wept odorous Gumms and Balme,
Otheres whose fruit burnisht with Golden Rinde
Hung amiable, Hesperian Fables true,
If true, here only, and of delicious taste:
Betweixt them Lawns, or level Downs, and Flocks
Grasing the tender herb, were interpos’d,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Another side, umbrageous Grots and Caves
Of coole recess, o’re which the mantling vine
Layes forth her purple Grape, and gently creeps
Luxuriant. (IV.248-254; 257-260)

5But like Adam and Eve, I was driven out of Eden for more laborious tasks. For a week I took my seat in the Ahmanson Reading Room to page through rare books, first editions, and manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My Master’s Essay was on dreaming in Milton’s Paradise Lost, so the goal of this research trip was to find out a bit more about how early modern people thought about the dream. This is pre-Freud, of course, so all the typical notions we have about dreams are going to be quite different in this period, or at least written about in unfamiliar ways. For example, in a moment that anticipates Freud, Sir Thomas Browne writes that dreams “intimately tell us our selves.”

I looked at first editions of many books, which was an exciting experience in itself (though in a non-fetishistic sort of way), being able to handle the original printed materials of Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Nashe, Sir Philip Sidney, and others. The first edition of Paradise Lost from 1667, for example, is quite interesting. The copy I handled was a rather plain artifact, a small quarto in nearly perfect condition. It has subtly raised bands on the spine and a brown Morocco-leather binding that shows off the beautiful but modest gilding. What is really fascinating about this first edition, however, is that the poem has line numbers. Now we are all familiar with the newer, annotated paperbacks that include line numbers for students who need to easily reference parts of a poem. But isn’t it odd that a first edition would have line numbers? I haven’t quite figured this out, and perhaps it is not unusual, but it seems to me that a printer or Milton himself expected Paradise Lost to be studied like Renaissance scholars studied line-numbered versions of Homer and Virgil.

untitled3Perhaps the most fruitful parts of this research were the other books and pamphlets written by authors that were unknown to me. I found in some of these writings a passionate appeal to the dream world because it has the ability to tell us truths outside of our waking rationality and hint at transcendence. For example, Thomas Tryon writes, “Now ’tis no wonder if a Discourse of such sublime Subjects, as the Entertainments of our Souls (during the Body’s Nocturnal repose) when they having shaken off for a time the Fetters of the Senses, are upon the Wing, in the Suburbs of Eternity.” Likewise, a preacher named Philip Goodwin argued that dreams revealed the certainty of God’s being: “a free concession to, and due cognition of Divine Dreames, may draw out much of the manifold Knowledge of God.” Writing about dreams at this time would not be an innocuous endeavor. Society was fundamentally Christian, and dreams often present an individual with sinful realities. Thomas Nashe writes that in dreaming “the table of our hart [sic] is turned to an index of iniquities, and all our thoughts are nothing but texts to condemne us.”

William Prynne was a rather cruel fellow who did, in fact, use dreams as a text to condemn Archbishop William Laud, a clergyman Puritans hated for his Catholic tendencies. Prynne oversaw the eventual trial of Laud, and for evidence Prynne confiscated Laud’s dream diary that was meant to prove, among other things, that Laud was most certainly a Catholic. The most incriminating dream was one that read, “I dreamed last night that I was reconciled to the Church of Rome.” I was able to look at this pamphlet which was titled “A breviate of the life, of William Laud Arch-bishop of Canterbury: extracted (for the most part) verbatim, out of his owne diary . . . as a necessary prologue to the history of his tryall.” The key words here might be “for the most part.” Perhaps Prynne took some creative autonomy to ensure Laud’s execution, but this vindictiveness may have been motivated for good reasons. About a decade earlier, Prynne had found himself in a bit of trouble after printing a book that admonished stage-plays, actresses, and playgoers. The untitled2Queen herself was an actress, and the King a fervent playgoer, so perhaps inevitably, Prynne was punished: his Oxford degree was revoked and both his ears were cut off. He blamed Laud.

My trip to the Huntington Library was thoroughly enjoyable, and I learned a great deal about archival research in the process. It was also a treat to work beside some professional scholars, including a famous Miltonist who was working on a new Oxford edition of Paradise Lost.

It’s also worth mentioning that I recently made a stop at Milton’s former church, St. Giles-without-Cripplegate in London. After I took communion I found myself standing on Milton’s grave. I had a nice chat with the parishioners and took this photo of a Milton statue by the coffee percolators

Internships, Undergraduate English

My Internship with Arsenic Lobster

poetry645

This semester I was given the opportunity to be an intern for the Arsenic Lobster, an online poetry journal. I first came to learn of this internship opportunity from my creative writing professor, Salvatore Pane. He introduced me to the poetry journal and contacted them, finding out that there were opportunities for me to be an intern. I was eagerly interested to learn hands-on with them. The Arsenic Lobster’s strong energy and imagery throughout the journal caught my attention. Each poem felt different, yet each one still had a very powerful emotion visibly rooted within it. This has been a huge learning experience and is bringing me great excitement for my future as an English major.

The main focus of my internship is to review submissions, edit poetry, and send back my comments and edits to the editor, Susan Yount. Each week I have ten submissions forwarded to me. Each of these submissions ranges between three to five poems and can pertain to any topic chosen by the poet. The most common theme I have noticed within the poetry submissions is the obviously depicted passion in the writer’s voice. I find this to be very motivational for my own writing and this passion has deepened my appreciation for poetry. While editing, I look at the language utilized, the syntax structures, uses of enjambment, and other various details depending on the poem. This has also helped me in my own writing as I gain awareness about small and delicate details while reviewing submissions.

As a freshman, I took the Passports: Poetry Around the World class here at St. Thomas. When I went to take this class, I never thought that I would end up as an English major, and I definitely never imagined that I would be editing for a poetry journal two years later. Yet, here I am. That class, taught by Professor Mary Frandson, immensely expanded my knowledge on how to read and write poetry, preparing me to be able to look out for the intricate details hiding deep within a poem. Now I can read submissions and understand why one would benefit from a comma or enjambment, and how that effects the emotions and meaning of the poem’s story. The next English class I took at St. Thomas was Imaginative Writing. This class helped me to practice writing and give helpful feedback to my classmates on their work, which included poetry. Both of these courses have prepared me and guided me to feel confident in the work that I do for my internship.

somekindofshelterAlthough editing is the main part of my internship, it is not the only focus of my work. I am also given poetry podcasts to listen to and make notes on, broadening my experiences and knowledge of all that the poetry world contains. Another concentration of my internship is to read past Arsenic Lobster issues and other various poetry journals. This past week I sent in my first book review on one of these journals, and I plan to write at least two book reviews within my internship for publication. My first review was on Sara Tracey’s Some Kind of Shelter, which is a poetry journal. I chose this journal among the many I read because I was fascinated by Tracey’s ability to use mundane and everyday ideas and make them poetic and powerful to readers. Through my experience of writing this review I found myself drawn into the poem on the page and fully captured within the moment. The poetry felt vivid and alive through Tracey’s writing, and I am honored that I was able to write a published review of a journal that I truly enjoyed. Writing this book review was one of my favorite moments within my internship thus far. I am looking forward to writing my next book review and am currently in the process of reading more anthologies, researching poets, and trying to decide which poetry journal I am most drawn to.

This internship opportunity has taught me a lot already, and I am excited to expand on my knowledge and experiences. I find the internship to be a unique blessing. Not only do I get to learn more of the editing, writing, and publishing world by immersing myself in the poetry, but I also keep learning from my mentor at St. Thomas, the editor of the Arsenic Lobster, and each poet that sends in a submission to the journal. I look forward to learning about soliciting poetry for the journal, improving my writing skills, and learning more details about the poetry review process.

morley300x300
Caitlin Morley is a junior majoring in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in Communication and Journalism. She
has written articles published on the Odyssey Online and looks forward to a future working with people, literature, and the world of writing.